Botille Vette-Welsh’s father Alfred was a te reo Māori teacher in New Zealand before the family moved to Australia and her upbringing has given the Jillaroos fullback confidence to take on a cultural mentoring role within the Māori All Stars team.
Vette-Welsh chose to play for the Jillaroos over the Kiwi Ferns at Test level in recognition of the opportunities Australia has provided her, but she has always maintained a close connection with her Māori culture.
“You can represent your country and that is good, but when you represent the people you bleed for and whose heritage is passed down from your ancestors it is really special,” Vette-Welsh said ahead of the February 12 clash against the Indigenous All Stars at CommBank Stadium.
With COVID-19 border restrictions limiting the 2021 Māori All Stars squad to players based in Australia, some weren’t as familiar with their culture as Vette-Welsh, who demonstrated her Poi spinning skills to James Fisher-Harris’s daughter, Tahira, at a photo shoot for the 2022 match.
The 25-year-old, who captains Wests Tigers in the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership and will play for Parramatta in the NRL Telstra Women’s Premiership, grew up speaking Māori and competing in kapa haka tournaments against other schools.
“At our school we had both English and Māori education, so you could either learn full Māori or you could learn in English. My dad was a teo reo [language] teacher, so he taught Māori,” Vette-Welsh said.
“I was surrounded by that but there are a lot of girls in our team who hadn’t seen that kind of stuff for a while, or they moved to Australia when they were babies, so they have not really been around it.
All Stars showpiece to hit Sydney in 2022
“It was awesome for them to reconnect and find themselves, and find their roots as well, but it was also good to show the girls what they are missing out on, and also why we wear the Māori All Stars jersey with pride because of what we represent.”
For Vette-Welsh, the Harvey Norman All Stars match is an opportunity to showcase Māori and Indigenous culture as well as the talent of the players with those bloodlines.
She describes performing the pre-match haka with her Māori All Stars team-mates as a spiritual experience.
“When you go out on the field you are always nervous about playing well, and all of that sort of stuff,” Vette-Welsh said.
“But when you can lead and begin a whole game by doing a haka, and calling on your ancestors who you are representing and showing how beautiful your culture is, your nerves go out the window just like that.
“It is all about your ancestors being there to support you and guide you throughout the game.”
Vette-Welsh's journey from New Zealand
After moving to Australia about a decade ago, Vette-Welsh returned to New Zealand to play in the 2018 Māori National Championships and was chosen for the inaugural Māori All Stars team which beat the Indigenous All Stars 8-4 in Melbourne in 2019.
She was also a member of the Māori All Stars teams that lost 10-4 at Cbus Super Stadium in 2020 and won 24-0 at Queensland Country Bank Stadium earlier this year.
“We are two fierce cultures who are very proud of who we are as people – both Māori and Indigenous,” Vette-Welsh said.
“First and foremost, we are in Australia so we should all be celebrating that Indigenous culture, and we are grateful to be accepted into this country.
“Obviously the Indigenous people have had a hard time in history, and so have the Māori, so it is awesome that we are able to unite in the All Stars match and showcase the talent and abilities of the Indigenous peoples of both countries.”
The Indigenous All Stars v Māori All Stars women's match kicks off at 5.20pm, Saturday February 12 at CommBank Stadium. The Indigenous All Stars v Māori All Stars kicks off at 8.10pm.