National

NT football patriarch Jack Long farewelled

By AAP Newswire

Jack Long, the patriarch of one of Australia's most prodigious indigenous football families, has been fondly farewelled at a funeral in Darwin where his life of adventure was remembered.

Long, who died last week at the age of 82, had nine children, including former Essendon AFL great Michael Long.

Retired Hawthorn champion Cyril Rioli is one of three grandsons to play in the AFL, with Ben Long and Jake Long currently at St Kilda and Essendon.

Jack Long was a champion footballer himself in the Northern Territory Football League, playing in three premierships for St Mary's, while all seven of his sons played in a preliminary final for the Saints in 1989.

He once played in front of Queen Elizabeth II in Darwin.

The early part of his career involved travelling by dinghy from the Tiwi Islands to Darwin on a weekend.

Long-time friend and coach at St Mary's Tony Shaw told Long's children to "be strong and to remember their father as a remarkable, loving, successful man".

"He was a hard man on the football field and a soft generous man off it," he told hundreds of people who attended a large outdoor funeral at the Gardens Oval in Darwin, where Long played much of his football.

He hated cold weather and would refuse to travel south to Adelaide or Melbourne with him, said Mr Shaw.

"Michael, did he ever come and watch you play down in Melbourne?" he jokingly asked Michael Long during his eulogy, who responded by nodding.

It could have turned out far differently for Jack Long who was born under a tree to his Aboriginal mother Rita and white stockman father more than 1300km south at Ti Tree in 1937 and became one of the Stolen Generation.

At the age of three, welfare officers forcibly removed Long from his family and after travelling on a truck, train and lugger boat, where he saw the ocean for the first time, he was placed in a Catholic mission on Melville Island.

Darwin was bombed soon after by the Japanese during World War II and three decades later, Long survived Cyclone Tracey along with his late wife Agnes and children.

While life was difficult, Long was a natural when it came to the hunting and gathering skills he refined his whole life, said Yvonne Dunn, who lived with him at the Garden Point mission.

"Boys like uncle Jack had to go hunting to provide food to the kitchen and he did a wonderful job, I think he fed everyone at Garden Point from the time when he was a little boy," she said.

While he was born an Anmatjera desert Aboriginal he became a saltwater man who spoke Tiwi and passed on the language and all of his hunting and cultural skills to his children, said Mr Shaw.

He worked his whole life driving trucks, on pearl luggers, shooting crocodiles from canoes and other roles but his favourite job was his final one while aged in his 70s: a sea ranger on the Tiwi Islands.

"Using his library of information he always remembered to hunt and give food to the elders and remain true to his kind and generous nature," Mr Shaw said.