NRL champ and filmmaker talk about following your dreams at school’s NAIDOC assembly

Student captain Avah Mohammed watches Cody Walker at the Casino High School NAIDOC assembly.

Susanna Freymark

There were two special guest speakers at the NAIDOC assembly at Casino High School today, Tuesday, July 2.

Filmmaker Jon Bell and NRL player Cody Walker went to Casino High School. They spoke about their journey to the career they love.

Walker, a Yuin/Bundjalung man, plays for the Rabbitohs.

It took a lot of sacrifice and hard work to get to where he is, he said.

He spotted some of his former teachers in the audience.

”Sorry for all the heartache,” Walker said.

To the students he reminded them to dream big or small — but have a dream.

”I was once in your shoes sitting in this hall at assemblies thinking — what the hell am I going to do?”

Unsurprisingly, Walker’s favourite subject at Casino High was PE.

Cody Walker talks about his NRL journey.

Forging a career as a rugby player wasn’t easy, Walker said.

”There was no real pathway then. No selectors came to a country town like Casino back then.”

Walker signed to the Gold Coast Titans when he was 16 years old. He spent time at training camps and missed his family in Casino.

There were 10 questions from students. One of those questions was: “If you weren’t an NRL player, what would you be?”

”I’d be doing something in youth work,” he said.

”I truly believe our kids are our future.”

Cody Walker at Casino High School.

Walker’s drive kicked in once he became a father.

Walker said he didn’t really hit his stride in NRL until he was 24 and was signed to the Rabbitohs.

Usually players made their NRL debut at 19, he said.

His advice for the next generation was to ask the elders.

”I thank the elders for the pain and suffering they went through so I could stand here as a proud man of Casino,” he said.

Film director Jon Bell said education was “pretty important.”

”Not just formal education but also street smart,” the Wiradjuri/Bundjalung man said.

Jon Bell encouraged students to follow their dreams.

When Bell left Casino High he went to Sydney to study law.

“I did law for a year but I hated it,” he said.

Instead, “I took myself to the cinema.”

He had no connections in the film industry and it took him 20 years of hard work to finally make his first feature film The Moogai.

”If you have a dream in your head you pick up the skills along the way,” he said.

Bell has written or directed Gods of Wheat Street (filmed in Casino and Coraki), Cleverman, Black Comedy and many more.

Where you end up in life might be completely different to what you thought, he said.

Jon Bell talks about being a filmmaker.

”You spend a lot of time working your arse off.”

At school he enjoyed woodwork and metalwork.

”When you buy a house you learn about these things,” he said.

”Do what you feel called to do.”

During the NAIDOC assembly, there were dances by students and the school band played Solid Rock by the Goanna Band.

Casino High School band on stage. Photos: Susanna Freymark

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