“From then on I decided I was going to go back to the community and reconnect with my family, to make sure I had a history to give to my children and my grandchildren.
“I’ve made sure that our children understood the Aboriginal history, the Aboriginal culture. We couldn’t get all of the language but we try to understand.”
She has 10 grandchildren, and eight great-grandsons. A ninth great-grandchild is due in a few weeks, and Eileen is desperately hoping to break the duck and be blessed with a great-granddaughter.
Malcolm Rosas jnr is one of Eileen’s grandchildren. Mally, as he is affectionately known, would in normal circumstances be on the Gold Coast right now. Signed to the Suns’ rookie list as part of the expansion club’s suite of concessions granted last year, the speedy small forward is back in Darwin, living with his mum Raelene – Eileen’s daughter – while the AFL season is on hold. Like all players spread around the country and even the world during this unforeseen hiatus, Mally is in regular contact with his club, and in particular touching base frequently with fellow rookie Matt Conroy, who has headed back to Townsville during the enforced break.
Listed at 175 centimetres, Rosas is also the lightest player on the Suns’ list according to the AFL season guide, where his weight is recorded at 70kg, so not surprisingly he is working on getting bigger and stronger. Cyril Rioli was a hero of his growing up, as was former North Melbourne forward Matt Campbell, who acted as a mentor to Rosas.
Mally is a young man of few words. Raelene says that in that respect he is like his father, Malcolm Rosas snr.
“He’s his father all over. His father was a very quietly spoken man. He only said something if he had to,” Raelene said.
Sporting talent runs in the family. Raelene’s father Bill Dempsey was a champion for West Perth and is named in the back pocket of the Indigenous team of the century. Raelene’s uncles Jimmy Anderson and David Ross were also prominent NT footballers. It was clear from a young age that Mally would excel in whichever sport he put his hand to. He was an all-rounder, whether it be footy, rugby league, soccer or table tennis. But Raelene and Malcolm snr told him that he would need to choose. It would have been easy for Mally to veer off course.
“Darwin’s a very small place. It’s very easy to get caught up in stuff. It was pretty hard because I was always by myself in my draft year [as the only player taken from NT Thunder]. But I’ve got good support,” he said.
Eileen speaks with beaming pride when discussing Mally’s progress.
“I’m so proud of my grandson. Watching him in Darwin and the commitment he had to training and staying on track was something that I’m so proud of. And to think that my grandson had that instilled into him, probably from us, because I know his mother and father were really hard workers all their life. A lot of our kids can get off track very easily. But he stuck to it,” Eileen said.
And there were setbacks, not least Malcolm snr’s untimely death in 2018.
“Even though I lost my husband and their father, he was still very focused. We buried my husband in Katherine and he wanted to come straight back to Darwin and play. In that way there was a lot of healing as well,” said Raelene.
The pride extends both up and down the generations. Mally doesn’t say much, but it’s clear his family, and in particular his grandmother, play a huge part in his life.
“She means a lot to me. She’s always supported me with my football,” he said.
It has been Eileen’s quest to make sure her descendants were acutely aware of their heritage. She has been a trailblazer in the NT community, including serving as the chair of the NT Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation, an organisation for which Raelene also works as link-up team leader, reuniting living members of the Stolen Generation and in some cases organising graveside reunions.
While he grew up in Darwin, Mally would regularly holiday during his childhood in the remote town of Bulman, fishing, hunting and participating in tribal dancing.
“I’ve always made sure that my children and my grandchildren knew where they came from, so that’s why Malcolm was part of our community out there,” Eileen said.
But Bulman is now in lockdown. The threat posed by the coronavirus to remote Indigenous communities is deathly serious.
“Everyone is locked out of the communities at the moment. Every community in the NT is locked down. Because they don’t want the virus to get into the communities, because we know how dangerous that would be. Once it gets into our communities it could be devastating for our communities,” said Eileen.
Raelene sees the statistics about Indigenous life expectancy and gets frightened, even for her mother.
“They’re like caged animals at the moment, but we’re explaining to them, ‘you’ve got to stay home’,” Raelene explains.
Misinformation is pervasive too. A myth has spread through parts of the communities that the virus is killed by the sun and washed away by the rain, so education is critical. Mally is playing his part, featuring in an advertising campaign aimed at the NT’s Indigenous community to spread key messages about social distancing and hygiene.
Geelong’s Brandan Parfitt and St Kilda’s Ben Long – among the AFL’s small band of Territorian players – also got involved.
Malcolm was asked to take his place in the project by his grandfather’s brother John Paterson, who is the chief executive of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT. Mally calls John his “Pop.”
So while Mally is yet to play an AFL game, he is already a leader.
“Having the Gold Coast Suns up here in Darwin is a good pathway for our juniors up here, and Malcolm has inspired a lot of juniors as well,” Raelene says.
“We’re very proud of him. We miss him terribly when he’s not here.”
However even when he does eventually head back, Mally’s presence will linger quite tangibly. He was given the duty of naming his nephew.
“His sister Shania thought she was having a girl. She didn’t have a boy’s name,” says Raelene.
The kid is named Daikoss. Surely an homage to one of football’s greatest goal sneaks? Nope, nothing to do with Peter Daicos. There aren’t even any Collingwood supporters in the family. Mally barracked for Geelong growing up, while Eileen’s clan were Essendon fans.
“Nah, I just liked the name,” says Mally, typically not mincing his words.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter