Footy Book Review: Legends and more Legends

LEGENDS: The AFL Indigenous Team Of The Century

By Sean Gorman

Publisher: Aboriginal Studies Press


$34.95 paperback


FOOTBALL LEGENDS OF THE BUSH: Local Heroes And Big Leaguers

by  Ken Piesse

Publisher:  Penguin Viking






In 1992, Alice Springs footballer Darryl White was drafted to the fledgling Brisbane Bears AFL club. As part of pre-season training, coach Robert Walls organized a 120km bike ride around the Gold Coast hinterland. The ride caused White much distress. He had come to Brisbane “to play football, not to ride a bike”, and a malfunctioning bike at that. White arrived at the end of the ride, which finished with a final 8 km mountain climb, in an agitated, angry state. Climbing from his bike at the summit lookout point, White walked to the edge and hurled the bike into the void below. He then told Walls in no uncertain terms what he thought of the exercise. Fortunately, there were no serious ramifications and White eventually became a major player for the Bears/Lions.



In Legends: The AFL Indigenous Team Of The Century, author Sean Gorman uses stories such as White’s to introduce pen portraits of all members selected in this prestigious team.  Gorman, a Research fellow at Curtin University’s Centre for Aboriginal Studies, travelled far and wide to conduct interviews with team members in their home or in a familiar environment. The stories of the players are brought to us in their own words. While a number of common themes emerge, there are many personal insights into the individual. As Gorman states in his excellent introductory chapter, “football stories provide a starting point for other conversations.” For example, football gave Michael Long “the chance, and the voice, to speak out against prejudice.”



Football played a very important part in the local communities where the players spent their formative years. However, immense hurdles had to be overcome in the journey to the highest level. The great Graham “Polly” Farmer, Syd Jackson and others spent their early days in a children’s home or mission. When Syd Jackson applied for a passport in order to travel on an international tour to showcase Australian football he found that no record of his birth existed. David Kantilla, and his profoundly deaf wife, travelled from the balmy climes of Bathurst Island to Adelaide where Kantilla became the first indigenous player from a remote community to play in the SANFL.



The players speak of the honour to be chosen in the team and pay glowing tribute to their families and to indigenous players who have gone before. Glenn James, the first indigenous person to umpire an AFL Grand Final speaks highly of the significant role played by Pastor Doug Nicholls as a footballer and as a person “having a long and enduring fight for his people“. Nicholls was a star footballer at Fitzroy and went on to do great works as a pastor and social worker. As Sir Douglas Nicholls he became Governor of South Australia. In their retirement many of the players have followed the example of Nicholls and are involved in programs aimed at improving options and opportunities for indigenous youth in sporting or other areas of the community.



The inherent racism experienced by indigenous footballers is discussed and different views emerge. Some players said they were not affected or ignored the words of other players and spectators. Some used the taunts to spur themselves to greater heights. There was always the temptation to retaliate. Peter Burgoyne says that, rather than resorting to violence as he may have done as a younger player, he would now “want to talk…and to try and get an understanding about the person and where he’s coming from”. The landmark statements made by Nicky Winmar and Michael Long, which resulted in the AFL’s anti vilification Rule 30 being adopted, are seen as necessary, important steps as is the Apology to the Stolen Generation.



Gorman’s motivation in writing the book is to get people to ask a simple question: “if indigenous and non-indigenous teammates can work together playing football, why can’t these types of relationships filter into other sectors of Australian society?” Legends: The AFL Indigenous Team Of The Century is a marvelous work of oral history about the lives and careers of men who are not only the best aboriginal footballers but among the best footballers who have ever played the game.



In Football Legends of the Bush, Ken Piesse, a Melbourne sports journalist and self-confessed sports nut, has built on hundreds of interviews conducted and stories he has written for various football publications. Not mentioned by Piesse, however, is the story of the seven year-old boy knocked down by a lorry when he ran onto the road near the intersection of Adelaide Avenue and Hopetoun Circuit, Deakin. The boy was fortunate to escape with a bruised foot. Fans of Australian football were also fortunate because the boy, Alex Jesaulenko, went on to become one of the greats of the game.  An Eastlake Football Club premiership player before moving to the VFL, Jesaulenko would seem to qualify as a “bush (capital) legend”.



Piesse defines three categories of footballers. Those who moved from the country to the city and stayed, those who spent some time in the city before returning to country football and those who may have achieved success in the city but preferred to stay at home and play at the local level. While Piesse has included stories about bush footballers from Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia, there are no inclusions from the rich heritage of indigenous footballers from the Northern Territory. With the majority of the book being Victoria-centric, the omission of the aforementioned Doug Nicholls is surprising, as is the role played by Haydn Bunton snr (the best of them all, according to Piesse) in mentoring Nicholls who had walked out on Carlton because of the racist attitudes he experienced.



Piesse relates stories of a bygone era. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, coaches such as Bob Davis and Alan Killigrew would travel all over the Victorian countryside in order to recruit prospective champions. Ebullient Geelong coach Bob Davis sealed the deal with a young Doug Wade by ducking out of the interview to purchase a brand new reefer jacket for Wade’s father. Royce Hart signed with Richmond for six shirts and a suit. Such rewards are a far cry from the huge sums negotiated by player managers of the current age. And Collingwood footballers of today, who don’t ever seem to travel much further than the MCG or Etihad Stadium to play games, would be probably be astounded to hear of intrepid Fred Way who travelled a total of some 102,000 km between Berrigan (NSW) and Melbourne during his 82 game career with South Melbourne.



