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Buroinjin back in play as Stephen Larkham joins students to raise awareness of indigenous suicide

Canberra sports stars teamed with students to raise awareness of adolescent suicide in indigenous communities on Thursday by playing a traditional game of buroinjin, an Aboriginal version of handball.

The inaugural Djijah Whyman Memorial Cup was organised by PhD student John Williams to pay tribute to Djijah Whyman, an 18-year-old Lyneham man of Yorta Yorta/Yarrabah heritage who took his own life.

Ex Brumbies and Wallabies player Andrew Walker with the Melba Copland Secondary School handball team at the Inaugural ...
Ex Brumbies and Wallabies player Andrew Walker with the Melba Copland Secondary School handball team at the Inaugural Buroinjin Challenge to raise awareness of Indigenous suicide. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Mr Williams, who is completing his PhD in physical education at the University of Canberra, said the death of his former student had prompted him to pay closer attention to the role sport could play in discussions on mental health in indigenous communities. 

On an oval at the University of Canberra, Mr Williams gave Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham and the UC Capital's Abby Bishop and Hanna Zavecz a quick brush-up on the rules of buroinjin, a game traditionally played by the Kabi Kabi people of southern Queensland.

"The whole purpose of this challenge is to draw attention to the rising rates of youth suicide within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities," Mr Williams said.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show indigenous people are twice as likely as non-indigenous people to take their own lives. 


Almost four in five indigenous people who commit suicide are males and the highest suicide rates occur in younger age groups, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show.

Mr Williams said indigenous sporting events could play an important role in raising awareness of mental health but also increase understanding of indigenous history and culture. 

"I've spoken with indigenous students who have told me they didn't even know there was such a thing as Aboriginal games," he said.

"Indigenous perspectives of sport have been effectively wiped out and now we're having to work to bring them back into consciousness and curriculum.

"I hope these events will help people realise that our Western games aren't the only ones available and suicide isn't a taboo subject, but something that we should be able to freely talk about. We've got to look after each other."

Mr Williams said physical education often revolved around eurocentric understandings of sport as that was what teachers were taught at university and were comfortable with. 

All team registration fees and donations from the tournament will be donated to the White Wreath Association, a non-profit organisation supporting people who have been affected by suicide or mental illness.

"Bringing together some of Canberra's best sporting teams and the community to play the game of buroinjin is just one way we can raise awareness of teen mental illness," Mr Williams said.

He praised the efforts and leadership of Melba Copland Secondary School's indigenous officer, Lyle Swan, in organising the event with the University of Canberra.