This year’s AFL Indigenous Round is a particularly momentous occasion for the Northern Territory, with Dreamtime at the G being renamed Dreamtime in Darwin and hosted at TIO Stadium, one of two AFL games in the Top End this round.

Over the decades, the Territory has produced a number of VFL/AFL Indigenous champions, including Michael Long, Andrew McLeod, Darryl White, Mathew Stokes and Dean, Cyril, Daniel, Willie and Maurice Rioli.

The Territory has also produced AFLW stars Abbey Holmes, who played in the Adelaide Crows’ 2017 AFLW premiership, and her teammate Stevie-Lee Thompson, who played in the Crows’ 2017 and 2019 premierships.

Dreamtime at the G was first played in 2005, and in 2007 an official Indigenous Round was established, with the Essendon-Richmond game as its centrepiece. The round celebrates the astonishing contribution Indigenous players and officials have made to the game and honours Indigenous culture.

Since 2016, the AFL Indigenous Round has been named the Sir Doug Nicholls Round, honouring the brilliant Yorta Yorta statesman, footballer, pastor and activist who served as Governor of South Australia, making him the first and only Indigenous person to hold viceregal office in Australian history.

This year Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus infections has seen the game moved to Darwin for health and safety reasons.

In a statement, AFL General Manager of Social Policy and Inclusion, Tanya Hosch, said this year’s Indigenous round will recognise “the immense journey” the AFL has undertaken since introducing the Discrimination and Racial and Religious Vilification Act in 1995.

“Sir Doug Nicholls Round creates a platform to profile players who have changed the game’s history and faced racism and discrimination to fight for equality and recognition, such as Carlton Champion and Wongatha man, Syd Jackson, our 2020 Sir Doug Nicholls Round honouree,” she said.

“To have two matches in Darwin, and all our clubs embracing the spirit of the round, proudly wearing their Indigenous guernseys, it will make for a memorable celebration in what has been an unprecedented season.”

Richmond will wear a guernsey designed by Tigers star Shai Bolton, his grandmother and other family members.

The Essendon guernsey was designed by Timaya Cunningham, a star for Waratah in the NTFL Women’s Premier League, who hails from Wurrumiyanga in the Tiwi Islands.

Essendon’s Indigenous jumper worn by Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. Photo supplied by Essendon FC.

While the Aboriginal flag usually features proudly in the centre of the oval, this year it will be absent.

The League decision to not use the Aboriginal flag to decorate the grounds because of copyright issues has highlighted the ongoing problem caused by WAM Clothing’s purchase of the license to the flag in 2018.

Speaking on Foxtel’s AFL 360 on Tuesday night, Carlton legend Eddie Betts backed the AFL’s decision to not use the flag in this week’s games rather than paying the company for its use.

“I support the AFL for not paying to use the Aboriginal flag because it should be free for everyone,” he said.

“I wrote a children’s book about Aboriginal culture and I put the Aboriginal flag in there. I didn’t know I had to get permission being an Aboriginal person to teach young kids at school about Aboriginal culture.”

In an interview with the Herald Sun, retired Essendon star Michael Long called on fans in Darwin to bring Aboriginal flags to the game and fly them proudly.

“I didn’t believe it when I first heard about it. I didn’t think it was real. It is a disgrace. That flag belongs to all Aboriginal people—not just to any individual.

“We are having the biggest game ever here in Darwin as part of Indigenous round and that flag is really symbolic … It is something that we fought for with the racial vilification of players who played the game and athletes like Nova Peris and Cathy Freeman—they have flown the flag for Aboriginal people,” he said.

Australia’s first Indigenous Olympic gold medallist, Nova Peris, also told the Herald Sun the League’s decision to paint the word ‘Deadly’ in the centre circle, instead of the flag as in recent seasons, was “ridiculous”.

“It has very little meaning to older generations. It will be embarrassing if that goes ahead,” she said.

By Giovanni Torre