Western Bulldogs draftee Buku Khamis’ memories of his childhood in South Sudan are hazy.
He can recall how the sand would burn his feet as he played outside in the heat but he doesn’t remember much more from back home.
The 18-year-old was only six when he migrated to Australia with his parents and siblings.
His journey across the globe would be his first time on a plane.
“I don’t remember too much from living there but I do remember coming on the plane to Australia not knowing where we were going or what was going on,” he told AFLPlayers.com.au during his first AFL pre-season.
“When we landed at the airport it was dark so I couldn’t get a view of Melbourne. I kind of freaked out because it was all new to me.”
Khamis faced challenges as his family settled into life in Australia.
The language barrier made assimilating difficult but once he learnt English things changed and Khamis felt he adapted well to Australian culture.
The Western Jets product didn’t start playing football until he was 12, joining his local club St Albans after attending a Western Bulldogs game as part of a school excursion.
“Playing football really helped me open up to other people and make friends,” he said.
“It gave me something that I enjoyed which helped me to express myself more. Football made me feel involved and like I was a part of something.”
After joining St Albans in under-12s, Khamis’ athleticism attracted the attention of TAC Cup recruiters and he was invited to participate in Western Jets development squad.
He then joined the Western Jets program, playing in the National Championships at both under-16 and under-18 level, earning All-Australian selection in his top-age year.
His link to the Western Bulldogs has existed long before being drafted.
Khamis was part of the Bulldogs Next Generation Academy (NGA) the club’s affiliation with the Western Jets and was also part of the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation’s Ready Settle Go program, which supports newly arrived migrants in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
Despite his involvement with the Bulldogs and growing up as an Essendon supporter, Khamis’ football heroes are those from multicultural backgrounds with the defender admiring North Melbourne’s Majak Daw and the West Coast Eagles’ Nic Naitanui.
“When I started playing the game they inspired me because they were different. I can relate especially to Majak because our backgrounds are the same.”
When his status as a Bulldogs player was confirmed, Daw reached out to Khamis sending him a congratulatory text message and letting him know the young player would have his full support as he navigated the AFL system.
“He’s been through it all and knows what I am about to go through. I just can’t wait to see how everything pans out.”
Although he spent time training with the Bulldogs during the 2017 pre-season as part of the NGA program, becoming an AFL player was beyond his wildest dreams.
From a South Sudan refugee camp to pulling on the Western Bulldogs jumper, the journey has been long and arduous, but it’s one he can’t wait to see unfold.
“When I started in under-12s I was just playing because it was fun but I never thought it could actually happen. It’s pretty crazy.”