Piesse produces numerous statistics and vividly recounts on-field incidents and off-field snippets. It is here that the Piesse evokes the feeling and the passion of country football and how it has become such an essential part of the social fabric of communities. The story of Wayne Reicha who overcame incredible physical handicaps to play a record number of games in the Hampden League is truly inspirational. Given the one or two limitations mentioned, Football Legends of the Bush is an entertaining compilation of tales and anecdotes of players with a country background who achieved success or notoriety in the wonderful game of Australian football.



Both authors give credit to AFL historian Col Hutchison. Now there is a man with some football stories to tell.




Peter Crossing is in total agreement with Ken Piesse’s statement that the great North Adelaide player Barrie Robran was “the Rolls-Royce of footballers”.

About Peter Crossing

Peter Crossing loves the pure 'n natch'l blues. He is a member of the silver fox faction of the Adelaide Uni Greys. He is something of a cricket tragic although admitting to little interest in the IPL or Big Bash forms of the game.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great summary Peter I had the providers of Allan Killigrew coach us at Norwood High and I used to si with Alan with him telling me Stories from those recruiting trips Great Memories of a Great Man . 1 day my Phone rings Hello it’s Barry Robran here just seeing if it’s ok with you to close my speech about Chocka Bloch proposing a toast to Chocka As far as I was concerned God had just asked me 4 approval ! The Night was appropriately recognising Fred Bloch on receiving Queens Birthday Honours as you no Peter Chocka is. great man also .

  2. MOUNT EVELYN FOOTBALL CLUB_Club Videos. SEE THE MOUNT EVELYN FOOTBALL CLUB site where by clicking on the following links; Andrew Gibbons; Ash Gibbons; Andrea; Barry Marshall;; Jason Leeds; JIM JOHNSON; John Stroud; Mick Goodman; Paul Fyander; Sarah Hogan; Ray Fellows; Ron Jones; Steve Carolyn; Ted Jenkinson interviews will be played._The MEFNC History Project. Home; 150 years of AFL; 1992 Anniversary Book; 50th Anniversary book (1931-1962); 50th Anniversary Book (1963-1981); Auskick history; Club Videos; History Photostory; Junior Club History; Life members list; Mt Evelyn Links; Netball Achievements; The Club Song; THE STAB PUNT (JIM JOHNSON).
    I had only the sporting globe football book of 1948 and no coaching, only my young mind. So without publications like yours, and having paper footballs and only a real football on the school ground at playtime from grade six till I was 15 in forth form, I managed to perfect my Australian Rules foot disposals.
    See the following. Jim Johnson age 14 in 1948 revamps Jack Dyers drop punt for goal, “silliest looking kick in football history” (Page 49 The Sporting Globe Football Book 1948), into a Drop Punt Field Pass kicked at full pace. Then invents the Stab Punt, replacing the Stab Kick, at age 15, in 1949. The above kicks are the predominant kicks used as field passes today in Australian Rules Football, 2014.
    Johnson should write a book on stab kicking he has found the lost art. Davey Crocket, The Ringwood Mail, September 8, 1960. (Re Jim’s Stab Punt.)
    Johnson sent his DELIGHTFUL LITTLE DROP PUNT PASS to Manfield’. Frank Casey, The Ringwood Croydon Post, September 8, 1960. (Jim’s Stab Punt)
    No doubt about Jimmy Johnson, he definitely has found the lost art of stab passing. (Re Jim’s Stab Punt.) “The Mail”, Thursday, September 15, 1960.
    Johnson, on the flank, was making good use of his accurate punt passes. Johnson picked up on the run, sent a drop-punt direct to Espie for another goal.” The Ringwood Croydon Post, September 8 1960, p.12 by Frank Casey.
    THE SCIENCE OF KICKING published 2007. THE STAB PUNT. The authors have COINED the term stab punt. Page 64 & 65 of THE SCIENCE OF KICKING 1st Edition. Geoffrey Hosford. & Don Meikle published 2007 by B.I.P.E. Publications Pty Ltd. Forward by David Parkin.
    The term STAB PUNT was coined 58 years after Jim, as kid, invented it.
    The Stab Punt invented in 1949. Aged 15 years, 5ft 2in(157.48 cm.) weighing 8 and 1/4 stone (52.5 kg) and playing for the Mount Evelyn First Eighteen,
    Jim Johnson declared to himself: “As I can kick a drop punt as a field pass, why not convert the stab kick into a stab punt”. Now, with his own football, it took Jim only around two weeks to adjust the split second timing to kick the ball just before, instead of just after, it hit the ground. “Stab Punt Jim.” Just recently (April 23rd 2013)
    Jim traced the following advertisement “STAB PUNT. The Inventor of the Stab Punt (1949) is interested in hearing from anyone who used this kick pre 1970 Ph. 8743622,” that he placed in the Age, page 26, bottom right corner, on Thursday the 26th of July 1990.
    This ad appeared on the Sports Page that had an article by David Parkin on the Torpedo Punt. So we have an article, by a legend, describing how to kick a Torpedo Punt and an ad by Jim who invented a kick in Australian Rules Football on the same page.
    Special note ! Jim’s Stab Punt referred to as “Johnson’s“ DELIGHTFUL LITTLE DROP PUNT PASS in 1960. see Frank Casey, The Ringwood Croydon Post, September 8, 1960, And the Stab Kick referred to as the “PRETIEST AND MOST EFFECTIVE INOVATION OF RECENT YEARS, See “THE STAB KICK.The Argus 27th June 1910”.
    For Further see google. ” Stab Punt Jim Johnson ”
    Jim Johnson, Melbourne High 1st “18 Football Colours 1950.

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