INDIGENOUS artist and Bendigo Pioneers midfielder Chantelle Mitchell is paving the way both on and off the field.
Mitchell, a proud Barkindji woman from Mildura, was asked by the Pioneers to design unique trophies for the club's best and fairest awards for the men's and women's programs, painting one football for each category.
It's part of a burgeoning side-job for the 20-year-old, who was granted an exemption to continue to play in the under-19 NAB League this year.
"Brooke (Brown, Bendigo talent manager) asked me if I wanted to do a footy, and that was actually the first time I'd tried to paint on a footy," Mitchell said.
"It was pre-season at the time, so I thought I'd try to make a bit of money and put some examples on Facebook, and people started putting in orders."
One such order came from Richmond full-forward Courtney Wakefield, who commissioned Mitchell to paint a pair of boots ahead of the AFLW Indigenous Round in late February.
Mitchell had met Wakefield a few times through local footy in the Sunraysia district, but also played two scratch matches with the Tigers' VFLW side last year before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
"She messaged me about it, wanting someone from Sunraysia to paint them," Mitchell said.
"There's no paint that'll actually stay on the boots when you're wearing them, so I paint them with acrylic and then I put a lacquer on top of it, so it'll stay on for a bit longer, but it does come off eventually."
She's also set to paint the helmet of V8 Supercar driver and Mildura local Cam Waters for that competition's Indigenous round.
Despite the arduous travel – Mitchell trains with her local club Nangiloc rather than make the nine-hour round trip to Bendigo during the week – has loved her season with the Pioneers, playing seven of eight matches and kicking four goals.
"I've always wanted to play footy, but when I was young, there weren't any junior teams in our area. Once I was old enough, I thought I'd give it a go and I've loved it since then," she said.
"It's a lot of travelling, particularly with away games in Melbourne, but I was committed to the travel to play footy."
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Brown spoke glowingly of the impact Mitchell has had on the club this year.
"'Channy' has been a shining light to our program, she has taken every opportunity that we have given her and continually asked for feedback to better her game. She is an exciting player but most importantly she is an outstanding character," Brown said.
"We have gained so much for having Channy involved at the Bendigo Pioneers. She has continued to promote her Indigenous culture in a way that the players and the staff want to learn more each and every time she tells a story, particularly through her artwork.
"We have been so lucky to showcase Channy’s football on the field and her artwork off the field. Channy is an outstanding character and her family and her region should be so proud of her."