With the shutdown of football Yokayi has had to get inventive with the way it tells its community stories. Using excerpts from Ernie Dingo’s Going Places the importance of community football has never been more important.

COMMUNITY football in Australia has never been more important.

This is especially the case in the regions with high populations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. With the temporary shutdown of the elite AFL, the chance to reflect and understand the importance of community football especially in the regions has presented itself. 

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With Yokayi presenter Gilbert McAdam initially charged with travelling the nation to talk to people and provide insight into community football as it pertains to First Nations Australians the pandemic has curtailed what was to be a refreshing and important part of the show.

Like many issues that have confronted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since 1788, the need to adapt has been crucial to survival and Yokayi Footy is no different.

Enter Ernie Dingo's show, Going Places, a travel show that goes to places all over Australia. Its point of difference is that it engages the traditional owners to tell the stories of the places he visits. It is here that Going Places has enabled Yokayi to tell those stories by sharing its content. This is because Dingo has gone to the beating heart of what makes so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities tick. The football club.  

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Yokayi Footy: Ernie Dingo visits Koonibba Football Club

Ernie Dingo travels to Ceduna and looks at the famous talent that has come out of Koonibba Football Club

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Revisiting these episodes Yokayi viewers have seen Dingo go to three different clubs: Malee Park in Port Lincoln (SA), Mullewa in the Midwest of WA and Koonibba in Ceduna. All have produced or had long affiliations with players who have made it to the elite competition. Betts, Burgoyne, Wanganeen, Davey, Johncock to name a few. 

But what these clubs and others all over Australia represent is not just the nursery for talent for the AFL but a deeper connection to their communities and the opportunity to participate in the game. 

In many aspects, the clubs that exist and operate within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities do so in exactly the same way that they do in broader society. They are a means to bring together people from an array of backgrounds to focus on a common goal. To socialise, to build a capacity and to work collectively on winning games and enjoy the game as a community. There are many such clubs across WA, SA, NT and Victoria.  

However, deeper investigation will usually show that many of the common traits that saw each club form came from the need to organise and to provide some sort of social and cultural hub that people could feel safe in while playing the game they loved.  Much of this had to do with dealing with a range of circumstances and negotiating racism and government policies that directly related to First Nations Australians. Many of these All-Aboriginal teams and clubs experienced a great deal of resistance and have had to work very hard to become successful while remaining solvent and competitive in the leagues and associations they participated in. 

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Yokayi Footy: Gilly heads to Port Lincoln

Gilbert McAdam heads to Mallee Park to catch up with Graham Johncock for Yokayi Footy

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Such clubs in Victoria included Lake Tyers, Coranderrk and Cummeragunja. In more recent decades, the Fitzroy Stars in inner-city Melbourne and Rumbalara and the Purnim Bears represented rural Victoria.

In South Australia, clubs include Point Macleay, Mallee Park and Koonibba.  In Western Australia, New Norcia, Tambellup and Mullewa existed. Such clubs became significant points for social interaction, political organisation and cultural engagement and have functioned as important and sometimes rare points of ongoing contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.

In this sense Australian football has historically provided an important and in many ways unheralded space in which the politics of race have played out between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people making it an important social forum in which truth, reconciliation and healing can occur. 

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Yokayi Footy: Ernie Dingo, football passion, and the Mullewa Saints

Ernie Dingo travels to his home town Mullewa and shares a personal family story

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The struggle to organise and socially congregate is perhaps most vivid in Darwin where racial barriers and strictly enforced rules were very clearly in place when it came to football for many years. With the advent of St Mary’s coming into the Northern Territory Football League in 1952/53 what happened is that the club became a central hub so players might feel comfortable in coming to Darwin to work post WWII.

The names of Rioli and Long alone attest to the great role that St Mary’s has played in the understanding an appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent as it is understood at the elite level.

As the season rolls on, even if it is on hold, Yokayi will play its part in showcasing and highlighting the roll the game has for First Nations people. So when the game starts again and we are back to some sense of normality think of the communities these players are from and what their involvement means not just for our enjoyment but the communities they are from and the clubs that fostered them.