I still remember the daily taunts. The bullies. The racism. In many ways I hid from my Indigenous heritage when I was younger. I didn't want to give the bullies another reason to discriminate against me, and it stopped me from learning about my culture.
I hope those bullies are watching when the Brumbies run out wearing the first Indigenous jersey in our history on Saturday night. Because I'm proud of who I am - a Barunggam man. And I hope moments like this will help our society move closer to eliminating racism.
Rugby - and a change of schools - helped me become comfortable in my own skin. I grew up in a white society, which made me an easy target because of the way I looked.
It wasn't until I joined the Lloyd McDermott rugby program as a teenager that I felt like I could embrace who I was.
This week has given me a chance to reflect on that journey and the ways I have been inspired to be proud of who I am and the colour of my skin rather than worrying about what others would say.
MORE CANBERRA SPORT
It has been empowering in so many ways. I've been able to speak with artist and Ngunnawal man Budda Connors, the man who has designed our jerseys. I've learnt about customs I wasn't aware of. If Budda has time, he's also going to put a design on my boots for the game against the Queensland Reds.
The jerseys we will be wearing are a representation of who we are. The front shows the hooves of wild Brumbies and the Brindabellas, which morph into the footprints of the 10 Indigenous men who have played for our club.
I've also been speaking to my mum to learn more about our family heritage. My teammates have been asking me, the only Indigenous player at the Brumbies, about my culture.
That is what's so great about opportunities like this week, which coincides with the NRL's Indigenous round. It's a chance to celebrate culture and history, rather than have it dividing people.
The sad part is that there is still a lot of division in the world today and recent events have highlighted racial discrimination. I was saddened to hear about alleged racial slurs directed at an under-14s girls basketball team in Canberra. It made me think about how I felt as a child growing up in Queensland, and how much those slurs hurt.
Sport should be the vehicle for inclusion and help change perceptions in the world. The Brumbies are a team of diverse backgrounds and last year we celebrated the many Pasifika cultures that make up our roster.
Rugby as a sport, however, still has plenty of room to grow. I was disappointed to learn the DreamBigTime search for Indigenous rugby players had lost its funding this year. I felt it was heading in the right direction, putting people in place to make it better and I hope that it can be revived so we can do more in that space.
Rugby needs Indigenous role models to inspire kids to be happy with who they are. The sport helped me find comfort in who I was. I joined the Lloyd McDermott pathway program better known as "Lloydies". Lloyd McDermott was the first Indigenous Wallaby and the program gives Indigenous players an opportunity they may not otherwise get.
I changed schools at the same time and I felt more comfortable telling people I was Aboriginal. That wasn't until I was around 14 or 15 years old, but spending a lot of time around others and seeing how proud they were was really inspiring.
At the Brumbies, we implemented a Reconciliation Action Plan two years ago to pay our respects. Richie Arnold, Rory Arnold, Robbie Abel and myself helped design a jersey to be worn at the captain's run and for game-day warm ups.
It gave us on opportunity to recognise the Ngunnawal, Wiradjuri and Yuin people, the traditional owners of the land and surrounding regions and whose totems are on the jersey, before every game we played.
This will be the first time we get to wear a jersey in a match and I'll be wearing it with pride when I get my opportunity on the field, in what promises to be a close match against the undefeated Reds.
I've often looked at other codes with jealousy because of the Indigenous designs on their jerseys. Now we can take a step in the same direction.
I do think there is a lot of work that has to be done to get rugby up to speed with recognising Indigenous history and heritage, but hopefully this can be the start of that movement.
It can be a tool to educate. It can be a tool to inspire. It can be a tool to give Indigenous kids the confidence to be who they are and for everyone else to understand that racism is not OK.
- Andy Muirhead is an ACT Brumbies winger and a Barunggam man
SUPER RUGBY AU ROUND FIVE
Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium, 7.15pm.
Brumbies squad: 1. Scott Sio, 2. Folau Fainga'a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa (c), 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Nick Frost, 6. Rob Valetini, 7. Will Miller, 8. Pete Samu, 9. Joe Powell, 10. Bayley Kuenzle, 11. Tom Wright, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Solomone Kata, 15. Tom Banks. Replacements: Connal McInerney, 17. James Slipper, 18. Tom Ross, 19. Tom Cusack, 20. Lachlan McCaffrey, 21. Issak Fines, 22. Mack Hansen, 23. Andy Muirhead.
Reds squad: 1. Dane Zander, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Angus Blyth, 5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Liam Wright (c), 8. Harry Wilson, 9. Scott Malolua, 10. James O'Connor, 11. Filipo Daugunu, 12. Hamish Stewart, 13. Hunter Paisami, 14. Chris Feauai-Sautia, 15. Jock Campbell. Replacements: 16. Alex Mafi, 17. Feao Fotuaika, 18. Jack Straker, 19. Ryan Smith, 20. Fraser McReight, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. Bryce Hegarty, 23. Jordan Petaia.