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The Long Walk asks footy fans to turn symbolic actions into referendum change

Andrew Mathieson -

Michael Long split packs apart and broke away from tacklers with blistering pace that during his heyday infuriated rival fans.

But the more sedate Essendon legend is now hoping to bring all of the AFL club fans on board to support his cause and cheer for the same side.

The stride in the 53-year-old's step promises to be slower but just as measured for The Long Walk on its annual journey from Melbourne to Federal Parliament in Canberra.

Long said the charitable movement for social change will this year be centred around persuading the greater footy community to join and get behind what is a flagging 'Yes' campaign for the Voice to Parliament referendum.

"This year's a little bit different – we're trying to pick up as many people we can along the way with us on different parts of the journey through Victoria," he told The Front Bar on Thursday night.

"This is sort of like the countdown for Sunday, but we've had really good support."

The divisive debate that political parties have dominated has confused Australians ahead of the vote tipped to be around the time of major codes' football grand finals.

Long is keen to discuss referendum issues throughout the 650-kilometre trek.

Plans are to meet a number of public organisations concerned with the premise of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and to educate school students in multiple towns that will include Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga.

One of the most recognisable national Aboriginal figures added that 2023 is "probably most important (year) in my lifetime".

"If you think as a footballer, you think in football terms to to leave this (country) in a better place than we did for our children and for the opportunity of our Indigenous people," he said.

"We've always done that over the years through reconciliation, the Indigenous round, to bring people together.

"Obviously with the referendum, Aboriginal people and this year the constitution also being acknowledged, there are opportunities to address what Aboriginal peoples face.

"We're asking for all Australians come on board and walk with us."

He has personally campaigned across the nation in recent months.

The Long Walk began on Sunday and will take more than a month is celebrating its 20th year since Long first marched up to meet with Prime Minister John Howard to convey his constitutional concerns for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

"It started with two (people), then we had seven, then it really grew from there," Long said.

On reflection, Long believed the most publicised walk since arguably the very first in 2004 was more about putting words into action ahead of the referendum than about creating a personal legacy.

The Bombers dasher, who was raised on the Tiwi Islands, played 190 VFL/AFL games from 1988 until 2001 and made his name behind two premierships in 1993 and 2000.

But Long's advocacy began before after finding out dad Jack and mum Agnes were removed from their Daly River and Ti Tree homes as part of the Stolen Generation.

"I feel I have been accountable as an Australian and I suppose I have got this platform to being able do that and do good for our nation, and what football has done you don't forget that," Long said.

"I thank the game for what it has done, but also what I can do to influence change.

"I think I have been good for football and football has been good to me.

"Hopefully this is one more step further that we can bring this country together."

The Long Walk commenced from Town Hill following several the apperance of several guest speakers before the opening day's walk was to Long's former home ground, Windy Hill.


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