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“Come walk with me”: AFL star Michael Long on his 650km trek for a Yes vote

Introduction by Croakey: The referendum to constitutionally enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament will be held on 14 October, the Prime Minister announced today.

Meanwhile, Australian football legend Michael Long has set off on a walking trek from Naarm/Melbourne to Canberra, inviting other Australians to join the journey.


Marie McInerney writes:

Michael Long sets a cracking pace as he heads along the footpath of a busy suburban Melbourne road, leading a few dozen supporters behind him.

It’s resonant of his legendary athleticism as an AFL champion and the momentum he is hoping to spur on his 650 kilometre #LongWalk to support the Voice referendum.

The former Essendon star, an Anmatyerre, Maranunggu and Tiwi Aboriginal man, set out this week to walk from Melbourne Town Hall, on Wurundjeri Country, to Canberra, on the lands of the Ngunnawal Ngambri people.

He was farewelled on the trek by former Labor senator and Olympian Nova Peris, former Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy, Greens leaders Adam Bandt and Dorinda Cox, Victorian Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) CEO and former Victorian Treaty Commissioner Jill Gallagher, Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Accompanied by around 400 supporters on his first leg to Windy Hill, the home of Essendon, Long has issued an invitation to fellow Australians to “lace up your shoes and come walk with me” across the whole journey.

The Voice referendum should not be a partisan issue but one of “hearts and minds”, and about the soul of the country, he told Croakey, at a brief rest stop in Melbourne’s north.

“We need to work together as all Australians…we’ve all got a part to play,” he said, urging momentum to Close the Gap.

The #LongWalk will travel through Kilmore, Seymour, Nagambie, Shepparton, Benalla, Beechworth, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Gundagai, Jugiong, and Yass — planning to arrive in Canberra on September 14, exactly a month out from the October 14 referendum. (See the official website for the specific itinerary, which may change along the way).

Photo by Marie McInerney

Historic stand

Long, whose parents were members of the Stolen Generations, has done hard yards like this before.

His illustrious football career with Essendon saw him win premierships in 1993 and 2000, including the Norm Smith Medal and All-Australian selection.

But the achievement he highlights at the Michael Long Foundation website was an historic stand he made against racism after an on-field incident in 1995.

The AFL subsequently introduced its ground-breaking racial vilification policy in 1995, which many other sporting codes, both in Australia and beyond, went on to adopt.

Nearly 20 years ago, he launched the first, historic #LongWalk to Canberra, to raise critical issues for Indigenous people with then Prime Minister John Howard in 2004 in the wake of the abolition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

He had been planning a 20th anniversary reprisal next year, but brought it forward, telling Croakey that the Voice referendum echoes the questions he put to government and Australia with his first #LongWalk:

Where was the vision for Indigenous people, where was the Voice and, more importantly, where was the love for Indigenous people?”

Now he says is the opportunity to enshrine recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution, its “rightful place”, and to establish a permanent Voice to Parliament that cannot be abolished at a whim by a future government.

It was a call echoed by a number of people walking with Long this week – some were there just for a day or two, while others, like 71-year-old Ian Williams, plan to last the whole distance.

Long showed Croakey the note he had sent out to family and friends, declaring “it’s long past time” for constitutional recognition and a permanent Voice and urging those who are undecided or planning on voting no, to “please reconsider, do some research and avoid conspiracy theories”.

Standing strong

Another walker, Chris, is an Essendon supporter who appreciates “what Michael Long has done on and off the field”.

He joined the walk for a day on Tuesday because he wanted to do something tangible to try to help the Yes case, as did Sally, who sees the constitution as “our birth certificate and we’ve left some significant people of it”.

Equality Project CEO and founder Jason Tuazon-McCheyne said the LGBTI health promotion charity will have a team supporting the #LongWalk and working towards a Yes vote, “doing what we can as non-Aboriginal people to try to make the world a slightly better place”.

As a gay person who had been subjected to much negativity during the 2018 marriage equality plebiscite, Tuazon-McCheyne said he feels a strong obligation to stand strong as an ally in the leadup to the referendum.

“I don’t envy anybody going through this process and it really is our job to do some heavy lifting for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family.”

Watch the interviews

From Twitter

** Note that this story originally estimated the length of the walk at 800km, but organisers currently estimate it at 650km ** 

Run for the Voice

Meanwhile, former Liberal MP Pat Farmer continues his 14,400 km run around Australia, campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote and expressing disappointment in how his former Coalition colleagues have been playing “wedge politics”.


See Croakey’s special portal, compiling articles and resources on The Voice and health matters

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