Fremantle star Michael “Sonny” Walters followed in his father’s footsteps. Now he is a role model himself to young players who he says are stepping up and helping the Dockers to match it with the league’s best.

“Growing up my dad played a lot of footy in SA and WA as well, most weekends and a couple of nights a week as well we spent together training. Dad was my biggest role model, I always wanted to be like him — he was a superstar in my eyes,” Walters told the National Indigenous Times.

He says coming up the ranks was an “unbelievable experience”.

“At Midvale … being around the old boys who were in the State comp before me, playing for WA 16s and 18s, I wanted to follow that journey, I looked up to those older boys. I played State 15s schoolboys, got third-best in that carnival.

“I was in the Swans development squad 16s, and from that carnival I got picked up and played State 16s and drew for the medal with Tom Scully, and went to the Australian Institute of Sport academy.

“I knew from there I had a good chance to make the AFL if I stuck to it and put in the hard work. That gave me the motivation, it was something I had wanted to do from a young age.”

Walters says the new coaching staff at Fremantle had generated an “unbelievable” feeling at the club.

“The feeling at the club is unreal. We had the new coaching staff come in and changed up the whole feeling around the club,” he said.

“The younger boys are more excited about coming in and training hard, they are really stepping up, Cerra, Brayshaw, Serong.

“It gives us older boys a chance to get out there and play. They are not just following us.

“You see the form of David Mundy, it has taken pressure off him and he can focus on playing.

“The feeling is unbelievable around the club.

“We are sticking to our structures and our systems. We know it can stand up against the best, but we know we have to keep focus.”

Walters said that while progress had been made in the VFL/AFL’s treatment of Indigenous players and engagement with Indigenous history and culture, there was still “a long wayt to go”.

“Purely from a cultural standpoint, a lot of clubs are willing to learn about history and about that can be done to make things better going forward,” he said.

“The WAFL, SANFL, NTFL and others have all had a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players that have really dominated the game and paved the way for players like myself and Liam Ryan and others who have come through.

“Early, especially in the VFL, it was hard for Indigenous players to come out and play each week but they did it because they had the mental strength, their drive to prove a lot of people wrong,” Walters said.

“You weren’t just out there playing against the opposition; you were playing against the spectators as well.

“We have come a long way since then in terms of racism and discrimination but we can’t turn a blind eye to it, because it does still happen in society and in football.”

He said past heroes had set an example for his generation of Indigenous players, who in turn did the same for the next generation.

“To a lot of younger players coming through, we are role models.”

Walters said attitudes had advanced but remain a work in progress.

“The clubs want to learn about culture and history,” he said.

“There are still areas with room for improvement. It has got better but there is a long way to go as well.”

By Giovanni Torre