Essendon legend Michael Long said he is “amazed and overwhelmed” at the huge support in the west for The Long Walk — the curtain-raiser for tonight’s AFL Dreamtime match at Perth Stadium.
- The Long Walk was founded in 2004 to promote Indigenous issues
- It’s the second time the Dreamtime match has been held outside Melbourne
- The Long Walk will depart from the WACA for Perth Stadium at 3.30pm
The walk will now start at the WACA ground instead of Victoria Gardens to accommodate a flood of Western Australians wanting to take part in the historic event, with participants urged to register to avoid missing out.
Speaking to ABC Radio Perth, Long reflected on what inspired him to make that first walk from Melbourne to Parliament House to put Indigenous issues on the national agenda in 2004.
He said he was compelled to make the journey in the wake of the Howard Government’s decision to axe the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
“It was at a time when ATSIC was being abolished and that was really the only voice that Aboriginal people had at that level,” Long said.
“It was really about asking the Prime Minister [John Howard]: ‘Where’s the love for Aboriginal people?’
“You know, we can fly to the moon … but in the backyard of our country, we faced so many big challenges, and that’s what led to the to the walk.”
The dual premiership player and Norm Smith medallist said the AFL had helped to break down “so many barriers”.
He said it was important to honour trailblazers like Sir Doug Nicholls, Nicky Winmar, Kevin Sheedy and Gerard Neesham for helping to unite the country through football.
Fears of cancelled game quashed
Long said organisers were worried this year’s Dreamtime match between Richmond and Essendon was not going to happen and so were thankful WA had opened its doors to host the iconic game.
Tickets ended up selling out in just 17 hours after it was relocated from Melbourne following a coronavirus outbreak.
“The people of Perth and people coming from remote communities have really embraced it so it has been pretty overwhelming and the AFL really have to be commended on bringing the game here.”
Walk still shining a light on Indigenous issues
Fellow Essendon legend and Brownlow medallist Gavin Wanganeen, who will lead the walk alongside Long, said it was “very exciting” Western Australians had thrown their support behind the game.
“The Long Walk is going to be very special,” he said.
“Longy set out on a mission many years ago, wanting to create a voice where he can shine a spotlight on brining Indigenous issues onto the national agenda.
“The walk evolved to create awareness of issues from an Indigenous perspective around aspects of education, health and employment.
Wanganeen, who had participated in the walk every year, said it was “empowering” when all Australians united behind the event.
“It is such a warm feeling when you see non-Aboriginal people jumping on board and supporting it and that’s just an amazing feeling,” he said.
“We are getting to the stage where the numbers are actually changing when it comes to education and health and that’s the end goal and there’s a lot of great programs that are helping us get there.”
It was important to remember the Long Walk was not just about football, he said.
“With the Indigenous round, we’re celebrating the past contributions of Indigenous players and we are also celebrating Aboriginal culture here in Australia.
“But yeah, it is about the hardships and the changing of the health and education aspects for Aboriginal people.”
Gates open at the WACA at 1.30pm with a Welcome to Country, cultural performance and inspiring speakers taking part in a ceremony from 2.30pm.
Long and Wanganeen will then lead the walk, departing at 3.30pm, across the Matagarup Bridge to Perth Stadium.
Staidum boss CEO Mike McKenna urged people to register for the pre-game ceremony and walk, as the WACA could only cater for 6,000 people and 2,500 had already registered.
He said there would also be pre-match entertainment to showcase Indigenous culture before bounce down at 5.40pm.