Indigenous families fostering AFL’s future

Indigenous families fostering AFL’s future

Indigenous families fostering AFL’s future

Indigenous families in Sydney and Melbourne are being called upon to host the AFL's Indigenous rookies from regional Australia. Click here for the full video.

In December 2014, Jermaine Miller Lewis, 19, was performing in an Indigenous dance ceremony near his home south of Perth, unaware his life was about to change.

Still covered in body paint, he checked his mobile phone and found over 50 missed calls and text messages, all telling him that he'd been drafted by the Hawthorn football club.

“I won't repeat what I said. I sort of held my chest I got light in my head, I barracked for the Hawks as a young fellow so I couldn't believe it,” he said.

The next step was planning his first big move away from home, family and country to the other side of Australia. Miller-Lewis says it was a daunting prospect until Leon Egan – a Yorta Yorta man living in Melbourne's east – visited his family in Western Australia and offered him a room in his home.

“When he came over to my home he walked straight in to my grandparent’s house, introduced himself to everyone and from that moment on my nan, my pop, my mum all had full confidence in Leon looking after me.”

Leon and Kate Egan have hosted first-year Indigenous players for the past three seasons.

One of their first was Jed Anderson. The midfielder is now on the Hawks senior list, and lives with his wife and two sons near the club's headquarters, but he maintains a strong connection with the family.

“Elijah my little boy calls Leon Uncle and Kate Aunty so that connection has really helped us along. They've really helped me out and welcomed me into their home,” he said.

And the feeling is mutual. Leon Egan said Anderson's debut was a proud moment.

“He actually debuted round one on the MCG, and to see him play round one, Kate and I felt like proud parents really.”

Host families like the Egans play an important role for first-year Indigenous footballers. They provide food, board and crucially they help players maintain a connection to their culture as they pursue their AFL dreams.

Mr Egan says they also support Jermaine Miller-Lewis to continue his cultural passions such as dancing and painting.

“We knew he was a professional dancer and also a really active and talented artist as well. We're always having conversations about who he is what he's about and have an opportunity to celebrate his culture.”

It's a support network that the AFL Players Association wants to expand. The Association's Brett Johnson is beginning a recruitment campaign to create a network of Indigenous families across the country who are prepared to open their homes to AFL rookies.

“Our Indigenous players face unique challenges that not all players do so it's important that we really create environments that are inclusive and promote diversity and our Indigenous players have added so much to our game I think it's important that we foster environments that enable them to maximise their footy careers.”

The AFL Players Association is running an information night for prospective Indigenous host families next month.

DATE: Tuesday, 30 June 2015
(June 30, 2015)