LINDSAY THOMAS, 28, has played more than 175 games for North Melbourne since being drafted in 2006 from Mallee Park, a South Australian club with proud history of producing Indigenous footballers. MAJAK DAW, 25, is a Sudanese refugee who came to Australia when he was 12. When the Kangaroos’ rookie made his AFL debut in 2013 he became a trailblazer for a new generation of footballers of African heritage.
“I’ve gotten to know Linds, just through the interactions of obviously being a player and a teammate at the club, but more so the work we do through The Huddle (the Kangaroos’ community hub, which works with young people).
“I know he’s a pretty passionate Indigenous person and I’m really passionate about my community, so that’s something we share, both personally and something we’re proud of.
“Lindsay is a pretty quiet kind of guy at the footy club; he doesn’t really give too much away. But a couple of years ago a few teammates and I went with Lindsay over to Port Lincoln, his home town, and I think his local footy club is called Mallee Park. So we went over there and saw where he played and where he grew up, met his extended family. So that was a good experience, to step away from Melbourne and see where he’s from. It was a proud moment for him.
“He was pretty humble about it. We got to meet some of the Aboriginal elders. We saw a photo of a little Daniel Wells; he had an Afro and apparently used to kick bags of goals. It’s a pretty proud club Mallee Park.
“He’s a very proud man and the way he carries himself I think a lot of Indigenous kids look up to him.”
– Majak on Lindsay
“I could relate to him a little bit. Coming from a community where everyone’s close and they always come back to the footy club. That was a common thing for some of the people I got to meet and the elders. And hearing some of the stories; one stuck in my mind in particular, about going out into the bush and hunting for kangaroos. They said that next time, if I got the opportunity to come back, they’d take me out. It takes you away from what happens in the city; very busy life here but they were very down-to-earth people.
“Since I’ve come to North, and especially through those two boys, Daniel and Lindsay, I’ve taken more interest in Indigenous culture. Every year around Indigenous Round they get up and speak in front of the boys. They’re really proud of their culture and it takes a lot of courage to do be able to do that in front of people, not knowing how people are going to take it.
“And obviously through the programs we run through The Huddle – a lot of Indigenous kids come through there as well.
“The work I do, a bit of work with The Huddle but also with the AFL through my (multicultural) ambassador role, we do cross over a little bit sometimes.
“On my days off I’ve seen Lindsay in The Huddle and working with some of the kids and he’s asked me if I want to come in and just have a chat, so I’ve done that. It’s interesting how you see your teammates out of the footy environment. I can say he’s a real leader of his community. He’s a very proud man and the way he carries himself I think a lot of Indigenous kids look up to him.
“Lindsay’s got a couple of daughters and a wife and I’ve been over to his house a few times. I mean I don’t have kids myself, so it’s not like I can take my kids over there, but it’s funny, his little daughters come here to the club and they’re a bit shy and don’t know whether to say hi or not, but when they get home Lindsay reckons they talk about me because I stand out from the rest.
“He’s been a great support as far as footy goes. In my first game (against the Brisbane Lions in 2013) he came up to me when I kicked my first goal and it was a really proud moment, so much excitement. And not only Lindsay but all my other teammates. That sticks out in my mind.
“He’s one of the most exciting players to watch. In my mind Lindsay’s one of the most elite small forwards ion the competition and I think he’s started to realise that himself over the past three-four years; he’s become more mature and with his attack on the ball he’s so hard to defend. Some of our small defenders speak so highly of him. Lindsay’s still got plenty of footy left ahead of him and he’s a massive asset to our footy club.
“(Coach) Brad Scott just wants him to hit the contest hard. He’s a small crumbing forward like Cyril Rioli and his chasing pressure is unbelievable.
“If we had a race, I think he would have me covered in the first 50 metres but it takes me a little while to get going and I think I’d be able to just beat him.”
