You would not ordinarily think two nearby towns in outback Western Australia with a combined population of less than 1000 people could produce six current AFL players and one active AFLW player.
But Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing are no ordinary communities.
Carlton’s Sam Petrevski-Seton grew up in Halls Creek, a town situated in the East Kimberley region of the state. He has fond memories hanging out with first cousins, Shane McAdam and Jy Farrar.
“We loved footy from a young age, and I think the support from our family members and our competitiveness against each other made us try to take it to the big league,” Petrevski-Seton, 21, told aflplayers.com.au.
Although footy was the No.1 priority for many of the young boys and girls in town, activities such as bushwalking, hunting and fishing were other favourite pastimes of Petrevski-Seton, his cousins and other relatives, including Melbourne’s Toby Bedford, Essendon’s Irving Mosquito and Melbourne AFLW player Krstel Petrevski.
On Wednesday night, Ash Johnson – McAdam’s brother – was selected by Collingwood in the 2021 pre-season rookie draft.
McAdam, 26, a high-flying forward for Adelaide, said living in such a remote community meant the boys had to make their own fun.
“We used to fix up a lot of bikes and go riding in the bush,” he said. “We had mud fights in the wet, we’d go hunting and swim in the creeks. There’s a creek in the town, and when it got full, we’d go swimming in that.”
Farrar, 24, who has enjoyed a promising start to the 2021 season in a new position at half-back for Gold Coast, vividly remembers his times at the local water hole called Palm Springs (Lugangarna in Jaru language) – the only freshwater creek in Halls Creek.
Dubbed the ‘Oasis in the desert’, the springs are encircled by palm trees and other shrubbery, with a large rock formation overlooking the waterhole.
“We’ve got a nice little spring just past the old town, about 30 kilometres out of town on a dirt road. It never goes dry. Didn’t matter how little rain we’d had or how hot it was, it never went dry,” Farrar said.
“It was probably a bit of an oasis and good for the locals to go out, have a dip and escape the scorching sun.”
On their trips out bush, the boys would pack themselves little snacks or take their slingshots with them to catch their own food.
They would also regularly go camping and fishing with other boys their age, and often not return home until the sun went down after school or on weekends.
“We were always together. Jy, Samo (Petrevski-Seton), and heaps of our other cousins,” McAdam said. “We often wouldn’t come home until the sun sets after we’d been at school.”
Bedford, on the cusp of senior selection at Melbourne as a high-pressure forward, grew up in Fitzroy Crossing – three hours by car west of Halls Creek. At 21, he is a few years younger than his other AFL-playing relatives.
Bedford’s father grew up in Halls Creek, while his mother was raised on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
Bedford moved to Melbourne when he was eight to attend boarding school, although he would regularly make the trek back to Fitzroy Crossing to see his parents, who had returned back west when Bedford was in year 7, and the rest of his extended family, during school and summer holidays.
Bedford was drafted by the Demons with pick No.75 in the 2018 Draft as part of Melbourne’s Next Generation Academy (NGA).
“The last few times I’ve been there, in 2019, Samo organised a big all-in ‘brothers’ catch-up. All the boys that are playing football were there, plus another cousin of ours (Ash Johnson) who’s trying to get drafted as well,” Bedford said.
“Samo was probably the first one for all of us to really kick things off. Seeing him make it inspired me a bit more, and the year I got drafted was the same year Shane got drafted as well.”
Petrevski-Seton, drafted by Carlton with pick No.6 in the 2016 Draft, Farrar and McAdam also made the decision to leave Halls Creek in their mid-teens, in year nine, to attend boarding school in Perth in search of a better education and greater sporting opportunities with concrete pathways.
Transitioning away from family and friends and the place they called home was challenging on several levels, with noticeable differences in the food they were being served and modes of transport. “We walked everywhere back home,” Petrevski-Seton said.
The language barrier was particularly challenging.
Back home, Petrevski-Seton spoke Kriol, a form of broken English, and when he moved to Perth to Clontarf Aboriginal College – a school famous for producing Des Headland (who played in a premiership for Brisbane before moving to Fremantle) and Patrick Ryder (now with St Kilda after stints with Essendon and Port Adelaide) – he prioritised learning English as quickly as he could in order to converse with his classmates and his teammates at WAFL club Claremont.
“You find yourself playing some good footy, find yourself making friends and speaking up more. You get involved with camps and involved with leadership stuff. It’s something I had to adapt to pretty quickly,” Petrevski-Seton said of his experience in Perth.
After completing their schooling in Perth, McAdam and Farrar travelled a different path to their cousin after going undrafted.
McAdam plied his trade at Scotch Old Collegians, a division two side in Adelaide, before eventually being spotted by SANFL club Sturt, where he would kick 31 goals in 17 games in 2017.
Initially selected by Carlton as a mature-aged pre-draft access pick, McAdam was traded to the Crows in 2018.
Farrar, meanwhile, moved back home to Falls Creek for two years after his time in Perth had come to an end, before venturing to Wangaratta in Victoria’s north-east to play for the North Wangaratta Hawks, and then on to Scotch Old Collegians the same club that McAdam played for.
He also played a pair of SANFL games as a top-up player for Adelaide’s SANFL side before being nominated for the state combine and then being selected by Gold Coast with pick No.60 in the 2019 Draft.
Although AFL clubs have long understood the level of talent within the Kimberley region, Fremantle now has access to those players from Broome to Kununarra, with recent NGA player Leno Thomas a success story coming out of Warmun – a small town two hours north of Halls Creek by car.
Although the paths the players have journeyed are vastly different and they now reside in separate parts of the country, they remain in touch via text and FaceTime and follow each other’s careers closely.
“I know how hard it is to make it out of that town. So many boys back home now, they could easily be on an AFL list, but it’s just so hard to leave the community and leave everyone and everything you know behind,” McAdam says.
“That’s the main reason I’m proud of them. I know how hard it is to make it; to make something out of yourself coming from such a small town in the middle of nowhere.”
Petrevski-Seton plans on heading home at the end of this season, COVID-19 permitting.
“Our home is always there. It’s a good place to wind down, rejuvenate and refresh mentally and physically,” he said.