Australian icon it may be, but the revered Sherrin football has been elaborately transformed far from the oval. In a new exhibition, 40 women got their artistic hands on 40 footballs and decorated them in ways never seen at the 'G. SheppArchiballs opens in Melbourne this week revealing an astonishing range of traditional skills. The project began up in Shepparton, Yorta Yorta country. The women were either long-term locals or newer arrivals from Africa and Afghanistan, and they met weekly to transform the donated Tommy Sherrins. SheppArchiballs emerged from a fertile partnership between the town's indigenous art gallery Kaiela, the Rumbalara Football and Netball Club and the local TAFE's multicultural unit. Marion Crook's original Melbourne-based Archiballs project inspired the regional version, said Kaiela manager Angie Russi. "Shepparton is pretty much built on migration so there are a lot of services here for migrants and refugees. These women came together through textiles. Each brought different techniques and knowledge and a different aesthetic which is evident in the finished work." An interpreter helped with language barriers, and materials were sourced from the bush, op-shops and craft shops. "Many art works speak of the culture of the lady that made them, that Afghan tasselling and braiding that they do amazingly, just using their body as a loom," Russi says. Expect tassels, embroidery, feathers and felt. One footy is now an echidna with fake fur and porcelain quills. A distinctively Afghan aesthetic is seen in the patterning of a footy decorated with brocade and emu feathers. A long-necked turtle refers to a Yorta Yorta totem; and there's a rather exquisite duck, its long neck rising from a piece of delicate embroidery. The project began with migrant women attending an Aboriginal smoking ceremony in the Barmah Forest. Apart from cultural links, another bridge was crossed when footy brought together those passionate or disinterested about sport. "That's why we partnered with Rumbalara," Russi says. "We linked in with their Unity Cup which they have every year to celebrate the role of women in football. Usually the women's roles are about keeping the food happening, keeping the club together while blokes get out and do the hero stuff. It was about recognising that but also taking the icon and claiming it in a different way." Or as TAFE's Balvinder Kaur puts it, the footies are "reclaimed from the mud and tackle of the football field ... to embody creations of significance and imagination." Not surprisingly most of the migrant women were baffled by the local code, and said they liked soccer better. Even Russi who's a local doesn't "get" sport. However the sudden immersion soon led to loving the Sherrin. "The workshops were run in the football clubhouse so we were right there, seeing people train," she says. "I'm not a great sports devotee and I'd run a mile before going to a football game. "The first time I went to do a workshop out there with some ladies, I felt very uncomfortable ... But there were kids everywhere and grandmas making food. With the influx of the Sudanese and Congolese, lots of young people are joining, boys and girls, and they have introduced soccer." The Melbourne show follows the exhibition's Shepparton season. Russi said at the Unity Cup the siren wasn't just for the players. "We had a captive audience there to watch the football, but we gave them something different," she says. SheppArchiballs is at the Koori Heritage Trust, King St, Melbourne, until October 24.