Few players in the AFL are as universally admired as Hawthorn’s Shaun Burgoyne.
In his 18th season and 373rd game, the four-time premiership player will break the record for the most games played by an Indigenous footballer.
Known as ‘Uncle Shaun’ to the Indigenous playing group, Burgoyne became a leader and role model for his peers.
“He’s had a huge impact on my career,” Fremantle midfielder Brad Hill told AFLPlayers.com.au.
Burgoyne and Hill played at Hawthorn from 2012-2016, including in Hawthorn’s three-peat, before Hill returned to his home state of WA to play with the Dockers.
Hill credits Burgoyne’s leadership and friendship for his growth as a footballer and person.
“The way he’s showed me how to be a professional player, throughout games and during the week, has really helped me out,” Hill said.
“The type of person he is off-field made me feel welcome and part of his life… he’s had a big impact on me.”
Despite being a revered leader, Burgoyne said leadership never came naturally to him.
“When I first started (playing football) I was quite shy and embarrassed to speak out,” he told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“It didn’t happen over night and it’s taken me a number of years but I have grown to be more confident (as the seasons go on).”
Attending his first biennial Indigenous Camp in his first season in 2001 while playing with Port Adelaide, Burgoyne looked up to players such as Michael O’Loughlin, Adam Goodes and Gavin Wanganeen as leaders in the Indigenous community.
“You look up to them and the way they go about it on and off-field so I’ve been able to get some good tips from them over the years,” he said.
Now, the 36-year-old is the Chair of the Indigenous Players Advisory Board acting as a voice for his peers.
Melbourne defender Neville Jetta, also a member of the Indigenous Players Advisory Board, has admired the way Burgoyne has gone about his footy from his early days at the Power.
“What he was able to achieve at Port Adelaide (with a premiership) and then crossing over to Hawthorn, on pretty much one knee, and winning three more premierships… I’m in awe,” he told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“With what’s he’s been able to achieve, he’s absolutely someone that I look up to.”
Away from the field, there’s a consistent theme about the type of person Burgoyne is: he loves a yarn.
“I’ll tell you one thing, he can talk and he can tell a story,” Hill said.
“You’d be sitting with a group and Shauny would be telling a story and you’d hear it three more times during the day.”
Jetta agrees wholeheartedly with Hill.
“He loves to have a laugh and tell a story but it probably takes too long to get to the finish… everyone gives him a bit of stick about it,” he said with a laugh.
Growing up, Burgoyne was incredibly proud of his Indigenous heritage and culture.
Born in Darwin, Burgoyne’s family are part of the Kokatha (South Australia) and Warray (Northern Territory) cultural and language groups.
As a young boy, Burgoyne moved to Port Lincoln in South Australia where he engaged in traditional cultural activities including hunting and fishing.
“We lived and breathed (our culture) growing up,” Burgoyne said.
“As you get older you begin to ask more questions and become more inquisitive but it was just a part of everyday life.”
With 84 players in the AFL having Indigenous heritage, and representing 57 cultural and language groups, Burgoyne is full of pride.
“It’s hard to put into words to be honest,” he said.
“You live and breathe (your culture) and try to share it with you friends who are non-Indigenous.
“All the boys are proud of their heritage and where they come from.”