Force for good: how Indigenous Australians have enriched football
John Harms, Dr Sean Gorman, Dr David Headon, Che Cockatoo-Collins, 15 September 2009
JOHN HARMS: My name is John Harms. I’m the new director at Manning Clark House. I’d firstly like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. Welcome on behalf of Manning Clark House and the National Museum of Australia. This is a joint effort, and hopefully it’s the first of many that I’m involved in over the years to come. Manning Clark House, for those of you who don’t know what it is, is Manning and Dymphna Clark’s former residence where Manning Clark wrote his six volumes of history and many other words. When I first went to the house a few months ago, I went up the steps to his famous study, and there sitting on his desk is a mug full of his pens, quills and pencils – and it’s a mug with the crest of the Carlton Football Club on the side of it, because Manning Clark was a mad Carlton fan. I wish that he’d have remained a Geelong fan like his father, because then I would have had a lot more time for him. His father was a Geelong fan who died just before the Geelong premiership of 1951, I think.
Football has been important in the Clark family, and if anyone knows Sebastian Clark, he is a mad Carlton fan – ‘mad’ probably being the operative word. But like Manning Clark, I love football and I’m really interested in its social significance. So in so much as this is about football and sport today, it’s also about the social impact of football, because football offers a lens through which we can observe Australian culture. And it’s a very useful lens. So too is race a very important and useful lens to look at issues by, especially at the moment.
Some of you will have seen Serena Williams foot-faulting the other morning. Well, that has sparked an enormous controversy in the United States. One of the things that I did when I went looking at the YouTube example of it, the first YouTube I came up against was a Finnish version of it, which was very hard to understand, but I then googled a little further and came up with an American sporting site; one of these classic US type blogs which is there to encourage discussion about events that happen in sport. Some of it is, ‘I think the Chargers are better than the whoevers,’ but a lot of it is really interesting to look at because you get an idea of what people are thinking about social issues through sport. It was really interesting to see the Serena Williams discussion on this particular site called ‘Blitz’, which quickly degenerated into an argument about race because, of course, racial politics in the United States – enormous. Some of it was quite intelligent; some if it was really awful. In fact, I’m going to mention an awful one. One poster wrote the letters N-P-I-P-G-P-G-P-E-P-R-P, and his post then said, ‘Take out the Ps’ and you’re left with the word ‘nigger’, and that was the only thing that he wrote. That’s the sort of thing we also are up against – that sort of attitude. On the other side of the coin there was a lot of racial comment, or it was interpreted in a racial sense. So the lens that people were using on this particular site was the lens of race.
The lens of race is very important when considering football of all codes in Australia. And that’s what we’re going to try and find out today: how important it is, why it’s important and what that lens shows us. I wrote a book about Steve Renouf [The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story]. Steve Renouf played for Murgon, for Wondai – these are towns in southern Queensland – and he then played for the Broncos [Brisbane’s rugby league team]; he played for Queensland; he played for Australia – a magnificent footballer. For those of you who are more Australian football oriented, I described him as ‘the Andrew McLeod of rugby league’. He’s famous for quite a few moments, but there is one moment in 1992 grand final, which is often replayed when St George are playing the Broncos, and Steve is having a pretty ordinary game. But right near at the end he picks up the football, he takes off down the touchline and he’s chased the entire length of the field by another Indigenous player called Ricky Walford. It’s just a fantastic moment in Australian sport. It’s an iconic moment where you’ve got two Indigenous Australians with the focus of millions of people on them at that particular moment – a very important image. My book is about rugby league, but it’s also about a man trying to understand his own identity, trying to come to terms with what, as he said to me, ‘it means to be a blackfella once you’ve finished playing football.’
Recently I was taken to the centre of Australia by a photographer called Dave Callow, who is just a fantastic bloke. My Friday night was in Melbourne having a few too many reds, I got the plane to Sydney at six the next morning, then flew to Uluru and then got in a four-wheel drive and for ten hours we drove until the sun came down. Then we camped and we wound up there at a little place called Wanarn. There was an Aboriginal football carnival on at Wanarn. Teams had come from Kintore, Tjurkala, Warburton – all these communities – and played on a red dusty oval about 240 metres long by 170 metres wide on this massive oval. Dave took some photos. I thought we would try to create a bit of flavour by showing you some of these photos. [slideshow]
So the kids would play in the morning. And after they’d played the blokes would play. Those of you who’ve visited those communities will know the significance of football. I think that’s a magnificent photo. I’ll let the experts talk a little bit more about the significance of the game, but there’s a real sense of community at this carnival. It was a great privilege to be there.
There’s a soccer ball [photo shown]. What’s that doing there? It’s interesting that Football Australia, the soccer people in Australia, have made the statement that they’re hoping within the next decade or so 15 per cent of players in Australian soccer will be of Indigenous heritage. The boys from Kintore won, they jumped back in the Toyota and off they went 12 hours north. So I thought we’d set a bit of the tone there. When I was at Wanarn, the coach of Tjurkala came up to me and he said, ‘Hey bloke, you got Paul Roos’ [Australian Rules football coach] number?’ And I said, ‘Well, I can get Paul Roos’ number for you.’ He says, ‘I’ve got a few things I want to tell him about how to coach.’ [laughter]
We’re going to have an informal day today with tremendous speakers who’ve agreed to join us today and be part of it. By the way, Phil Egan couldn’t make it today. A family issue in Melbourne came up and he couldn’t come. We’ll be in two segments: the first one will go until quarter till 11 and then we’ll have a break. Then we will come back and have the second session.
Our speakers are Dr Sean Gorman, now research fellow at Curtin University, who wrote a book called Brotherboys about the Krakouer brothers. I won’t give too much away. Che Cockatoo-Collins who played for Port Adelaide, then Essendon and Port Adelaide and has since done many terrific things in Indigenous affairs, worked in schools in education at Rostrevor College. He has been an advisor to [South Australian premier] Mike Rann and now is an advisor to the Santos company. And Dr David Headon, who I’m sure is pretty well known to you here in Canberra. He’s a cultural historian. He has done a lot of writing of his own and edited some fine projects. We’ll be hearing from three of the lads today.
If you have a question during the course, rather than just leaving questions all the way to the end, let’s try and informalise it a bit. If you can catch my eye whilst I’m sitting there and would like to ask a question – we also have a microphone that Adam has got there – we’ll run it more like that show on SBS or something like that. You know what I mean.
Whilst I was writing the book on Steve Renouf, on the other side of the country in south-west Western Australia and in Perth, Sean Gorman was writing his book on the Krakouers. Now we didn’t know this. Sean’s book came out, my book came out, and we met at the football on the terrace at Kardinia Park in Geelong. We had so much to talk about. Because even though we were 5000 kilometres apart, the issues were so similar and the experiences were so similar, which was really interesting. To give us some of the historical background in part to this issue of Indigenous football, I invite Sean Gorman. [applause]
DR SEAN GORMAN: Thank you, John. I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we gathered today. Just as some background to me and the project on the Krakouers: my family came from a small town called Mount Barker, which is in south-west of Western Australia in the heart of what is Noongar country – the south west is where all the Noongar peoples are from – which extends just to the bottom of Geraldton or Dongara and goes to the other side of Esperance. There’s a phenomenological line of where the marbaran or the Christmas tree stops germinating. You know there that once you start to punch out into the goldfields and further north, that that is the Noongar line. Once you start going further out, you know you’re going into Yamatji or Wongai country. The Krakouers are very much from the south-west of Western Australia which makes them Noongars. It’s exactly where my family came from. My grandmother Molly taught all the Krakouer family, Jimmy and Phil, in high school where she was a remedial maths and English teacher.
One day she told Jimmy off, and he picked up a duster and threw it at her, and it hit her in the side of the head. She was a very small lady and she made Jimmy stand outside. As he was going outside she said, ‘You’ll never amount to anything, Jimmy Krakouer,’ and I suppose she got it half right because Jimmy did amount to something and it was football, with Phillip obviously, which enabled him to show his significant talents alongside that of his brother. There are a number of reasons why they were significant, and I will talk about those with the PowerPoint.
I will show some footage initially, then I will show you a PowerPoint to give you some sense of who the Krakouers were for those of you who are too young and perhaps for those of you whose memories have got a bit clouded over them with time. So bear with me. What I want to show now, hopefully, is some footage from their very first season with North Melbourne which was in 1982. [trouble with showing footage]
Here we go – take two. This ostensibly is one-third of a PowerPoint presentation that I have given to five AFL clubs. I initially showed it at the Aboriginal All Stars Camp in Darwin at the start of this year. On the left is obviously a copy of the book which started its life as a PhD. I spent the best part of four and a half years talking to everyone from the family in Mount Barker, the North Mount Barker Footy Club members, the boot starters down there, coaches, old teachers and everyone right through to Ron Barassi and John Kennedy. If you know your football well, you know those are fairly big names. That, on the 30th of May, was adapted for theatre for a play called ‘Krakouer!’
Now, the reason I show this is not to pump my own tyres up. The reason I show this is because as a whitefella, as a wajala, as a gubba, as a guttia, as a migloo – and some of you would know exactly what areas of Australia they would be in terms of making that reference – as a whitefella, walking into a blackfella family and getting permission is not an easy thing to do. The reason it’s not an easy thing to do is because it comes with a history. Yes? And some of those things we’ll talk about in a minute.
So, the reason I show this, is to show that I’m immensely proud of the work that I’ve been able to do with the Krakouers. Because it is based upon a mutual trust and understanding, which has come about through long, long conversations, and building up trust over time. And once you have that as a starting point, there are many, many things that can happen which are great.
I never, ever, ever thought I would be able to produce a book. And now I’m onto my second book. It’s because of the permission that the Krakouers gave me and enabled me to do, that I’ve been able to do those things, which is a great thing. That, I suppose, plays itself out in broader terms in a macro level, not just on a micro level from my work with Jimmy and Phil and the Krakouer family, but it can also work in a bigger way. Precisely what Che is doing with Santos and advising them is ostensibly building up trust through dialogue and engagement with people who have, over time through history, have not had such great relations. Yes?
I love this photograph and there’s a reason I love it. It’s because it tells a story. 1982 when the Krakouers first came to the VFL [Victorian Football League], as it was before it was the AFL [Australian Football League], there had never been two players, two Indigenous players, play on any one team, with one team, up until that point. With the Krakouers coming to North Melbourne in 1982, this starts to change.
The reason why the Krakouers were so important to North Melbourne is because they were a unit within a team. By that I mean, and I haven’t followed much rugby so I can’t make the comparisons in terms of those, but Jimmy was a tough in and under rover, a foot at the pack, front-and-centre type of player. Whereas Phillip was sort of a will-o’-the-wisp player, wingman come half-forward player, who could work into space and generally be on the end of a handball that would come from Jimmy, who had gone in, got the ball and knew where Phillip would be.
A lot of people within the media at the time did not know how to engage with this. Talking to my good friend Martin Flanagan, who writes for the Age and John’s good friend also, some of you, many of you probably know who I’m talking about, he said: ‘With the coming of the Krakouers to the VFL of 1982, it was unprecedented.’ And the reason why it was unprecedented was because, he said, ‘It was like someone bowling backwards in cricket.’
No, we had not seen this type of style of football before nor have we seen it since. The ways that the Melbourne media would engage with this as though it’s simply magic, Krakouer magic. Talking to Steve Hawke who wrote the great book on [Graham] ‘Polly’ Farmer, he says, ‘When the Krakouers start to play at Claremont’, which is the footage you just saw then in the WAFL [West Australian Football League] ‘this is one of the first times this type of discussion or type of language started to be used in the West Australian news media.’
Okay. With the coming of the Krakouers there is this change in the ways in which reporters, sports reporters, start to manifest itself within the media. Jimmy had not had an easy life up unto that point. Jimmy had been removed from his home and school on a number of occasions for fighting. And I don’t mean just a little bit of a punch-up in the playground. I mean serious assaults, where he would be abused at school generally, or he would be threatened in some way and the ways that he would deal with it was through his fist.
