A Curtin research fellow has written a book to honour the achievements of Indigenous Australian Rules footballers.
On August 15, Sean Gorman had the distinction of launching Legends: The AFL Indigenous Team of the Century at the home of football – the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The launch was attended by most of the 25 footy greats lauded by Dr Gorman’s book – including Adam Goodes, Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer and Gavin Wanganeen.
Dr Gorman asked the star-studded gathering to imagine what the Australian Football League would look like without the contribution of the celebrated players.
“I have witnessed the redemptive power of football for both black and white Australians,” he said.
“It is through this social process that people come together and communicate, and that can create rapport.
“Rapport builds trust. Trust builds hope.”
Back on home turf, at Curtin’s Centre for Aboriginal Studies, the Fremantle Dockers diehard said he’d loved Australian Football for as long as he could remember.
“I was a country scrubber playing a little bit of footy out in the bush,” he said.
“My first memories as a kid are football memories.”
Just 2.3 per cent of Australians are Indigenous, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up 12 per cent of elite AFL players.
Dr Gorman conducted face-to-face interviews with all legends featured in his book, except Norm McDonald who died in 2002 and David Kantilla who died in 1978.
One of Dr Gorman’s most memorable encounters was with Maurice Rioli in the Tiwi Islands.
After calling Rioli some weeks before and confirming the interview the night before, Dr Gorman was unable to track him down the morning the Curtin researcher arrived on Melville Island.
With the Arafura Pearl ferry due to set sail at 3pm and not due back on Melville for another two days, and no accommodation booked or likely, Dr Gorman enlisted the help of strangers and Rioli’s father Cyril to locate the mercurial star of the 1980s.
A bumpy ride through pony-packed paddocks – in a gardener’s ute with Charley Pride pumping on the stereo – delivered Dr Gorman to the elusive Rioli with barely an hour to spare.
As in his playing days, Rioli’s best was saved for crunch time.
“I got to speak with him for 30 to 40 minutes, and it was sensational,” Dr Gorman said.
“It was one of those crazy days that started off serene and the longer it went on the crazier it became until the interview.”
Rioli died, aged just 53, on Christmas Day last year. He did not get to take a final trip to the hallowed home of football for the launch of the book penned partly in his honour.
“The interview was timely in that respect,” Dr Gorman said.
“That’s always a concern, if you do a job like this, that older Indigenous Australians won’t be around.”
Legends: The AFL Indigenous Team of the Century is the second book penned by Dr Gorman.
For the record, the Indigenous team of the century is:
Backs: Chris Johnson (Fitzroy, Brisbane), Darryl White (Brisbane), Bill Dempsey (West Perth)
Half-backs: Gavin Wanganeen (Essendon, Port Adelaide), Adam Goodes (Sydney), Norm McDonald (Essendon)
Centres: Peter Matera (South Fremantle, West Coast), Maurice Rioli (South Fremantle, Richmond), Michael Long (Essendon)
Half-forwards: Nicky Winmar (South Fremantle, St Kilda, Western Bulldogs), Stephen Michael (South Fremantle), Syd Jackson (East Perth), Carlton)
Forwards: Chris Lewis (Claremont, West Coast), Michael O’Loughlin (Sydney), Jim Krakouer (Claremont, North Melbourne, St Kilda)
Followers: Graham Farmer (Captain) (East Perth, Geelong), Andrew McLeod (Adelaide), Barry Cable (Perth, East Perth, North Melbourne)
Interchange: Michael McLean (Footscray, Brisbane), Byron Pickett (North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Melbourne) Michael Graham (Sturt), David Kantilla (South Adelaide), Ted Kilmurray (East Perth), Peter Burgoyne (Port Adelaide)
Coach: Barry Cable (former coach of North Melbourne)
Umpire: Glenn James
PHOTOGRAPHY: SAM PROCTOR