When Shaun Edwards retired from the AFL at the ripe age of 23 following the 2017 season, he wanted to make a difference.
Edwards understood the significance of sport for so many people around the world, and in particular AFL fans in Australia but he also felt that there were things he hadn’t experienced yet in his life where he could make a genuine impact.
After 24 games across seven seasons with the GWS Giants, Essendon and Sydney, Edwards left his AFL career behind and moved to Los Angeles.
Living with (fashion brand) Ksubi founder Dan Single, Edwards began working for AIME Mentoring – an organisation that mentors marginalised youth around the world from high school into university.
In Australia, AIME works specifically with Indigenous children working to close the gap in education.
It was a role befitting of someone who hailed from the Northern Territory and understood both sides of Australian culture.
“Living in LA I was meeting all these incredible people and amazing artists and I wanted to find a way to bring that influence back to the Territory,” Edwards told aflplayers.com.au.
Edwards hadn’t settled on a concept or a plan but he did have a name: House of Darwin.
After some time deliberating what House of Darwin would work to achieve, Edwards settled on creating a social enterprise clothing brand that reinvests all of its funds back into remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
Through House of Darwin, Edwards runs workshops around sport, leadership and learning different life skills to help improve the lives of young Indigenous people.
Growing up, Edwards split his time between Darwin and a small town called Gunbalanya – an Indigenous community in West Arnhem land.
At 13, Edwards moved to Victoria to attend the prestigious Melbourne Grammar School in Melbourne’s inner-south east and work towards a promising football career.
The boarding school that sat opposite Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens was worlds away from his upbringing in the NT.
“It was so different… in Gunbalanya for six months of the year the only way to get in and out of the community is via plane because the water rises so much,” he said.
“All of a sudden I’m living in South Yarra going out for poached eggs.
“I didn’t even know you could go and eat breakfast out at a restaurant until I got to Melbourne.”
Ahead of the Giants joining the AFL competition in 2012, Edwards was signed as a pre-selected 17-year-old following a stint with the AIS-AFL Academy.
For seven years, Edwards trained religiously and focused on life at the elite level but he always felt that he was living in a bubble.
There was always a burning desire to explore his other passions outside of football and give back to the community where he could, but an apprehension around transferring the skills Edwards acquired during his AFL career into his new life was always in his mind.
“One thing footy taught me, especially being a fringe player for my whole career, was a level of resilience that I was going to be able to take and transfer into life,” Edwards said.
“In particular this year with COVID-19 and the changes we are facing, I’ve had to use my resilience and what I know to help build House of Darwin.”
If Edwards could give one piece of advice to current listed players about his experiences retiring from the game and building his life away from football, it would be to know that your skills are transferable and you learn more playing football than you think.
For Edwards, 2020 has been about resilience, getting up each day and to keep finding a way to make change through House of Darwin.
Currently, he is in Alice Springs working on the next clothing drop where funds will be reinvested back into the Santa Teresa community approximately 90km south-east of Alice Springs.
As someone who had grown up in the remote towns, he understands the unique challenges these individuals face and wants to use his influence and experiences to bring practical tools back to support these communities.
Edwards is grateful for the support of his mentor, Single, and his close friends who have given their time as artists to help support his cause.
He’s had help from lululemon, Harvey Norman and Melbourne Grammar along the way and has been able to reinvest close to $25,000 of charitable goods back into Indigenous communities in Australia’s central north.
Although Australia has come a significant way in their acknowledgement of the differing living standards between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, there is still a long way to go.
Edwards believes change will happen through education and by society being more open to learning and understanding the different challenges faced by minority groups.
“It’s tough with COVID and not being able to travel but there is plenty of literature, books and documentaries that you can read up on to really understand the history of this country from both sides,” he said.
When border restrictions ease and it is physically safe to visit these towns, Edwards will continue encouraging people to travel and gain knowledge through immersing themselves in different cultures.
“For some of these Indigenous people, they’re living eight to ten hours down a dirt track that most people don’t know existed,” he said.
“We’ve got the oldest history on our planet in terms of our Indigenous culture so there’s a big present just waiting to be unwrapped.”
You can support Shaun Edwards and House of Darwin here.