He wasn’t interested – Jimmy Krakouer was not interested in some philosophical discussion about the names that you had called him. If you called him whatever, he would react and he would react physically. Shorty Daniels, who played with the Western Bulldogs, said, ‘Jimmy would seek retribution out with his fists.’ Jimmy when there was travelling boxing troops to Mount Barker in the south-west, he would willingly jump into that ring and fight.
There were many reasons for that. But basically, Jimmy had issues with his identity. And he was angry, I suppose in many ways about how his family and his Noongar community had been treated over time. And we’ll get to that in a minute.
Jimmy had also been incarcerated at the age of 16 in an adult prison for rape. A year and a half later he spent another six months in jail. Three weeks after he got his driver’s licence, he was done for killing a man on the stop-go sign just on the five mile outside of Mount Barker heading towards Albany.
Obviously, many of you would know also that when Jimmy retired in 1995, he was done for trafficking methamphetamine across the Nullabor [Plain] and was sentenced to 16 years. He served about eight and a half years and got out.
Phillip, by comparison, lived a fairly pedestrian life. Worked for Australia Post, was, like Jimmy, a solid family man. Jimmy was a solid family man, but very different in the ways that they would deal with the abuse that they would cop. If Phillip ever copped any kind of vilification, there’s also in the book, and I’m sorry I didn’t bring one today, but there’s also a great line in the book by Phillip that whenever he would be vilified, he would say, ‘Yes, I might be black, but doesn’t this red ball look really good in my black hands,’ as he would run off and kick another goal.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Can I just ask, did that happen often? Were they vilified often?
DR SEAN GORMAN: Yes, they were. And, it’s interesting, when you talk to – [a lectern is brought to the stage] Thank you, very good, excellent. No, you’re right. I normally like to have one as a bit of a safety net so I can sort of lean on it a bit. So thank you. I’m right. Yes, they did. But throughout the course, I interviewed 120-odd people for the book. And it’s interesting, when you’ve got – and I’m not trying to be ageist here, but when you speak to those old-school, hardcore WAFL and VFL players, they would deny that it ever happened. You talk to the blackfellas and they say, ‘Yes, it happened often.’ So, somewhere in the middle you’ve got to try and deal with it.
Other players, someone like ‘Polly’ Farmer – I’ve interviewed ‘Polly’ Farmer on a number of occasions, and the way Polly would react to it is he’d say, ‘Well, I haven’t got a problem. I’m black. I’m a bull,’ he’d say. He’d always say that the person who had the problem wasn’t him; it was the person who addressed him. And he would simply go out harder as a means to beat his opponent. Yes?
MAN: The racism with Steve Renouf, who came from the town Murgon, was such that … Well, I asked him about it, and he’d say, ‘Yes, we were abused, and we copped a lot of flack.’ And I said, ‘How did that make you feel?’ and he said, ‘Oh, well that was just the way it was.’ So there was this deep acceptance in an Indigenous person himself, and that’s the insidious nature of the racism at that place at that time.
DR SEAN GORMAN: Absolutely. And I talk, with the holistic PowerPoint that I show, I’m more interested in institutionalised racism than actual vilification. And the reason why is because that costs people their lives. Calling someone a name is terrible, it’s abhorrent, but it might not cost someone their life. And the reasons I say that in terms of institutionalised racism is the issue where Mr Ward, a fellow from the back of Warburton – some of you now have seen the Four Corners [current affairs television show] episode a few weeks ago, a few months ago, about how he died. He was simply thrown into a paddy wagon [police van] in the middle of summer, given a bottle of Coke and a frozen pie, driven five and a half hours down to Kalgoorlie [in Western Australia], and died due to dehydration and having third-degree burns on his torso.
MAN: In the back of a van.
DR SEAN GORMAN: In the back of a van, like a dog. No one has been prosecuted for that. That is not a black and white issue; that is a human rights issue that should make us absolutely furious. It makes me furious. The other issue was with a black by the name of Louis Johnson who came down and was adopted into a very well-to-do white family in Western Australia. Louis on his 19th birthday went out, and as you do when you’re 19, you go out and have a few drinks with your mates. He was walking home one night, the night of his 19th. He lay down on the side of the road, just off the actual road itself.
A group of young white youth were driving around the leafy streets of Coreen. They saw him there, pummelled him, all hopped out and pummelled him, and someone had the bright idea to pull him onto the road and run him over a few times, and then drove off.
A cyclist saw him a couple of hours later, rang up the ambulance; the paramedics arrived, assessed him, could smell alcohol on his breath, assumed that he’d been petrol sniffing, also, and simply took him home. He died that morning due to the internal haemorrhaging in his body.
That makes me really angry, because that assumes that someone’s life or wellbeing is perhaps … it’s not necessary to carry out the proper checks and balances that you and I would simply take for granted. I’m more interested in institutionalised racism than vilification.
So in terms of Andrew’s career – that’s the son, Jimmy’s eldest boy on the right there – he played 101 games with Richmond. He is also in jail now for assault; up until that point Andrew had not seen so much as a parking ticket. So there are many, many stories that I could tease out of that, but due to time restraints I cannot go into that.
In order to understand the Krakouers and where they have come from, you can’t just say ‘Okay, well, they have come from Mt. Barker’, which is 350 k’s [kilometers] south of Perth. You need to understand where they have come from socially, politically and culturally. Yes? This is the Mount Barker Reserve just outside of Mount Barker, obviously in the 1960s [shows photograph]. What you see in front of you is the new and improved version of the accommodation they had on the reserve. The reserves were gazetted to be just outside of town; they were done by the Main Roads Boards, which were very powerful institutions because they could determine where things went, literally. And so the reserve was just outside of town. In the ’50s and the ’60s if you were caught outside of curfew in town – perhaps you were in town trying to get a feed for your family or a lost child – you would be put in the back of a paddy wagon and taken to town lockup and put in jail for the night, no questions asked.
The Krakouers remember growing up on the reserves. The Krakouers were lucky in one regard, because where these reserves were next to was generally the town tip or the sanitary depot. Which would lend itself to disease and a whole range of other problems that would arise due to being in those places. Where the Krakouers were was next to the rail line and the sale yards.
There was no running water; there was no electricity. Phillip’s got all the good lines because Jimmy hardly talks, Jimmy is a very quiet man. Phillip is the jokester, he is the raconteur of the family. Phillip’s got this great line – he would say, ‘Yes, if the cows didn’t keep you awake at night, the sheep would keep you awake, and if the sheep didn’t keep you awake, the train rattling past at one, three and five in the morning would wake you up.’ That’s the way he dealt with it, okay.
Ironically, the place that they called this, the local Noongar community, they called this place Hollywood, which is a lovely little irony, in the ways they dealt with those things. It’s a nice little montage [indicates photograph]; at the top we have got the North Mount Barker Footy Club, you can see in the third row, the third from the right, is Jimmy. It’s interesting Jimmy is standing in a classic pose where he’s got his thumbs and his biceps pushing them out, but his eyes are looking like that, they are looking somewhere else. They are looking to a future whereas everyone else is looking forward.
Phillip is down in the front of the row there. I joked with Phillip about that, I said, ‘You are looking over at the pie warmer, aren’t you?’ He said, ‘Yes I was, actually.’ To the right here, the Krakouers when they first made state football together, when state football actually meant something and obviously down to the left there, the qualifications in terms of what Krakouer magic means. And then Spooner, the Spooner cartoon when they first came to have this mental telepathy in the ways they would engage.
When I talked to Jimmy, I said ‘Tell me about the magic, Jimmy’ and he said, ‘What are you talking about, bro’ [brother]?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, how would you be able to find one another? You would have ten blokes around you and you would get the ball out and you’d handball off and plop it in Phillip’s hands and he would run off, how would that happen?’ He said, ‘We had the ball from the time we were three years old, when we could walk, and we’d go down to the park, we’d be constantly handballing and kicking, doing all these sorts of things; it was just confidence.’
There is another great story within the book where – like, I suppose in a Bradman-esque [Don Bradman, legendary Australian cricketer] kind of way, where Bradman would be up against the water tank with a stump and a golf ball,– Jimmy and Phillip would practice their handball when old Eric would come back after a hard day of shearing and he would sit down and have his tea, and Jimmy and Phil would be over the kitchen table, over the dinner table trying to get close to old Eric’s nose, and that’s how they practiced.
So there are all these wonderful stories within the family and around the town of Mount Barker about the ways of the Krakouers and their style of play. However, when they did hit the big league, Leonidas – many of you know who he is, a very famous Koori artist. And this shows the paradox, the irony of being a high profile Indigenous footballer in the ’80s in the VFL.
Phil Krakouer kicks a goal. ‘Grouse, amazing, magic’ – there’s that word again. Yes? Phil Krakouer misses a goal. ‘Stupid, black, dumb coon, useless boont, animal.’ Okay? Now, I suppose, once again, that shows you the knife’s edge that they were on. When Jimmy or Phil played well, how they were respected and how they were engaged with by the people in the crowd. And when that didn’t come about the ways that they wanted it to, what would eventuate?
And these sorts of things today are also abhorrent to us, but the reason for that is because of the ways that the AFL have come in with their Rule 30, their racial and religious vilification laws. And the ways that these sorts of things these days don’t go on, or they don’t go on as much as they used to.
And the thing I’ve found is when someone says something stupid at the football these days, three or four people around them will tell them to pull their heads in, yes? Whereas that would not have happened ten, 20 years ago. I think it’s a great thing that the AFL have been able to do.
Just a last couple [shows photographs]. This is a very important document, and there’s a reason why this is a very important document. This is back in 1987, the VFL were responding to an 11 per cent drop in attendances and gate receipts. And there were reasons for this. There was decentralisation of clubs, talks of club mergers. The VFL as a suburban competition was going where there was talk of this national competition – the AFL, yes? And people weren’t liking it.
What do you normally do when you don’t like something? You vote with your feet, don’t you? You walk away. This is what was happening. The VFL at the time absolutely crapped themselves and said, ‘What are we going to do? Ah, yes, we’ll make some advertising.’
And the reason why this is a really important document is not necessarily because of the little slogan up there of ‘Take the family to see some Aboriginal art tomorrow.’ It’s actually the ways Jim and Phil are framed. You’ve got that social kinship responsibility of the older one protecting his younger brother from potential harm, yes? Philip is waiting for that ball to pump up into his arm so he can run off and go kick another goal on that deadly left foot of his.
However, the reason why this is important on another level, on a historical level, is because this is actually an inversion of the realities that Aboriginal people face more broadly within Australia. In this shot the Krakouers, or black people, Indigenous Australians, are the playmakers. They’re the ones in control. In reality, it’s the inverse. That’s why this is important, because it enables us to view the time differently. Really important.
It’s also the first time, also going back to Steve Hawke, it’s also the first time that I know of in the research that I’ve done where two Indigenous Australians have actually been the centrepiece of the showcase of a national push from an advertising perspective. And that is it. I believe that’s that.
JOHN HARMS: I’ll ask Sean a couple of questions, or we might even throw it open to a couple of questions. The Krakouers, though, Sean, they weren’t the first, were they? Who were some of the other Indigenous players, say, going back to the ’30s who were publicly visible and had an effect?
DR SEAN GORMAN: Pastor Doug Nicholls – well, Joe Johnson is recognised as the very first Aboriginal player to play senior level. There’s some discussion that there actually might be another fellow by the name of Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin who played two or three games with Geelong [football club] back in the 1870s, but that was before the VFA came in, so on and so forth, so there’s a bit of conjecture about that. Pastor Doug is probably the big one. And the reasons for that, Pastor Doug Nicholls’s story is an amazing story for a whole range of reasons. Pastor Doug goes down to Carlton in the ’30s, the height of the Depression, is living next door to a creek line, goes down to Carlton to get a gig, get a guernsey, and the trainers refused to touch him and they refused to give him a guernsey because of the fact that he may actually smell up the guernsey and they didn’t want to have to launder it.
