One of North’s big improvers of 2008, Matty ‘Flash’ Campbell, continues to look the goods, this time for the Indigenous All-Stars in their win against Adelaide. Awarded the Polly Farmer Medal for best on ground, Campbell has come a long way since carving up the dirt in Alice Springs for the Pioneers.
The transition for Indigenous players from the bush to big city football can’t be easy. Campbell has Arrente (Alice Springs region) and Arabana (around Lake Eyre) heritage and spent a fair bit of his childhood living on his grandfather’s land outside Alice. English is still his first language, but there would be plenty of other cultural barriers to be confronted with in the big smoke – many of which us whitefellas don’t even think about. ‘Sorry business’ (death in the family/community) is the most obvious, but even the simple Aussie ritual of going to the pub can present issues.
But if the barriers for Matty Campbell are big, spare a thought for Melbourne’s newest recruit, Liam Jungarrayi Jurrah. Liam is an initiated Warlpiri man from Yuendumu, a traditional Aboriginal community 300km north-west of Alice. Liam had never seen a gym until he came to Melbourne. His journey is an amazing one already (Martin Flanagan tells it as well as anyone) but far from complete. It has the potential to go anywhere.
I’ve previously written about the contribution Indigenous players have made to footy. But it’s fair to say that footy’s contribution in return is immense. It is perhaps the only aspect of mainstream Australian culture which offers real hope for Indigenous Australians (given the exploitative nature of commercialising traditional Indigenous art).
Liam Jurrah is the AFL’s biggest test yet. I worry about what might happen if things don’t quite work out.
But then again, what are the possibilities if they do … ?