Down south is where Ben Long has made a name for himself as a rising Saint. But his heart is up north, in his ancestral home of the Tiwi Islands.
When he escapes from the hustle and bustle of city life in the off-season, he reignites his passion for fishing and hunting. He’ll get out a few times a week, always with family by his side.
And it’s when Long is surrounded by those closest to him that he feels most connected to his Anmatyere, Kerinaiua and Maranuggu ancestry.
There’s a responsibility to do his people proud given his status in the community – the Long surname alone is steeped in football royalty and carries its own hefty expectation.
But representing his mob isn’t solely determined by his on-field performances.
2020 will mark the third straight year that the 22-year-old has been tasked with leading a contingent of young Saints teammates up to Darwin for a training camp like no other.
It’s physically and mentally draining work in scorching, unyielding conditions, but the eye-opening cultural lessons learnt make it all worth it.
And it’s this passing on of knowledge and understanding where Long truly shines.
He feels privileged to be handed the responsibility by the club. He remembers being “freaked out” the first time he’d been tasked with leading his teammates up north, but now, the experience has become a pre-season staple.
Even with the mercury tipping over 34 degrees, there’s no reprieve for Long and the emerging Saints.
Gruelling running sessions in the sweltering heat, unrelenting boxing sessions and punishing swims in sticky, warm water engrain the reality of getting out what you put in.
But Long’s homecoming to the Top End is always and the most valuable lesson of them all.
The experience of seeing these kids meet their very own superheroes is priceless. Getting to kick the footy with them is even better.
But the real eye-opener is that footy is much more than that.
Regardless of colour or creed…
…race or religion.
From the beaches of the Melville Island…
…to the outdoor basketball court at Tiwi College...
Footy is for everyone.
The difference Long and the Saints are making on these small communities may be small in scale, but its impact is profound.
Giving back to the people that leave and breathe our great game is what it’s all about.
And Ben Long is inspiring the next generation.
Photography by Corey Scicluna.