Tell me about ‘Polly’

I never saw Geelong’s Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer play live.


But, my one distinct memory was the photo of Polly kicking, long legs, broad stance, Geelong colours- the photo in black and white, so I had to imagine, in Farmer’s book.


I was four years old, spread out reading Polly Farmer’s book on my Mum and Dad’s bed, a tradition I had taken up before I was school-aged, ‘reading’ Dad’s Geelong books, which are now passed on to me.


I would ponder over this photo of Polly, trace my fingers over his boots and wonder how he played the game.


Then my Dad would come in and find me, smile beaming because his indoctrination for Geelong had worked, and I’d say:


“Tell me about Polly”


And he would.


“He changed the game, Anna. To me, growing up, he WAS Geelong.”


I would smile and nod and wish I could’ve see him play, just once.


“He invented the handball and he would pass it 50-odd metres every time,” Dad would tell me.


And I could so easily close my eyes and see the tall number five, dominating like a midfielder, moving so effortlessly, as if I was at a game watching him.


I could see the ball move from his one handball – and the game would open up, in a way no ruck man should be able to crack open a passage of play. Revolutionary.


As I grew older, Dad would find old videos of Polly and he’d dissect them with me.


He had a beautiful kick from a set shot and I’d back him if he played today to boot one for the win after the siren.


He’d take commanding marks and immediately handball to get the game moving. There was no stopping his quick pace and his roving skills, either.


That black and white footage would roll through my mind, just like I had pictured years before. I was in awe of his physique, his movement for his height of 191cm.


“This is what they do now Dad, big handballs,” my seven-year-old self would say, smartly.


“Yes, but Polly started this, way back in the 1960s, and I’ve never seen anyone handball as far as Polly,” Dad would tell me.


You can’t argue with Dad’s logic and knowledge on Polly, a man who my father told me ‘epitomised Geelong’.


Polly’s intelligence on field was mastered through his ferociousness to attack every ball and to make space in an ever-changing game.


Polly said that he prepared himself by setting his mind to “be the best on the ground in the game” and he did that weekly.


His ruck dominance was forefront to Geelong breaking their 11-year premiership drought in 1963.


But, he was more than football down at Kardinia Park. He was in the heart of every Geelong person, for his fearlessness on field, his coolness and kindness off field and his work within the ‘Polly Farmer Foundation’ – where he empowered Aboriginal students to dream and reach their educational goals.


Only last week, Dad and I were having a conversation about who would be considered in Geelong’s top five players of all time.


We debated the order, between a fair few, including Jimmy Bartel, Corey Enright, Gary ‘Buddha’ Hocking, Gary Ablett Junior, Gary Ablett Senior and of course, our Polly.


Dad was tossing up number one between Senior and Polly.


And just yesterday, he told me he decided that his number one is Polly.


I didn’t ask why, because I remembered the years of stories, the way my Dad spoke in awe of him.


I’m glad I asked my Dad to tell me about our Polly. I wish I could’ve seen him play, but the vivid memories my Dad shares somehow make me feel like I knew him, too.


So, for now, we say farewell and thank-you, to the big man with a big heart and love for the Geelong Football Club, the game and its people, which he revolutionised.


Rest in peace, Mr Geelong… the man who just wanted to play footy.



Australian Football Hall of Fame, Inaugural Legend of the Game (one of 12).
Played 176 games for East Perth 1953-61, kicking 157 goals.
Played 101 games for Geelong 1962-67, kicking 65 goals.
Played 79 games for West Perth 1968-71, kicking 55 goals.
Played 31 games for Western Australia, kicking 19 goals.
Played six games for Victoria, kicking six goals.
East Perth Best and Fairest 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961.
Geelong Best and Fairest 1963, 1964.
West Perth Best and Fairest 1969.
Sandover Medal 1956, 1957, 1960.
Simpson Medal 1959.
East Perth premiership 1956, 1958, 1959.
Geelong premiership 1963.
West Perth premiership 1969, 1971 (both as playing coach).
All Australian 1956, 1958, 1961.
AFL Team of the Century (First Ruck).
Indigenous Team of the Century (First Ruck, captain).
Geelong Team of the Century (First Ruck).
West Perth Team of the Century (First Ruck).
East Perth Post War Team of the Century (First Ruck).
West Perth coach 1968-71 for premierships in 1969 and 1971.
Geelong coach 1973-75.
East Perth coach 1976-77.



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About Anna Pavlou

Anna 'Pav' Pavlou is a current student and a born and bred Melburnian who has a passion for sport and sharing people's stories. She is an intern journalist for AFL VICTORIA and writes for The Roar, the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA Media), the Mongrel Punt and is a Melbourne Cricket Club contributor. She also appears on North West FM 98.9 radio show. Most winter weekends you'll find her down at the Ross Gregory Oval in St Kilda, supporting Power House FC, who play in Division 2 in the VAFA. She works as the Division 2 writer for the VAFA. She completed work experience with 3AW Radio and has been published in The Age as well as with Carlton FC and Geelong Cats. Check out her website below for more sport pieces!


