Tonight’s AFL game between Essendon and Melbourne means everything to the residents of Yuendemu, a remote town 293km northwest of Alice Springs: Yuendemu local Liam Jurrah makes his debut for the Demons.

It’s a remarkable story.

One of the largest towns in Central Australia, Yuendemu is a community largely made up of the Warlpiri Aboriginal people, with a population of 706. And this morning at 5am, Brett Japaljarri Badger drove out of Yuendemu with probably the proudest mother and grandmother in Australia today in tow.

Badger is the Assistant Manager and Program Counsellor at the Mt Theo youth program — he’s also a great mate of Jurrah’s and has known him since he was 15. Crikey talked to him this morning as he was waiting to board a plane at Alice Springs airport, escorting Jurray’s mother, Corinna Granites, and his grandmother, Cecily Granites, to Melbourne to watch the game.

When asked how he was feeling about Jurrah’s debut, Badger said that the three of them were “unbelievably excited. We’re so proud.”

And you can understand why.

Badger is very proud of Jurrah. Jurrah was one of the youth leaders at Mt Theo from when he was 15 until last year, when he left to play in Melbourne. Badger said that Jurrah was one of the “really strong young guys” and was employed as a mentor working with other Yuendemu residents who were at risk in the community.

“We just want Liam to do well and Liam to be happy,” said Badger.

“We’ve been proud of him for a very long time — well before he got to the AFL stage.

“Now everyone else gets to be proud of him and enjoy him as well.”

Jurrah’s mother Corinna has flown down to Melbourne several times to be a house mother to Jurrah, trying to set up a good home base in Melbourne for the Demon rookie. Badger said that he and the family have had to start following Melbourne, ditching the teams they’ve followed previously, as “everyone says out here ‘family comes first'”.

“The thing this for us is that it’s not just about football,” said Badger.

“The distance he’s travelled in social and cultural terms as well as footballing ones shows how strong he is. Everybody in Yuendumu knows he’s always been a positive strong gentle person who’s never been in any trouble and shown what hard work and effort can do.”

And the whole town will be watching tonight.

“Everyone’s pretty excited, coming together as a community and families to enjoy it together. It’s just an expression of joy.”

“We can all see him playing in front of the rest of Australia. And making Yuendumu famous and Warlpiri people famous and being proud of the Warlpiri tribe.”

Asked on how he thought Jurrah would go tonight, under the lights and cameras of the national AFL stage, Badger said that “we’ve always thought for a long time that’s he’s a great player.”

“We’re sure he’ll do well but more important to us is that he enjoys it.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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