Many of us through that shame and the ways that he was treated would have simply walked away from that game and gone and played on a more amateur level. He sucks it up. He goes down to Fitzroy [football club], knows no one, places his Gladstone bag down; in walks Haydn Bunton Sr.
Haydn Bunton Sr., by today’s standard, is probably like Gary Ablett times five. I’ll qualify that by saying he wins three Brownlow medals, goes to Western Australia, wins three Sandovers. He’s a super-superstar. He walks in, he sees Pastor Doug standing there, he places his Gladstone bag next to Pastor Doug’s, and the statement is therefore made that ‘this man is my equal.’
Norm McDonald was also in the ’50s, played for Essendon [football club], captain of Essendon for a couple of games, I believe, which was kind of unprecedented at the time. ‘Polly’ Farmer, obviously, the Big Cat, amazing, amazing footballer; introduces those long, raking handballs to break up the game well before the 1970 grand final when it becomes de rigueur. There’s a whole range of players, but they can probably be seen, or I would argue they need to be seen, as pioneers within their own rights. Yes? Because you don’t have the cohorts that you have today, that we see today, in terms of those things.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Sean, can I ask, so it’s really the appearance of the Krakouers that leads to this notion of a black style in football? Is that the key, namely in terms of what even people within Australian football, or indeed without – is that the key moment in terms of the style?
DR SEAN GORMAN: I’m reluctant to say that because it looks like I’m pumping up the Krakouers because I’ve worked with them, and I don’t want to give that impression. But this is the first time that the media start engaging with it differently. This is when the public, who don’t follow North Melbourne, start to go to the games. I’ve recently just come back from Melbourne, and I’ve had so many conversations with total strangers, once they know who I am and what it is that I’ve done, who have said: ‘Yes, I was a Hawthorne supporter and I went along to a Sunday match to watch North Melbourne play whomever. I didn’t even go for those sides, and the reason I went is because of the Krakouers. I wanted to see them.’ And if they didn’t want to see the way they played, they wanted to see Jimmy react. They wanted to see that. Yes?
So, it’s the first time we see a large-scale engagement on another level, which enables that conversation to start, which takes off. So then you start seeing Nicky Winmar, Nicky Winmar pointing at himself; Shazig’s teammate Michael Long and all these sorts of things. You start to see the engagement; the discussions that we have on the national level start to change.
MAN: If I could just quickly say, if you look at the [rugby] league or union, that I’m more familiar with, it’s the equivalent – the only equivalent we have, even though you can talk about individual players, is the Ellas [brothers Mark, Glen and Gary Ella] in [rugby] union. It’s clear where you’re talking about a particular style and a particular impact through a particular kind of play, and in their case, of course, running as three, which they used to say was unstoppable.
DR SEAN GORMAN: Absolutely. And then I’ve had once again a lot of discussions about the Ellas and the Krakouers and those sorts of things and the comparisons we can make.
JOHN HARMS: What we might do is sort the DVD out for after the break, but in the meantime, now would be a good time to introduce Che because Che is the next generation of players following the Krakouers. But before we do, are there any questions of Sean Gorman that you might like to ask? Anyone at this stage? Yes?
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Yes, Sean, how did North Melbourne treat the Krakouers? And how were they received at the North Melbourne football club? Did North have sensitivity to them? They were the first brothers.
DR SEAN GORMAN: It’s a good question. At the time, North – and having spoken a lot and built up a relationship with Ron Joseph, who recruited them to North Melbourne – they really had no idea at the time what they were doing in terms of welfare and wellbeing, and no club really did. Even talking to someone like Malcolm Blight – when Malcolm Blight came over from Adelaide, they couldn’t actually get basic things like accommodation sorted out for someone like him. Yes? But when the Krakouers came, I think they basically had a hole they needed to fill in terms of their midfield, their following division and their forward line make-up, and they fitted that brief to the tee. But in saying that, whenever there were issues with Jimmy and Phil, whether it was accommodation or whatever it may have been, they were on to it really quickly in North Melbourne, and they really were a pioneer in terms of those things.
But a lot of clubs at the time, in terms of recruitment, actually had policies. I’ve got lots of anecdotal evidence of this, lots, where actual clubs would not want to recruit cohorts of blackfellas because they didn’t want too many of them in their side. Now, that, by today’s standards, seems a bit odd, because you think ‘My God, how would Port Adelaide go? How would Essendon go? How would Fremantle go?’ It’s a sensibility; it’s a mindset; it’s a worldview that you have to change.
I suppose the Krakouers did that through their playing. With the Krakouers at North Melbourne, playing together in the same side at the same time, they won 64 per cent of their games. Sixty-four per cent – that’s huge, and that’s the reason why John Kennedy would get really frustrated with Jimmy if he did react, because he wanted him in the scene, and being that consummate team manager, John Kennedy … Those would be the issues, but Jimmy wasn’t going to back down and therefore, that’s why he did what he did. But yes, 64 per cent is – that’s gold. That’s money in the bank, man.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: To answer the question from my perspective, my uncle in the early ’80s was recruited by North Melbourne, and I’m starting already, so … We grew up in Cairns [in northern Queensland] the family’s from Cape York, I’m Mapoon, and Dad’s from Cherbourg, which is Steve Renouf’s country as well. But, we grew up outside of Cairns, and then Uncle Rob played football. My uncle Michael was the pioneer in our family, so every time we go back home, obviously, Uncle Michael says, ‘Well, you gonna give me some royalties for starting us off?’ [laughter] But, to answer that question, I remember Jim flying up – and you’re right, he doesn’t say a lot. He came up with Ron Joseph, who I still think is a player manager –
DR SEAN GORMAN: He’s a director at North Melbourne, but he’s heavily involved on North Melbourne on many levels.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: I remember Ron, and Laurie Dwyer. Laurie’s son ended up playing with North in the late ’80s, early ’90s, I think. And I just remember Ron. The character just stood out, because all these little black kids were around Ron, and he must have children of his own, because he did this one trick where you’re smoking a cigarette and then he flips it around. He ended up doing it and burnt his tongue. [laughter] And he goes [spitting noise] and all these little black kids, they’re laughing …
DR SEAN GORMAN: They’re laughing at him.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Yes, so. I remember Ron well after, too, so – while I was playing with Essendon, he and Dennis Pagan at the time wanted me to come over. Never did, of course, but we always remember that time and he still remembers that one time when he come up. So, the linkage is very important, and I think my uncle Rob, who ended up going down south and living in Moonee Ponds [in Victoria], would not go without Uncle Rodney, his older brother. Uncle Rodney never ended up playing for North Melbourne, but what he did, he played for Brunswick but was there to support Uncle Rob. And unfortunately, Uncle Rob just had this major injury that just prevented him from playing seniors. And every time I run into Dennis, he says two things. One of those, ‘If you were to come over, son, you would’ve won two premierships’. I say, ‘Yes, okay, Dennis’. [laughter] And the other is, ‘Your Uncle Robert is the best player never to play seniors’, and that makes me feel very proud.
JOHN HARMS: That issue of separation that you’re talking about with your uncle – in the Renouf case, the big question for Steve was, ‘Can I actually leave my country? Can I leave my family at Murgon [in Queensland]?’ And he described it as the tearing of flesh. Brisbane’s only two and a half to three hours away, and yet in his mind, it was a world away. He just wanted to be a good player in Murgon. He didn’t have to go and show off down in Brisbane, no, but Brisbane wanted him so much because of what he could do with the ball. Maybe now is a good time for you to take it away, Che. Do you want the lectern, or from there, whatever you like?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Yes, I’ll have to open up these notes. You’ve done me in, Sean.
DR SEAN GORMAN: Why’s that?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: You’ve got a PowerPoint. [laughter]
DR SEAN GORMAN: But you’ve got a 60,000 year oral tradition to draw on. [laughter]
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Very good. What I wanted to cover before I went into a little bit about what I’ve done and about life before football, is to focus on the language and linguistics surrounding Aboriginal people in AFL. And what you’ll find is, it’s a representation of what’s done in the wider society. All right. So you’ll get people, you’ll get commentators using language like, ‘Oh, this is magic.’ So almost in a mythical sense. Which really irritates us players, because what it does is saying to everyone else that somehow this is done a lot easier, and so we don’t work as hard.
These are the subtle messages that are sent by using language like that. So one of the tasks that we need to do, or challenges that face us at the moment, is reframing the language surrounding Aboriginal players. What you’ll find in the wider community, as well as the reflection – when I say reflection of the wider community, you will see in language all over that Aboriginal culture is almost mythical.
And so you’ll come see some Aboriginal art, and rarely is there recognition of a current living culture. And this should irritate all Aboriginal people. But as I was speaking last night, Aboriginal people are not actually one group. There are over 200 different dialects. And for people who probably can’t comprehend that, it’s more like going to Europe. And so you’ve got lots of different languages, and you’ve got dialects that you’re able to link in between, but distinctively different people in different areas.
What we’ve come to – What colonisation had brought with it were western views of that. So now we use state borders. And these have detrimental effects on things like the environment. So you’ll see the River Murray living in South Australia, coming from Queensland. Certainly don’t understand. We get the real bad effects of state legislation, particularly in the River Murray sense. So that’s another thing we have to challenge ourselves with.
What John’s asked me to talk about really is about myself, so you get a better perspective of what – I haven’t called you doctor yet, but Doctor Sean. I grew up in – I was born in Brisbane, grew up in Red Hill, right next to Bronco [Brisbane’s rugby league team] land. So I am a very mad Broncos fan from way back. Moved to Cairns, the family moved to Cairns before I was five really, and [they] wanted to bring us up in a nice area, comfortable, so kids could run around. So we grew up outside of Cairns, in a northern beach.
Through that time you get – a lot of the demographics or the differentials in races is huge from anywhere else. I mean Cairns, North Queensland, you feel comfortable being an Aboriginal person, because you’ve got a lot of other black faces around you. So you’ve got a lot of people that you have many things in common with.
So we grew up on a beach, started playing football. My father was an extremely good rugby league player in North Queensland, from Cherbourg. He’s big, six foot four, centre, sort of like Eric Roth in his time but played more of a playmaker’s role. He always wanted me to play for the Broncos, and I always wanted to play for the Broncos too. But that never happened because – I’ll give you a story.
He was umpire, or a referee as they call it in rugby league, at my very last game of rugby league when I was 12 or 13 and this one kid bit me, so I turned around and I got retribution with my fist and I just hit the kid back, which was a bad thing to do in any case, but what Dad did was send both of us off for the rest of the match. And I told Dad on the way home, I was sooking [sulking] all the way and he said, ‘Are you all right, son?’ I said, ‘I am never playing this game again’, and I never did!
So – but he is fine with that because these days he thinks that the Super League really ruined everything for his rugby league and he has only just started coming back watching the game. But that’s where my mother’s influence – she always took me to games. Dad was pretty big in the Aboriginal health sector so he worked all the time, so Mum, Granny and Granddad took me to my games every week, every Sunday morning. I remember playing four games one day, I loved football that much and there was nothing else for me, nothing else existed in the world except the Carlton Football Club and football and AFL.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Who were your idols then?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: At that time, I liked Kenny Hunter. That was in the early ’80s. Exposure to the AFL was really minimal in Cairns and that’s all we got. We only got Richmond, Carlton and maybe some Collingwood, but then again our jumper was Carlton. So all I saw was navy blue, navy blue and white. And that was true for a very long time until I played against them and that certainly changed everything. [laughter] But for those rugby league fans out there, it is like they are the Manly of the AFL. I think they own the AFL. And I still have a soft place for them. But that’s where – it was a family outing, so the grandparents, Mum and Dad and the younger brothers, cousins, we all played together for City United Football Club. It was just a day out, a picnic. Kids were very tired after. So playing four games – not too bad; went to sleep fairly early. I think I was a hyperactive kid as a youngster, so I burnt out by the age of 28. That’s why I talk so slowly these days. [laughter]
Parents split up; the family split up in ’89. It was hugely traumatic for me at that time because I was 13, 14, going into that age where young people either choose – and life is about choices and making the right choice. Always thought 13, 14, 15 is that time where a young boy can either go this way or go the right way. Moving to Adelaide at that time, I simply didn’t want to go. I was going to stay with a next-door neighbor, but ended up following Mum and the twin boys and Jasmine to Adelaide. Probably, well certainly, the best move that I’ve ever made. So we did things very, very difficult. But what kept us going all the way was that Mum made the right choices for family. It was always ‘what’s right for family’ at every stage.
