Written by Amelia Barnes
Since 2018, the Melbourne Vixens have proudly donned a special dress designed by a local Aboriginal artist during the annual Suncorp Super Netball First Nations Round.
What’s less known is the First Nations artwork that features on the back of the Melbourne Vixens dresses throughout the home and away season.
Designed by Wurundjeri/Dja Dja Wurrung woman Sam Richards, this artwork, titled Steadfast, was first displayed on the 2023 Melbourne Vixens dress, and will again appear on the official uniform in 2024.
The diamond-shaped artwork created in the Melbourne Vixens’ pink, teal, and navy colours features on the back of the dress above the players’ names.
Richards began working professionally as an artist in 2021. “I picked up the paintbrush again during lockdown – which I hadn't done in quite a few years – and I just went for it,” she said.
Her first big commission was something many artists spend their whole lives dreaming of – painting a four-storey artwork on the façade of Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital.
Richards assisted Anangu woman Elizabeth Close to produce this spectacular black and white artwork.
Titled TOGETHER, the artwork symbolises welcome, strength, and the importance of connection to country, culture, and community among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The opportunity to design an artwork for the Vixens’ dress came about when Richards responded to a callout sent to the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation’s artist list.
Richards submitted a series of concepts, including Steadfast, inspired by the Vixens’ values of fearlessness, togetherness, and resilience.
Steadfast features a layering of traditional Wurundjeri symbols to tell the story of the Vixens past, present and future.
Supported by the protection (diamonds), strength (double circles), and knowledge (single circle) of teammates and past players, the artwork shows the Vixens team, staff, and supporters travelling along a journey (wavy line with dots) to make the team what it is today.
The river in the background represents the flow of change and the ability to adapt, while the mountains show that the team has each other’s backs (abstract mountains positioned back-to-back). These two natural elements also represent the landscape of Melbourne and the connection the Vixens have to it.
Throughout Richards’ art practice, she uses 12 traditional Wurundjeri symbols to tell stories of history and culture.
“These are traditional symbols that have been found on caves and rock walls in the area, and obviously passed down for many generations,” Richards explained.
“I use this very contemporary style to create my artwork. I still maintain culture and tradition through using these symbols, but I also add a little bit of a modern style as well, so it's very contemporary Indigenous artwork.”
Some of the modern elements Richards incorporates into her artworks are interpretations of plants not literally represented in traditional Wurundjeri symbols. “It’s an interpretation of certain things and weaving it into the story around these traditional symbols,” she said.
Richards learned about the 12 Wurundjeri symbols through her family and research for her education business, Connecting Two Worlds, which teaches Indigenous culture to connect both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people of Australia.
Richards said utilising these symbols in her artwork has enhanced her connection to culture.
“I was pretty involved in culture when I was younger and then during high school and out of high school I kind of lost a little bit.
“I picked up [the business] in 2019, and the art in 2021, and this made me feel a lot more connected to my culture.
“I think it's really important to learn it myself and also share it with the wider community.”
Richards played netball growing up and has recently returned to the sport both as a player and spectator.
She’s proud to see the players run out in the dress featuring her artwork every single week of the SSN season.
“Having it consistently [on the dress] is really positive,” she said. “It's really important to incorporate culture throughout the entire year, not just for two weeks.”
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