Dom's brave new world
Role model: Dom Barry was a hit on a visit to Yuendumu School this week. Photo: Getty Images
DOM Barry understands exactly how hard it can be to move between worlds, to leave the middle of the country for any city and be expected to somehow cope. To live unstructured days in one life, and the opposite in the other. To speak two or three languages, and be different things to different groups of people. He knows because he wasn't able to do it. Not at his first try, anyway.
Barry grew up in Alice Springs, so last week's indigenous camp took the Melbourne recruit home. But every second week he and his family would drive five hours to Fregon, the central desert community where his mother grew up and where most of her family still lives. Since then he has lived in the Melbourne suburbs, as a 14-year-old on a tennis scholarship who felt alone, and wanted to go home. He's been to boarding school in Ballarat, started playing football and become much happier there. Both experiences meant that when he arrived at Melbourne last October, he felt comfortable, relaxed and ready to give it a go.
Back then, the role playing was harder. ''There basically were two different worlds, so I had to find a way and make sure that one side wasn't affecting the other. In Alice Springs we had school and we were busy, but Mum also wanted us to go out and be a part of the community and be part of the culture down there. It meant living two different lifestyles at the same time,'' he said.
''Every opportunity my mum got she'd want to be out bush and taking us to learn about our culture and our language, just to make sure we didn't forget. To her that's more important than anything and those are the things you have to juggle, being one way when you're out there, and another way in Alice Springs, another way down at Melbourne and trying to live by all the rules.''
He was reminded of those distances this week on a road trip to Yuendumu, where Melbourne found Liam Jurrah. Jurrah was gone by the time Barry joined the club but in some ways the 19-year-old is picking up where he left off.
The Demons' investment in Jurrah's community has continued despite his troubled departure, with the club continuing to push indigenous health initiatives in remote communities, in particular a national program aiming to eliminate trachoma, an eye disease that can cause blindness.
Barry spent most of his brief trip to the local school talking, posing for photos, kicking balls around and being jumped on by small kids. But he was also there as an ambassador for the program, which teaches children about eye and face hygiene and is having an impact: trachoma cases have dropped by around 30 per cent in some of the communities in the past two years.
He is a role model before he has played his first game, but then again he is a two-club player before starting - Melbourne needed Greater Western Sydney to prelist Barry ''for about five seconds'' before trading for him - and he has understood for a long time the importance of indigenous heroes, having struggled during his first, one-term stay in Melbourne, to find people to talk to.
''The support network wasn't there at first, and I found it hard. It kind of fell apart, and to me it showed how important it is to have Aboriginal role models and good support around you. I hadn't even really thought about it before, even though it was hard just to move away. I felt really isolated and when I looked around, who did I have to turn to?'' said Barry, whose next move wasn't to turn back home.
Instead he moved to St Patrick's College in Ballarat, where his brother Ben was living in the boarding house. He fell out of love with tennis and started playing football, because it was the thing that everyone else loved, and found that he was good at it. That decision meant moving back to Melbourne, three-and-a-half years later, wasn't nearly the big deal it was first time around.
''I think it made me a bit tougher. There were definitely times I thought about packing it all away and leaving, but you've got to grind things out and I did that,'' he said. ''If I went straight from Alice Springs to the draft, I don't know how I would've gone with it. But being through that, learning to be away and look after myself, I think it's made things easier. I'm glad I did it that way.''