Long walk sets PM a challenge

Long walk: Essendon hero Michael Long has vowed he will walk to Canberra if PM John Howard won't meet him to discuss problems in the indigenous community.
Picture: Rob Leeson

ESSENDON great Michael Long has asked for a meeting with John Howard and promised to walk to Canberra to confront the Prime Minister if refused.

The former Essendon star says he wants to talk to Mr Howard about immediate action to combat Aboriginal social problems. He said he was willing to put aside his three-year row with Mr Howard to find solutions to problems of alcoholism, malnourishment and violence in Aboriginal communities.

Long said he would start walking to Canberra tomorrow "blackfella style" if Mr Howard refuses to meet him.

"I'd like to sit down with Mr Howard and the elders. I won't take no for an answer when it comes to indigenous problems," he said.

Long said he would walk with anyone who wanted to follow him to Canberra and camp out until Mr Howard agreed to talk. Only indigenous people could help themselves, but they needed the help of the Howard Government, Long said. "We want to put down our spears and the Government wants to put down its guns."

Long is the chairman of the Australian Football League's Indigenous Foundation. He helps recruit Aborigines. But his eyes had been opened to the serious problems of alcoholism, malnourishment and violence destroying his people. "Who knows? In 2050, there might not be any black people.

"This is not a political thing. This is something we need to do right. I mean no disrespect to Mr Howard. I want us to barrack for the same team, black and white together," Long said. "I have just come from a funeral. I have just seen so many deaths, the alcohol and destruction within our own mob."

Aboriginal people needed a voice that could mediate between both sides of politics. To that end, Long called for restored power to Aboriginal elders, saying they had an enormous amount of knowledge.

In 2001, Long called Mr Howard a "cold hearted prick" for his attitude towards the Stolen Generation. Mr Howard refused to apologise for Australia's treatment of the Aborigines and downplayed a landmark report into Aboriginal children taken from their parents last century.

"I want to apologise for calling him a cold-hearted prick. Howard can be a great leader if he opens up his heart," Long said. "The Lord works in mysterious ways -- so does the Prime Minister."

Long said his parents were stolen, an experience he said had scarred him. People should not make throwaway lines about a trauma behind the problems of indigenous Australians, he said. "I was angry (at Howard's comments). But I'd prefer to make love, not war."