What happened, we grew up in Port Adelaide zone – Port Adelaide, the working class suburb – and just went to a local footy club and just asked for a game. Bloke wanted to put me in ruck. I said no [laughs], not a ruckman, but I played fullback, and that’s the end of that. Port Adelaide’s got many amateur, junior clubs around its zone where a lot of history of great Port Adelaide players have come through. The dynamics have changed since the [Adelaide] Crows and particularly the Port inception into the AFL, so that landscape has changed forever, because the SANFL [South Australian National Football League] is now know as the second best competition outside the AFL, but for many, many years the SANFL, VFL and the WAFL were very, very level.
They used to have a competition, the Premiers competition, where the Premiers for each state or each football-sanctioned body played against each other at the end of the year, and Port won a few of those and they found out – their aspirations were to be involved at the highest level, and for those who know the politics of the Crows and Port, and I see a couple in the room, this is why Port Adelaide did not like the Adelaide Crows.
So last weekend was a terrific day. [laughter] I cried as much as watching the Obama speech. [laughter] But they are the politics that I take with me; but the next generation, they won’t. Hopefully they won’t take those politics with them.
So we moved to Adelaide, played at a local football club.
JOHN HARMS: So what year was that, Che, that you first went to Port Adelaide, to play at Port Adelaide?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: That was ’89.
JOHN HARMS: So how were you accepted in the club? Was there an awareness of your heritage, and was that something that came up?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: That’s a terrific question. Port Adelaide has had a very long and strong history with Aboriginal people, particularly from the west coast of South Australia, so Ceduna, Port Lincoln – the bigger ones come from Port Lincoln, even though they say that they come from Darwin; mother comes from Darwin, father comes from Port Lincoln. They’re probably just wanting more land. [laughter]
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Can I just ask – when did Port Adelaide start to give attention to that? How much, before you, were they attending to that and thinking about it and actually intentionally trying to bring blackfellas from the various parts of the west and north to the club?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: There’s probably no secret to it other than you have to earn your spot, okay? So what it did was separate – so a lot of Aboriginal players did miss out because they didn’t – I remember Under-17s preseason, and I was only 16 at the time, you do ten 100s, ten 200s, all the way up. So what it did that first day, 200 boys just wanting to play for Port Adelaide, it just separated them straight away. So the mechanism that was in place sifted out a lot of people who may not have desperately wanted to play AFL footy or football for Port Adelaide, so that’s why you get good players coming through all the time, because of that system that’s already existing.
So that’s why it seems – look, it certainly is the inherent cultural right of Aboriginal people to be in control of certain things like a health system, but in this situation, Aboriginal people just did what was in place to – like any other player, to work really hard to get a spot on the team.
JOHN HARMS: Was there stereotyping? Because Steve Renouf would say that when he was a young, capable footballer, he’d go off to represent in footy and they’d say, ‘You’re a blackfella, you’re a winger.’ Because that’s where the blackfellas play, and that was the assumption that was made. That’s been challenged enormously in recent times over the last decade. Were you subject to that sort of stereotyping?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Well, I was a wingman, but I loved playing wing because that’s a position that I just wanted to play. John Cahill taught me his way of playing it, and that’s the way I’ve always played. But in saying that, funny when I moved to Essendon, I was put in the forward pocket immediately, and it just, it had never sat well with me. But for the five years I was there, except for a couple of games, and one game in particular I played in the centre, and that was in the midfield, and that was Anzac Day, the first Anzac Day match, and that was my aspiration to play a significant role in the team. So, yes, stereotyping does play a big part and still does play a big part in – well, the ideology plays a big part in a career of an Aboriginal AFL player. Because, you know, people just for some reason don’t see people as being accountable, all of these things. That’s a result of what their upbringing is. So I think that the best advice that I could give to the kids in the room is, you guys have to know yourself first before you can, so you’re able to challenge common assumptions made by other people towards your mob, towards our mob.
JOHN HARMS: When you went to Essendon, was the Essendon Football Club more conscious of these sorts of issues than Port Adelaide was? What was Essendon like?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: I think it was a work in progress. I mean, Michael – who would have known Michael’s impact on –
MAN: This is Michael Long.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Yes, sorry. – on Australia, let alone the Essendon Football Club. His impact is more significant after, post-career, rather than when he played. But players just want to play, and so they’re task orientated and really don’t want to worry about what lies universally, at a universal level, so all they want to do is, okay, I’m taught to get the ball, I’m taught to shepherd, I’m taught to work at a game plan and I’ll stick with it because they are my mates, and you get this camaraderie that’s infectious. And that’s what I think Aboriginal people bring to a football club. It’s not just the player. We were talking last night; what people bring with them is a more holistic approach in regard to families. And families win premierships, okay. You will see most clubs, most premierships are won by teams that have a really good feeling amongst each other and work to what we call – lot of viewers hear the term ‘game plan’. But the game plan is really a format that the coaches say, ‘Well, here you go. Let’s work with it.’
What works, and what has always worked in Aboriginal society is, okay, the clubs will says,’Players, you are the team’ and we have what we call an MOU or an agreement in place where we say, ‘These are the standards that we are going to live by.’ And most families have them, and you say, well, how do we want to be seen as a football club? And so, Josh Carr for Port Adelaide might say, ‘Well, I want to be known as a tough team, I want to be respected.’
So, okay, that’s fine. Well, let’s now analyse, what does tough mean? Does tough mean retribution with your fist? No, it means hard at the ball. And when it’s your term to go back, you go back, but you need help.
So, for instance, you watch the footage after; if someone goes back and pulls out, they will be asked the question and they’ll go through the team rules: ‘Well, this is what we agreed to. You said we wanted to be tough. This does not set our values; this is not part of our values.’ And then analyse the footage properly; the person behind, his other teammate, should have called him back, and that would have been in the rules anyway. But it’s a work in progress. It’s how families evolve. It’s how families stay strong, and that’s what has come into football in the last five to ten years.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Che, on that note, was [the] Burgoyne brothers instrumental in contributing to Port Adelaide’s premiership win?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Yes, well, Port Adelaide is – again, from its inception, a lot of players have played together in the Under-15s and up, and for those who didn’t play together they would have played for South Adelaide or Glenelg or some other [Adelaide] team. So you’ll get [Michael] Wilson, [Warren] Tredrea, [Shane] Bond, [Gavin] Wanganeen, myself – we all played Under-15s together for Port Adelaide, and the other players played for the other teams in the SANFL. To get that – and you’ll never get it again – that’s what I think wins premierships because it’s just something that can’t be measured. It’s your relationship with someone and knowing them the way that the Krakouers played.
JOHN HARMS: Che, we need to go to a break in a minute, and we’ll get you to come back afterwards, but just before we go to the break, a nice point to finish might be, you mentioned Michael Long and the impact that he had. Just give us a few minutes on what you think that impact has been. What has Michael Long done in a social sense? And how did he do it?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Michael Long simply asked the question and challenged the norms of society. And to hear what you said before, Sean, that is terrific. I’ve never been on the outer before, hearing somebody say some bad language, but for people around to say, ‘Hey, pull your head in,’ that’s the type of change Michael Long has made.
JOHN HARMS: So how has he done that? What did he actually do?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: For one man to put himself in that light for the nation to see is so courageous. So what Michael did was almost sacrifice his career so that now the Buddy Franklins and even the other players from different cultural backgrounds are able to play on a level playing field. We wouldn’t put up with it at work, and for all of these young men, this is their work. The type of change that Michael has made – well, it can be measured, but I think that’ll be a story in itself. So I don’t know whether you’re doing a thesis on that. [laughter]
DR SEAN GORMAN: I’ll just make a very, very quick point in terms of that. It’s one thing to say you’re professional; it’s another thing to actually be professional 100 per cent of the time. To vilify someone is not being professional. The MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground], therefore, and all the other stadiums that play AFL across the country, now cease being just spaces where a game is played but become a workplace, and that’s the reason why it’s very important. The other reason why it’s very important … I had the great thrill of actually being in the Essendon club this year doing the same PowerPoint presentation, the longer version there, and I said: ‘How would it have been if we didn’t have that Rule 30 in, that racial/religious vilification laws, when those planes went in on September 11? How would that have been for someone like Bachar Houli?’
And I had Bachar Houli sitting – I could have touched him. I said: ‘How would that have been for your family, Bachar?’ And he said: ‘We wouldn’t have been able to go. I wouldn’t have been able to play.’ Yes? So that’s the reason why it’s important because it’s for everyone, not just for blackfellas.
JOHN HARMS: But this is a key element, isn’t it, his visibility, the fact that here is….
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: [inaudible]
MAN IN AUDIENCE: But, Che, can I ask, was the Michael Long impact – for someone not utterly integrated into Australian football, and I fit into that category, the Michael Long cultural, social impact has been enormous. Did that need the Nicky Winmar extraordinary moment? How important was that? Has that been overstated? Or was that moment a critical moment in what’s occurred in the last ten years?
JOHN HARMS: Just before you answer, just to explain the Nicky Winmar moment, it was at Victoria Park.
MAN: They know it, surely. Okay, sorry.
JOHN HARMS: Nicky Windmar had been taunted by the Collingwood mob during the course of the afternoon, and at the end of the game he lifted his St Kilda jumper up and pointed to his black skin.
DR SEAN GORMAN: Round 4, 1993, two years before the vilification law came in.
MAN: If you want to see a picture of it, it was tiny but it was in John’s article in the Canberra Times the other day. But it was just a tiny little picture of it, but yes, go on ahead.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: I think it came to a head that day, there was Nicky – what a superb player especially in ’93, he just dominated and could win a game off his own boot – but what it did was, at that stage the Collingwood crowd had gained a reputation of not being the most friendly. [laughter]
But the move away from Victoria Park had a lot to do with that. The parochial fortress, I think the intervention from [Eddie] McGuire and his crew after the [Alan] McAllister reign – talking about the Collingwood presidents – really changed something, and their values changed and there are a lot more Aboriginal players on the team. And that’s not the measurement, but the measurement is now, how do we see Collingwood? Do we see them as that crowd that racially vilify everyone, that no longer exists, at least not in my opinion anyway, so that changes can be made? I think it was at a time, the prime minister at the time, [Paul] Keating, brought up the topic or the issue of reconciliation. It was the early ’90s and this is how the landscape of Australia was changing.
JOHN HARMS: We’ll hear more from Che after the break. We’ll hear about what he’s been doing since his footy career’s finished. So, if we take a break now and reconvene here about a quarter past eleven …
… remind me too, because we’re recording this, when we’re asking questions or making a comment, if you could remind me to make sure we get the microphone to you, otherwise it doesn’t get recorded. It’s not just for an audio thing so we can hear everyone, it’s actually so it can be recorded, as well. We’re going to start with Sean and we’ll talk to Che a little bit more, and then we’ll bring Dave in. So, Sean, take us through some of this Krakouer footage.
DR SEAN GORMAN: I’ve got probably about the best part of 45 minutes here, but I’ll show just a few little snippets of the – this [indicates screen] is the second game that they played in Melbourne, when the bloodstained Angels, South Melbourne, had come down from Sydney; they had moved up to Sydney, but this is their first game back. Arden Street [football field]; the story that Eddie McGuire told me – and so obviously it’s true; he was a junior statistician for the Herald Sun at the time – and when the Krakouers, that was probably about seven minutes into the first quarter, they kicked seven goals between them within the space of about five minutes, and a hush fell over the ground. And the reason why is that people didn’t actually know how to react. I’ll just show a bit of that, and hopefully, we’ll get to see them.
