A Tribute to Norm McDonald

Norm McDonald

by Max Watson


“Being different makes it hard to fit in”, Norm McDonald didn’t think so. Norm McDonald was an aboriginal Australian AFL player who played as Essendon’s half back flanker in the late forties and early fifties, a time when aboriginal Australians were treated extremely poorly. Norm was Essendon’s first indigenous AFL player and was born on the 10th of December 1925.


Apart from being a spectacular AFL player, Norm was a professional sprinter, (hence the nickname ‘the black bullet’). Combine this with his amazing kicking and marking abilities and you get one of the most aggressive halfback flankers in AFL’s history. A favourite among the crowd he played in two premierships, was listed as the half back flanker of the aboriginal team of the century in 2005 and won the Crichton medal in 1951. As well as playing for Essendon norm played for Geelong’s RAAF team and was given the opportunity to represent his state by playing for the Victorian team.


In 1953 Norm retired from professional football, but was not forgotten for in 1991 Michael Long (the ‘father’ of modern indigenous Australian AFL) a man who would not stand for anything but total removal of racism from the AFL chose number 4 as his original number the same one that Norm proudly wore. Norm McDonald was an inspiring man who fought against  the oppression  and racism to indigenous Australians of the time and proved that being different makes it hard to fit in but not impossible.


  1. Max, I really enjoyed your profile of Norm McDonald. Good to see you are taking an interest in history, footy history and issues like this. You must take after your grandpa.

  2. Max,

    Thanks for the great read.

    It’s my understanding that Norm McDonald use to play on Geelong’s number 4, Bobby Davis.

    Both were very very fleet of foot.

    Am I right in saying that Essendon players Lance Mann and McDonald quinelled the Stawell Gift one year?

  3. PS

    I’m interested in Geelong’s RAAF team.

    Can anybody fill me in?


  4. Andrew Starkie says

    You’ve done Norm proud, max. Well done

  5. Ran second in the Stawell Gift in 1952 behind L.G Mann.

    My father knew him pretty well.

  6. Thank you Max, I really enjoyed your article. I remember watching Norm play for the Dons in the late 40’s and early 50’s and he was an absolute champion.

  7. I’ll second that Rod. I remember him well in one of The Bombers most glorious eras. he stood out in a team that boasted so many champions. Dick Reynolds, Bill Hutchinson, John Coleman, Wally May, Doug Bigelow, Doug McClure, Bill Snell. Bill Brittingham, The list goes on.

    I’m sure I sat in front of him in the stands at the G one day in the late 60s. We got into conversation and when I asked him – I thought in the nicest possible way – if he was Norm McDonald he said he wasn’t, He was a dead ringer and knew his footy like he’d been out there in the heat of battle. I’ve always wondered.

    What made you write the tribute Max?

  8. Thanks everyone for the great feedback.
    I was inspired to write about norm because He was one of the earliest Australian indigenous AFL players.
    The speech was originally a project for a school public speaking competition, I managed to qualify to represent my school in the final.

    Cheers max.

  9. Joel Smeaton says

    Great to read such positive comments about my Grandfather

  10. Desperately seeking any family members of Norm McDonald to contact me Ada relation knew Norm very well

  11. Oops meant I have a relation that knew Norm very well

  12. Brett McDonald says

    My name is Brett McDonald and my father was Norms nephew.

  13. Thanks for your comment Brett.

    Did you ever meet Norm yourself?

    From all of the things I have read he was a terrific footballer and general athlete. I don’t know too much else about him – and Sean Gorman’s piece is the Legends book concentrates on his footy stuff. Is there someone in the family who has more stories about Norm?

    Do you know much more of Norm yourself?

    Thanks again

  14. Good stuff Max. Norm McDonald must have been a great trail blazer for his people. In my childhood late 1960’s, early 1970’s , for along period Syd Jackson was the only indigenous player in VFL ranks. Over time we had players like Colin Graham appear in VFL ranks until we have reached the current stage where we have many indigenous players

    Is Nor Mcdonald still alive? Where wa she from and what is his mob ? I’d like to know more about his role in this game of ours.


  15. Luke smeaton says

    Great to see all the positive comments about my late grandfather. My mum tells me he was the talk among the teachers when she was a little girl. Luke Smeaton.

  16. Luke smeaton says

    If anyone out there is interested in learning about Norm McDonald (my late grandfather ) family history, read Daughter of Two Worlds. This book chronicles our Aboriginal family history from invasion to the 1980’s.. Luke Smeaton

  17. Robert Lee says

    Hey Luke and Joel, great to read your comments about your dear Grandfather. Was thinking of the old fella today. I always think about him a lot when the Dreamtime game approaches.
    Robbie, Dawn’s son.

  18. Roger mcdonald says

    l remember talking to Norm about football at my Aunty Dawn’s place. My dad Alfred McDonald, and Norm would talk a lot about football in their day. l have Aunty’s book. Hope you’re well cuz! Roger McDonald

  19. Rebecca Gerrett-Magee says

    Hi Luke,

    I work for Aboriginal Victoria and am trying to get hold of immediate family of Uncle Norm can you email me [email protected].


  20. Roger Mcdonald says

    l remenber norm mc donald as he wos my dads 1st couisne
    We would visit him all the time he live with my anuty and uncle in rosebud in nixon st the storys he would tell about football . My dad said he is a legend both have passed now
    But l remenber him as now my kid kbow who the legend is .

  21. Jan Kennedy says

    I remember Macca as my parents family friend in Reservoir Victoria for years.I was very young under 9 yrs old. His wife Mearle, and 2 daughters would look after me and my older brother & sister (Saunders family). I believe my mum and Mearle worked at Preston Northcote Hospital together during early 60s. We were traditional white Australians but we saw no colour. After we had played front yard football one day with Macca dad told us how Norm was a great Essendon footballer in the past. He was a gentleman. My brother & I would fish yabbies out of the Edwards Park Lake, those yabbies were Saturday lunch for mum, dad, Macca & Mearle but mum alway said they were thrown back into the lake. They had a duck, Horace. He chased and bit me…he ended up Christmas dinner. I was happy to eat him but my brother cried. No indication any of them were indigenous it was never talked about. Reservoir was mainly post war homes on the outskirts of Melbourne. My dad was in the RAAF during WW2 in Darwin so he and Norman both served Australia. I was too young to say any more.

  22. Joel Smeaton says

    Hi Rob (Robert Lee)

  23. Gavin Ward says

    There’s a doco on SBS titled Marin grook and they have a short piece on norm and some little footage of him talking cheers

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