Gary Dhurrkay (4 March 1974 - 21 August 2005) was an inspiring Indigenous Australian rules football player. He remains a hero and role model for the Yolngu people. Gary was inspired by his parents and family. He ventured out into the world but never forgot his roots or his people.
Dhurkkay was a part of East Fremantle Football Club's 1994 and 1998 premiership sides in the WAFL, He was part of Fremantle's inaugural AFL team in 1995. North Melbourne selected Gary in the 1998 AFL Draft. After playing 21 games in the 1999 and 2000 season at North, Dhurrkay retired in mid-2000 to focus on his Aboriginal cultural beliefs and became a leader of the Marngarr community in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. At about 5am on 21 August 2005, Dhurkkay was fatally injured in a car accident on the Melville Bay Road, Arnhem Land when his car rolled and he was thrown from his vehicle. He was 31 years of age. Nevertheless out of this tragedy a vision and recognition of his achievements was born and continues to inspire his family and young people across North East Arnhem land and Northern Australia.
Gary's family are inspiring visionaries, leaders and community contributors. His father Wesley snr (1954-1995) was the third Aboriginal representative elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. He was member for Arnhem from 1983-1995. Wesley snr was a visionary and pioneer who advocated great educational participation for Aboriginal people and the recognition of Aboriginal customary law, land rights and culture. He was also one of the founding members of the Northern Land Council. Ms. S.D. Gurruwiwi (1955-2016), who brought Gary up and was his mentor and rock, was a tireless champion for children's rights, a founder of the elders program for visiting prisons and correctional facilities in the NT, a master translator and languages teacher, a board member of the Yothu Yindi foundation and a much loved friend of many across all of the communities of north east Arnhem Land and the world.
Gary's son Xavier is an example of how football can uplift lives and create dreams. Xavier is following in his late father’s footsteps playing for East Fremantle and is part of this year’s Live the Dream program. Xavier says “It will be an honour to experience what my dad did, as a Fremantle Dockers player. Sadly he passed away tragically when I was eight years old and that was the worst moment of my life. But instead of my letting my life go downhill I made a promise to keep my dad’s dream and memories alive and dedicate myself to my football career.” Xavier lives and breathes football and is currently playing for three teams each week. The Sevenoaks Senior College Year 12 student plays for his school, local team in Gosnells and East Fremantle Colts. “I love playing footy as it’s an opportunity for me to use my skills of leadership, dedication and team work.. Jennet Hansen nominated Xavier to be part of Fremantle's Live the Dream program because he demonstrated outstanding behaviour and attendance: “Xavier has dedicated his life to trying to achieve his AFL dream,” she said. “This experience will recognise his dedication, commitment and provide him with the actual experience of what it would mean to be an AFL player.”
Gary's immediate family, his sibings Gabby, Wayne, Lisa and Wesley Jnr. are active community members all playing significant roles in North East Arnhem land. Gary's nieces Budat, Shakiera and Mahalia Munungurr paved the way for Yolngu young people by attending Wenona Girls School in North Sydney and are all highly skilled netball, basketball and Australian rules football players. Ms. S.D. Gurruwiwi, as well as their otherl grandmother and father, ensured that the girls had the best possible opportunities in South Eastern Australia.
In 2016 inspired by Ms. S.D. Gurruwiwi and Ms. P. Batumbil Burarrwanga three of Gary's nephews Mark, Marcus and Kihtonia Gurruwiwi attended Kangaroo Valley Primary School in New South Wales. The Western Sydney Giants embraced the three visitors who are also highly skilled football and netball players. Mark and Marcus play for the Bomaderry Tigers in Nowra and Kihtonia plays netball in the Nowra area.
As the aspirations of Ms S.D. Gurruwiwi and Ms. P. Batumbil Burrarwanga have been followed we have developed a clear vision of what GDA should be about. It needs to concentrate on ensuring that all children in NE Arnhem land finish their final years of primary school with a high level of first language and English literacy and numeracy. It is particularly important to master books and the written word. Football and netball are great ways that young people can move towards greater proficiency at school through sport. It is not just by following a no school no sport policy, but by using sport as a way to enrich social, cultural and educational life.
Gary's niece and nephews have shown that even when there are great cultural gulfs to jump over it can be done and sport is a very important place to create common ground.
The focus in these early years of thinking about an active program for GDA has been on ensuring children have an environment where they have the best possible educational support and an active team sports program. There are a number of elements of success that have become clear:
- there needs to be an active under 14 and under 17 football and netball competition across NE Arnhem land
- there needs to be an orbit in which young children can improve their literacy and numeracy skills by travelling to schools with u 14 and u 17 team sports are active
The lessons of Mark, Marcus and Kihtonias visit to NSW in Year 6 so far have been:
- there needs to be firm family support of parents and extended family for a young person to live away from home to take advantage of schooling and sporting opportunities
- if possible children should live within a caring family environment, approved by and with strong links to the childrens family and extended family, rather than a boarding school in the last years of primary school
- links to local sporting teams and academies are very important
- the school should have a strong ESL capacity and with strong Yolngu mata exercises, reading materials and capacity
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