A new-found respect

by Tavis Perry

I’ve only been living in a remote indigenous community for 2 months, but already I have a much greater respect and appreciation for the hurdles that Liam Jurrah, and indeed the Melbourne Football Club had to make, in order to establish him at AFL level. Growing up in an all aboriginal ‘community’ is vastly different from growing up in a place like Darwin, for instance. For starters, in the communities that I’m living in, and that Liam came from, there are very few white people living, and only a minimal amount of English spoken. Most of the general public would have read with interest that English is Liam’s third or fourth language, and although his comprehension of English would be quite good, I would imagine that getting his point across would be quite challenging for him. I was talking to one of the elders in Galiwinku about the difficulty of learning English for indigenous people and he explained that, for starters, there are about 100 times more words in the English language compared with most of the indigenous languages used. Also, each Aboriginal community has their own unique language, so one of the boys who live in Galwinku would only be able to converse with Liam, as an example, in the little English that they speak. Speaking in their local tongue would be as hard for each of them to understand as it would be for me. Further to this, in each community there are a number of different dialects spoken (around 20 in the 3,000 strong community that I live in), making it all the more challenging. Therefore, the assumption that other indigenous players such as Aaron Davey and Austin Wonammeari could simply ‘take Liam under their wing’, in my opinion, would to a certain degree at least, seem unlikely. Or rather, I doubt they would have a significantly greater influence than James McDonald or another leader at the club.

I remember when reading about Liam’s move to the city that one of the points he mentioned was the trouble he was having adjusting to the noise of the city. I couldn’t really comprehend that at the time, but out here at night, you can literally hear a pin drop, it is an absolute rarity to hear even a car go past and most of the community is in bed around 10pm; a far cry from living in a major city that never sleeps. I’ve never been to the actual community from where Liam came, but if it is as similar to Galiwinku as I’m lead to believe, where there is a car for every 50 people, simple things that we take for granted like crossing a busy street, or having to travel long distances to attend training are things that would be massive factors for Liam and something he would have had very little exposure to.

Melbourne must have handled Liam extremely well to get him to the point where he is now. Unlike other draftees, who are exposed to things like team structures, training diets, exercise regimes and weights training at TAC level, Liam would have likely entered with sound skills, a general knowledge of the game and an abundance of untapped potential. I imagine it would be have been easy for him to get overawed with the situation, but they have obviously been very aware of his background and given him a lot of exemptions. I wish I could have seen the expression on his face when he first saw the MCG or one of the gymnasiums that they train in.

As I mentioned earlier, the language barrier would have been more extravagant than people probably imagine, and I know that when I first started coaching the representative team in Galiwinku, I needed an interpreter to help me explain the drills properly. It wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t understand what I was saying, but they had never been exposed to the language that I was using, which has become part of the everyday footballing vernacular, such as ‘u-turns’, ‘(using the) corridor’ and ‘front and centre’.  It took them a little while to pick it up, but they are enthusiastic learners. No doubt Melbourne would also have a lot of different terminologies and set plays that would be daunting to any player, but especially a player who’s never heard any of the football jargon before.

It’s certainly an incomprehendable journey that Liam has taken. From a quiet, isolated community to the second biggest city in the country is a big step for anyone to take, but with the added distraction of being in the media spotlight, having the expectation of living the life of an elite athlete and constantly using a language he’s still only learning, it’s a phenomenal achievement, particularly by Liam but also by Melbourne. As an avid demons supporter I only hope he continues to play the scintillating football he’s capable of and keeps gracing the ‘G for many years to come.


  1. Steve Healy says

    Thanks for that Trav.

    I’m also an avid Dees supporter- I think he could be one of the greats of all time by the end of his career. Right from his first touch in the Essendon game I knew he was gonna be a star.

    I think that Jurrah speaks quite well at conferences, despite the little english he knows.

  2. Steve Healy says

    Sorry, thanks for that Tav.

  3. Yeh, it’s Tav Steve, but no offence taken, you may find it hard to believe, but it’s not the first time I’ve been called ‘Trav!’ In truth, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t make the (very easy) mistake.. Either way, I appreciate the response.

    Liam had an amazing debut year – some of the things he did very few players would be capable of.. I honestly would love to chat with Bails about him and see the appoach he’s taken with him.. One of the more amazing facts is that now I’ve been in the community for a while, and spoken to people in other communities throughout the top end they don’t hold Liam in as high regard as you might expect – make no doubt about it, there are plenty more Liam Jurrah’s to be unearthed! let’s hope I can get a few to the dees!

  4. John Butler says

    Very interesting Tavis

    I have just spent some (brief) time in the Red Centre myself.

    Chatted with a number of people involved in footy around the area and was left with the clear impression that they think they are somewhat ignored in comparison with the Darwin scene (although it’s not only footy that belief would apply to).

    I wouldn’t gaurantee these discussions were wholey representative, so it’s interesting to hear your exeperiences.

    Will you keep us posted as the year develops?


  5. Hey John,

    I think you’d agree that the remoteness of a lot of places outside of Darwin makes it particularly hard for these communities to get a similar amount of focus. For example, to get to where I live is a $500-600 return flight from Darwin, and there are places such as Wadeye that during the wet season are almost cut off due to the rising river levels.

    In saying that, I think that the AFL and AFL NT, in particular, are doing a fantastic job in trying to get more recognition for these isolated communities. Our team was involved in a Defence Force Carnival, held in Darwin, which I’m planning on doing an article on, and this included representative sides from all over NT. The fact that Galiwinku has a population of 3,000 and has a senior league that consists of 8 sides speaks volumes for how popular Australian rules football is in the community and how important it is to facilitate them even further.

    I plan on doing fortnightly, or monthly articles, depending on the time I have available, if there were any topics in particular you are interested in hearing more about, I’d love to hear them.



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