Perth Stadium is hosting the AFL’s annual Dreamtime match between Richmond and Essendon for the first time this weekend — and if stadium boss Mike McKenna has his way, it won’t be the last time WA plays host to an iconic AFL game.
- The Dreamtime AFL match has never been played in Perth before
- It traditionally attracts big crowds
- Mike McKenna says it will showcase the venue
Mr McKenna said it was an exciting opportunity to host the match, which was first played in 2005, a year after Indigenous Essendon player Michael Long walked halfway to Canberra from Melbourne in a bid to highlight the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The game is usually played on the Saturday night of the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round and until last year, had always been played at the MCG.
But in 2020, COVID-19 forced the game to move to Darwin, and this year it will be held in WA.
“There was definitely interest out of Sydney but yes, we had to compete for this game and we’re really glad we won it,” he said.
“It’s one of those iconic games in the AFL calendar and to have it here in Perth is a unique opportunity, and I know the people of WA will just love to be part of this game.
“There’s been such a large number of players, both Indigenous players from around the country and predominately Noongar players from this part of the world and it’s been a great celebration for their contribution to AFL football.”
History of large crowds
The match has a history of drawing large crowds — on average around 70,000 — with the biggest crowd of more than 85,000 in 2017.
Last year that dropped to little more than 5,000 for the game in Darwin, but Mr McKenna said he wa hopeful attendance this Saturday will be significant.
“A lot of talk about attendance, a lot of people saying it’s going to be a sell-out,” he said.
“We’d be very, very happy with a crowd over 40,000 but there’s no reason why we won’t sell this game out.”
Mr McKenna said the event’s presentation program was still being finalised, with work happening to ensure the event was COVID-safe.
“What I can say is that there is going to be a replica of Michael Long’s Long Walk from a location in the city, across the bridge to the stadium as part of the pre-match,” he said.
“We’re expecting this game to be probably one of the best, set a new benchmark, not just for games here but for the Dreamtime game wherever it’s played around the country.
“We were disappointed we missed the grand final [last year] and this being one of the top most iconic games outside of a final series, we’re really keen to make sure that it not only looks good but it reminds the AFL and the football public what can be done here in WA and the extent to which the fans in Perth love the football and will come out to these events.
“So, we’re really looking to seeing this as a showcase for potential other opportunities down the track.”
Mr McKenna said while ticket pricing was also being finalised, at this stage the cost would likely be $35 for adults, $12 for children and $70 for families.
‘Dream come true’ for Noongar guide
Nick Abraham, who runs tours around the land on which the stadium sits, said it was very exciting for his community, the Wadjuk people of the Noongar nation, and the broader West Australian community, to experience the Dreamtime match.
“It’s like a dream come true, not only for the game to be here, but also as a Noongar man that has many of our Noongar men playing AFL,” he said.
“I see it as a modern day ceremony of people coming together and enjoying watching a game of two teams battling at their best.
“Our ancient history and culture … very, very little is known by the broader West Australians and even Australians in that sense, so it refreshes me to be able to tell that story from our point of view.
“Our connections to country and our connection to the natural environment is very powerful to our people.
“This reconciliation should be more than just words, how do we respect one another?
“How do we connect so that we can all understand one another and have an appreciation for our differences but still walk together because we’re all humans?”