The Long Walk is set to make its NRL debut in Newcastle this Friday night before the Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters game to mark the commencement of the 2019 Indigenous Round.
The Walk will see Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people walk from the Richard Ford Oval to the McDonald Jones Stadium to raise awareness of Indigenous disadvantage in health and wellbeing.
Former Knights player and Barkandji man Timana Tahu told NITV News he was proud the NRL was signing on to The Long Walk.
“It’s another great initiative for the Indigenous community and the NRL,” he said.
Mr Tahu said often when Indigenous disadvantage is brought into focus it is shadowed with a negative light, but hopes with the Walk being a part of the NRL’s Indigenous Round, it will start to shift the conversation into a positive space.
The Walk started in 2004 when legendary AFL player Michael Long - who played for the Essendon Bombers between 1989 and 2001 - trekked 650kms from his home in Melbourne to Canberra to meet with then Prime Minister John Howard in an effort to put Indigenous issues at the centre of the political table.
It has since become a charity pre-game ritual before the Indigenous Round for the AFL.
Mark deWeerd, senior manager of Indigenous strategy at the NRL, told NITV News the NRL has chosen to mark the beginning of its Indigenous Round with the Long Walk because of this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme, “Grounded in Truth. Walk Together with Courage".
“So this is exactly what we are doing,” he said.
In partnership with the Preston Campbell Foundation, Newcastle Knights and The Long Walk, Mr deWeerd said “two legends” in Mr Long and former champion NRL player, Preston Campbell, will be leading the walk on Friday.
The Indigenous Round has been celebrated by the NRL for 11 years – and the AFL for 14 years – and involves each team donning an Indigenous-designed jersey to honour and raise greater awareness of First Nations culture.
Mr Tahu said the Indigenous Round also provides an opportunity for Aboriginal players to take a central role in their clubs across the league.
“It gives a little bit of insight to non-Indigenous players that play in the team as well, that don’t know much about Aboriginal history… The conversation gets going about the history of Aboriginal culture,” he said.
The 2019 Newcastle Knights Indigenous jersey to be worn on Friday was designed collectively by some of the club's most iconic Aboriginal players in Ashley Gordon, Owen Craigie, Connor Watson and Mr Tahu.
“I was chosen because I was the first Aboriginal player contracted to the Knights,” Mr Gordon said in a statement.
“You had Owen Craigie. He was the first Aboriginal to win a grand final (for the Knights).
“You had Timana Tahu, the first Aboriginal [from the Newcastle Knights club] to play for Australia and you have a current player in Connor Watson.
“Each one of our totems were placed on that jersey.”
Mr deWeerd said the NRL will continue to host an Indigenous Round because of tits promise to “highlight those issues that too often go unheard” within the Indigenous community.
“By bringing people together, even for just one NRL Round a year, we are providing opportunities for communities to greater explore how each of us can contribute to achieving true reconciliation in Australia,” he said.
- For more catch tonight's episode of Over The Black, 8.30pm on NITV Ch34, featuring Sydney Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell and NRL Hall of Fame inductee Cliff Lyons.