Bateman’s chance

I really liked the Richmond Indigenous Round specially-themed footy jumper. The design on the yellow sash was by local Indigenous artist Jirra Lulla Harvey, a Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri woman.

In an interview on Richmond’s website, Harvey said her design encapsulates iconic Victorian landmarks, mixed with Indigenous football themes. “The river is representative of the Murray, which has always been integral to my people’s survival and spirituality, and the Yarra, which is equally important to the People of the Kulin Nation, and can be seen from the MCG,” Harvey said. “The footballs on either side of the river mimic the shape of shields used by Aboriginal warriors”.

“Aboriginal football players are not only great athletes, but are often seen as local heroes and community ambassadors.  For our young people who look up to these men, AFL stars are seen as contemporary warriors,” she said. Some might argue that footy and fashion are not necessarily obvious dance partners but in reading how Harvey has combined ideas about culture, sport and place into a simple yet striking design, you have to, at least, appreciate that this thing called footy can be bigger than all of us.

I have been thinking a bit about this because this week another milestone was achieved that challenges tradition for tradition’s sake. While it went unreported it is worth some small acknowledgement. Chance Bateman this week surpassed John Kennedy Snr in the number of games wearing number 10 for the mighty Hawks. The milestone is probably more metaphoric than anything else but in Hawthorn history it is significant.

On Sunday Bateman played his 165th game, wearing number 10. Kennedy wore the number 10 164 times during his time as a player in the 1950s. (In the late 70s/early 80s, David Polkinghorne wore number 10 for the exact number of games Kennedy Snr did). Kennedy was a journeyman player, but as a coach, he revolutionised Hawthorn and then the game itself. Hawthorn’s history is not worth telling without Kennedy’s story.

Chance’s story is worth telling too. Bateman was the first Indigenous player at Hawthorn to achieve 50 games and then 100. His 50 game milestone occurred in 2005. That’s right. Up until 2005 Hawthorn had not had one Indigenous player achieve even 50 games. Since then things have changed considerably. Bateman, Franklin and Mark Williams all played more than 100 games and Rioli has notched up 69. Not bad, considering that up until 2005 Hawthorn did not have room for even one Indigenous player to achieve such a modest milestone.

Is Hawthorn’s lack a symptom of that one club’s policy and practices? Or does it’s more recent changes reflect the wheel turning within the greater narrative we are weaving together? Whatever the case for Hawthorn to explain and or defend, it would be hard for the club and supporters not to acknowledge that it has learnt and gained immeasurably from opening up to the Indigenous experience.

Old ways can only take you so far. Kennedy and his commandos challenged the orthodoxy of the day. In doing so, he brought forward new ways of thinking through the same basic paradigm, structure and desires. So too, today, through a more enlightened understanding of what each of us can offer to the whole, whether that be the skills and determination of a gritty go-getter like Bateman or the deep meaning resonating in Harvey’s Dreamtime design, we all stand to gain.

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day


  1. Andrew Fithall says

    Great article Rick. Collingwood has had a similar history. While I am not sure there was ever a policy, there was certainly reluctance. While he wasn’t the first indigenous player to play 50 games for Collingwood (Robbie Ah Mat?), I think Leon was the first to play 100, and now 200. Sharrod Wellingham was the first indigenous player to play in a Collingwood premiership.

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