For more In Two Minds with Carlton footballers Dylan and Jimmy Buckley click HERE
“I think when Maj first got to the footy club he was pretty raw. Everyone wanted to know about Maj and his background and his heritage, and he fitted in pretty well and has developed into a super person. The stuff he’s doing, not just at the footy club but away from it, is a credit to him.
“Majak’s from Sudan and I’m an Aboriginal person, but our cultures aren’t too dissimilar. He always asks me questions about my culture and I always ask questions about his. It’s always great to learn new things.
“I know Majak loves his family very much and he’s very proud of his culture and his background and where he’s from and that’s very similar to me as well. Being an Aboriginal person I’m very similar; very family orientated and very proud of my culture and my heritage.
“A couple of years ago I rounded up about five or six boys and just asked if they wanted to come over to Port Lincoln (during Grand Final week) just to experience where I come from, my footy club and my community. We were planning on going shark-cage diving but we made the prelim and we had end-of-season meetings and stuff.
“We still ended up going over and the boys loved it. Obviously everyone’s going to be attracted to Majak, because he’s different, in a good way. He stands out a fair bit, but they just let him do what he wanted to do, which was relax and soak it all in. We cooked them up some food, some kangaroo meat and some seafood.
“Because he’s the first Sudan-born footballer to play in the AFL everyone wanted a piece of him. So I’ve tried to be like a big brother to Maj.”
– Lindsay on Majak
“I took them down to my local footy club (the Mallee Park Peckers) which is an all-Aboriginal family club. The boys loved it and learned a lot. It was an experience that I’m sure they’ll cherish.
“I know he’s a big fisherman – him, Ben Cunnington and Aaron Black – so he knew bits and pieces about Port Lincoln.
“I’ve met a few of his brothers. Everyone gets attracted to Majak. I know my kids love him. He’s a very nice guy Majak, he’s like a big teddy bear. I’ve said to Maj, I’d love to go around to his house and just listen to the (family) conversations. It’s intriguing for me.
“When Majak first got to the footy club he was very raw and he kind of got thrown into the deep end very very early. Because he’s the first Sudan-born footballer to play in the AFL everyone wanted a piece of him. So I’ve tried to be like a big brother to Maj. I remember his first game, it was unbelievable. His whole family there was there; I think he needed about 80 tickets.
“I remember that first goal. Daniel Wells kicked it in to Maj and I think he took a mark over Daniel Merrett. I was the first guy in there to give a bit of lip to Daniel Merrett and when Maj kicked the goal I was the first in there to give him a big hug, because I’ve seen how hard Majak’s worked. A lot of people don’t see that, they just see guys running out on game day but Majak’s worked very hard to get to where he is today and it’s a credit to him and his family, for sure.
“I’ve heard great reports on how Majak engages in the community. For him to give back to the multicultural community is something he’s passionate about, and something I’m passionate about. He’s been doing it since day one and from all reports he’s doing a great job.
“He’s very easy to talk to, Maj, he’s very friendly. He looks like a monster because he’s just so big, but he’s actually a very nice guy and easy to approach. I’ve got no doubt that Majak can give some great advice to those kids … and I’m sure he’ll continue that once his footy career finishes, whenever that is.
“He’s improved this year out of sight. The thing with Majak is just that the self-belief kind of was there, but it wasn’t. But this preseason just shows why the talk about Majak is so big. His preason this year was just unbelievable; he’s running well, he’s covering the ground very well and I think a lot of people have to realise that he’s playing behind Todd Goldstein, who’s an All-Australian ruckman. But I think when Majak gets his opportunity in the senior side he’ll grab that opportunity with both hands.
“From when he first got here seven years ago to now he’s improved out of sight. I think a lot of our supporters have seen glimpses; he can mark, he can run, he can tackle. I think (Brad Scott) would just tell him to get the ball and run and take the game on. That’s the only advice you can give to someone like Maj, I reckon, he’s just an animal.
“I remember watching that (2015) Grand Final sprint and I was blown away. Majak would burn me off in a race that’s for sure. You can just see it in his body, his physique. He’s just a natural-born athlete.”