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Inside the world of Liam Jurrah

Inmates playing a scratch match of football on Thursday at Alice Springs Correctional Centre, where Liam Jurrah is serving a 12-week stint.

Inmates playing a scratch match of football on Thursday at Alice Springs Correctional Centre, where Liam Jurrah is serving a 12-week stint. Photo: Getty Images

On the morning of the day when Richmond and Essendon celebrate indigenous football in their "Dreamtime at the G", and Melbourne and Port Adelaide meet in a ground-breaking game at Alice Springs, Liam Jurrah will be cleaning dishes in prison, just 25 kilometres from his former Demon teammates.

The once-spectacular Jurrah obviously cannot see the Demons, and none of them will see him in their brief, all-business visit. But he is far from isolated or alone in the large Alice Springs Correctional Centre, on the Stuart Highway. His father Leo shares a dormitory with him and a dozen or so others, while his mother Corrina is incarcerated in the same prison, though the women and men are kept apart in the facility that houses 500-plus prisoners. He can only see her –  as he did once recently – in the visiting area.

Jurrah is about halfway through his second 12-week stint for assaulting his partner – having served a three-month stretch for an assault against a woman outside a 24-hour store in 2013. He has been watching the Dees on free-to-air television. "No Foxtel," he said of his prison, where he also has the company of cousins and in-laws. "I’m fine," he said, in response to the well-being question. 

He wants to play footy again, planning to start with "a couple of games with South Alice (Springs)" and hopefully finals upon his July 20 release. He then hopes to resume in the Darwin summer competition with the Tiwi Bombers, alongside his ex-Demon mate Austin Wonaeamirri, where he played last summer.

"It would be awesome to play under Paul Roos," he said. Jurrah has noted the improvement in Melbourne this year, speaking affectionately of Nathan Jones, Mark Jamar, Jeremy Howe, Jack Watts, of his immense sadness at Dean Bailey’s death, and of the effort Bailey and the late Jimmy Stynes had made to learn about his Warlpiri ways. Bailey, he said, had stayed in touch when the coach was in Adelaide. He discerned that his old team had a "different" way of moving the ball under Roos. "They hold on to the ball." 

To the question – which Jurrah says he is often asked – of whether he still thinks a return to AFL possible, he first acknowledged "it will be tough" but subsequently said he still held some hope for "a second or third chance" and expressed some determination to give it a go. He is, as he points out, still just 25. "I’ve still got my speed." 

At this stage, though, cleaning up the dishes has replaced footy training in his daily regimen. The guards have called him from the kitchen when we meet in the outdoor visiting area courtyard on an afternoon when the overcast sky matches the grey concrete brick of the correctional centre. The centre, erected in 1996, is encircled by the mandatory barbed wire, with a restrained, discrete version of the Shawshank-style look-out tower. To enter a room, the door behind has to click before the next door can be opened, in the manner of Get Smart.

On an oval outside, next to the visitors’ car park, two teams of inmates – one wearing Essendon jumpers, another Sydney Swans gear – will shortly play a footy scratch match. As the game beckons, Jurrah stands on the bench and cranes his neck to see if the players – all of whom are indigenous – have arrived. Not yet. He will not play this time.

A clean-shaven Jurrah is wearing a yellow windcheater and a wide-brimmed dark khaki hat that is tagged with his name and a formal serial number. The security desk, as per correctional centre policy, have politely removed my digital tape recorder, Nokia, notepad and – most significantly – ballpoint pen. Whatever Jurrah says will have to be remembered, and then swiftly regurgitated. Some questions are repeated, for certainty’s sake.

Jurrah is composed, forthright and articulate – English is his "second language" after Warlpiri, he explained, not his third tongue, as often reported. He seemed fit enough, reckoning he weighs 88 kilograms, his old playing weight. He had a worrisome health scare earlier this year, before incarceration, when he was flown to Adelaide to have an "an abscess taken out of my lung".

He suggested that drinking alcohol had worsened his lung condition. One silver lining of prison has been the absence of alcohol. "I’m better away from the grog," he says, or words to that effect. In sentencing, the magistrate ordered that he not drink alcohol  within the 12-month good behaviour period and that he can only return to Alice Springs –  where he wishes to resume footy with Darren Talbot, the coach of "South" and a mentor – with permission of the probation officer.

Talbot remains in his corner, but the tyranny of distance – and removal of his freedom – has seen Jurrah disengage from his Melbourne-based friends, such as the still-devoted Bruce Hearn Mackinnon, who was instrumental in bringing him from Yuendemu, 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, to Melbourne.

