PROUDLY a Ballarat girl at heart, Belinda Duarte says the chance to join the Western Bulldogs weaves together the constant threads in her life: health, sport, social justice and her hometown.
Football is familiar territory.
Ms Duarte was the first female executive at the Richmond Football Club and the first Aboriginal executive in the AFL. In her time with the Tigers, Ms Duarte was the inaugural chief executive officer for the Korin Gamadji Institute, an educational and training facility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
This in part led Ms Duarte to Culture is Life, an organisation backing indigenous-led solutions for youth suicide prevention and youth support programs.
Joining the Bulldogs' board ties together Ms Duarte's work with bodies like VicHealth, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation and WasteAid. This brings her, in a sense, full circle with all that has shaped her so far.
Ballarat, she says, is where it all began.
"They were really formulative years for me and part of my story...I love the story of Ballarat and its origins in the Eureka Rebellion, which significantly was about standing up for people - that's a synergy, ethos and values the Western Bulldogs hold," Ms Duarte said.
...I love the resilience of the Ballarat region. In recognising history, there is a heartache of community members but a lot of great things have come out of Ballarat - the people and stories of Ballarat.
Ms Duarte went to Brown Hill Primary School (now Caledonian), and what is now Woodman's Hill Secondary College before completing a teaching degree at the then-University of Ballarat.
At the same time, Ms Duarte (nee Jakiel) was capturing attention as an amateur and professional sprinter, also gaining an early taste of committee work with the Ballarat Gift. before following her passion as an elite heptathlete.
Sport, she says, is a big part of her family and her DNA.
He mother, quiet and patient off the field, was a fierce and talented softball competitor.
Her lineage also features a great-great-grandfather on the first Australian Aboriginal cricket team to tour England and Bobby McDonald, the first Aboriginal man to win the Stawell Gift.
A proud Aboriginal woman of Wotjobaluk descent, Ms Duarte said her sense of identity and the areas in which she chooses to work are about positively helping both the Aboriginal community and her broader community.
"Sport is part of the Australian identity and offers a chance to deepen understanding and broaden engagement. It's an expression of talent, perspective and inclusion in a range of different communities," Ms Duarte said.
She was introduced to the Bulldogs via president Peter Gordon and Basketball Australia chief Jerril Rechter, who is also on the Bulldogs' board. Ms Duarte had worked with both on health promotions and pathways to sports participation at VicHealth.
Western Bulldogs' portfolio of community development programs impressed Ms Duarte. Those in Ballarat include children's literacy program Bulldogs Read, youth-focused Bulldogs Leadership Program and health campaigns Sons and Daughters of the West. Each is delivered in partnership with community experts.
The fact the Bulldogs have also taken strong moves to get out of the gambling industry was another important factor for Ms Duarte, in her gambling prevention role.
"Working with a football club that has a strong history is important. The Bulldogs have aspirations and proactive clear statements that matter," Ms Duarte said.
This is a club that not only wants to be strong on the field, but to have a strong social fabric - that's really something to be part of.
"To be able to engage and give back to the community as well is really exciting and a privilege."
Ms Duarte joined Western Bulldogs board this month in an initial observation role and to be appointed director at the Bulldogs' next annual general meeting. In a club statement, the Bulldogs said Ms Duarte would offer particular guidance on the club's commitment to reconciliation, Ballarat development and ensuring healthy and inclusive communities.
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.