Has Essendon’s recent tradition of having a number of Indigenous players on the list been forgotten?

Essendon Football Club


My family’s long involvement with this football club takes me back to the late 1940s when we watched and cheered our Indigenous champion Norm McDonald tear off the half back flank and kick magnificent drop kicks to the forward line. My family abhorred racism in any form and were angered when we heard Norm racially abused, which meant every game we went to. As a little kid I told one supporter he said a “bad thing.” I can still see the surprise on his face some 65 years later.


Fast forward to today, and Reconciliation Week. I wonder where the Essendon Football Club is at this moment. I look at their playing list and find just one Indigenous player on the senior list and two on the supplementary. Go back a couple of seasons and I can remember at least half a dozen on the senior list and another couple on the supplementary. Essendon led the way on Indigenous issues under Kevin Sheedy.


I have had a few problems with my beloved Essendon Football Club recently, and now I have a further feeling of unease about recruitment.  James Hird was quoted as suggesting Indigenous players had endurance problems with the modern game a couple of years ago, and judging by the club’s list today, his thoughts may have had some effect.


With the return of Kevin Sheedy, I am hoping Essendon supporters will see a resurgence of Indigenous players adding dash and excitement to our team, we could sure do with it at the moment.  Let’s hope that Kevin can have a long chat to James Hird in the not too distant future.


Rod Oaten






  1. Let’s not get all political and have quotas on these things. All players should be recruited on merit based on the club’s needs and the recruit’s future potential to fulfil those needs.

  2. Sean Gorman says

    Rod, at the risk of sounding glib (PB Im looking at you here) you raise some interesting things. One of the great myths about VFL/AFL football was/is the Sheedy model to use Indigenous players and that he was at the vanguard. Interestingly that honour goes to
    Ron Joseph with the recruitment of the Krakouers in 1982. By way of extension Mal
    Brown was doing it with South Fremantle for years before. Sheedy has been given that status somewhat due to the successes of Long and Wanganeen I reckon and his
    nurturing of others in the AFL.

    As for the Hird comment that Indigenous players lacked ‘a tank’ that is an old
    stereotype that in regard to a the peptide scenario has possibly seen your best player
    in Ryder ride off into the sunset. The Bombers could dearly do with his stamina
    right now not to mention how poise and smarts. I do agree that the return of Kev is a
    good thing – lets hope that he gets into the ear of Hird and that the great Blakpela
    tradition at the Bombers can be reignited.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    I’d defer to your extensive knowledge of the topic, but I think Rod’s point is fair. Sheedy made it a commonplace feature of his teams, and seemed (to an outsider) to behave in a colour blind fashion – supportive in particular of Wanganeen and Long off-field and on, yet making the hard (and I thought unjust) call to drop Derek Kickett from the 1993 Grand Final team.
    I found Martin Flanagan’s article (the Age, 30th May) about Derek Peardon being a significant influence in stimulating Sheedy’s interest in the aboriginal community, enlightening. It says a good deal for Sheeds’ intellectual curiosity that he reacted to Peardon in this way, unlike, I suspect, most of his then colleagues. I understand that he’s a voracious reader, and that he has maintained his interest in learning more and understanding more, through most of his life, an atypical back pocket plumber, perhaps.
    Budge, I don’t think anyone is suggesting quotas. In fact, at most clubs, indigenous players are in far greater proportion than in the general Australian community. Rod seems to be pointing to some suggestive evidence that James Hird inclines to a negative view of the value of indigenous players.

  4. The Pope says

    Is it time for the Dreamtime match to be shared around and awarded to the two teams with the most indigenous players on their list? Does it have to be played at the MCG? Does Michael Long have to walk to it?

  5. David Zampatti says

    What, and deprive us of another blockbuster between Collingwood, Essendon, Richmond and/or Carlton?

    That’s not very fan-friendly of you, Your Eminence.

  6. Dave Brown says

    I think the figures would back up a claim that that Indigenous players as a percentage of all players in the AFL has decreased over the last few years, perhaps most notably at Essendon (there were 82 players at 16 teams in 2009 and 71 at 18 teams in 2015).

    Let’s go back to the sacking of Matt Rendell at Adelaide. He was sacked ostensibly because he expressed an opinion that he would be reluctant to recruit Indigenous players (presumably he was referring particularly to those from regional / remote communities and interstate) because it was too difficult to keep them at the club.

    After such inappropriate comments the Crows and AFL were quick to remove him from the club. But my concern is that Rendell raised an issue that nobody has actually dealt with – there is a perception amongst AFL recruiters that Indigenous players are “difficult” and there are potentially real “go home” issues that the AFL and clubs need to get better at dealing with.

    It seems like it may have been easier to shoot the messenger and pretend a problem doesn’t exist. Meanwhile clubs are slowly backing away from meaningful commitment and relying more on the circumstantial.

  7. Rod Oaten says

    Budge, I don’t want quotas, I want flair and excitement, something that is lacking at Essendon at the moment.

  8. And only indigenous players can provide flair and excitement presumably?

  9. how about a indigenous coach like chris Johnson,players should be selected on there merit & ability,it should not matter what race they are or where they came from

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