Why a First Nations teenage rugby star is moving to Rotorua to play rugby and develop

Kristal Kinsela (left) did not want to send her son Kaylan Morris to a private school in Sydney or Brisbane.

An Australian teenager shares the dream of many young athletes across the Tasman Sea – to don the gold and green Wallabies jersey and make his mark on the international stage.

But in order to make that dream a reality for the 16-year-old Aboriginal, his mother, who fears her son’s hopes may never be realised in Australia, has decided to move to New Zealand next year where he will attend Rotorua Boys’ High School.

Kaylan Morris picked up rugby four years ago and yet the young Jawoyn, Wiradjuri, Dunghutti and Biripi man has already played first grade in New South Wales’s Mid North Coast Rugby Union competition. He needed special dispensation to play at that level because of his age but he took his place in the Port Macquarie Pirates’ squad when they defeated the Coffs Harbour Snappers 24-17 in this year’s grand final.

Morris’s mother, Kristal Kinsela, told the ABC she did not believe Rugby Australia (RA) adequately supported the game in regional areas through its funding and resources and felt young First Nations players, who live outside the capital cities, were often neglected.

“I don’t think Rugby Australia cares.”

She did not want to send Morris to a private school in Australia as she does not think they are “culturally safe” for an Aboriginal student and because she feels they are “elitist” and ignorant of cultural diversity.

It’s because of these reasons the family are moving to New Zealand and that Morris will attend Rotorua Boys’ High School (RBHS). RBHS has won the National Secondary School First XV Championship on four occasions and produced nine All Blacks.

“I hope this will be a great message for Rugby Australia,” Kinsela said. “If an Aboriginal boy thinks that it’s better to go to New Zealand to play rugby than to stay here in his own country, that is a big message in itself.

“And that is Kaylan’s decision, that’s not mine. I’m just backing my son in. That has got to speak volumes.

“He really wants to take rugby seriously. Kaylan had wanted to explore looking at New Zealand … he’s going to get a much better taste of rugby.”

Only 14 First Nations players have worn the Wallabies jersey, including Mark Ella, who is a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame. That number has not grown since 2010, with no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander players debuting for the Wallabies in the past 13 years.

Kaylan experienced racism when he previously attended a private school in regional NSW before switching to the local public secondary school in Port Macquarie.

“There is no acceptance for diversity or difference,” Kinsela said. “We’re an Aboriginal family. I just don’t think that environment – even if I had the money or a scholarship – would be conducive for Kaylan.

“I think it would probably have the opposite effect. He needs to feel like he can be himself and has a place, and his Aboriginality is valued.”

This added to the appeal of moving to Rotorua next year, as did the fact Kaylan would be attending a public school with a large Māori and Pasifika student population. RBHS told Kinsela that Kaylan would be the first Aboriginal student to enrol at the school.

“They (RBHS) are drawing a wide range of kids, kids of colour with different upbringings,” Kinsela said. “It’s not a rich man’s school. They’re just kids who need a shot.”

A potential NRL career holds no interest for Morris, as his focus is set firmly on continuing his rugby education in New Zealand.

While he is leaning towards eventually coming back to Australia, he is undecided on which side of the Tasman he will end up, given the pathway to a Wallabies jersey may not be any clearer if he returns home.

“I had a think about it, and I figure just doing the year there (New Zealand) and then come back and play, and see what’s the go. I’m not too sure just yet.”