The Demons also have disengaged from him somewhat. When the NAB Cup was on in Alice in February, he came to the game and greeted teammates. This time, there will be no person-to-person contact. Jurrah said he would watch the game on TV.

At the instigation of a local sporting figure, Charlie King, the Demons and Port players will link arms before the game in a stand against family violence and violence against women.

Jurrah has been playing basketball, usually in the afternoons with a cousin, plus some acoustic guitar, and "a little" footy. "I like to have fun." He has had visitors on the weekends, including the eight-year-old son who lives with his former partner, and his grandmother Cecily, who is in Alice and was most responsible for raising Liam.

The specifics of what happened between Jurrah and his partner isn’t delved into. He only refers to "family issues" and says that his partner, who lived with him in Melbourne, has visited him on most weekends. He’s more open about what undid him at Melbourne – the sequence of events that saw him charged and acquitted of attacking his cousin Basil with a machete in 2012 at Alice Springs, then leave the Dees.

"It was all Yuendemu," he said, to the question of how his AFL career was undone during 2012. He confirmed that he had been pulled in different directions by two factions, his father being on one side, his mother and grandmother on the other, in an intra-Yuendemu conflict   which exploded in Alice Springs. Jurrah said his father had been in his prison since last year. 

While it’s possible to view Jurrah as a victim of the Melbourne Football Club’s own "civil war" between those close to Bailey and others aligned with then chief executive Cameron Schwab and football chief Chris Connolly, Jurrah fingers the tribal dispute that has since ceased. 

"I was caught between," he said. He said it was difficult to explain the complexities of Yuendemu to outsiders. Jurrah’s story – with its improbable triumph followed by a fall – became a window for mainstream Australia to glimpse this wilfully ignored world. He said that even the media, after bursts of interest in his story, moved on. Coincidentally or not, Jurrah’s exit from the Demons signalled a tougher environment for the indigenous footballer in the AFL, whose numbers abruptly dropped from a peak of 11 per cent in 2011 to around nine per cent, with concern expressed about the trajectory last year. Clubs, increasingly, became risk-averse with players who were seen as higher maintenance, even if talented, as the AFL escalated to Olympian levels of preparation and training.

While the industry’s symbolic reluctance to draft the talented indigenous West Australian Dayle Garlett was ultimately vindicated, as Garlett left the Hawks before he started, Jurrah was a vastly different story, because he came from the desert, a fully initiated Warlpiri man, from a tribe with elderly people who had experienced first contact with white people. And Jurrah did make it, and made it big – he was among the fastest to 50 goals in AFL history. He just couldn’t stick.

"It’s harder for us remote guys (indigenous players)," he remarked, listing others from remote indigenous communities who had lately left their AFL clubs – his cousin Liam Patrick (Gold Coast), Amos Frank (Hawthorn) and Zeph Skinner (Bulldogs). Jurrah said he never experienced major injury until hurting the scaphoid – pointing to his wrist – in late 2011.

Jurrah found some similarity between the prison routines and the "seven days a week" rigours of AFL. This was not a complaint. At no stage, indeed, did he complain about his lot. "It’s easier (this time)," he said of his second three-month stint in prison.

In mid-afternoon, a prison announcement on loud speaker told the inmates to return to "the block" for "the muster". Jurrah had to remain in the visiting area, with myself and an affable female prison official, while every person was accounted for.

At this moment in Liam Jurrah’s life, he was just being counted, not counted on.