DR SEAN GORMAN: This next section is when Jimmy hits Mark Harvey and that’s the last thing. I just want you to see how quick Jimmy’s fists are.
DR SEAN GORMAN: That Billy Duckworth compliment from Ross Glendenning is beautiful work. There they are. That’s that. Thank you; thank you for your patience.
JOHN HARMS: Thanks Sean. [applause] Anyone who thinks that football doesn’t take courage to play … it’s just consistently testing courage. The argon, the argon. Thanks Sean. Just back to Steve Renouf ran off just for a second. There are many different types of player, whether you be Indigenous or non-Indigenous, and the type of player Steve described himself as is a player who loved playing the game; a real performer; what he could do with the ball when he had it in his hands. So as a young player he couldn’t give a stuff about defence, you know. He didn’t care at all, and he acknowledges that. And it was Wayne Bennett and Tony Currie actually, the rugby league player[s] who helped Steve learn that it wasn’t just about his performance, it was about the team result. And that was just Steve, you know, that was – that was Steve. But in his performance, as you could see with the Krakouers, there’s a certain balletic beauty and aesthetic to it that gives people a great deal of pleasure.
Now Che, you’re still a young man. You know, you’re only, what, 34?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Yes.
JOHN HARMS: So, it’s probably a little bit difficult for you – maybe I shouldn’t be asking this question, ’cause it’s more for you sitting in your slippers with a pipe, reflecting on your 70 years when I ask you this, but what do you think when you look back at the way your life’s gone so far? And I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot more of you in the years to come. What has footy done for you?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Certainly, yes, always reflect on the position that I am in now with my family. I’ve got three young boys: ten, six and two. And it is true what they say, that they are the terrible, terrible twos. And my wife, Delvene, the position that we’re in at the moment is that things are just fantastic. Work–life balance is perfect, and what football’s done for me is taught me how to deal with other personalities. I’ve always wanted to meet new people and learn off other people, professions; understanding – and my friend, Caroline, I hope she’s still here – understanding what leadership really is, and of course, just wanting to play, just living your dream.
And as I said before, football was the only thing that I’ve wanted to do, and Carlton, but that’s another story. What it has done is enabled me to … For a young lad, whether you’re black or white or whatever, you walk through a door and you walk into a foreign environment whether it’s work, whether it’s a football club; coming from that position to where I didn’t speak …
I’m what you call – anyone know Myers-Brigg? Okay, well I’m a I, I’m not an E, so I’m not an extrovert, I’m an introvert. At least that’s what the Swiss tell me, I think it was through the Swiss, a Swiss-born thing. But it’s allowed me to want to do different things in my life.
And when I have a look back, the patterns are the same. When we talk about an AFL player, an Aboriginal player … Players don’t play for themselves. They play for their families; they play for each other. So what you’ll see, rather than goals – even though it’s great that Buddy Franklin kicked 100 goal, maybe the reason why we haven’t had more Aboriginal players kick 100 goals is – I can speak for myself – that I’d like my teammates to feel proud of themselves.
I’d like my brothers to feel proud of themselves; I wanted my mother to feel proud of herself. So first, signing up for Essendon, fantastic. Most of my money went to Mum, because we had lived in such a poor state financially. So that was a great relief, and I heard Michael O’Loughlin, the 300 gamer for Sydney Swans, say exactly the same thing: certainly it’s all about your mother. It’s all about your family, and there’s lots of thanks that go to those people.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: It was a tremendous interview.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Oh, it was just sort of, ‘Hey, that’s me.’ And that’s the same for Michael. What it is, it’s a way out of poverty for most Aboriginal people. So you get the opportunity to pay your parents’ bills. We used to do it from fortnight to fortnight, because Mum was on a single parent pension, and I remember every Wednesday night at 9am is when we got paid. So at 9 o’clock, on the mark of 9, went down to the ATM and then we had a feed. And I think for people like Michael Long, Michael O’Loughlin, and a lot of these boys that are in the back here that want to play NRL or AFL, what a terrific feeling to make the people around you happier.
JOHN HARMS: Just in a couple of minutes: you’ve started to bring that happiness to Indigenous lads in your post-footy career. Tell us a bit about Rostrevor, and then what you’re doing now.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: I was approached by the local member; Rostrevor, which is in the exclusive Catholic College – independent college – in South Australia, foot of the [Adelaide] Hills, black and white, Essendon, for the Essendon supporters in the room. Luke Darcy is a product of that, Ben Hart. The Sporting Chance Initiative from the federal government allowed schools from all around Australia to – very much the Clontarf model – to establish what we call a sports academy for different schools. And really you can mold it whatever way you want it to. So at the end of the day, we got 30 boys from all over Australia in between the ages of 15 and 17 to school and board at Rostrevor College and just complete their SACE [South Australian Certificate of Education], really.
Now, we said it was a sports academy, but it was really academic based, because what we found is there are a lot of different – the literacy rates were different for different people. Some of the boys could have easily walked into Rostrevor College and done well without much mentoring, but then a lot of boys really needed our assistance.
So we created a program that allowed easy – as easy as it could be – transition, whether it be from a remote area or from Darwin, to this foreign environment. And they won, after ten or so years of not being able to beat Sacred Heart; they end up beating Sacred Heart for the first time in a long time. We only have four or five players from the sports academy, but the school and – even I thought that I knew everything about my own culture and other cultures. This really blew our mind away. And so, Rostrevor now has 16 boys coming through the SACE , their year 12, and it’s the highest of any school in South Australia. I’m really proud of that.
I was approached by Santos before I started at Rostrevor to do something similar. They’ve moved into a new era where good corporate citizens is a focus, but understanding that inclusiveness and Aboriginal employment, or rather Aboriginal engagement, has to be a core responsibility just like safety, just like environment. That’s why I’m employed.
So really what I do is, in a nutshell, employ people, create a system that changes the value of Santos from being just a company that drills a hole, brings oil and gas out, sells it overseas, and sells it to the states; now we’re talking about creating an alliance, very much the same way as the Jewish community have set up business. And what I mean by creating an alliance is – okay, if there’s an Aboriginal drilling company, well, then we will use that company.
But we have to meet the same safety measures as all the others because you know safety is a really issue; death … [pause] But at the end of the day, it’s about changing the culture of Santos as a business to be able to say to themselves at the end of the day, in 20 and 30 and 40 years’ time, ‘You know what, we’ve moved ahead of the times’, and we’re proud of our company for now.
JOHN HARMS: Are there any questions of Che before we move to Dave?
MAN IN AUDIENCE: One question outside was, where did you get ‘Cockatoo’ from?
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Good question.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Yes, well, there’s a few Cherbourg people in the room and they obviously know where Collins comes from; that’s my father Les. But Cockatoo is my mother’s surname, Frances Cockatoo, and that originates from my great-great-grandfather in Cape York just being known as Old Man Cockatoo. And when his son, my grandfather, was taken to a mission, he was given a Christian name. So, John Cockatoo; and it’s all just followed ever since.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: I’m interested in a question to Che. How the young footballers who come to the big cities cope with the changes in cultures that they do experience. The example that I’m thinking of is Liam Jurrah who has come down to play with Melbourne, and after being very homesick, his whole community is now behind him using the notion that he’s down there on Walpiri business. And he featured, I think on The 7:30 Report [current affairs television show], last week. And the symbol was him walking along St Kilda pier, drinking a skinny latte and saying, ‘What bigger change could there be?’ So how is that young man, or boy similar to that, how is he going to cope with those changes in cultures that he’s experienced during his career?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Well, what we did at Rostrevor is, we just didn’t pick boys up and put then into a system. What we did was we engaged in community and families, and the secret is to get to the mother. All right? If you get the mother’s approval, well then everything should be fine. So a lot of what we did with those communities is we needed support from them. So we had problems prior to John and I moving to Rostrevor, because a lot of parents would be ringing up, or the kids would be there saying, ‘Oh I miss home.’ Because they would be boarding away from home, ‘I miss home.’ And the parent would say, ‘Yes, I miss you too.’ We had to educate them on language use, because that was detrimental, and that would just assist in the boy becoming even more prone to homesickness. So we said, ‘You have to use language like “You’re fantastic, you’re making us proud. Keep going, achieve your goal.”’
And so that sort of changes the perception of, for him, why he’s there. Why he has to achieve it for his people. And he has to get through, and everybody – even I had to go through. I wanted to go home for the first 18 months – every day for the first 18 months. And all of a sudden, ‘bang’ it just clicked, ‘I’m here for a reason.’ And that reason – when I was a bit ashamed at first, but my grandfather used to walk around Cairns with his Akubra [hat] with my Essendon badge on. I was ‘Oh, Grandad put –‘ [laughter]
JOHN HARMS: Liam Jurrah, for those who don’t know, he’s from Yuendumu, which is 350 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs [in the Northern Territory]. And he is a phenomenal talent; he has great athleticism and ball sense. And I think we will see a lot of him in the years to come.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Yes. And the reason why, I’ve got to say, I agreed to come is – well, there’s no payment, I can tell you that. But what interested me in John’s approach is all of the time we–- like, the Wati community says how good this system has been for Aboriginal people. What my mob look at and can see quite clearly is the use of language. And John’s framing of why we’re here today is how Aboriginal people, Indigenous people, have enriched football. Now that use of language is different, and for those who know the truth about the origins of this nation, … you don’t have to be Aboriginal to understand that either, but you can see quite clearly that this is obviously a good man. And I don’t care what you say about him either. Sean?
DR SEAN GORMAN: I’m losing confidence. [laughter]
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: So we’ve got again – straying off the question, we have to be intelligent enough to understand and reframe the question. Or reframe our labelling of what’s good for what.
JOHN HARMS: Just before we get the microphone there. Give it – great.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Just following on from what you said earlier, both you and Sean, when you were talking about language, and the thing with magic and all the rest of it, I just wondered if you notice with young Liam, that he’s called the Walpiri Magician now? Something like that. Or wizard, the Walpiri Wizard. That’s still sort of self-generating, and still going on.
DR SEAN GORMAN: Well in terms of that, in terms of what Che was talking about and you’ve just mentioned, to really drive this point home, if you go onto that wonderful thing, YouTube, and you google ’Cyril Rioli tackle on Max Rooke’, you will – I was at Melbourne Uni last year, and I was teaching the students. And they were having this real difficulty with magic in term of not so much its political correctness, but how it was ideologically fueled and framed. Yes? And I was battling constantly week after week we’d always come back to this notion of magic, and how I was perhaps too over-sensitive to it and the all the rest of us. But it’s not inherent. The things that perhaps shows are able to do with Mark Long and Jimmy Krakouer is not necessarily an inherent thing. It perhaps needs to be sort of developed over time in a social situation. And then the moment came when Cyril ‘Junior Boy’ Rioli took down Max Rooke and the commentators’ first terms of reference were ‘It’s in the blood.’ If you don’t believe me, go to YouTube and check it out.
‘It’s in the blood.
So I then went when the next lecture was on I said, ‘Right. If you don’t believe me, and this is not part of the lexicon and it needs to be reworded or reframed, bang, we hit it,’ because none of them remembered it, because in the play it’s just surging constantly. And that was a particularly interesting piece of play.
But it made the point very, very clear that the ways we look at this thing and engage with it, how we frame it, needs to be, we need to hit the pause button and say, ‘What is actually being said here? Who is speaking and what are they saying?’ Those are the two questions that we need to be asking ourselves.
JOHN HARMS: Because it does separate the skill and the ability from the individual. It distances, whereas really that’s it.
