The reality check that made Kirby Bentley a 'completely different person'

Gnalla – meaning "ours" (Noongar)

KIRBY Bentley embraces the word Gnalla in all she does as a Noongar woman from Mount Barker, a small country town four hours south of Perth. She knows the importance of community, collaboration, and shared experiences.

She's played two team sports professionally, is coach of the Western Bulldogs VFLW side and prioritises her family above all else. Each group is as collaborative and united as the last, however, it hasn't always been this way - in fact, Kirby says herself that at times "ours" may not have been in her vocabulary much at all.

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As a professional netballer with the Perth Orioles (now West Coast Fever) for five years, Bentley believes she was somewhat self-absorbed (something we both agree is not at all in her nature now) due to the time demands of netball's elite level, but that all changed one day when she was 24, on January 12, 2009 to be exact.

Kirby's Aunty Andrea was subjected to domestic violence and killed at the hands of her husband. It became the first domestic inquest in Western Australia and saw husband Kenneth sentenced to a life in prison, leaving their 13 children orphaned, something Kirby says made her a "completely different person".

"Seeing Mum break down the way that she did, I just don't know what I would do if I lost my sisters and seeing my cousins then become orphans because one parent was in jail and one no longer with us, it was a reality check," Kirby said.

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It was this realisation of the frailty of the human condition that saw Kirby join her sister at footy training the next weekend.

"Because I saw the relationship Mum had with her sister and how close they were, I realised netball had meant I'd lost a lot of time with my sisters, so I started football training with my sister, just to get to know her better and come into her world. I wanted to build that relationship back up with her because life is actually pretty short," she said.

Since that first training session, she's never looked back from the game she now lives and breathes.

Being able to empower young girls to know that the struggles are real and there are people that do go through the same thing, knowing that there's a platform or support base around them, football does that

Kirby Bentley

"Football has been huge for not only what I've been able to do but how you can influence change because it brings us all together," she said.

Kirby's passion for influencing this change is tangible, having lost her brother after he took his own life and Pop to cancer, she is under no illusions that the most important gift football has given her is the community and the ability to bring issues to the forefront of discussion.

"Domestic violence and suicide prevention are pretty big among our people, it really highlights that life is short and that's something that you need to keep real because it is real to a lot of people," she said.

"Being able to empower young girls to know that the struggles are real and there are people that do go through the same thing, knowing that there's a platform or support base around them, football does that."

Western Bulldogs VFLW coach Kirby Bentley. Picture: AFL Photos

Gnalla is the name of her new clothing brand, launching this week alongside the AFLW's Indigenous Round.

The Western Bulldogs will wear shirts designed by Kirby, while other players across the League will wear customised boots with individual meaning.

"It's a concept about three worlds. I've always walked in my world, the Aboriginal world, knowing who I am and understanding our history, but I'm living in the white world, and now we want to have that middle world that brings us together," she said.

"We want to create positive conversation without causing any kind of discomfort or feeling that threat, it's sharing our art and our stories, and our art is our stories, it becomes a part of our history and makes it inclusive. It's for everyone."

Richmond skipper Katie Brennan will wear boots which feature five meeting places, representing the five seasons she's played. Giant Chloe Dalton's represent her family, with six arches, one for each member.

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Each sale will see a percentage of money go to selected Indigenous programs with a focus on pathway support for Indigenous girls, including the eponymous Kirby Bentley Cup, a round robin tournament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls aged 13-15 years old.

"Not only is it an opportunity to have these girls playing with their family, cousins or friends, but they get to showcase their talent and hopefully, eventually we get AFLW going over and recruiting from there which then provides more opportunity," she said.

"If we look at the 80s and 90s, Aboriginal players came into the AFL and completely changed the way it was coached and played which livened it up, so I want that for us in the AFLW."

On how she has inspired lasting impact for Aboriginal women, Kirby comes back to the importance of keeping things in perspective and creating authentic change.

"You don't really know who you're inspiring until an action happens or a change or comment is made, and that's what you want to do. You want to create change and show them that there's more than just what you've seen or experienced in a negative way. There's more to it. And I think that's what football has done for us," she said.