Houli awarded OAM

Bachar Houli during his playing days with the Tigers. (AAP Image/Scott Barbour)

Gerald Lynch

Being recognised this King’s Birthday with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), is Altona North’s Bachar Houli, a now renowned figure in AFL history.

He had been awarded the honour for service to Australian rules football, multiculturalism, and the Islamic community.

Houli, who has a Lebanese background, was born in Australia and grew up in Melbourne’s west, in Altona North and Tarneit.

He attended high school at Al-Taqwa College in Truganina, and played his junior football with Spotswood, before being called up to play for the Western Jets.

Houli’s career is an extremely decorated one, with 232 career games, three premierships, and an all-Australian jacket. However, his career started in a difficult manner.

After four seasons with Essendon where he played just 26 matches, Houli decided to find a new home, and never looked back.

“Essendon is a great football club and Kevin Sheedy was such a great leader, but unfortunately after he left, the environment wasn’t working for me on the field and it was an opportunity for change,” he said.

“The Richmond coaches and leaders created a culture that encouraged connection and storytelling that enabled me to grow on and off the field and allowed me to get the best out of myself.”

When looking back at his long career, it was the off-field side that he held most dearly.

“There are many great memories, but you can’t go past the relationships you develop being part of a team and the lifelong friendships,” he said.

“Winning the first premiership in 2017 was also pretty special because it meant so much not only to me but the whole community.”

Community is a word that describes Houli best.

He was awarded the Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award in 2020, and the AFL’s Yiooken Award in 2019.

Further, he has been awarded a Victorian Multicultural Commission Award, and an Award for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding by the Australia Day Council.

Although he will always be hailed as a triple premiership hero at the Tigers, his legacy will stem far deeper, with his work with the Bachar Houli Foundation (BHF) supporting more than 35,000 people to date.

“I hope I can be remembered as someone authentic who role modelled his Islamic values on and off the field and played a small role in giving minority communities a sense of belonging,” he said.

Houli said it was in 2011 when he felt the Muslim community was underrepresented across the AFL, and young Muslims in Australia lacked sporting role models, leading him to develop the BHF.

Established in 2012, the BHF is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to develop young leaders within the Muslim community.

“It was a challenging time for the community and I wanted to provide opportunities and pathways for our young people through sport,” he said.

“My faith has always been the driver for me because it’s a big part of our purpose as Muslim to give back and help others. I have always enjoyed helping people and seeing young people grow.

“Ultimately our biggest purpose is to enable young people to be the best versions of themselves by being physically and mentally healthy, great leaders and proud of their identity.”

He currently runs the Islamic College of Sport in Coburg, but an expansion to Melbourne’s west is in the works, and expected to be open from next year.

An information session for students entering year 11 next year is coming up this Thursday, June 13, at the Australian Islamic Centre in Newport, from 6pm to 8pm.