“We’re all different in terms of where we come from but we’re all the same in a lot of ways.”
LOOKING at the celebration that is Sir Doug Nicholls Round now, it’s hard to imagine the AFL landscape being any other way.
In 1992, Michael ‘Magic’ McLean was one of 12 Indigenous players on the Brisbane Bears' list and also the spokesperson for the ‘racial vilification code of conduct’ for the AFL.
Changing the way that people viewed Indigenous people playing AFL, McLean was vital in educating both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on culture, belonging and identity.
One of those students who hung on his every word was 17-year-old Michael Voss, who was taken under the then 27-year-old's wing when he arrived at the Brisbane Bears in 1992.
Voss has previously referred to McLean as a father figure and an inspiration following the years he spent learning and growing alongside the two-time Brisbane Bears Club Champion, naming him as his favourite Indigenous player of all time.
“One thing ‘Mag’ did amazingly well was being calm when giving advice and pulling me aside and walking me through typing and it wasn’t a berating or an in your face message, it was real subtle, tap on the shoulder,” Voss said, reflecting on his early days at the Bears.
“I think the thing with ‘Mago’, [the way he was] learning about his own culture, his own people and what he really stood for was really important to me.
“He was really strong on his values and strong on his voice around where he was from and what he thought was really important – for me as a 17-year old, that was extremely important.”
McLean identified Voss’ talents for leadership immediately and took a shining to the determination and willingness to learn that he displayed.
Having to sometimes ‘put Voss in his place’, he did so only out of care and affection for the young gun’s reputation.
“I said to him [after a practice match]: in time you’ll be a great leader of this Club, but for now, focus on yourself and show a lot of respect for senior players,” McLean said.
“...Not that he was being disrespectful, but I didn’t want the senior players to mistake it for that.”
Voss admits that while could be a bit hot-headed in his early days, the lessons he learnt from not only McLean, but also Senior Coach Robert Walls taught him about acceptance, belonging and getting to know people on a deeper level.
“At the time, the AFL was very one size fits all,” Voss explained.
“‘Wallsy’ was probably the first time I’ve had a coach who said ‘people are different and we have to manage what that looks like’, and that was a really important time to understand what the differences actually were and what diversity actually was.”
From there, the AFL now celebrates two Sir Doug Nicholls Rounds to not only educate, but to honour the contribution that Indigenous Australians have given to the game.
McLean thinks the initiative to go ahead with it every year shows extremely positive signs about where the competition is heading in terms of accepting culture and promoting unity.
For Voss - still a student at heart - he loves the education and the community pieces around Sir Doug Nicholls Round, always getting something new out of each year he participates in.
“I think the thing I love the most about Sir Doug Nicholls Round is the storytelling,” Voss said.
“With the meaning behind the symbols for each part of country, for your mob and being able to reconnect with that then connect back into the person and why it’s important.”
The Blues will again run out in their Indigenous guernsey designed by Tiwi artist Russellina Puruntatameri when they take on Sydney in the traditional Marn Grook game at the SCG.
The match annually honours the Indigenous roots of Australian football and recognises the enduring contribution of Indigenous players to the game – something Carlton and Michael Voss in particular are honoured to be apart of.