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Celebrating champions of the game

As part of this week’s AFL Indigenous Round, we look at some of the prominent AFL Indigenous identities who have been involved in Aussie Rules at both state and national level.

Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer

Regarded as one of the best ruckman of all time, Polly Farmer played 356 games at WAFL and VFL level, including 101 for Geelong, over an incredible 19-year career (1953-1971). Farmer was a five-time premiership player for East Perth, West Perth and Geelong, 10-time best and fairest, three-time Sandover Medallist and three-time All-Australian.

He is also credited with revolutionising the way that the handball was used. Farmer grew up in an orphanage for children of Indigenous descent in Perth. An apprenticeship at a car dealership meant that he was able to stay in Perth instead of being sent to work on the farms, and he eventually worked his way up to playing at WAFL level.

Attracting the attention of multiple VFL clubs, Farmer chose to play for Geelong, where he played in the 1963 Premiership and was captain in 1965 and 1967. He finished his football career back in Perth, and is the only player hold the honour of being in both the AFL and Indigenous Teams of the Century.

Syd Jackson
Syd Jackson played 104 games for East Perth and 136 games for Carlton from 1963-1976. He was a centreman who averaged a goal a game and played in two Carlton Premiership. Jackson grew up with the belief that he was a Noongar man only to discover that he was actually a Wongi man (from the Leonora and Kalgoorlie area in WA) when he met members of his family.

Despite his incredibly difficult upbringing, Jackson’s immense football skills developed playing with the other children in the missions and eventually attracted the attention of East Perth Football Club. Having built a reputation for his mercurial skills, Jackson moved to Melbourne and was Carlton’s runner in the 1968 season. The next year he was a regular player for the Blues, despite facing large amounts of on-field racism. He was an integral part of Carlton’s seven-goal comeback in the 1970 Grand Final.

Glenn James
An integral part of the game, umpires are often overlooked despite having one of the most difficult jobs in footy. Glenn James was the first Indigenous umpire at VFL level, and officiated in 166 games. He also umpired the 1982 and 1984 Grand Finals. James was renowned for his sense of humour and on field rapport with players. James is a member of the selection panel and Indigenous Team of the Century, as an umpire.

Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson was one of the first Indigenous players at VFL level. Not much is known about the very first, Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin, except that he played for Geelong in 1872. By comparison, records show that Johnson played 55 games for Fitzroy from 1904-1906, kicked 15 goals and played in two premierships. The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers lists him as a “fine defender”.

The Krakouer brothers
Jim and Phil Krakouer came across from Claremont in the WAFL to play for North Melbourne in 1982. It was the first time that two Indigenous players had come over from the WAFL to join the same club at the one time. The fact that they were brothers who seemed to share an innate connection only increased the media hype surrounding the pair. Jim was named in both the Indigenous and North Melbourne Team of the Century.

Sir Doug Nicholls
Sir Doug Nicholls originally trained at Carlton and following in Johnson’s footsteps,played 54 games for Fitzroy from 1932-37. He was an extremely quick winger, and finished third in the Brownlow in 1934.

Maurice Rioli (deceased)
Maurice Rioli grew up playing footy on the streets of Darwin and the Tiwi Islands, learning to keep his feet on the unforgiving bitumen surface. As a teenager, Rioli left home and took the long journey to play for South Fremantle, following his brother Sebastian.

Rioli impressed in the WAFL with his consistency and his efforts in finals, and was signed by Richmond in 1982. Rioli became the first Indigenous player to win the Norm Smith Medal that year, as well as the first Northern Territorian player to make it in the VFL. He played 118 games for Richmond.