by Sean Gorman
speaking at the launch of documentary series “NYOONGAR FOOTY MAGIC – A TEAM OF CHAMPIONS” to be screened in 2018
I have been asked to speak about the importance of Nyoongar people to the great game of Australian Rules football.
For many of us this is a given as names like Hill. Yarran. Garlett. Jetta. Bennell. Garlett. Ah-Chee. Ryder, Walters, Johnson and Franklin easily roll off the toungue.
Before that we had names like Headland, Williams, Hayden, Woods, Farmer, Pickett. Grover. Matera. Davis.
But then we can historically underlay this again with Farmer. Cable, Michaels, Krakouer, Narkle. Kickett, Winmar and further with Jimmy Melbourne and the Hayward brothers – My apologies for the names I missed out.
For me and many of you, with each name are the associated memories that are conjured up and that are couched in unbridled joy, excitement and some of the best football imaginable.
In an article that was written by Konrad Marshall from the Age only last year this phenomenon of Nyoongar participation was foregrounded and discussed at length and I would encourage all to seek it out and read it – The Noongar Warriors is its title. It’s on line.
Marshall in this article talked extensively to Noongar players themselves but also a range of people who have coached, documented or helped facilitate young Nyoongar talent to flourish in this football-mad state.
For Marshall of the 73 Indigenous players in the AFL in 2016, one in three were Noongars.
But metrics and football memories alone only tell something of this story. There is also the degree of struggle that Nyoongar men and their families have had to endure over time simply to play.
This is something that needs to be understood and I believe with the showing of the Krakouer documentary with Jim and Phil talking about having to grow up next to a railway line and a cattle yard as the policy of the day dictated will go some way to framing this.
Then there is policy that would have seen Polly Farmer banished to the back blocks of the wheatbelt because a politician with the strike of a pen decreed that all 17 year old Aboriginal men at the time had to do so. It was only a petition that was run through the Sunday Times at the time and Farmers prodigious football talent that saved him from this fate. As Farmer said in Steve Hawke’s biography of him… “the only thing I did not want to do was to go farming”.
There are many more of these types of stories but the salient message is this: that without football the stories of these men and their families would have been in many cases ignored or never heard of.
For Aboriginal peoples, until quite recently, Australian Football provided a rare avenue to escape oppressive government interference in their lives, to gain some degree of social acceptance in Anglo-Australian society and the chance for economic independence. For this reason, many Indigenous communities have a deep understanding and appreciation of Australian Football and so because of this it makes the code much more than a game.
For Aboriginal people, Australian Football has become deeply entangled in their social and political struggle for civil rights, land rights and the cultural right to remain distinctive peoples within a contemporary Australian nation-state dominated by non-Indigenous peoples, privilege, values and laws. This is important to acknowledge because it is from this struggle that past and future victories can be understood with greater salience and with time those victories can be used to provide examples of hope so that other pathways may be taken just as those Indigenous pioneers did with each game they played and every goal they kicked.
Thank you and congratulations to all the players and their families in being awarded this honour and a big shout out to all the Nyoongar families who have made football in Western Australia something to be proud of and a great success.
B: Dale Kickett, Gary Malarkey, Derek Kickett
HB: Byron Pickett, Michael Johnson, Stephen Hill
C: Phil Narkle, Nicky Winmar, Peter Matera
HF: Leon Davis, Lance Franklin, Bradley Hill
F: Jeff Farmer, Patrick Ryder, Jimmy Krakouer
R: Polly Farmer, Stephen Michael, Barry Cable (coach)
I/C: Chance Bateman, Allistair Pickett, Phil Matera, Keith Narkle, Phil Krakouer, Kevin Taylor
Led by legendary duo Graham “Polly” Farmer as captain and Barry Cable as playing coach, the centre-square set-up is completed by South Fremantle great Stephen Michael as ruck-rover and St Kilda icon Nicky Winmar as the centreman.
The team contains five current AFL players. Michael Johnson and the Hill brothers fly the flag for Fremantle, while Sydney star Lance Franklin and Port Adelaide’s Paddy Ryder hold key forward posts.
The Noongar Team of Champions, picked for the Noongar Footy Magic documentary series to be screened in 2018.