Boys from Burns country hit town

GO RONNIE: The Tiwi Island boys surround their hero Ronnie Burns at Skilled Stadium yesterday. Photo: PHILLIP STUBBS  
Thursday, August 15

ABOUT 28 boys from the Tiwi Islands - Ronnie Burns country - stripped to traditional ceremonial costume at Skilled Stadium yesterday.

The group chanted in Tiwi and danced in red nargas to acknowledge Geelong Football Club's hospitality.

And former recruiting boss Bill McMaster, who hosted the four-hour visit with Cats forward Burns, was presented with a ceremonial pukamani pole.

The occasion was not lost on one Cats official, who noted McMaster had been accused of ignoring Aboriginal talent by football commentator Patrick Smith two years ago.

McMaster, who strongly denied the accusation, mingled freely with the young visitors and their guides yesterday.

But Burns received the cheers.

``Ronnie! Ronnie!'' the youngsters cried when he entered the room.

Burns spoke to many youngsters individually during an extensive tour of the stadium and during lunch and photo sessions.

Burns grew up on Bathurst Island, one of the Tiwi Islands, 80kms by plane from Darwin, and returns to the area after each football season.

``I haven't been on an end-of-season footy trip in the seven years I've been with the Cats,'' Burns said. ``I love to go up Darwin way instead, where I have a lot of my family and where I can fish, relax and generally unwind from the pressures of footy.''

The boys, aged 13 and 14, regularly watch the AFL on television. Essendon's Dean Rioli and Michael Long are also Tiwi Islanders.

The boys are on a 12-day trip to Victoria as part of a leadership program through the Federal Department of Family and Community Services.

McMaster's son-in-law Ian Smith, a teacher at Xavier Community Centre on Bathurst Island, is among those guiding the tour.

Smith said the trip south had a heavy emphasis on football.

``We're looking at role models and leadership qualities. Footy people are heroes for the boys,'' Smith said.

The boys will play the traditional Koori game of marngrook, similar to Aussie rules, against a combined Koori side as a curtain raiser to the Collingwood-St Kilda match at the MGC on Sunday, August 25.