Some 70,000 people turned out at the MCG last weekend to witness the annual ‘Dreamtime at the G’ clash between Essendon and Richmond. The annual fixture is a spectacular tribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and their contribution to football.
This week the national spotlight will turn to Sydney, where the Swans will face Richmond in another special tribute to First Nations peoples and culture: Marn Grook at the SCG.
The first Marn Grook match at the SCG was played three years before the first Dreamtime game and five years before the AFL’s first full Indigenous Round.
It was May 25, 2002, and the first AFL game played at the Sydney Olympic Stadium, now Accor Stadium. The Swans hosted Essendon in a two-point thriller in front of 54,129 people.
The match was called Marn Grook due to the widely accepted belief that Australian Football originated from an Indigenous game called ‘Marn Grook’, traditionally played with a possum-skin ball.
Essendon kicked the first three goals and led until Matthew Nicks kicked his third goal 12 minutes into the final term. Essendon got the next two to take back a handy buffer before Nicks jagged his fourth to cut it to four points.
In the dying seconds ruckman Ricky Mott, in his ninth game, took a towering mark but missed a straight-forward shot from 20m and Essendon hung on 12.13 (85) to 11.17 (83).
The match, in which teams compete for the Marn Grook trophy, was initiated by former Sydney Swans CEO and Brownlow Medallist Kelvin Templeton to celebrate the shared history of Indigenous culture and AFL football.
Such was the significance of the event in the eyes of the club that in 2017 the match was added to the Heritage List in the Swans Hall of Fame.
To promote the first Marn Grook game there was an on-field performance by Bangarra Dance Company and an auction of footballs painted by leading Indigenous artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Swans have maintained their annual celebration of the rich and proud history of Indigenous people, and the joy and excitement Indigenous players have provided.
The club successfully negotiated with the AFL to host the first game of Indigenous Round from 2013, when they beat Collingwood by 47 points. Fittingly, Adam Goodes was the star in his 328th game, picking up 30 possessions and kicking three goals to earn three Brownlow Medal votes.
A 110-point win over Geelong in which Nick Malceski had a career-best 37 possessions and Kurt Tippett (5 goals) and Lance Franklin (4 goals) led the goal rush to take the votes, followed in 2014. Sydney beat Carlton in the Marn Grook match by 60 points in 2015 and North Melbourne by 26 points in 2016.
In 2016, the AFL named the annual Indigenous Road in honour of Sir Douglas Nicholls, while in that same year the Swans introduced the Goodes-O’Loughlin Medal for the player judged best afield, to honour club greats Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin. The medal features the blue and red colours of Sydney’s first Marn Grook guernsey, designed by Goodes' mother Lisa Sansbury.
The medal has been won twice by Isaac Heeney in 2018 and 2021, and by Tom Mitchell (2016), Lance Franklin (2017), Sam Reid (2019) and Fremantle’s Luke Ryan (2020).
Goodes and O’Loughlin, named at centre half back and full forward respectively in the AFL Indigenous Team of the Century in 2005, have worked tirelessly to promote Indigenous issues including participation in Australian football and zero tolerance for racism across sport and society more broadly.
The pair also founded the GO Foundation to empower Indigenous youth through education and to date they have awarded more than 800 scholarships in Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra. The GO Foundation is the Match Day Partner for Sydney’s Marn Grook match.
Marn Grook at the SCG, Sydney Swans v Richmond is THIS FRIDAY. Tickets via TICKETEK