The multicultural face of footy
Western Bulldogs star recruit Lin Jong is being tipped as a future champion but he also stands out for being one of the few AFL players of Asian descent.
Lin is of Taiwanese (mother) and East Timorese (father) descent. He is the first ever AFL player of Taiwanese descent. He was born in Melbourne after his parents moved to Australia 25 years ago.
He attended Brentwood Secondary College in Glen Waverley and originally played basketball before being convinced by friends to try football at age 15.
He is one of only 19 players in the history of the VFL/AFL with Asian heritage. The first were Chinese footballers George Tanzing, who played for Geelong in 1905 and Wally Koochew, who played for Carlton in 1908.
Following on from the AFL’s recent multicultural recent round, a new photographic exhibition at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum explores the multicultural heritage of famous Australian Rules footballers.
Manager of the Immigration Museum, Padmini Sebastian said there had been a lot of debate around racism and cultural diversity in Australia in recent times.
“While we are a strong multicultural society there are always challenges to social cohesion,” she said.
Ms Sebastian said the AFL and the Immigration Museum had come together to present positive stories of multiculturalism in Australia.
“The focus on building bridges and promoting the value of diversity in our society is very important,” she said.
Lin Jong was present as a mentor at the Bulldogs recent AMES Cup event, which saw more than a hundred language students from settlement agency AMES Australia, all of whom were from new and emerging communities, take part in AFL clinics and matches at the Whitten Oval in Footscray.
Lin says he understands he is an important role model for communities who are newly arrived in Australia.
“I’m just doing my best to show that footy is something that can unite people,” Lin said.
“Footy is an important part of Melbourne culture so if we can get more people involved it will give them an insight into Australia and maybe make them feel welcome,” he said.
Ms Sebastian said there were an extraordinary number of current AFL players who came from diverse backgrounds.
While that may be unsurprising in 2015, Ms Sebastian said, “there always has been a lot of diversity in the game”.
Chinese footballers, for example, played for Geelong and Carlton in the 1900s.
“There were of quite a few Chinese players who played at that time,” Ms Sebastian said.
“Football was played on the goldfields after it was introduced around 1858–1859 and there were many Chinese football teams as a result.”
The exhibition reveals the backgrounds of some of the key figures in the history of Australian Rules football.
One of best-known moments captured in the exhibition is of Alex Jesaulenko’s 1970 grand final mark over Collingwood ruckman Graeme Jenkin.
The mark famously resulted in commentator Mike Williamson shouting “Oh Jesaulenko, you beauty”, and has been called the mark of the century.
Jezza, as Jesaulenko was known, came to Australia with his family who were fleeing war-torn Europe.
His Ukrainian father Wasil had been a German policeman, while his Russian mother Vera had seen her father shot dead by German soldiers.
The two met in Salzburg, Austria where Jesaulenko was born in 1945, before the family moved to Australia in 1949.
The family spent six months at the Bonegilla migrant camp in north-eastern Victoria before eventually settling in Canberra.
Jesaulenko played soccer and rugby union until the age of 14 when he took up Australian Rules.
“He played for Carlton and St Kilda and was known for his extraordinary marking,” said Ms Sebastian.
The exhibition, Multiculturalism in Australian Football, continues until October 31.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist