As a former Rugby League player, a model and a youth worker, straddling worlds is what Casey Conway does best. But being a gay, Aboriginal man in the world of professional sport required a particularly fine balancing act.
Not only was he a small-town Aboriginal teen thrust into the spotlight in a new city, but he was leading what he calls a “double life”, exploring his sexual identity in Sydney’s gay scene while keeping his relationships private from his teammates.
A Barada man, Conway grew up one of five boys in the small town of Bluff, a couple of hours west of Rockhampton. He played football from the age of six and was educated at St Brendan’s College in Yeppoon – a boarding school with a specialised rugby league program well-known for producing potential NRL players. It was here he was scouted for his big break with the Sydney Roosters.
Joining the team’s Jersey Flegg outfit (now known as the NRL’s National Youth Competition/Holden Cup) in 2003, he was still unsure about his sexuality, before eventually admitting to club officials that he was gay.
“I was up-and-coming, so they were cautious about going about it the right way,” he explained.
“They wanted to make sure I was looking after myself and accessing the support that I needed, and they were concerned about the club’s image.”