For years Gavin Wanganeen left Essendon and Port Adelaide fans yearning for more during a career which featured two premierships, a Brownlow medal and five All-Australian selections.
But now Wanganeen is making his presence known in the artistic world having designed the ball to be used during the 2017 Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round.
“Obviously, I was privileged and honoured that the AFL could think of me as an artist. To be given that opportunity was a huge compliment,” Wanganeen told Aflplayers.com.au.
“I wanted to be able to represent each of the AFL clubs with the 18 circles on the ball. I wanted to direct them to be recognised because they have an important role as future homes for young Indigenous kids chasing their dreams just like I did.
“I think it’s a story in itself because Indigenous kids come from all over Australia, from different backgrounds, different hardships and hurdles so their roles as clubs and to help them get settled is very important.”
And Wanganeen says he designed the ball to have a profound effect on those who have it in their hands.
“A lot of different things go through your head when trying to come up with a design,” he explained.
“I wanted to the design to be seen, I wanted it to be in a prominent position. I designed the circles along the seam so when the players hold the ball lace out they can see the design, that was a key feature.”
The ball will also feature the number 67, a commemoration to the 1967 referendum, a design element which Wanganeen holds close to his heart.
“It’s the 50th anniversary of a huge and important day for Indigenous Australians, so it’s great that the number 67 is on there,” Wanganeen said.
“Going forward it should be recognised to be able to remind everyone of our history and that there are opportunities and chances to celebrate our culture in the future.”
As part of the Indigenous Round celebrations, Hawthorn’s Shaun Burgoyne and Richmond’s Shane Edwards will pay their own tributes to the historic occasion by swapping their number nine and 10 jumpers for 67 this weekend.
And Wanganeen says he is proud to see the game’s current crop of Indigenous players paying homage to their past.
“I think that’s really special. For them to be able to recognise that time and the importance of it today on the footy field and create awareness around it is great,” Wanganeen said.
“It gives them the chance to get the message out there and educate and remind people about people who might not know about the 1967 referendum.”
Away from the bright lights of the AFL world, Wanganeen continues to play an important role in the aboriginal community, where he is focused on helping young Indigenous people reach their full potential.
“Over the years having played footy for so long and having a profile, an Indigenous profile, I think to be able to voice my opinion and stay involved in supporting Indigenous programs and charities is important,” he said.
“I think it is important to help strengthen those charities or programs and to give back but mainly to encourage younger kids to chase their dreams.”
But perhaps it is the arts where Wanganeen is continuing to grow closer to his culture.
“I paint about the night sky because there is a lot of stories and meanings to my mum’s people, the Kokoatha people, I paint about my own interpretation at the moment,” he explained.
“Star Dreaming and Shooting Star are two paintings I have been working on for a while now. Those two painting styles are going extremely well and something I continue to enjoy doing.
“But more importantly I learn a lot more about my own culture and my mum’s people. It’s very spiritual being able to paint and I’m very lucky to be able to paint in my own contemporary style.”
Away from the canvas, Wanganeen is as passionate as ever in helping Indigenous footballers to make their dreams come true which is why this weekend’s Indigenous Round is so special to him.
“It’s important to current and past Indigenous players as well as the wider community Australia-wide. They are always geared up and proud sitting at home watching knowing their culture is being celebrated.
“It’s all about education going forward and learning more about our own Indigenous culture going forward.”
“I think it’s great, I love it every year.”