DR SEAN GORMAN: It takes away from the time and the application, the hours of training and application and dedication that go into that. It’s not just something that’s, you know …
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: It perpetuates myths as well. But what it does as well is, it almost defames an individual or disenfranchises. So you get’ll this perception within the system that it’s embedded in the system that when you go for your next contract negotiations that it’s always a selective perception on a particular player,, and not that money is an issue, but it’ll always be less. It will have an effect on further negotiations down the track. That’s not fair. And to ask the question where, if you analyse the maturity chart for an organisation you’ll find that organisations who are serious about inclusive policy, they’ll have Aboriginal people in specific roles. I ask the question, where are those coaches? Where are those board members? Where are those commissioners?
And as much stick as the NRL had been given over the last few years, I mean, they’ve actually got a commissioner, an Aboriginal commissioner, Gordon Tallis, and how come we don’t? And by putting people in roles like that, I think you change the landscape. You change language and you’ll get people challenging, ‘Why did you say that? It’s not in the blood. What do you mean by saying that?’
But unfortunately there’s no one at that level. There’s no one at Channel Seven and no one at Channel Nine, Channel Ten. The only one which I watch for the entertainment factor is Marngrook [Footy Show] on cable and that’s for the Gilbert McAdam factor. [laughs] Fantastic.
JOHN HARMS: That’s true. I mean, if you look at the backgrounds of the commentators who are bringing the code to us day in, day out, the type of understanding they have of Indigenous issues is such that they resort to those really simplistic and, well, sometimes divisive approaches.
DR SEAN GORMAN: It’s like when you hear the term ‘walkabout.’ I want to stop people when I hear that term and say, ‘What do you actually mean by that?’ And they are referring to Indigenous person. What does it allude to? Inconsistency, irregularity, unreliable, they are all negative. There is nothing positive about it. And it’s all wrapped up in this neat little kind of descriptor, which actually says more about us than it says about the person it is talking to. And these things, once again, are the things – the pause button, pause at ‘What are we saying here?’ Because those words mean things. Yes? There’s a lady over there who wants to ask a question.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: I was just wondering whether the problem with language is not the language per se but the fact that Indigenous concepts have no word in our language for them. So we use words that have negative connotations, not necessarily meant, just because we can’t express an Indigenous concept in our language.
DR SEAN GORMAN: It’s like Dreaming, the concept of Dreaming, you know. A lot of non-Indigenous Australians, their only concept of what Dreaming actually means is wrapped up in this notion of needing to dream or daydream or in this sort of myth world. It’s not that at all. Blackfellas don’t refer to it in that way. They refer to it in another very specific sort of language-based situation which is tied up into the land, their connections with one another and a whole range of other things which have no bearing on that dreaming side of things.
JOHN HARMS: We need to move the discussion to Dave. We have been talking a lot about AFL; Dave’s going to talk to us a little bit about the other codes. So Dave, take it away. It’ll be your mic.
DR DAVID HEADON: Thanks, John. Gee, following Che, I know what that’s like in Chicago to be following Michael Jordan or something, a tough gig but it’s an interesting – John asking me to participate in this. I’ve been thinking about it for some many weeks and the first thing I’d say, especially in the light of just such terrific papers already, or at least commentary and the questions from the floor. Undoubtedly, there are significant differences between Australian football and the history of Australian football, especially I’d say from the ’50s and ’60s particularly focusing on, as we have been discussing this morning, events, moments over the last, say, 20 years.
They have generated quite appropriately big conversations. I’m here to say – and might throw things open for some good questions from the floor on this, too – that rugby league and rugby union are different. When one grows up in, or grew up as I did, on the northern beaches of Sydney, it was a wholly different thing. Certainly you never thought for a moment about Australian football, VFL; it was only cricket in summer as it was if you were from Victoria or wherever, and then in winter you were playing footy, which those of us with a, sort of, I guess homogenous kind of moments in the Menzies years and those years in the 1950s and early ’60s, you were thinking of football in terms of rugby union and rugby league.
If you came from working class suburbs of Sydney – and I was there for the first six years of my life, the western suburbs, in Concord – then it was rugby league; if you moved to the northern beaches,– then it was my family, one of the inspired decisions of my youth from my mother and father, we went to live in Newport – then it was rugby union instantly, even though I tried to keep rugby league going with a team and played with a few of the guys that finished up playing for Manly. It was different. You never thought for a moment about VFL.
Now I’ll come back to that. But given that Harmsy asked us to respond to the notions of how we have our football, generically, enriched by the Indigenous input, I won’t be particularly politically correct for a few minutes by way of providing a few personal anecdotes. But just before I do, I thought you might be interested – one of the jobs that I have, committees that I am on, in Canberra is on the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] Place Names Committee.
It’s worth noting I checked with our main lady, Lorraine Bayless, a couple of days ago to isolate on the nomenclature in Canberra, in the national capital, and what Aboriginal people – sorry, I should say, sports people – which ones have been recognised in the naming in the national capital.
You might be interested to know by our best count there are 12. They are, very quickly – and I would love to talk a little bit about them but haven’t got that luxury today – Robert Beaufort Dinah in Gordon, boxer, Aboriginal leader died in 1963. We’ve got Jerome Place in Gordon, the suburb of Gordon; that’s Jerry Jerome, the boxer and horseman.
You’ve got, of course, Doug Nicholls, recognised as much for his early background – rather, for being governor of South Australia and his later distinguished career as well as his footballing days and sprinting days.
You’ve got Cousins Place in Ngunnawal, Jimmy Cousins, one of the 1868 originals. Johnny Muller is recognised – Muller Place in Ngunnawal. Ahmatt, the Ahmatts of the Darwin area: in Ngunnawal, again, there’s Ahmatt Street recognising Michael Ahmatt, Aboriginal sportsman, basketballer et cetera, et cetera, in the ’60s.
Then you’ve got – interesting for me – Johnny Taylor. Johnny Taylor was one of, at times, three Aboriginal men in a touring cricket team that was organised by William Davis, one of the cockies in this area, in the 1850s, so that’s well before the 1860s tour.
And Johnny Taylor was reputed to have hit the cricket ball the furthest in the Australian colonies to that point. I think I’m right in saying, and I’ve got to check on it, that he’s buried in the cemetery at Tumut [in southern New South Wales]. But, Johnny Taylor was renowned in this area, playing for the Ginninderra team. So, there’s a Taylor Street in Ngunnawal.
There’s Samuels Crescent in Ngunnawal, namely, of course, after Charlie Samuels, the great sprinter, the man that held the world record for the 130 yards in 1888. Paul Coe Crescent, named after Paul Coe, involved, of course, as a lawyer, political activist, coached a number of all-black teams.
You’ve got Stanley Tipiloura, so Tipiloura Street in Ngunnawal, recognising his contribution involved in Tiwi football, of course, and also won a seat in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in 1987. Bobby Deumonga, another of the locals, in the 1850s, ’60s’ and 70s was – using the white term – married to Queen Nellie Hamilton, the so-called last ‘full-blood’ Ngunnawal, one reads, but that was Queen Nellie.
An extraordinary woman in the later part of the century; but her partner was Bobby Hamilton, Bobby Deumonga, so there’s a Deumonga Court in Ngunnawal. And finally, Charles Perkins Circuit; needs nothing further glossing from me. So one can only speculate what we’re going to be getting in the future.
I was thinking that, undoubtedly, a Krakouer Crescent if not a suburb. McLeod Mountain, Mundine Mountain, you could go through Sailer Street, Sandow Street, Corowa Crescent, and of course, Che Cockatoo-Collins Concourse. [laughter]
We’ve got much in front of us, but on a rather more serious note, and to pick up on a little bit of memory, and finally get around to league and union and maybe try to tease out, very quickly, some of the differences between those two codes; and I’d like to be able to say that I could say anything particularly intelligent in terms of the Round Ball and the World Game, but maybe that too can come out in question time. So I will concentrate on rugby league and rugby union when I know a little bit more.
I said I would start with a couple of anecdotes, and not wholly politically correct in the case of the second one, but it leads to my main point and that is to pick up on the enriching of rugby league courtesy of the Indigenous input, and they are very significant indeed.
So two memories: one was, growing up on the northern beaches of Sydney, it was the case, by the best memory that I can sort of bring to bear, is that I had never met or been introduced to or engaged with Aboriginal people whatsoever in my earlier days all the way through to when I was playing football, in my case, being born in 1950, in the mid-1960s, the very first occasion.
And I do remember that quite vividly was when we won a knockout in the Manly area so we went to play in the middle of Sydney, and we were lucky enough to get through, I think there was 15 or so. And I will never forget that because we played a team and they came out and we were still in our high school jumpers, they were in the South Sydney strip which was to say the least intimidating.
And I think all that perhaps three or four were blackfellas, and while the score was five to two in the old terms – that was one try, one goal their way – that seriously flattered us. I do remember I managed to sort of stagger a field goal to get what was then two points. But we were overwhelmed and it was a real introduction, and we had a bit of a yarn afterwards. So that was number one.
Number two, more significant to my sense of significance and the enrichment process, and that was, I was lucky enough to go schoolteaching in the early 1970s, ’73, four, five, at a town south of here that we know. Those of you from this area know Batlow, the apples, et cetera, et cetera. And that was group 13 football, the Tigers, the Batlow Tigers – things have changed, in fact there is no Batlow side now, but that is another story.
I was playing group football and hadn’t played league for a lot of years, for the reasons I outlined, but was really delighted to be playing again; or at least the town, it was just the cannery and the forestry and football; that was it in Batlow back in the seventies. And so I started playing and I was rather large, but nevertheless a five-eight.
And the inside centre was a guy called Willo Longbottom, and Willo Longbottom [was] very much of the Longbottom mob; Kevin of course probably the best known in the rugby league, who played for South Sydney. But I knew Willo well. In fact, we really did hit it off. Not just because I was inside him, and I used to just feed him all day. That’s all I had to do; watch him do the business.
But it was one of those interesting clichés that I want to get back to in the context of John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson, a Canberra Raider [rugby league player], in that there was surrounding us not only the kind of language with which Willo was treated then, and I don’t have to go into it, but it was ‘you black so-and-so’ in a kind of affection in the team.
But I was always struck by the fact with Willo, and I’d heard that, in fact, he’d had a number of fights at the stadium; in fact, on good authority he’d had – we’d talked a bit about it. So he’d actually been a semi-professional, perhaps even a professional boxer, but we had him at – he said to me he was 37, and that seemed around about right.
But there was always that notion that he was a lot older than that, that blackfellas are eternal. They go on, they can keep playing, and all we whitefellas always speculating on their age. That would affect, or at least be one of the elements to do with ‘Chicka’ Ferguson, but it was certainly true of Willo.
The other thing about it was, I was really struck by the fact playing with him, he was about 5’10”, but he was about nine stone, in the old term, wringing wet. Really light and thin arms. I don’t think I’m drifting into cliché, but he did have thin arms. And when we played, I could not understand the fact that there was never any race commentary. And this went for most of the first season.
We finished up late in the grand final, defeated – that’s another story again, but nevertheless, it was late, and we were playing a very big side. We were playing Holbrook [in southern New South Wales], and it was about ten minutes in. And I remember they had a really big forward pack, really big, much bigger than us.
One of these forwards – huge, he was. He was kind of 16, 18 stone, old terms – he made some comment to Willo. I think it might have been the ‘black C’. I happened to be reasonably close. I saw a punch, such as it was in my memory, travel about six inches, and this fellow dropped like a stone. I’ve never seen it before, other than the occasional boxing match. Dropped like a stone.
I then knew straight off why you never had any race comments about Willo, and in fact, then I got to talking about it with a number of the players and including Willo. But he never received that kind of treatment. But it was a singular lesson, and I will come back and make a connection in terms of, I’m afraid, punches and rugby league, but it does go to one of the areas of enrichment, if I can still use that term, and I think I can.
Punches in rugby league and rugby union sometimes do get brought into a kind of mythological realm. If you know anything about rugby union, you might be aware, and I used it in a book that I did a few years ago called The Best Ever Australian Sports Writing, [of] one piece on a punch thrown by rugby union footballer Steve Finnane on a Welsh prop became known as The Punch. That’s the kind of thing you do on occasion get in terms of the mythology of these two codes.
