STEPH Williams is a remarkable young woman.
The highly talented forward has been mainly based in Victoria since the age of 11, going to school at Worawa Aboriginal College in Healesville and more recently, Geelong College.
Given the NTFL season runs over summer, the proud Larrakia woman would return home to play as many games as she could for the Darwin Buffaloes' under-18 side, before coming back to Victoria for the start of term one.
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But one such trip was unlike all the others which had proceeded it.
In early March last year, Williams was undertaking the four and a half-hour flight to play in the Grand Final the following day. Her world turned upside down once she stepped off the plane.
"The night I was flying back home, my sister Karina passed away, she'd taken her own life. It was a bit traumatising. I was thinking 'tomorrow's my Grand Final, I have to play', but I wanted to do the right thing by her," Williams told womens.afl.
"I didn't really want to play football without my number one supporter around. She's seven years older than me, so she used to take weekends off work and fly to come and watch me play interstate games. I made myself a vow to just keep on trying for her."
And keep trying she did. The electric forward was named best on ground in the Buffaloes' 17-point premiership win the following day, despite being on "autopilot".
Footy became harder for a little while. Something was missing for Williams when she returned to Victoria, pulling on the boots for St Josephs in the AFL Barwon under-18 competition (she still managed to back up her 2018 league best and fairest with a second-place finish).
"Footy's always been a great way to let go and concentrate on the game. But because my sister was connected to my football, it became hard to love the game," Williams said.
"But I don't know, you just never stop loving your first love, and football is mine, sadly," she added with a laugh.
Playing for the Central Allies at last year's NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships, Williams was a strong presence up forward in a side that struggled at times, her agility, marking skills and strong leads proving difficult to stop.
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However, football wasn't on the agenda when Williams was a young kid in Darwin, and it wasn't until she'd spent a few years at Worawa that she was introduced to the sport.
"Before that, I played basketball and netball, but I wasn't too keen on football. Growing up, footy wasn't what it is today, it was a male-dominant sport. There was alcohol around it, it was mainly only men watching the game, so I never felt too comfortable with it," she said.
"I'd grown up with a single mum, and she's not too big on footy, so I wasn't taught how to kick a footy by my dad. When I got to Worawa, a girl there said, 'my dad showed me how to kick, I can teach you'.
"Ever since then, I've never wanted to go back. I have a whole oval to run in and feel free, it's been a good way to express myself and feel like I belong in a community and team environment. It's a sisterhood, and everyone celebrates the little wins."
Williams has big plans once she finishes year 12 this year. Her subjects include legal studies, English, PE and art, with online schooling due to COVID-19 allowing her to return home and take black-and-white portrait photos of kids and elders in her community for her final folio.
I didn't really want to play football without my number one supporter around. She's seven years older than me, so she used to take weekends off work and fly to come and watch me play interstate games. I made myself a vow to just keep on trying for her
Now a boarding school captain and prefect (which she joked was "something important in posh Victorian schools") at the prestigious Geelong College, her time at Worawa with Indigenous students from around the country has developed her language skills.
Williams can speak three herself but understands many more, from areas as diverse as the Tiwi Islands to the desert of central Australia.
"I hope when I finish school and have further education, I can go and help my community in some way, or Indigenous communities in general," Williams said.
"Hopefully I'll work in education as a teacher or principal. Because of the Indigenous languages I know, I want to be a bridge for that literacy gap and the foundations of learning.
"Once you're educated and empowered, you can be a leader. You know the world and you feel so much more knowledgeable for it, and you can help create more leaders and spread that empowerment."
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But the next few weeks are all about the NAB AFLW Draft on October 6, where Williams has nominated for the Victorian pool of the state-based affair.
Her sister is never far from her thoughts.
"I'm here now, and I'm happy with where I am. I'm hoping to be able to put on an AFLW jumper in the next few weeks, tell my sister I've been drafted and make her proud," she said.
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