Michael McLean was just 16 years old when he left a familiar life in Darwin to chase his VFL dream.

As a junior footballer in the Territory, he was a shining light.  ‘Magic’ was destined for big things.

Moving to Melbourne in the 80s, though, came with considerable challenges.

“It was very daunting at the time.  I was a very skinny 16-year-old when I left the Territory,” McLean told Bob Murphy and Marcus Bontempelli on The Barkly Street Podcast.

“Everything was different for me.  The change of lifestyle, the eating, the culture, the weather of course, and then on top of that, racism reared its ugly head as well.

“It was all a bit of a shock for me.  But I adjusted, I think, quite quickly.”

Being accepted for having a different background became a big issue very quickly.

Even his new team-mates, unaware of the impact their words might have, were guilty of crossing the line.

“I was pretty uncomfortable.  I was the lone ranger, and at 17 years of age,” he said.

“I just stood up and said ‘enough is enough’.  I’m a proud Indigenous person and this is not going to continue on.

“Once that was knocked on the head it was fine with my team-mates, but in society it was certainly different for me.”

McLean finished his career a star of the competition.  He amassed 183 games combined for the Western Bulldogs and Brisbane Bears, won two best and fairest awards and became a member of the Indigenous Team of the Century.

As his career was drawing to a close, McLean, along with several other strong Indigenous voices in the AFL industry, saw an opportunity to take a stand against racism.

And it wasn’t just for the protection of Aboriginal players.

“I had a meeting at the time with Tony Peek, Rod Austin and Ian Collins,” he said.

“I was part of an article that was written where I mentioned we were going to start naming players who were repeat offenders, and they weren’t happy with it.

“They said ‘what are we going to do about it?’ My suggestion at the time was get any nationality in here…and they’ll feel the same way as we do.  I said ‘get (Tony) Liberatore in here, get Jose Romero in here.  See how they feel’.

“Ten days later we had a round table discussion, and to a person, they felt exactly the same way as us as Indigenous players. 

“That’s how the code of conduct came about.  It was about equality.  It wasn’t just for Indigenous players.”