Ashtyn Atkinson knows exactly what he is getting into when he arrives at a Richmond VFL pre-season session, with the youngster not daunted by the tall task of training with an AFL-aligned team for the first time.
Punt Road Oval is a far cry from Atkinson’s home club, the Indigenous-led Rumbalara FC in Shepparton, but his experiences with Richmond’s Next Generation Academy and Korin Gamadji Institute as a youth are holding him in good stead to reach his football potential.
“I walk into the doors (at the Swinburne Centre), and it is a familiar environment; it means I am not walking into something that is unknown. I could literally walk upstairs at the Club, and I would know everyone,” Atkinson explained.
“Having that really helps. Melbourne is so different from Shepparton, but the NGA camps we (Indigenous and multicultural talented underaged footballers from within the Club’s region) do from 14-15 help make coming here so much easier.
“I’m in the deep end, but it is worth it, and I am enjoying my new job here and having a crack at making the VFL and living in Melbourne.”
Atkinson, an 18-year-old Yorta Yorta man, who played 11 games for the Murray Bushrangers in the NAB League across the last two seasons, gained prior exposure to the Club’s facilities and learned about high performance and standards since first being identified for the Academy back in 2018.
The wingman says the trips with Richmond to Melbourne also gave him an early grasp of what life in the city could look like.
“It is so different to Shepparton here, even the traffic and catching the trams. It is a bit to take in, but the camps definitely help,” he said.
“When you are a kid from the country, you only really see facilities like Punt Road when you drive past, so for Richmond to let us come in was something I thought was unreal.”
The NGA Program was also a stepping stone for a then 15-year-old Atkinson to attend the KGI’s Richmond Emerging Aboriginal Leadership (REAL) camp.
“The KGI Camp came about through my links with the NGA and was like the best week ever- I think we all grew so much in ways we did not even imagine,” he said.
“Just being around like-minded people from all over the state was something different. I only knew two people coming in, but after the end, I had made some real connections.
“Lots of players from ‘Rumba’ and Shepparton have gone through and done it now as well- I remember mum and dad had to convince me to do it, and I am so glad I gave it a chance, and I tell them all the same.”
Atkinson, already an outstanding Indigenous leader has found employment working for First Nations company Wanyara, travelling to schools and businesses teaching Indigenous culture through dance, arts, and games.
He will continue trying his luck for the Tigers VFL Program and is also set to align himself with a suburban Melbourne club, cementing his move.
Still just a budding young footballer, Atkinson has already taken huge steps as a young Indigenous man.