2014 Home and Away

Round 1
Fri, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
COL 46 vs FRE 116 Report Stats
Sat, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
GWS 99 vs SYD 67 Report Report Stats
GCF 87 vs RIC 69 Report Stats
Sun, 16 MarTimes shown AEDT
CAR 87 vs PTA 120 Report Stats
Thu, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE 119 vs ADE 81 Report Stats
Fri, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
NTH 60 vs ESS 99 Report Stats
Sat, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
HAW 139 vs BRI 91 Report Stats
STK 68 vs MEL 51 Report Stats
Sun, 23 MarTimes shown AEDT
WCE 134 vs WBU 69 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Thu, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC 98 vs CAR 86 Report Stats
Fri, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
ESS 86 vs HAW 90 Report Stats
Sat, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
STK 95 vs GWS 88 Stats
PTA 127 vs ADE 73 Report Stats
FRE 87 vs GCF 39 Report Stats
SYD 69 vs COL 89 Report Stats
Sun, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
BRI 68 vs GEE 93 Stats
MEL 30 vs WCE 123 Report Stats
WBU 54 vs NTH 83 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
HAW 137 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
Sat, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
WBU 100 vs RIC 98 Report Stats
ADE 71 vs SYD 134 Report Stats
GCF 114 vs BRI 61 Stats
WCE 83 vs STK 58 Report Stats
COL 76 vs GEE 87 Report Stats
Sun, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS 79 vs MEL 47 Report Stats
NTH 97 vs PTA 90 Report Stats
ESS 138 vs CAR 57 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 72 vs COL 110 Report Stats
Sat, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 58 vs MEL 81 Report Stats
PTA 159 vs BRI 46 Report Stats
GWS 83 vs WBU 110 Report Stats
GEE 107 vs WCE 32 Report Stats
GCF 49 vs HAW 148 Report Stats
Sun, 13 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD 48 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
STK 50 vs ADE 136 Report Stats
FRE 113 vs ESS 60 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Thu, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 63 vs RIC 106 Report Stats
Sat, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 93 vs NTH 58 Report Stats
SYD 92 vs FRE 75 Report Stats
WCE 56 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
ESS 65 vs STK 81 Report Stats
Sun, 20 AprTimes shown AEST
ADE 137 vs GWS 72 Report Stats
MEL 78 vs GCF 86 Report Stats
WBU 91 vs CAR 119 Report Stats
Mon, 21 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 106 vs HAW 87 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 83 vs ESS 60 Report Stats
STK 79 vs BRI 82 Report Stats
FRE 61 vs NTH 74 Report Stats
Sat, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
GCF 134 vs GWS 94 Report Stats
CAR 92 vs WCE 89 Report Stats
MEL 38 vs SYD 69 Report Stats
Sun, 27 AprTimes shown AEST
WBU 83 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
RIC 52 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
PTA 107 vs GEE 67 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 70 vs COL 104 Report Stats
Sat, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 175 vs STK 30 Report Stats
GWS 97 vs PTA 132 Report Stats
ADE 67 vs MEL 70 Report Stats
BRI 44 vs SYD 123 Stats
ESS 73 vs WBU 65 Report Stats
Sun, 04 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 77 vs GCF 120 Report Stats
GEE 81 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
WCE 54 vs FRE 73 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 107 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sat, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
PTA 94 vs FRE 76 Report Stats
BRI 57 vs ESS 65 Report Stats
MEL 83 vs WBU 99 Report Stats
Sun, 11 MayTimes shown AEST
WCE 188 vs GWS 77 Report Stats
Mon, 12 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 69 vs CAR 101 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Thu, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 76 vs COL 55 Report Stats
Fri, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 64 vs SYD 114 Report Stats
Sat, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 74 vs MEL 91 Report Stats
NTH 125 vs BRI 38 Report Stats
FRE 96 vs GEE 64 Report Stats
Sun, 18 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 87 vs GCF 125 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 111 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
Sat, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
GWS 41 vs RIC 154 Report Stats
COL 109 vs WCE 101 Report Stats
PTA 100 vs HAW 86 Report Stats
Sun, 25 MayTimes shown AEST
GCF 119 vs WBU 74 Report Stats
CAR 81 vs ADE 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Thu, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 148 vs GEE 38 Report Stats
Fri, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 54 vs COL 140 Report Stats
Sat, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 75 vs PTA 95 Report Stats
BRI 98 vs CAR 91 Report Stats
ESS 104 vs RIC 54 Report Stats
Sun, 01 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE 109 vs GCF 77 Report Stats
WBU 51 vs FRE 89 Report Stats
HAW 94 vs GWS 87 Report Stats
WCE 44 vs NTH 82 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 107 vs CAR 102 Report Stats
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs WCE 79 Report Stats
PTA 129 vs STK 59 Report Stats
WBU 87 vs BRI 95 Report Stats
GWS 66 vs ESS 81 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF 74 vs SYD 109 Report Stats
FRE 90 vs ADE 50 Report Stats
NTH 116 vs RIC 88 Report Stats
Mon, 09 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 28 vs COL 61 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 90 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 85 vs FRE 105 Report Stats
SYD 98 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
WCE 103 vs GCF 100 Report Stats
BRI 80 vs GWS 125 Report Stats
ADE 109 vs NTH 73 Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 133 vs STK 37 Report Stats