And I’ll go one further. If you have to pick or isolate on defining moments in codes – and how much better to be talking about, say, a moment that involves Nicky Winmar – but nevertheless, this one’s an interesting one; and it was a defining moment for rugby league football, and it did involve an Indigenous player. That player, I’m sure he’s known to some of you, if not most of you, and his name is Arthur Beetson, a Roma [in Queensland] man.
The punch I’m talking about there – well, you might even say two – occurred in a match in July of 1980, the very first State of Origin game. And you need a tiny bit of – (and I’m conscious of time, Harmsy. I know I’ve got maybe another seven or eight minutes. Is that all right?) And those of you who don’t know league – and I’m tempted to say that usually when you have gatherings like this where you’re going to talk seriously in big conversations about race and football, you can count on the fact there will be no people who follow rugby league in the room, or in fact probably rugby union, and most will be from Australian football. I’ll return to that point.
Little bit of background, and this is from [writer] Hugh Lunn, a classic article that I used in the anthology that tells you enough, I think, and I’ve just truncated seven pages to a little bit. Okay, you need to know this to understand the Beetson moment. ‘There was a time when Queensland dominated these matches …’ – talking about Queensland playing New South Wales in the old days, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s – ‘… dominated these matches against the more popular South. Throughout the 1920s, the first half of the ’30s and the early ’40s and beyond, the myth built up then that we were better.’ This is Hugh Lunn writing.
Of course, he’s talking about being a Queenslander. ‘After that, New South Wales won more games, but Queensland went close enough and won enough to kindle the memory sufficiently. Mum still talks about how big Mick Madsen was in the ’30s, as big as three men, and so do others.’ [To Che] It’s quite possibly in the Collins household that you heard a bit about these as well.
‘However,’ – and this is the key moment and I remember it well – some of us in the room might – ‘by the early 1960s New South Wales got poker machines, and their rugby league clubs became rich. If a Queenslander played well in the interstate game in his maroon jersey, the next year he’d be in Sydney, and, near enough to certain, playing in New South Wales light blue. It suited the New South Wales clubs. It caused a lot of resentment here. Being beaten is bad enough, but being beaten by your own men has a ring of betrayal about it. It is not surprising then that the Queenslanders accepted the nickname for the New South Wales teams as The Cockroaches.
‘Thus began,’ writes Lunn a little bit later, ‘an almost unending sequence of wins for New South Wales. Out of the 60 games since 1962, Queensland won only six.’ We cut to 1980. ‘But deep in the heart,’ writes Hugh Lunn, ‘there’s always been the belief that we were better. After every loss, the cry always went up: But what if we had Arthur Beetson instead of them? After all, he’s a Queenslander.
‘Well, you can’t get much more Queensland than being from Roma. And Beetson had played 11 straight years for Australia and was captain. And a lot of other names were strung together as well. Now,’ writes Lunn, ‘that argument has become a reality,’ as he starts to talk about the moment, the key moment, when Arthur Beetson runs onto the field.
Cut from there to one other bit – this is actually on the King, King Wally [Wally Lewis] . There aren’t very many good books on rugby league players written by people who can write, I’m afraid, but certainly this is one of them, Adrian McGregor’s [shows book]. Obviously, I’ve got one to my right who can write, but nevertheless there aren’t many, and he knows that well. Fantastic that we got the pearl, and this one’s better than most. Certainly the other one, the Des Hasler – Tom Keneally book [The Utility Player: The Des Hasler Story] is worth a look.
One last little bit to set the scene – “the Queensland team was not so much selected as arranged, because the crucial player was to be Arthur Beetson, now 35, who had played for Australia from 1966 to 1977.
‘McAuliffe, the senator, sought advice from Parramatta coach Jack Gibson. “I need fellows who you’d want in the trenches with you when the going gets tough”, said McAuliffe. Gibson advised the senator to see Beetson personally. “If you get a commitment from him, he’ll probably give you the greatest game of his life”, said Gibson. McAuliffe had great respect for Beetson, not just as a footballer, but as a magnetic personality, a leader. “He’d have been a tribal elder for sure”, said McAuliffe, referring to Beetson’s Aboriginality.’
Beetson ran onto that field, and as history, or maybe even mythology now says, threw at least two punches during the game. One was on a St George footballer called Graeme Wynn, and the other, rather more famously, was on his former teammate from Parramatta, one of the legends of the game, as of course Artie Beetson was himself, and that was Mick Cronin. They were serious. Queensland won the game, and State of Origin, as we now know it, a phenomenon unto itself, has emerged since 1980. Without doubt, State of Origin in that new concept in 1980 and beyond could have collapsed very quickly, but the Beetson moment was crucial.
The other moment: I mention about John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson. Chicka had played in other clubs but came to the Canberra Raiders, and fortunately ran onto the field for the Raiders’ second grand final. They played in 1987 against Manly unsuccessfully, when in fact, Cliff Lyons, a wonderful Aboriginal footballer, was the player of the match, got the Churchill medal in 1987.
We were not the best team, but we were getting a sniff. And in 1989, having had a modest season and emerging into the semi-finals, not considered to go anywhere, the Raiders found themselves in the grand final. What’s more, they found themselves in the grand final where Balmain looked as though they had their measure, memory tells me; I haven’t read that for a while, I think it was 12-2 at half-time to Balmain, and so we move in towards the back end of the game.
Now as it happened, I was in the American state of Mississippi. I had calls from about 2am through to about 7am or 8am telling me bit by bit about what occurred in the last moments of this grand final. It has gone into folklore, quite rightly, but there’s one component part of that game – and incidentally it was [Australian author] Tom Keneally who, in a sense first publicly said, ‘The greatest grand final ever played’. That’s pretty much universally recognised now that it’s the greatest grand final rugby league’s ever known.
And what happened very late in the game was that the Raiders, coming on with young unknowns and a few veterans, and a wonderful player called Mal Meninga as well, that they were despairing very late, and the big kick went up. Now that kick was taken by Laurie Daley – come back to him in a moment – and it was shuttled out to John Ferguson on the left wing. Chicka goes off the left foot once.
Now, of course, he could have gone straight he would have scored in the corner, but then Mal Meninga would have had the kick. And it was the old down toe-poke kick, you know the thing you never see now, from the side and God knows, even though he’s a good pressure kicker, it would have – it would have been a 50-50 bet. Ferguson goes off one foot, second foot, burrows, and scores, as you might recall, you Canberrans in the audience, about 15 yards from the sticks.
It was a defining moment for the club. It was certainly, in the context of that grand final, the key moment, and to the extent that you could say that people are now recognising it as the greatest grand final, then you’ve got another Indigenous player. Interestingly, if you read in The Canberra Times only a few days ago, a couple of the journalists were saying that they’ve lost track of Chicka. Now, that’s one that I might follow up and as I say, it’s only surfaced in the last few days when they’ve had a few of the legends in town from the days gone by, but it would be interesting to see where John Ferguson is. Nevertheless, they are the two.
However – and I’m only going to go for a few minutes, because I think questions might be interesting on this, and throw a few ideas out there – league can be particularly unsatisfactory. One of the things – and I was trying, rather than in a sense do research on this – if you’ve followed rugby league as I have for many, many years, you would know that the Indigenous element has always been a little bit strange.
My experience of playing for the mighty Batlow Tigers in the 1970s, to some extent, schooled me into what is still the dominant mode in rugby league, and that is, there isn’t any overt pride that’s allowed to come through by the administrators. But it’s probably equally fair to say that up until recently, opportunities have been few and far between for the Aboriginal players and there are many now as we know, in the game.
It’s intriguing that arguably the two most significant rugby league footballers in recent times to have an extraordinary profile: one is Anthony Mundine, and we might want to pick up that, you know Mundine in question time. Now Muslim, very much a personality that in some ways is affected by Muhammad Ali, you could put it no other way, who has taunted white audiences, and intentionally and confrontationally and fascinatingly, so that the rugby league community has had to come to terms with Anthony Mundine.
And the other is Arthur Beetson. Beetson’s always been a, often quietly, very proud man. In recent, probably about the last ten years, has started to emerge and talked about his Aboriginality, and started to shape, in reasonably low-key ways, rugby league’s response, quite different to the Australian football response.
But, I said it’s unsatisfactory, and it continues to be so; because you’re, still with rugby league and union, talking on occasion about skin colour or who’s a blackfella and who’s not. And it’s interesting to me – and I haven’t got any further with this,, intentionally – but I noted, and some of you might have seen it if you’re following rugby league, that in a best-ever rugby league team recently, Laurie Daley was placed on that side. Now, I’ve got two Laurie Daley biographies at home, and I went looking for any evidence in those biographies of Daley as a blackfella, and found none.
Now, I only say that because it seems to me to be in some ways typical of the rugby league experience that there is a struggle to articulate the way in which Aboriginality can be –one’s Aboriginality or indeed that element in the code – can be expressed. Australian football, still, is very much ahead in that. But even that might well have to do with the fact that players are coming from all sorts of parts of Australia, whereas it’s a much more restricted group for rugby league. We might pick that up in question time.
My last couple of points. As I looked at the history of Aboriginal players in rugby league – and I should quickly say that Colin Tatz’s wonderful books on race and Aboriginal people in sport, on occasion … As I think those of you who know Colin’s writings, he makes calls on people’s Aboriginality that haven’t really helped any kind of positive way forward with this question; and I mean, Mal Meninga and his so-called Aboriginality from Colin Tatz is an example.
But also, even when he’s talking about historic elements, moments in rugby league; for example, he talks very confidently in a couple of his books about two Aboriginal players in the first North Sydney premiership-winning sides in 1921 and 1922, George Green and Paul Tranquille. Well, Andrew Moore’s superb book on the North Sydney rugby league football team indicates with the best evidence available that neither man was Aboriginal, and he talks a little bit about that. But that’s the kind of thing you do get in league, and we hope that we will get more information and we will be able to kind of, in a sense, talk about it in a much more rich and open way in the future.
Like I said I’d finish and I’m going to do exactly that. I couldn’t help but look at the players who have emerged pretty much the same, if I can say, as Australian football. In other words, a first emergence in the ’60s of players coming in increased numbers. And then you start to see those numbers picking up in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. And what sort of categories – ,and jeez I’ve got to be careful of stereotype here – but what sort of categories would I put a few of the players in. I thought I’d just name a few in my last moments.
First, in terms of types of players in the Indigenous players, I would name a clutch of wonderful backs, centres who had a particular gift. And you get this term in league a bit, you do a bit in Australian football as well, a sort of ghosting through a gap. There’s something special about players, and black and white, who have a capacity to sort of drift into space in a way that you think it’s not possible. If I were looking at the Indigenous players who’ve done that superbly, they would be players like; George Abraham, Torres Strait Islander; Lionel Morgan, Queenslander, and of course, Lionel Williamson; Larry Corowa, Rick Walford, mentioned earlier, and Bruce ‘Lapa’ Stewart playing for Easts at a later age. Probably though, the two players able to sort of ghost into gaps par excellence were Steve Renouf, ‘the Pearl’, and Dale Shearer.
In another category again, those players where there’s kind of age, you know they seemed to be sort of ageless: I understand that Cliff Lyons is still playing footy, I believe. But he would come into that category, as would, in terms of sort of kind of speculation about age, Preston Campbell, playing brilliant football at the moment. But the one who sort of almost define that kind of category for whites was Chicka Ferguson himself.
Toughness: well, Beetson, he is just the archetypal tough player. But we also have a player down here and he’s back in Queensland now, Sam Becker who fitted that category as well. And I suppose if I have to throw one other player into it that would have to be Ron Gibbs; you remember him playing for Manly and the number of times that Gibbs [was] just hammering Raiders. But he was a wonderful, wonderful footballer.
