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Luke Ablett's island of ideals

Luke Ablett during his playing days in 2009.

Luke Ablett during his playing days in 2009. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Luke Ablett played 133 games for Sydney and was a member of its drought-breaking 2005 premiership side. His surname speaks for itself, a part of one of the game’s most revered families. But football never defined him as a person.

Which is why as the game grapples increasingly with the struggles of former players coming out of the system, he is in a good place. And literally, certainly a picturesque one.

Five years after his retirement from the Swans, Ablett is halfway through a 12-month stint in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. But this is not just a former player’s extended end-of-season trip.

Based in Port Vila, he is working with a small non-government organisation in areas about which he is passionate. Social welfare. The environment. And feminism, specifically education about gender equality and violence against women. It is about as far removed from the AFL bubble as a retired player can get, and Ablett is relishing it.

“I was really keen to get out of footy,” he says. “I’d been doing it since I was 18 and was really ready for a change. I wanted to travel, so that was another priority, but I thought instead of spending three or four months not really contributing to anything, I might as well head overseas and work somewhere. I found this job and I thought it would be interesting.

“I wouldn’t suggest for a moment I’m living a traditional life, but working with local people and understanding the way they think and behave has been fascinating. And getting involved with the issue of gender-based violence prevention, looking at the reasons men use violence. That’s what I want to do as a career.”

And Vanuatu, where violence against women is an even bigger problem than in Australia, has given him plenty of experience in the subject. Eye-opening, is perhaps the most diplomatic description of what he has found.

“They ran a study here a couple of years ago which showed 60 per cent of women had been assaulted by their partner or former partner,” he says. “It’s a serious issue. You see it in the way decisions are made and the justifications for certain behaviour. You see that real disrespect a lot more openly and a lot less unashamedly here. It happens in Australia a lot, but it’s so normalised here that people don’t even really take notice. When even women will say ‘I did the wrong thing and therefore I deserved to be hit’ it makes it hard to change perceptions.

“I’m working with younger men about 15-16, trying to make arguments that allow men to be more open to women making decisions. The theory is women having more say in the way life runs prevents violence, so that’s where my program is aiming to go.”

Ablett writes his own blog, a platform for discourse on politics, literature, music and feminism. He’s proud to call himself a feminist in a climate where enough women still feel uncomfortable with the label, let alone men.

“Even now I still kind of feel like I have to defend myself around it. It’s not always an easy tag to apply to yourself because for some people it’s still a dirty word.”

But working for several years post-career with the AFL and its then cultural strategy and education manager Sue Clark offered him many new perspectives of life beyond league football.

“I was always interested in social justice and social issues prior to working with the AFL, but Sue had a huge impact on me and that kind of stirred my interest in women’s issues and then gender issues men face as well,” he says.

This week’s controversial column in Fairfax Media by the “Secret Footballer” about the culture of group sex he found upsetting enough to respond to in his blog. It was as much the language used as the acts themselves he found disturbing.

“That idea of entitlement, of taking the spoils and what’s rightfully yours, I found that really confronting,” he says. “That definitely wasn’t part of my football experience, but then I think was I really just lucky to be in Sydney, where we weren’t in demand to be in those situations? I don’t want to be tarred with that brush, and that’s why I get upset, because it perpetuates this myth of what a footballer is.”

But even way beyond the more sleazy connotations of the word, Ablett in his playing days never fitted the stereotype. “I think I dedicated myself to football as much as anyone did, but at the same time I never absolutely lived and breathed it,” he says.

He recalls often meeting his Sydney teammates for breakfast after they had travelled to Melbourne for a Saturday game. “All the boys would be talking about what happened in the Friday night game and I’d be asking ‘Who won'?” Ablett says.

“I’d have gone into the city for a walk, catch up with friends, do some writing, some uni work, go and see a band. All those things normal people do were always really important to me.

“This misconception exists, and I think players can fall into it, that football becomes mutually exclusive of everything else. I think players and clubs buy into this concept that you have to be an AFL player and nothing else. And I think that’s really unfair, because it doesn’t give people a chance to expand themselves or explore new things.

“What I’ve seen as a common thread with players who have struggled post-footy is their identity is so wrapped up in being a footballer that once that is taken away there’s nothing else behind it. I couldn’t wait to go back to Melbourne, to go to uni, to go surfing and to the beach. I was completely ready, but a lot aren’t prepared emotionally to let go that part of their life.”

Port Vila in Vanuatu is only the latest chapter in Ablett’s. He may stay on even after his 12-month assignment is up. He might live in France and study for a few months. He might return to Melbourne. But if he does come back to football’s heartland, he’s in no danger of losing perspective on life in general, let alone the goldfish bowl of AFL football.

“I was back in Melbourne a few weeks ago, and you see someone driving a $200,000 Range Rover and wearing $500 Gucci sunglasses and complaining about the cost of living and you just think ‘You don’t realise how much you’ve got’.”

Thankfully, Ablett does. And he’s even more thankful that AFL football has been just one part of much broader life portrait.

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 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 Report 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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