Contributed by: Wesley Hull
Unique Australian Rules program for Indigenous students in Cairns makes closing the gap a reality
Former footballer Rick Hanlon established Cape York House, but says it’s not about developing footballers – ‘it’s about developing young men who’ll have a chance at life’
Australian Rules football may well have been Rick Hanlon’s salvation.
But he is still the first to tell the young Indigenous men and boys to whom he is both a life mentor and a coach that being a great footy player doesn’t make you a good bloke
Hanlon, as those who know him well attest, is a rough diamond. A lean, fit 51-year-old, he still moves with the agility of the star centreman he was for the best part of two decades in the Northern Tasmanian Football League. He speaks equally quickly, espousing in a rat-a-tat-tat stream his uncompromising views about what young Australians – Indigenous or otherwise – need to succeed in life. Like much of what he tries to impart to his charges, he draws heavily on his own imperfect upbringing and the life lessons he’s drawn from it.
In 1998 Hanlon moved to Cairns as the Australian Football League’s regional development manager, charged with getting more young Australians to play – especially those in the remote Indigenous communities of Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands, where rugby league is the traditional game.
But 16 years later, having driven an impressive Aussie Rules take-up, he has exceeded the league’s official brief by last year establishing AFL Cape York House (CYH) – a 48-bed residence set around an oval in Cairns, where students from remote communities can live while finishing secondary school.
It offers them a real chance to stick at school, to go on to tertiary study or into skilled employment and, most importantly, to invest in and empower their own communities. Along the way a few might even become elite Australian Rules footballers – a bonus but not the imperative for the AFL, Hanlon says.
“If it wasn’t for footy I wouldn’t be ... the man I am today. I made some bad decisions along the way. But that out there – the oval – that was my classroom,” Hanlon says, as the Cape York House residents come in from school, grab afternoon snacks and prepare their football gear for a night match with their team, the under-17 Cape York House Eagles.
To read the article in full, follow this link - http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/21/-sp-unique-australian-rules-program-indigenous-cairnsωCMP=twt_gu
Left: Rick Hanlon and players from Cape York House Under 17 Eagles - Photograph: Paul Daley/The Guardian
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