Ahead of the AFL’s Indigenous Round, Bendigo Advertiser reporter JOSH FAGAN spoke to Marngrook Footy Show's Leila Gurruwiwi about growing up in Bendigo and the importance of her Indigenous culture.
Leila Gurruwiwi recalls being at kindergarten in Bendigo and understanding what the other children were saying but not being able to respond.
"Even though I understood English, I spoke my traditional language so when all the kids would talk to me in English, I would answer them in my native tongue. They'd look at me really strange like 'what are you saying?' but I got the hang of English pretty quickly."
Leila was born in Galiminku, a remote community in Northern Territory and moved to live with relatives in Bendigo at the age of 18 months.
The now 24-year-old presenter on The Marngrook Footy Show, was the fourth of eight children.
She was the only child sent to live in Victoria, away from her native culture and family.
"I moved down with a few relatives to Bridge St, near Lake Weeroona. I think the biggest thing for me when I first came down was the cold and also the fact that English wasn't my first language."
She said from an early age she saw the importance of education and hard work.
"My Dad passed away when I was five. My Mum and Dad wanted me to come down South and get a really good education so my drive from that young age was making sure that I finished high school. That was the reason my parents sent me down in the first place. It was a very strong drive for me."
At St Killian's Primary school and later Catholic College Bendigo, Leila said she enjoyed her teachers and classes but was mainly interested in sports.
"I was very much a tomboy when I was young, I played a lot of footy when I was at St Killian's."
On a visit back to see her family in Galiminku at the age of 12, Leila was hospitalised with a case of pnuemonia.
It left her in Darwin Base Hospital for three months, in and out of intensive care, in what she said were pretty dire circumstances.
"It was a trying time. After that, all through high school I couldn't play anything sports-related, which really bummed me out because I really loved sports."
Her interests at school turned to arts and performing.
"I had no idea of the road I was going to be going down. I was very much into sports. After I got sick I didn't really know what to do so I decided to take up a lot of arts subjects and found out I was pretty good at that."
Leila's singing landed her a place in the Victorian State Children's Choir and she continued to practise her art and dancing.
The performing ability is etched in her DNA. Her family tree is brimming with talent, including blind singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Western Bulldogs player Nathan Djerrkura, former West Coast star David Wirrpanda and the late Fremantle player Gary Dhurrkay.
She said her interest in football always remained strong.
"Dad and all my cousins played football. The people I grew up with in Bendigo were big Carlton supporters but it wasn't until I moved to Melbourne and started going to the games that I got a real appreciation of the games."
It was also in Melbourne that her interest in the media began, with a role at Indigenous radio station 3KND, that eventually led to a radio show called Marngrook.
At 19, Leila was thrown in at the deep end with the radio show turning into a TV program.
She said the experience was a little nerve-racking to begin with but she felt rewarded for her dedication and effort.
"I lacked in confidence for a lot of reasons. Luckily I had a very good support system around me, which helped me grow in my spot on the show."
"I've had a lot of people tell me for one reason or another that I wasn't going to succeed, that things weren't going to happen for me. So I think that drive for me to prove them wrong was a really big thing for me. But not only that, it was also to prove to myself that I am deserving of things in life, and success."
The show, now broadcast on ABC TV, has helped launch her media career and given a broader voice to Indigenous players and fans of the AFL.
"It's very important to get an Indigenous perspective on the AFL. It helps for the players to have them step up in that media arena as well. It's not just a show for Indigenous people, it's a show for everyone."
The commitment to furthering Indigenous culture in the media has inspired her to co-produce a show on Indigenous dancing.
The show, with a working title 'Dance Off' is currently being filmed and will focus on a competition in her native Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
"It's going to be about an Indigenous dance competition and showcasing the things that are happening in the community. It's about going behind the scenes and getting people to see the things within the culture. I think it's very important to show the positive aspects, where a lot of things in the news and culture tend toward the negative view."
Leila said her late father, a lecturer at Charles Sturt University and a leader of the community in Galiminku, is still a big inspiration for her.
"I'm trying to live up to his name and do as much for her community as he did."
With a busy recording schedule during the footy season, Leila spends her time off up North with family or visiting friends in Bendigo.
"I'm back in Bendigo every couple of months, visiting family and friends. It's very much an important part of my life. My friends from Bendigo are very supportive, they still see me as the shy girl they knew from High School and that's what I love about Bendigo is just being me as opposed to being a TV personality."
After more than five years of experience on the Marngrook Footy Show, Leila said the highlight each year is the dreamtime round.
"I'm always nervous every year before the round. It's an important part of the AFL season, we get to see some amazing Indigenous players running around and see how integral they are to the rest of their team."
With an entrenched passion for football she said she'll always be involved in the sport in some way or another.
"I'm one of those people who take advantages when they come, when a door opens for me I take it. At the moment I'm very happy doing the show and having the opportunities to do my own show, telling stories of my culture."