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Bunyip In Papley’s Blood

This article was originally published in April, 2016.

Tucked along the Princes Highway around 85km east of Melbourne is the small town of Bunyip.

But it’s there you’ll find the Papley’s – the family engrossed in the town’s local football club.

Max Papley moved to Bunyip with his family not long after his VFL career at South Melbourne and VFA stint at Williamstown had ended in the early 1970s. There he brought up three daughters and a son and where the association with the Bunyip Football Club began.

Fast forward a few decades and Max’s grandson Tom came through the Bunyip junior ranks before being drafted as a rookie by the Swans at the end of last year.

Following a whirlwind few months, Tom made an immediate impact at his grandfather’s old club, making his AFL debut in Round 1 before receiving a Rising Star nomination for his 20-disposal, two-goal effort against West Coast last weekend.

Standing at only 176cm, Tom showed a steely resolve from an early age according to his father – and former coach at Bunyip – David.

“He was eight, and up here the under 13s was your first junior age so it was a fair gap and we weren’t really keen on him playing,” David tells

“He was getting pretty upset that he couldn’t play and I said if you can kick with both feet by the time the footy season starts, you can play under 13s.

“So he went out the back for three hours and came back crying. I thought he’d been bitten by a snake but no his left foot was red raw. So we let him play.”

Tom soon realised his talent and a shift from the midfield to the forward line in his draft year ensured he was on the recruiters’ radars.

While there was initial disappointment when Tom missed out on being selected in the national draft, it wasn’t to last as the Swans came calling with a rookie spot and Tom shifted north soon after.

Max – who played 59 games for the Swans between 1964 to 1967, winning the club’s best and fairest award in 1966 – recalls a conversation with Sydney’s list manager after hearing of his grandson’s news.

“I got a phone call from Kinnear Beatson the day after he was drafted and Kinnear said to me ‘I just want to impress upon you Max, that we’ve drafted Tom because of his ability, and not because of any family links’,” Max says.

“I said ‘well that’s great because that’s what I said to him last night’. I said to Tom ‘it’s got nothing to do with your family history mate, they drafted you because they think you’re good enough’.”

With local products such as Shane Mumford and two more of Max’s grandson’s Ben and Michael Ross also making the AFL caper in recent times, Bunyip has become somewhat of a small footballing factory.

Not bad for a town with a population of a little more than 2,000 people.

Click here to read about Round 4 Rising Star nominee Caleb Daniel.

Click here to read about Round 3 Rising Star nominee Jacob Weitering.

Click here to read about Round 2 Rising Star nominee Darcy Parish.

Click here to read about Round 1 Rising Star nominee Clayton Oliver.