General Footy Writing: Tales of Krakouer brothers and Cockatoo-Collins confirm rich contribution of indigenous players to Australian football

A keen audience gathered at the  National  Museum of  Australia in Canberra , to attend the recent FORCE FOR GOOD seminar.

Presented by the museum  in  conjunction with with Manning Clark House and hosted by John Harms, the seminar focused on how indigenous Australians have enriched football.

Dr Sean Gorman (an Almanacker) spoke about his book Brotherboys, which details  the lives and football careers of Jim and Phil Krakouer: Jim the fiery one, who sought retribution with his fists, and Phil the quiet one, who answered through his stunning football skills.

We were shown  some fabulous photographs from remote areas and some old  football footage. Who said the game of yester year was slow? Jimmy’s fists certainly weren’t.

Sean spoke about the phenomenom the boys were when they came from Claremont to play for North Melbourne in 1982 and how fans of other clubs would attend North games to marvel at their skills. Sean also spoke passionately about the rights of Indigenous Australians, the social impact of football and the necessity for mutual trust and understanding.

Don’t you love when you meet an ex-footballer who still looks fit enough to play for your team? Che Cockatoo- Collins looks great.

He now works as a government adviser and for oil and gas exploration company Santos. He  grew up in north Queensland playing rugby. Unfortunate circumstances — family  separation — led him to Adelaide and Aussie rules.

Che credits his mother for making ‘good decisions for the family’. He spoke about the importance of family at football clubs and how the closeness of  players knowing each other in junior days helped  Port Adelaide achieve success.

This lead to a discussion on how young footballers cope with the homesickness and cultural change when they move to  big cities. According to Che, positive language and family support help players to realise their achievements  and recognise the worth of their journey. Football presents a great opportunity to provide financial security for families.

The influence of Nicky Winmar and Michael Long towards racial vilification laws being introduced by the AFL were discussed, as well as the conditions and attitudes towards players such as Pastor Doug Nicholls between the world wars.

Che reminds black and white Australians to use the correct language because it helps. Think of ourselves as belonging to the same race — because we do.

The language that commentators sometimes use to describe indigenous players was discussed. Do words and phrases like ‘magic’ and ‘It’s in the blood’ imply  that players haven’t trained and worked hard to develop their skills? Food for thought.

Che revealed that he didn’t particularly like playing in the forward pocket (where Sheedy put him) at Essendon, and that Dennis Pagan tried to poach him from Essendon to North Melbourne. Che laughed when recalling Ron Joseph showing his cigarette trick to the kids of North Queensland. Ron unfortunately burnt his tongue and the kids never forgot it!

David Headon, a cultural consultant and historian in Canberra, filled the void for the rugby fans in the room. David spoke about the defining moments involving indigenous players in rugby matches and how the tradition of State of Orign games developed. Interestingly he listed the streets in Canberra that have been named after indigenous athletes.

There were more questions than time to answer them. The Collingwood supporter next to me had a page full. This supporter reminded us that if it weren’t for the indigenous players, Melbourne wouldn’t have Liam Jurrah.

Why wasn’t there a Northern Territory team in the AFL competition? “Perhaps they would be too darn good,” came a reply from the audience.

The elderly gentleman  on my other side wanted to know one thing: why are indigenous players so fast over the first three metres?  Perhaps a topic for an  interesting debate another day.


  1. In relation to the last question, shouldn’t it be “Why are SOME indigenous players fast over the first three metres” But you could ask the same question about Gary Ablett, Chris Judd, Brent Harvey etc etc. Perhaps its more a question of “Why are the fastest aboriginal players drafted into the AFL?” I bet there’s plenty of aboriginal players we don’t see in the AFL who are tall, slow and fat, just like non-aboriginal players.

  2. Dear Pamela, Would have loved to be at the Force for Good seminar, thanks for the write up. I remember Che well during his Essendon days, there was always something magic about the way he played. Rod Oaten

  3. patti from Rezza neigh Brunswick says

    Hi Pamela- sounds like an interesting and entertaining seminar.
    Fancy Sheeds playing Che out of position!

Leave a Comment