COL 98 vs WBU 106 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs MEL 78 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs SYD 62 Report Stats
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA 128 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs COL 86 Report Stats
GCF 118 vs GEE 78 Report Stats
FRE 105 vs BRI 22 Report Stats
ESS 101 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS 100 vs CAR 92 Report Stats
STK 70 vs WCE 103 Report Stats
MEL 66 vs NTH 107 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89 vs ESS 80 Report Stats
Sat, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 116 vs GCF 63 Report Stats
STK 73 vs RIC 117 Report Stats
FRE 88 vs WCE 81 Report Stats
SYD 106 vs GWS 60 Stats
BRI 70 vs NTH 66 Report Stats
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
WBU 91 vs MEL 85 Report Stats
ADE 99 vs PTA 76 Report Stats
COL 91 vs CAR 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 108 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sat, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 79 vs BRI 54 Stats
GWS 72 vs ADE 140 Report Stats
GCF 80 vs COL 75 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs FRE 97 Report Stats
PTA 60 vs ESS 62 Report Stats
Sun, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 151 vs STK 66 Report Stats
WCE 51 vs SYD 79 Report Stats
GEE 69 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ADE 92 vs HAW 104 Report Stats
Sat, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 36 vs GEE 102 Report Stats
NTH 92 vs STK 33 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs GCF 66 Report Stats
BRI 64 vs WCE 76 Report Stats
SYD 122 vs CAR 51 Report Stats
Sun, 13 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 126 vs PTA 106 Report Stats
ESS 103 vs COL 39 Report Stats
FRE 136 vs GWS 60 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 109 vs NTH 86 Report Stats
Sat, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
STK 118 vs FRE 60 Report Stats
GWS 87 vs GEE 94 Report Stats
Sun, 20 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA 72 vs MEL 69 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs ESS 101 Report Stats
Fri, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
WCE 42 vs RIC 59 Report Stats
Sat, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI 110 vs GCF 56 Report Stats
HAW 104 vs SYD 94 Report Stats
Sun, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
COL 82 vs ADE 98 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Thu, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE 83 vs CAR 78 Report Stats
Fri, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 79 vs ESS 57 Report Stats
Sat, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 105 vs WCE 136 Report Stats
RIC 89 vs GWS 62 Report Stats
GCF 117 vs STK 64 Report Stats
NTH 79 vs GEE 111 Report Stats
Sun, 03 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 51 vs BRI 74 Stats
HAW 107 vs WBU 45 Report Stats
COL 76 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 95 vs ESS 77 Report Stats
Sat, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 51 vs NTH 126 Report Stats
CAR 97 vs GCF 58 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs MEL 65 Report Stats
PTA 58 vs SYD 84 Report Stats
GEE 81 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
Sun, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 63 vs ADE 168 Report Stats
STK 99 vs WBU 122 Report Stats
WCE 126 vs COL 66 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR 76 vs GEE 82 Report Stats
Sat, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 127 vs STK 56 Stats
GCF 47 vs PTA 56 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs WCE 74 Report Stats
COL 56 vs BRI 123 Report Stats
ADE 69 vs RIC 79 Report Stats
Sun, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 111 vs WBU 61 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs GWS 98 Report Stats
FRE 110 vs HAW 91 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 140 vs CAR 37 Report Stats
Sat, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 101 vs ADE 94 Report Stats
ESS 108 vs GCF 89 Report Stats
GWS 67 vs COL 75 Report Stats
WCE 119 vs MEL 53 Report Stats
HAW 94 vs GEE 71 Report Stats
Sun, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 48 vs FRE 106 Report Stats
WBU 67 vs SYD 130 Report Stats
RIC 98 vs STK 72 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56 vs HAW 121 Stats
Sat, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR 90 vs ESS 90 Stats
FRE 105 vs PTA 97 Stats
SYD 65 vs RIC 68 Stats
NTH 123 vs MEL 93 Stats
GEE 143 vs BRI 81 Stats
Sun, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
GCF 99 vs WCE 151 Stats
ADE 141 vs STK 62 Stats
WBU 109 vs GWS 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
AFL Finals Round 1
Fri, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 104 vs GEE 68 Report Stats
Sat, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 93 vs FRE 69 Stats
NTH 93 vs ESS 81 Stats
Sun, 07 SepTimes shown AEST
PTA 132 vs RIC 75 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
AFL Finals Round 2
Fri, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE 92 vs NTH 98 Stats
Sat, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
FRE 83 vs PTA 105 Stats
View All Fixtures
AFL Finals Round 3
Fri, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 136 vs NTH 65 Report Stats
Sat, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 97 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
AFL Finals Round 4
Sat, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 74 vs HAW 137 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
AFL Home and Away
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Sydney Swans 22 17 5 0 142.88 68
Hawthorn 22 17 5 0 140.78 68
Geelong Cats 22 17 5 0 113.77 68
Fremantle 22 16 6 0 130.40 64
Port Adelaide 22 14 8 0 129.92 56
North Melbourne 22 14 8 0 117.04 56
Essendon 22 12 9 1 106.34 50
Richmond 22 12 10 0 105.77 48
View all
 
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