During NAIDOC Week, we acknowledge Sonny Morey’s journey from being a child of the stolen generation to his remarkable contribution and achievements with the Central District Football Club and country football in SA.
By Peter Argent
Sonny Morey is a proud Arrernte man who has overcame huge obstacles and biases to win the respect and love of everyone he met across his personal, sporting and work careers.
He is a true icon of South Australian football both at community and SANFL State League level, and in his own quiet and thoughtful way, an Indigenous leader.
“Perhaps the most distinguishing legacy of Sonny Money, the person and footballer, was that team mate and opponents alike, everybody loved him,” Bulldogs CEO and servant for more than four decades, Kris Grant said.
“He started his career with us as a wingman and half forward and in the second half developed into a dashing back pocket, who has a wonderful understanding with our full back Bill Cochrane.”
A child of the stolen generation, Morey was born in 1945 at Yambah Station, about 63km north of Alice Springs, last seeing his birth mother as a seven-year-old.
He was taken by the “government officials” of the day under the draconian “Aboriginal Children’s Act” of 1913.
Despite the trauma of twice enduring highly uncompromising situations and completely new environments, Morey still found a way to engage and connect with the people across his life, reflecting his tenacity, courage and kind-hearted nature.
At St Francis House, Morey join brotherhood that would include a number of the strategic indigenous luminaries of Australia.
These included iconic names like John Moriarty, Charles Perkins – the man that designed the Aboriginal flag – Harold Thomas, Port Adelaide premiership footballer Richie Bray, sportsman-academic Gordon Briscoe and activist-sportsman-administrator, the late Vince Copley.
Morey would move to Gawler in his mid-teens, fostered by the McGuire family.
His connection to Australian Rules football flourished with the Gawler Central Tigers in the Gawler and Districts competition.
While naturally quiet by nature, Sonny quickly cultivated friends and played in the ‘62 season alongside fellow indigenous lad Merv Rigney.
Morey won Gawler Central Best and Fairest at A-grade level in both 1961 and ’62, and in ‘63 finished his tenure with the Tigers on Grand Final day.
Sadly, for the Gawler Central faithful, Morey and the Tigers went down to crosstown rivals South Gawler by 15 points.
He was a part of the new era at expansion SANFL Club Central District in 1964, selected as a teenager to debut in the Bulldogs first league match.
One of the pioneers of SANFL football from an aboriginal perspective in the 1960s, along with the likes of Bertie Johnson (West), Roger Rigney (Sturt), the late David Kantilla (South) and Bray (Port), Morey is credited with the first kick by a Central District footballer at league level in the opening game against West Torrens at Thebarton Oval.
After being a member of the Bulldogs first senior premiership in 1971 – the Reserves win over Sturt – and in the same year marrying Carmel McSkimming, Sonny reinvented himself as a back pocket player.
He would represent South Australia in interstate football and go on to become the first Bulldog to play 200 SANFL league games.
Sonny was runner up to Malcolm Blight in the 1972 Magarey Medal count for the fairest and most brilliant player in the competition.
After retiring from SANFL football Sonny took on the job as captain-coach of the Eudunda Football Club in the Barossa and Light competition.
His three-year plan delivered results in the first season, with the Eudunda Roosters collecting a first A grade flag in 18 years.
Eudunda president at the time, Ian Knight, said that back in the 1970s the club was looking for a playing coach.
“It was between Nuriootpa and us, vying to for Sonny’s services,” Knight explained.
“It was seen as a bold move to select Sonny, but with his wonderful disposition he quickly one over anyone that needed to be converted.
“He played an integral role in that success and there are many fond memories of Sonny’s time at Eudunda.
“With Carmel and the girls, they quickly became a much loved part of our community.”
In 1981, Morey took over as Under 17s coach at Central District, again creating history.
His nearly decade-long involvement at this level of the game was highlighted by the 1985 Under 17 premiership, the first junior grand final at SANFL level played at Football Park.
He had a telling influence over a generation of young men that went through the underage programs at the Ponderosa.
His coaching career finished with a couple of seasons as senior coach of the Salisbury Magpies in the then Central District Football Association competition.
His love of sport continued to this day, as he is a very keen golfer, who has amazingly had three “holes in one”.
When the SANFL selected its Aboriginal team of the Ages made up of indigenous players who have played at least one League game in the SANFL, Sonny commanded a position the back pocket, and also as coach of this team.
Equally important in Sonny’s story is his work life, both at the PMG department (or Telstra as it was later known) and then a powerful 12-year career with South Australian Police, including roles working with aboriginal communities.
Now the Patriarch of four generations, Sonny and Carmel have two daughters Kim and the Nicole, four grandchildren and a great-grand child.
Nicole has three children, Christopher, Michael and Tarnee, with Kim having a son Kyan.
Nicole’s son Chris has added to the family tree with young Marley Sonny.
Morey, with good mate Wilbur (Wilfred) Wilson, attended the SANFL Indigenous Round game between Central District and South Adelaide on the weekend, and also will be at the Barossa Light Gawler Indigenous Round game on July 9 where Gawler Central take on Kapunda.
His remarkable life story was told in the biography, “Sonny”, released in 2020 and written by respected journalist Robert Laidlaw and Morey’s Central District teammate Robin Mulholland.
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