The AFL’s Indigenous Round, it needs to be more than tokenistic

Adam Goodes deserves a statue outside the MCG.

Adam Goodes deserves a statue outside the MCG.

‘Dreamtime at the ‘G’ is the name given to Richmond’s now-annual clash against Essendon at the MCG, which takes place this Saturday evening.

It is a match meant to celebrate the contribution of football’s many Indigenous figures – but it has had its day. It’s tokenistic.

As with the Indigenous Round, it deserves greater respect.

The AFL should either scrap both or acknowledge that Indigenous Australians’ contribution to football is more than we and the league are willing to accept.

Aboriginal Australians comprise two per cent of the population yet number 11 per cent of AFL playing lists.

Many overcame poverty and racial abuse to get there, but have enriched the game immensely.

They have given white Australians more than they deserve and it’s about time we honoured them and their game in a more meaningful way.

The AFL can start with a stronger acknowledgment that football derived in part from Marngrook.

Academics Barry Judd and Jenny Hocking, and writers Martin Flanagan and Jim Poulter, have delved into the Marngrook connection through the life of football’s founding father, Tom Wills.

Hocking has located transcripts from the 1840s describing the Indigenous game in an area that Wills lived.

It supports the argument that Wills, in framing football, was influenced by an Aboriginal game as much as by his time at the Rugby School in England.

When presented with Hocking’s findings, an AFL spokesperson declared: “Ultimately any view on our game’s history is really a matter for the AFL Commission through the Hall of Fame.”

What astonishing arrogance from the AFL Soviet!

It’s about time the AFL embraced football’s Indigenous roots without the glibness.

Before white settlement, bark from the Scar Tree outside the MCG was cut to make something useful, possibly a canoe.

It should lobby the Melbourne Cricket Club and state government for greater Indigenous representation in Yarra Park.

Long before the ‘G, the park was a gathering place for the Kulin peoples.

Except for the Scar Tree, which predates white settlement, you wouldn’t know the park had an Indigenous past.

It’s ‘white fella’ country. Just look at the statues.

Indigenous sports people aren’t represented. It’s predominantly white, male footballers and cricketers.

The AFL and Melbourne Cricket Club should rectify this with an ‘Avenue of Indigenous Sporting Legends’.

With all due respect to the current crop of statues, Adam Goodes and Doug Nicholls are far more significant figures.

They are the two most decorated footballers in the game’s history.

The AFL tacked Nicholls’ name onto the Indigenous Round last year. The recognition was long overdue.

Nicholls was a champion Fitzroy footballer in the 1930s and a tireless advocate for reconciliation.

In the 1970s he was appointed South Australia’s governor and knighted by the Queen.

If any footballer deserves a statue it’s Nicholls.

Goodes is a dual Brownlow Medalist, premiership player and four-time All-Australian.

He’s the only footballer to be ‘gonged’ Australian of the Year.

During Indigenous Round 2013, he made a stand against racial abuse at the ‘G. This in itself is worth a statue.

You can include the iconic ‘Winmar stand’ and Polly Farmer, one of the Stolen Generation, and link the Avenue to William Barack Bridge and Birrarung Marr.

Those making the ‘Long Walk to the ‘G’ for future Dreamtime games will know why they are there.

Let’s honour Wills. He connects our Indigenous and British sporting heritages.

Not only was he a football founding father, but he coached the 1868 Aboriginal cricket team to England.

Scrap the name Yarra Park. Rename the place after Wills.

If we continue paying lip-service to football’s Indigenous past, we and the AFL are no better than those who appropriate Aboriginal culture to get a cheap thrill or make a quick buck.

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