  1. george smith says

    The Vics v WA game was beamed into our lounge room in 1970. Polly Farmer, who had returned to WA the previous year, gave the national audience a final farewell as he dominated as best on ground, marking everything, rucking everything and like another champion Moggy 19 years later, played as a one man team and fell agonisingly short.
    It was Collingwood’s Wayne Richardson who kicked an opportunist goal at the last minute to deny the West its greatest victory over the big V.
    Such was 1970, the year of shattered dreams.

  2. I wish I had have seen him play.

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    I was fortunate to see Polly play a few times. My mate’s dad got us into the the Geelong rooms after a match at Kardinia Park in 63 or 64 (I think). I remember standing in awe next to Polly and everyone wanting to shake his hand which he did without a second thought. Interestingly, Tony Polinelli was sitting nearby on a bench lighting up his pipe for a smoke. Fond memories of Polly and Billy Goggin, a magical pair.

  4. Terri Marley says

    Loved reading your story about Polly, I agree with Dad, Polly was Footy for me, he increased my love of the game, he seemed to be so much more skilful than many others. I remember telling someone that he seemed to glide gracefully around the ground. That was the feeling he left me with. I was a keen Cats fan as a kid, a Melbourne girl, I went to the 1963 Premiership and my Dad ( a dedicated Tigers fan) finally gave up on me and paid for my first Geelong Membership in 1964. I proudly look at that on the back of my Membership Ticket as I go through the gate and I’ve often thought of Polly over the years. Go Cats and thanks Polly Farmer, what a Legend

  5. Aaaaah Polly Farmer, a ballerina amongst elephants, what a champ ….

    If you haven’t already read it, do yourself a favour and get Steve (Bob’s son) Hawke’s biography on the great man, the best footy book i have ever read by a country mile and he autographed for me also …..

  6. I watched Gerard and ‘Robbo’ interview Mike Sheehan and ‘Sammy’ Newman on AFL 360 last night. I’m so over hearing the latter.

    However he spoke wonderfully well of the respect he had for ‘Polly’ the years, 64 to 67 they played together, how much he learnt from ‘Polly.’ Good to see Newman in a respectful, appropriate appearance. He rated ‘Polly’ so highly.

    I never saw’ Polly’ play, his time at Geelong finishing two years before i barracked for them. But his was a name everyone was in awe of, a footballer whose brilliance was such he changed the national game.

    Vale Graeme ‘Polly’ Farmer


  7. Polly’s record is phenomenal and if the Eagles or Dockers were around then we would surely rate him higher as he would have almost certainly played all his career for one of those clubs. So well over 300 games, arguably 10 best and fairests, numerous premierships.
    Remember, he did his knee in his second game (i think) at Geelong and basically played the rest of his career on one leg. Was a coup by Bobby Davis to lure Polly over and thee fans wanted to see him play.
    I agree with Garry that Steve Hawke’s biography is a classic and worth reading.

  8. Anna, I wish that I had seen him play, too

  9. Hi Anna,

    Polly Farmer really was as brilliant and creative as everyone says.

    As a young Geelong fan in the 1960’s I was privileged to attend many of his games, including his first VFL game at Carlton (when he copped the knee injury), his last for the Cats in the 1967 Grand Final and his wonderful Premiership triumph in 1963. I even made it to the 1970 Vic-WA game at the MCG which was vintage Farmer.

    I can honestly say I never saw Polly play a poor game. The best any opponent could do was negate him somewhat. The great John Nicholls did this better than most but I feel sure that even John would never claim that he beat Polly on the day.

    Although he lost some pace and leaping ability after the knee injury Polly adapted his game so that he became the most gifted exponent of handball as an offensive weapon the game has ever seen. Just imagine an even better, ruckman size version of Greg Williams and you begin to get the idea.

    In my view among his greatest assets was his ability to win the ball through great body positioning (he was immensely strong) and use of his hips to get a ‘ride’ from his opponent in ruck contests and around the ground. His vision and awareness then enabled him to distribute the ball brilliantly to teammates via handball, deft taps and accurate kicks. Often these disposals didn’t go far but were nevertheless very effective.

    His influence on our great game was immeasurable. His legacy is assured.

    I have never seen a better footballer.

    Cheers, Burkie

  10. In the 1960s, my siblings and I were dropped off at Kardinia Park at 11:00 and picked up at 6.00 on every ‘home game’ Saturday. So pretty much saw every game Polly played there and Cats losses were virtually unknown, as I recall. When the pressure was on , Polly to Billy to Doug for a torp goal. Always a torp. Polly was always composed, regal, on top of everything. I remember he went down in a centre ruck dual .. and the whole game stopped. Both sides and umpires rushed to express concern. It took about 5 minutes to settle everyone and then the game resumed. No better player.

  11. Unfortunately, I never saw Polly play but after reading your article Anna, I wish I had – brilliant (both the article and Polly). Polly to Geelong must have been similar to Big Bill Wedding to Norwood – only much better.

    Keep writing Anna, I like your style.

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