IN 2004, when I decided to walk from Melbourne to Canberra to ask for a meeting with the then prime minister, John Howard, I didn’t envisage that we’d still be talking about it 10 years later.
At the time, my goal was simply to get Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues back on the national agenda, following cuts to important education programs that taught students about Aboriginal and indigenous history.
My aim was simple. I wanted to create an opportunity for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to come together and to advance respect and understanding of the oldest culture in the world.
I have always believed football is a binding force in our nation. It has the power to bring people together and, of course, education is a vehicle for change.
Our Walk the Talk education program is a resource for teachers in schools to educate all students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and cultural heritage.
We encourage our indigenous children to realise that they can overcome disadvantages and embrace both Australian schooling and Aboriginal traditional cultural practices, and we want non-indigenous children to realise they can be part of the solution.
This program helps explain some of the layers of connectivity in indigenous culture — a connectivity that applies to the people, to the country and to spirituality — and, crucially, it explains the way these connections influence wellbeing.
Resources create a talking point within the classroom so that children can discuss the issues and differences between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-indigenous Australians. The aim of this dialogue is to stimulate students to break down barriers and make changes in their own school and community.
It can be done, and in doing so we can all learn from each other.
The increasing number of indigenous players at each AFL club and the upcoming Dreamtime Round are appropriate examples of a shift in community awareness of Aboriginal history and indigenous issues. Of course, there are still issues to be addressed within the game and within the nation, although we shouldn’t ignore or diminish what we have achieved.
So, it’s worth celebrating 10 years of walking The Long Walk.
More than 100,000 people have joined us on The Long Walk over the years and in addition we have had more than 20,000 children participate in the Walk the Talk school program since it was first launched.
We continue other cross-cultural programs around Australia, including a women’s program that teaches indigenous traditions.
I’m very proud of our programs and the support we continue to receive every day for The Long Walk.
This year, The Long Walk’s 10th anniversary celebrations start at the Royal Botanic Gardens on Saturday with a fun walk from 10.30am, followed by a free concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
BUT the Long Walk Trust needs to raise money to be able to continue its successful and important education program because existing funding for the Walk the Talk program ends in June this year.
So here’s a challenge: sign up to do the charity Long Walk Fun Walk on Saturday and you’ll help raise much-needed funds for us to continue our education programs.
We recently built a 70-bed leadership centre in Darwin that will have an impact on the health and education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The leadership centre encourages Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders to look at education, football, jobs, employment, training and health through a pathway that supports their backgrounds and their futures.
Although a lot has been done by various governments and other organisations to close the gap, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders continue to be disadvantaged when it comes healthcare, education and employment. We must continue to work to close that gap.
As an AFL footballer, I recognised I was in a privileged position that gave me the ability to create change. But never in my wildest dreams would have I imagined that The Long Walk would become the centrepiece of the Dreamtime at the ’G.
I start my walk as a proud Aboriginal Australian every day. I walk the talk every day. I believe as a nation we have come closer to bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous cultural understanding and acceptance.
I hope 10 years from now, issues around racism will no longer exist, children from all backgrounds will have an equal opportunity and our indigenous and non-indigenous cultures will be both inclusive and cohesive.
Come and join me on my walk.
The Long Walk, 10th anniversary celebrations, Saturday, May 31.
Michael Long is a former Essendon footballer and a spokesman for indigenous rights’
This article appeared in the Herald Sun. To view the article click here