This AFL season will ultimately be remembered by what happens in September, but for a select group of players, some of their greatest memories of 2013 may involve a game that was played in February.
Every second season the Indigenous All-Stars play a match against an AFL club – in 2013, they took on the Tigers in Alice Springs. All AFL footballers travel interstate to play matches, but those who took part in this exhibition match in February experienced something completely new.
The players travelled around the Northern Territory, visiting Uluru and some local indigenous communities along the way.
“I’m not too crazy on going on the small aircrafts but when I was told of the opportunity to come out here and see Uluru and come to the community and see the kids, I couldn’t pass it up,” Bomber Paddy Ryder said.
He wasn’t the only Indigenous player excited to see Uluru.
“I feel privileged to come here and have a look at it, and just take it in because it’s one of the wonders of the world”, Shaun Burgoyne said.
“I feel privileged to come here and have a look at it, and just take it in because it’s one of the wonders of the world” – Shaun Burgoyne.
Nathan Lovett-Murray agreed, adding, “We got to walk around the rock and learn a bit about the history of local Indigenous people here, which was very interesting.”
Lovett-Murray described the entire trip as significant to the Indigenous players who took part.
“We have these camps every year that the AFL Players’ Association put on, and it’s just really good for the boys, spiritually as well; the boys coming together, having a laugh and having fun but also talking about some of the issues we face as Indigenous players in the AFL.”
While the match itself was a highlight of the trip, interacting with the surrounding Indigenous communities in Alice Springs was just as rewarding.
“If we can get out and have a kick and catch with them and hopefully pass on some messages about healthy lifestyles – what they eat and drink – hopefully they take something out of it,” Burgoyne said.
“It’s very important they do the right things out here, especially in this heat.”
While the indigenous players loved the trip, so did those representing Richmond.
Tiger forward Jack Riewoldt said, “We did a bit of community work just down the road here – in terms of clinics, it’s probably one of the best ones I’ve ever done.”
Riewoldt understood the significance of the match and was proud to be a part of it.
“That’s what this game’s about. It’s about breaking the boundaries (between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians), and people not being afraid to talk about this and dance around those sorts of issues. It’s a great game and it’s really good to be involved in.”
While the Tigers are gearing up for September, many indigenous players are looking forward to another chance to play alongside one another. For the first time, the Indigenous All-Stars will travel overseas to represent Australia in the International Rules series against Ireland. The two tests will be played on the 19th and 26th of October.
Words by Sam McInerney