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The Yarning Circle: Essendon Football Club's Commitment to Indigenous Players and Community

The Essendon Football Club is embarking on a new chapter in its long and proud history, one that centers around its Indigenous footballers and the establishment of a unique tradition known as the "Yarning Circle." This weekly meeting takes place at the club's Hangar home base, bringing together six talented Indigenous AFL players: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Alwyn and Jayden Davey, Tex Wanganeen, Anthony Munkara, and Alastair Lord.

The Yarning Circle draws inspiration from the important cultural process observed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It serves as a space for the players to build respectful relationships, exchange knowledge, and discuss their journeys, challenges, and lives both within and outside the club. Facilitated by Quinton Narkle, the club's player development manager, along with former Bomber and current Indigenous player development manager Paddy Ryder, the Yarning Circle has quickly become a connecting point for these athletes.

In just five months, the Yarning Circle has fostered strong bonds among the players, spanning from seasoned footballer Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, who is relishing a second shot at AFL football, to the first-year Bombers such as the Davey twins and Munkara, who are eager to make their mark.

“It’s unreal,” Alwyn Davey said. “It’s all about getting to know each other better and getting around each other, and talking about how we are all going.

“Quinton organises most of it for us, but it has been great for us young boys to express ourselves, especially those of us who are pretty new to the club.”

Jayden agreed: “It just connects all the brothers together. If we have something on our mind, we are comfortable enough to speak and talk through any issues we might have.

“It has made us feel more comfortable at the club, particularly those of us in our first year.”

Essendon Football Club has a rich history of embracing Indigenous talent, with 36 First Nations players donning the iconic red and black colors. The club's legacy dates back to its first Indigenous player, Norm McDonald, who played 128 games from 1947 to 1953 and won the Bombers' best and fairest award in 1951. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the club's legendary Indigenous players, Michael Long and Gavin Wanganeen, who played instrumental roles in Essendon's 1993 premiership triumph. Long received the Norm Smith Medal, while Wanganeen claimed the prestigious Brownlow Medal.

However, the club has faced challenges both on and off the field over the past few decades. To address this, a comprehensive review of Essendon's operations was conducted, leading to several key recommendations. One of these recommendations focused on resetting the club to become a sought-after destination for Indigenous talent across the nation. In line with this goal, initiatives like the Yarning Circle have emerged organically, while others have been strategically planned to restore Essendon's leadership position within the Indigenous community.

One significant step in this direction was the appointment of the club's first Indigenous board member, former star Dean Rioli. Rioli now chairs the newly formed Essendon 'First Nations Advisory Council,' which will provide leadership on cultural safety and oversee the revamped Indigenous development program. Furthermore, Essendon Football Club, along with their Dreamtime opponent Richmond and their Anzac Day rivals Collingwood, recently pledged support for a First Nations Voice to parliament in an upcoming referendum.

Michael Long, whose Long Walk from Melbourne to Canberra in 2004 helped to raise awareness for important issues for Indigenous people at a national level, said he couldn’t be more proud of his club, nor the game he excelled at.

“I think we have done a lot of heavy lifting (to educate) and hopefully it is now our time to come together as a nation,” Long said.

As Essendon prepares to take on Richmond in a sellout Dreamtime clash on Saturday night, Essendon captain Zach Merrett applauded the club’s direction.

“We have had a long history with Indigenous players all the way back to Norm McDonald in the ’40s and ’50s … he is on our wall at the Hangar,” Merrett said.

“We’ve had some great Indigenous players including Michael Long and Gavin Wanganeen, and I was lucky enough to play alongside Paddy Ryder, Courtenay Dempsey and Leroy Jetta when I got to the club.

“Richmond has probably led the way in the last decade … They have had so many Indigenous players and they have supported them so well. I think we are getting back to that stage and it’s fitting we get to play Richmond every year in the Dreamtime game.” Read the full article here.

Photo Courtesy Herald Sun

Courtesy Herald Sun

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