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15 August 2011
Helping a Warlpiri man, from the remote Aboriginal desert community of Yuendumu, navigate the road to AFL stardom is a far cry from Deakin University senior lecturer Bruce Hearn Mackinnon's usual stomping ground of industrial relations and human resource management but as with all stories it started when a group of guys got together and wanted to do good things.
Dr Hearn Mackinnon's book 'The Liam Jurrah story from Yuendumu to the MCG' tells the incredible journey travelled by Liam, from Yuendumu to the MCG as the first fully initiated Aboriginal to play football at an elite level. The book was launched last month by Melbourne University Publishing.
"It is not," Dr Hearn Mackinnon stresses, "Liam Jurrah's story.
"Liam will tell his own story, in his own book, in his own time, the book is merely my own observations from my direct experiences with him," he said.
Dr Hearn Mackinnon, a mad Collingwood supporter, said the 'story' started when the Collingwood Industrial Magpies, a group of supporters who were involved in industrial relations, came across a book 'the Centre bounce' which talked about football in central Australia.
"We were captivated by a photo on the front page of the Yuendumu Magpies, but wondered where it was and decided then and there - after all we had all these people, lawyers, judges, academics - to put our organisation to good use.
"We committed ourselves to reconciliation between black and white Australia, and formed a special relationship with Yuendumu community and the Magpies in 2002."
As part of the relationship young people from the community would come to Melbourne and Dr Hearn Mackinnon's home became unofficially known as the Warlpiri Camp in Melbourne 3.
"One of those young people we brought down was Liam Jurrah and he decided after coming down that he wanted to have a crack at becoming an AFL player," Dr Hearn Mackinnon said.
"He lived with me and my family for 12 months and stayed with us while he played in the VFL for Collingwood, before eventually being drafted to play for Melbourne."
Dr Hearn Mackinnon said the book detailed how Liam "learned the culture of the city and the white-fella world" but also how his family came to understand and treasure the richness of Liam's Warlpiri culture.
"The most important lesson I think was the importance of personal connections and relationships, that was the key to Liam's success," he said.
"Our family in effect became Liam's Melbourne family.
"He has the support of his whole community.
"When he plays he represents the community and is on Warlpiri business.
"Both things have to be in sync"
Dr Hearn Mackinnon said the experience had been incredibly enriching.
"Family life has been quite hectic at times," he said.
"But Liam is one of the family."
Despite the obvious conflict when Collingwood plays Melbourne, Dr Hearn Mackinnon is still a Collingwood supporter.
"Liam did ask me about that, I just said 'I'll still be supporting you mate.'"
And as for reconciliation?
"Personal relationships are fundamental to reconciliation," he said.
"It's about individuals getting to know people and forming relationships, if people did this, the whole issue of reconciliation would not need to be talked about."
Deakin Media Relations
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