In summary then, I think probably in the contemporary game, in terms of the impact of Indigenous players, in terms of rugby league and people who know rugby league or [are] interested in rugby league, the two most significant players impacting at the present are still Anthony Mundine, in a lateral kind of way, and most recently – because I think he could be just the best of them all, depending on how his career goes in the coming years – and that’s a fellow called Greg Inglis, who runs around in the centres and on the wing for Melbourne at the moment; and if he isn’t in the top five rugby league players of all time, in terms of potential talent and demonstrated talent on occasion, then I’m a poor judge. But then possibly, I’m a poor judge.
Thanks very much. [applause]
JOHN HARMS: Thanks Dave. Come and join us here, come and join us here. Anthony Mundine is a really interesting Australian phenomenon and cultural phenomenon. I followed his story very closely when I thought he bravely changed from rugby league to boxing. Within a couple of months, from memory, he was NAIDOC [National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee] person of the year. He was celebrated in the Indigenous community, but if you went to watch his fights in a Brisbane pub, the whole pub wanted Anthony Mundine’s head punched in, you know, and what does that say about the community that we’re living in? And it suggests to me that we still have a long way to go.
Well, we haven’t got a lot of time so why don’t we throw out straight open to questions now. Oh, Che first.
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: Well, a lot of times we, sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot, in the context of using race. From the very start of this conversation we probably should have spoke about race, and to understand that we first have to understand the paradoxes and ambiguities that surround the issue of race for ourselves. And, what we –In language, we commonly refer subtly that Aboriginal people are a different race. Now scientifically that’s not the case at all, there’s no such thing as a separate race. What there is, in fact, is separate cultures and I think that’s where we have to focus.
JOHN HARMS: Absolutely. [Applause; laughter]
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: I’m coming back again?
DAVID HEADON: Can I – and it’s probably putting Che on the spot, but can I ask, given that, you know, Anthony Mundine has come up. Is he an important element in white Australians getting the right kind of perspective on the black athlete? Is he an element in this, if I can say, the spectrum of black athletes that is helpful in the debates that are emerging now? How do you find his presence in the grand scheme of things?
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: In the community, there’s no universal view on Anthony Mundine; you’ll get Aboriginal people that love him and particularly young people who are aspiring to become boxers or athletes, because he is confrontational, in your face, and what that does is bring out a lot of negative and selective perceptions from people. But you’ll get other mob that will say, ‘Oh, he talks too much’, you know, or ‘He’s become a Muslim, isn’t he proud of his own heritage?’ There’s all of these things that that go into what the community think of Anthony Mundine. I think exactly the same as you, John. What an inspiring move, to go from rugby league, [in] which he was a star, to becoming a world-class boxer. Who does that? Now, he’s inspired such people like Sailor to change codes, and for now you’ll see Carmichael Hunt changing codes. And this is how the young athlete now thinks that they want to be challenged. Once they have completed their task, or they feel that they’ve reached a peak of what they wanted to do in a particular sport, what’s next? ‘What’s next for me? I need to be challenged’.
JOHN HARMS: It’s interesting. I wrote about the story for the Australian press, admittedly Inside Sport [magazine], but there was more interest in that article from overseas, from England and Scotland, who are fascinated by the whole scenario. So, I was then writing for a Scottish paper in particular, who didn’t want 1200 words, they wanted 4500 words because they were so intrigued by it. So, it certainly had resonance over there.
DR SEAN GORMAN: From my perspective, just in terms of the Mundine thing, because it is so fascinating: having taught a subject called Indigenous Histories in Sport at Melbourne Uni, by far, the person who, you know created the most divisive kinds of comments was Mundine amongst the students, and when we sort of pared it down, I suppose, ‘Okay, let’s look at this in an empirical way.’ Or say, an Indigenous sports person doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, is highly religious, fit. What would you say? You go ‘fantastic.’ Then you put the word ‘Anthony Mundine’ in it, and it changes totally. Now, when you compare, and you can make a comparative analysis of Lionel Rose and Mundine on so many levels, as a recording artist and as a world-titled boxer and all the rest of it, and make those comparative analyses. And the reasons why Lionel is now thought of– and this is a very generalistic thing, but – is loved and respected and admired, it’s because he didn’t speak out about whatever it might have been, whereas Mundine does.
So, he’s got an opinion. That’s what it basically boils down to. A lot of non-Indigenous Australians and Indigenous Australians don’t like Mundine because he has an opinion. He doesn’t know his place, and he’s not about to play that role of the blackfella that will sit in the corner and only be talked to when spoken to. He’s going to tell you and he’s going to tell you what you don’t want to hear, and for that, that creates the space that we then walk in to, to begin that discussion all over again. And I think that’s the value of someone like Mundine.
JOHN HARMS: This is Sean’s big point, is the creation of the conversation, and that’s what the sporting Indigenous involvement in visible elite professional sport has done. It’s invited the conversation, it’s invited us to talk about the issue. It’s why were here today.
DR SEAN GORMAN: That’s why [former member of parliament] Pauline Hanson is so interesting. She acts like a social magnoplasm, yes? Seriously, she draws the argument out, ‘No longer can we sit on the sinks’. I don’t agree with what she says, but it creates that space where we can start up. Sorry.
JOHN HARMS: Sorry, Dave, you were –
DAVID HEADON: I mean, it’s interesting, you can’t help but make the analogy with the earlier years of Muhammad Ali. One of the things about boxing especially is it puts bums on seats in the stadium, and there is no doubt that Mundine – either advised or thinking his way through it – seeing that this is a profile, which is – you know any individual can assume that profile, but he’s assumed one aspect of the confrontation, is that it puts people through the turnstiles and good luck to him. And in the same way that you say, you know, whatever your opportunity is to do that. One aspect I’m sure of the package to this Anthony Mundine at the moment is that it gets people riled in the same way as if you look at the early footage of Ali, in those early fights where you had black people furious with Ali for exactly what John was saying about – you know, he didn’t know his place?
I mean classically – I’ll stop but, if you can recall there was one, in fact it was the fight against Sonny Liston, when you had people at the front furious with the then Cassius Clay, and one woman who looked to be black saying, you know, ‘Go on Sonny,’ I think with her sort of screeching voice, ‘You whoop that nigger!’ That is to say that Ali was the nigger and Sonny Liston was not. He was one – you know, you start to see or may start to understand, I think, aspects of different eras and associations I suppose for black people.
JOHN HARMS: I wouldn’t see Mundine as contrived as that in terms of developing a market, because had he wanted to do that he would have stayed with Alan Jones or one of the promoters. I don’t think it’s about dollars and cents so much as he and [manager] Coda Nasser doing things on their own terms. Yes, you have got a question?
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Just stepping outside the football codes for one moment, I just wanted to mention another defining moment in Indigenous sport and that was [runner] Cathy Freeman winning the 400 metres at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. I was just wondering if you could make comments about what this means for Indigenous sports people and, you know what can be achieved, particularly at the international level.
JOHN HARMS: Che? [laughter]
CHE COCKATOO-COLLINS: The barrier with a lot of sports, and athletics and union in particular and cricket, is that – well, the reason why AFL has such a great talent pool of Aboriginal players and all other players as well is because the financial barriers – well, they are limited. What you do is you get a pair of boots and you’re right, might pay a hundred bucks; but basketball and soccer ,for my ten-year-old I pay about five hundred bucks a year. Now you tell me how inclusive that is; so poor people are excluded straight away. And it is usually the poor people who are the most talented – Zinedine Zidane, the Algerian – Frenchman, stricken boot poverty, one of the world’s best ever players.
Union is a different story; in cricket you need your pads, so at the end of the day the payment for particular goods is a barrier for most sports. What people need to do is what’s happening at the moment, engaging in communities; athletic clubs need to go out and engage in communities so that they encourage people to go; so that they have got a greater talent pool, and that helps. And it depends who is championing the cause in a particular organisation.
JOHN HARMS: I’ve got a question here.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: I have just got one question. I am a great admirer of the Aboriginals, footballers and athletes in general. And one thing that stands out is their speed, their speed off the mark. Probably the only white person as fast is Chris Judd of Carlton; for the first five yards he is really hard to beat. But all Aboriginals, they can weave and twist and keep their balance and they are very fast. There must be something in it besides culture; it may be their physical bonds, because I asked this question to a swimmer – there are very few black swimmers and I asked the president of the swimming association, ‘Why haven’t we got any champion black swimmers worldwide, not just Australia?’
There is Olympic Games, Empire [now Commonwealth] Games with very few blacks at the starting point. He said, ‘They can’t, they sink’. In other words, their bone structure – that’s not funny – their bone structure; they start off as a handicap. They’re below the water level. My question is, why are the Aboriginals fast and keep their balance? Is it because they’re brought up running around hard grounds with bare feet? What is the answer?
DR SEAN GORMAN: Have you read Darwin’s Athletes [Darwin’s Athletes: How Sport has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race, by John Hoberman]? Have you read Darwin’s Athletes?
MAN: Yes, I read it.
DR SEAN GORMAN: I was just curious, that’s all. No, no, because yes, I suppose in terms of – I’ll answer this in a very indirect way. A colleague of mine, an Indigenous colleague, Lenny Collard, of wonderful Noonga, an academic from Murdoch University said, ‘Why is it that that when you look at the Olympics, all the whitefellas are doing the archery, the javelin and the shooting?’ Yes? Why is it that the blackfellas are always winning the running races, yes? Maybe it’s a cultural thing, who knows? But to go into those biologically determined sorts of characteristics is fraught with danger, fraught with danger.
JOHN HARMS: It’s discussion for another day.
DR SEAN GORMAN: And, yes, it’s another three-hour conversation in terms of those things.
JOHN HARMS: Maybe at the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] or something like that. [laughter]
DR SEAN GORMAN: Absolutely.
JOHN HARMS: Look, I’d like to thank you all for coming today, and being part of this Manning Clark House – sorry, is there one more question? Sorry.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Well, it’s a couple of comments that you might like to comment on yourself.
JOHN HARMS: Sure.
MAN: The first is that we meet here in a museum, the National Museum of Australia, with no Aborigine sitting on the board of this organisation. I don’t know whether the same applies to Manning Clark House. Have you got an Indigenous representative on your board?
JOHN HARMS: Not that I know of, no.
MAN: The second thing is in relation to the use of language when it comes to the description of Indigenous clans. Mention was made of the Walpiri Wizard; well, you know the fact of the matter is that journalists, by and large, will err on the side of some fairly shabby alliteration, okay? So I really don’t take a great deal of notice of that. And Dennis committee, I think, probably has something to answer for too, on the matter of, I think I’ve heard the term ‘Jara Cane’.
JOHN HARMS: Jara Cane, I’ve not heard that one.
MAN: I think that that came from Dennis. Thirdly, Mr Jurrah was bought initially to Melbourne by a Collingwood supporter. And I would argue that that guy is some way towards squaring up for the Winmar matter back in –
MAN IN AUDIENCE: You got a long way to go. [laughter]
MAN: – back in ’93. Fourthly, one of the – you’ve probably guessed by now I’m a Collingwood member. Fourthly, one of the things that’s never mentioned about Mr Dick [Brad Dick, player]; you’ll hear all these remarks about his athleticism, et cetera. But it’s his sheer enthusiasm, you’re watch him whip those players along. And he does wonders for that side. And finally, why isn’t the Northern Territory part of the national competition? And don’t give me this spurious nonsense about finances. Could somebody answer that for me, why isn’t there a side from the NT in the national competition?
JOHN HARMS: That’s a whole new debate. Look, I’m just going to finish it off and look, I’d like to thank you all, thank you for your comments. We’ve run out of time. Thank you so much for coming on behalf of Manning Clark House and the Museum. Thank you for coming. Thank you very much to – and if you’re interested in becoming a member of Manning Clark House, we’ve got some brochures from JMH and John Ett at the door here. Thank you so much to Dr David Hayden, Dr Sean Gorman and Che Cockatoo-Collins. Delighted that you could be with us today, and thanks very much.
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Date published: 9 March 2010