Cooper Craig-Peters is a proud Indigenous man and a keen footballer, having risen through the ranks of the Western Bulldogs’ academy and now plying his trade with their VFL side. Here he shares his experience: what it’s like living away from his ‘rowdy’ family back home, the role sport has played in his life, and what he has learned about himself along the way.
Tell us about yourself
I am a proud Ngurai Illum Wurrung, Yara Yara, Dja Dja Wurrung, and Yorta Yorta man. My mob is a bit different now because of a court case a few months ago. It found out that my family is from a different tribe than we originally thought, because they had been separated in the Coranderrk mission. It was really good to find that out.
I’m nineteen years old and from Ross Creek, which is just on the outskirts of Ballarat. I went to St Pat’s for school and now I am in my second year at Trinity College.
What brought you to Trinity College?
My aim has always been, and still is, to get drafted to the AFL, but you need to have a back-up plan. My back-up plan was going to university, and it was between either the University of Melbourne or Deakin Uni. I ended up choosing Melbourne because I’m more familiar with Melbourne than I am with Geelong.
I was initially going to travel down from Ballarat to Melbourne each day for my classes but, after realising how many other commitments I had, it seemed pretty unrealistic for me to do that every day for an entire year.
I went on an Indigenous student camp where we got to stay at Trinity and, after staying here, I thought – although I’d already missed the window for applications – I’d love to come to Trinity.
It’s got great facilities and some of the kids who were on that camp were going to Trinity. I remember thinking, ‘This sounds like a pretty good fit for me’.
Then, I was introduced to the Indigenous support officer Tamm. She sat down with me, we spoke about my situation, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, you sound like a decent kid. We think you should be fine with Trinity’. I ended up being accepted on the first day of O Week and made the trek down from Ballarat.
Did the move to Melbourne surprise you at all?
It definitely was new. I always thought growing up that, at eighteen, I would move out of home. No matter what happened! So, when I got the chance to go to Trinity, I was more excited and happy that I was moving out – not really scared or anything. My parents were more wary because they thought the idea of me moving away at eighteen was a joke.
I’ve loved the independence that comes with living at College, getting away from my family because they do run amok sometimes. I’ve got two sisters and three younger brothers. I’m the eldest in a big bunch.
Also, our animals: we’ve got three dogs, three cats, sheep, alpaca, and cows. So there’s a very large group of us.
I think that helped with the transition to Trinity. Each one of my siblings is completely unlike the other, so I learned from a young age to interact with people drastically different from myself.
I’d probably say home is more rowdy than any of the College corridors I’ve ever been on, just because you can get away with a lot more at home … be as loud as you really want. But it definitely prepared me to live on a floor amongst a lot of other students and friends.
What role does sport play in your life?
Even as a baby, I always had a footy in my hand. It’s always been there for me. It is my home away from home. No matter how I’m feeling, I can always go kick a footy. It’s a major part of my life, and I’ve just got so many experiences that are tied to footy.
It’s helped me out tonnes with schooling as well. I learned quick that if you put in the hard work early, things will be a lot easier for you later in life.
Footy is like an older brother. It can be hard on you at times, but it’s looking out for you and no matter what, it’ll always be there for you.
How have you found balancing your footy with your academic studies and College life in general?
This has really been the first year where I’ve had to balance university and footy, because football was pretty non-existent last year due to COVID-19.
It was a little shaky at the start, mainly because I’d be absolutely smashed by the end of the week. I was doing uni in the morning and going to my job straight afterwards. Then, as soon as work finished, I’d go straight to training. Once footy wrapped up, I’d have dinner, have a shower, and then go back straight into studying.
Now, I try to find more time to squeeze in power naps or breaks where I can just go out, have a walk, and socialise.
I’d probably say that’s the main thing I’ve learned this year: not to go full out to the point where I exhaust myself and it becomes mentally draining. Taking five minutes to myself makes a huge difference. It lets me cool down and reset.
Still, coming back to footy after the lockdowns last year, I realised how much I want to reach the professional level. I also really missed the social side of it. Just being able to have a kick with my mates has been amazing, now that the pandemic’s taken a slight downturn.
The time off made me realise how much I love the sport and what it would mean for me to go to that next level with it. It’s made me hungry and I want to strive further towards my goal this year.
Trinity has been a great outlet through it all. My corridors this year and last year have been so unique. No one’s quite the same, unless I’ve lived with them two years in a row.
College is really good at taking me out of the footy mindset, stopping me from constantly thinking about training, and starting those little chats with someone about how we’re both going. It puts into perspective how, after footy, I’ll still have friends and my family, and that there’s more to life outside of sport.
How do you think these experiences have influenced your time at Trinity College?
I’ve never really been a shy person. I was keen to meet everyone at College from day one. But the past two years have made me reflect on who I am and what I can do for my corridor, for my friends, and community. It’s not only made me look at myself, but also who I want to be as an actual person – not just as a uni student or a footballer.
I feel like anyone can feel comfortable here. At school in Ballarat, it felt very football oriented and that’s something that has followed me for most of my life. It felt like if you didn’t play football, watch football, love football, you were an outcast.
Here at Trinity, you don’t have to conform to everyone else’s expectations. You are allowed to have interests that are different and have your own opinions. I think that’s the main strength of Trinity College.