Story courtesy of Cairns Regional Council:
A former sportsman who turned his passion for football into an avenue to helping the prospects of Indigenous youths has been named the Cairns region’s Citizen of the Year.
In a breakfast ceremony at the Cairns Hilton today, Rick Hanlon OAM was honoured for his devotion to assisting young Indigenous men and women, particularly through his vision and subsequent development of AFL Cape York House.
Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said Mr Hanlon had tapped into the appeal of Australian Rules Football and used it as an avenue to advance the prospects of remote-based Indigenous children.
“Rick has played an important role in improving the lives of countless Indigenous children, as well as their communities,” Cr Manning said.
“Some of these children came from very difficult backgrounds and their life outcomes may not have been the best.
“Rick identified Aussie Rules as a way to engage Indigenous young people from Cape York and the Torres Strait, and through his determination established AFL Cape York House for boys in 2013, and a similar facility for young women from the Cape in 2019.
“These facilities, which include boarding accommodation, have given many children the chance to change their lives and tap into new and exciting futures.
“While kicking a football is part of the experience, just as important, these facilities provide an environment with a focus on education, health and well-being.
“These are the foundations that encourage young people to get an education and then possibly go on to university, get a trade, or find a job.
“Some of those children will even go back home and make a positive contribution to their communities.”
A part of Australian Rules Football development for more than a quarter of a century, during this time Mr Hanlon grew the game in the Far North, while also enhancing the lives of Indigenous children, particularly those from remote communities.
Following a successful Australian Rules Football career in Tasmania, Mr Hanlon arrived in Cairns in 1998 as the AFL’s North Queensland Regional Manager.
In 2006, he was appointed General Manager of AFL Cape York Ltd, and his focus shifted to supporting children in remote Indigenous communities.
Mr Hanlon’s vision was to create a constructive engagement program focusing on education, health and civic well-being, with Australian Rules being the vehicle to access remote communities of Cape York, Torres Strait and Gulf Savannah.
This passion led to the establishment of AFL Cape York House for boys in 2013.
The facility provided accommodation and educational, employment and training for Indigenous youths from remote communities, such as Hope Vale, Coen, Lockhart River, Kowanyama, Coen, Aurukun, Pormpuraaw Bamaga/Injinoo, Mornington Island, Badu Island, Maubiag Island, Moa Island, Yam Island and Coconut Island.
The success of the facility spearheaded the establishment of a second AFL Cape York House, this one for girls, which opened in 2019.
As the Programs Manager of AFL Cape York, Mr Hanlon has been focused on Indigenous advancement by pushing the boundaries and wanting to make a difference for the betterment of Indigenous youth, who have limited opportunities.
Mr Hanlon has been previously recognised for his services to AFL and Ingenious youths.
Notably, he received life membership of AFL Cairns Juniors in 2008, has been inducted in the Tasmanian Hall of Fame, and received the Order of Australia Medal in 2017.
Pictured: Rick Hanlon OAM with Cairns Regional Council Mayor Bob Manning