Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer dies aged 84

Graham 'Polly' Farmer. Photo: Getty
Graham 'Polly' Farmer. Photo: Getty

ONE of Australian rules football’s greatest ever players, Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, has died.

Farmer, who was aged 84, died at Fiona Stanley Hospital surrounded by his family.

Farmer was a one of 12 original ‘legends’ inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and was widely credited with changing the way footy was played.

His name features prominently in discussions of who the game’s greatest ever player was, and he helped Geelong win a VFL premiership in 1963.

Polly Farmer in his Geelong days.

He was voted the club’s best and fairest player in that premiership year.

The ruckman also led East Perth and West Perth to WAFL premierships.

Farmer grew up at Sister Kate’s, an orphanage in Perth for Aboriginal children, and it was there he was given his famous nickname, Polly – so chosen because he talked a lot, like ‘Polly the Parrot’.

It was also at Sister Kate’s where he first played football.

Changing the game

He revolutionised the way football was played, in particular with his use of long handballs.

“Because I was big and not so coordinated, I found it easier to handpass than to try to evade players and kick,” he said.

“I understood that as a ruckman I had more opportunity to get the ball; and when I got the ball I was under pressure, so handballing enabled me to release it faster.”

He was named ruckman in the AFL/VFL team of the century.

Farmer won five WAFL premierships during his career, in 1956, 1958 and 1959 with East Perth and in 1969 and 1971 with West Perth.

He also won the Sandover medal three times – in 1956, 1957 and 1960.

Racial abuse

And his entire career was played under the shadow of cruel racial vilification.

Farmer, a Nyoongah man, acknowledged he was the victim of vile abuse on the football field, but he never responded, at least not with words.

“There would always be the chance to run through a bloke, knock him down. It worked better than words,” he said.

“I was on another planet when I ran out there, another wavelength.

“No matter what people would say, they were never going to put me off.”

Sydney Swans player Michael O’Loughlin described Farmer as a visionary whose legacy is more lasting than a name in a notional team.

“You go back to the Polly Farmers of this world and see how much they copped, but they kept soldiering on,” O’Loughlin once told an interviewer.

“They knew the bigger picture and that their people were depending on them. They paved the way for the rest of us who came after them.”

His commitment to his people led to the establishment of the Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer Foundation, an educational program for Aboriginal youth that operates around Australia.

His daughter Kim says the Foundation typified her father’s attitude to his life.

“Dad considered himself lucky to be welcomed and accepted into football at a time when the Australian government was controlling every aspect of Aboriginal life,” she said.

“He wanted other Aboriginal kids to have the opportunities that he had.

“Growing up with someone so remarkable and someone extremely humble, you took his greatness for granted. He really was ahead of his time.”

West Perth president Neale Fong said the club wanted to pass on its deepest sympathies to the Farmer family.

“He was a legend of Australian football and we are very pleased he came to West Perth in 1968 after playing with Geelong,” he said.

“Instead of returning to our great rival East Perth he chose us and we ended up winning two premierships – in 1969 and 1971 – with Polly as captain-coach.

“We are very grateful he was part of our club and history.

“It was a great era for us, cementing ourselves as a great club in WA.”

Fong said the club’s August 30 celebration at the Italian Club of West Perth’s 1969 premiership now became more poignant.

Polly Farmer Cup to honour great ruckman

Farmer had suffered from dementia for many years prior to his death.

His wife of 58 years, Marlene, with whom he had Kim and sons Brett and Dean, died in 2015.

Did you know Polly Farmer? Share your stories and email your tributes to editorial@communitynews.com.au.