BY CLINT GILES AND PETER CORNWALL
First Nations footballers have made an indelible mark on our great game.
Over the years there have been countless Indigenous players whose skills have enriched the SANFL and been loved by fans, no matter which team you follow.
While it would be a herculean task to try to identify them all, we have attempted to highlight some of the Indigenous stars who have made their mark on SA footy.
Apologies to those who may not have been included.
Sturt has had an abundance of star quality going back to Roger Rigney, whose wonderful roving contributed to the club’s golden era of the late 1960s, playing in all the Blues’ grand final triumphs from 1966-70.
Michael Graham wasn’t known as ‘the Flash’ for nothing, his electrifying pace and at times freakish skills making him a huge favourite at Unley and he starred in premierships in 1974 and ’76.
He finished runner-up to the great Barrie Robran for the Magarey Medal in 1973 and was third in 1982, deservedly selected in the Australian Football Indigenous Team of the Century in 2005. Graham, still regularly seen at Sturt games and AFL footy at Adelaide Oval, holds the record number of SANFL games by an Indigenous player at 282 and he also booted an impressive 455 goals. And he represented SA in 11 State games.
More recently, Blues premiership player Byron Sumner not only designed Sturt’s Indigenous guernseys in 2018 and ’19 he produced personally-designed boots for him and fellow Indigenous Blues star Danyle Pearce to wear. Since then Shane McAdam and Ash Johnson have kicked off league careers at Sturt before going on to shine in the AFL.
Harry Hewitt was SANFL’s first Indigenous player. Representing Medindie, the forerunner of North Adelaide Football Club, in what was then called the SAFA, Harry hailed from Raukkan, which colonists named Point McLeay Mission.
Picked to play for Medindie on 22 June 1889 against Port on Adelaide Oval he had the crowd abuzz. A newspaper report enthused: “Hewitt, an Aboriginal, was a decided acquisition, and although he played barefooted was about the best man amongst them, his alacrity all through the game eliciting the applause of the spectators.”
Alfie Spender, another talented Raukkan, played with Hewitt against Norwood the following week, both playing solid games for the Dingoes. The legacy of the Raukkan talent continued in 2018 when Robbie Young, a Ngarrandjeri man, became North’s first Indigenous premiership player.
Greg McAdam was the first Indigenous player to win North’s best-and-fairest award – in 1980 – and to represent the State, in 1982. While down from Alice Springs and staying with his Uncle Elliot in 1977 he had debuted aged just 16 years, 6 months and 9 days.
High-flying Paul Ah Chee, Jason Roe and Matthew Campbell have been other star Indigenous Roosters, while Keanu Miller, Nigel Lockyer and Gibson Turner are now at Prospect.
Port Adelaide’s Richie Bray was the first Indigenous player to win a premiership at the famous club in 1962 and he added further flags in 1963 and ’65. He played 77 games and kicked 65 goals for the club over a career spanning eight years.
The Magpies have had plenty of stars such as Malcolm Cooper, Ross Agius, Shane and Troy Bond, Peter Burgoyne, Shaun Burgoyne – who went on to play a remarkable 407 AFL games – silky smooth Andrew McLeod, later to win Norm Smith Medals as best-afield in Adelaide Crows grand final wins in 1997-98, Eugene Warrior, (who also played with Norwood), Michael O’Brien, Stephen O’Brien, the brilliant Gavin Wanganeen – later a Brownlow Medallist and captain of Port Adelaide Power AFL side – and Byron Pickett, a future Norm Smith Medallist. Jase Burgoyne is now shining with the Magpies.
David Kantilla is a huge name at South Adelaide. The incredibly talented, high-flying big man was the Panthers’ first Indigenous premiership player (1964), State player and best-and-fairest winner.
Eddie Fry was a smooth-moving star of the late 1970s, who moved to Sturt in the early ’80s and shone there as well.
Quicksilver rover Mark Naley was one of the club’s most decorated players. He helped SA dominate in 16 State-of-Origin matches, was a Fos Williams Medallist, Tassie Medallist, dual All-Australian and Magarey Medallist in 1991 (after twice finishing second), while also winning a premiership with Carlton in 1987.
There have also been Gerry Hurst, Graham Aitken, Kent Jackson, Derek Murray, Damien Rigney, Trevor Rigney, Alwyn Davey, Roland Ah Chee, Matthew Rankine, Abe Davis (who also played for Sturt), Malcolm Karpany, Kim Kantilla – David’s great-grandson – and current star Hayden Sampson.
Glenelg’s first in a long line of Indigenous players was Syd Jackson, the smooth, skilful rover who had been a premiership star at Carlton. He played at the Bay under John Nicholls, his former Blues boss.
After him came Mark Motlop, whose nephew Marlon designed the club’s wonderful ‘Stay Strong’ Indigenous guernsey – along with his cousin Keelan Fejo – and starred in the 2019 grand final win.
There’s been Terry and Ian Milera, Kelvin Maher, Dom Barry, Tim Sumner and Shane Tipuamantamerri , while Junior Rioli and Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera have gone on to AFL careers. James Bell and Connor McLeod, son of Crows great Andrew, are playing at the Bay this year.
West Adelaide’s Henry Peckham – originally from Alice Springs – kicked five goals on debut in 1950.
]The mercurial Bertie Johnson quickly became a crowd favourite, the speedster becoming the first Indigenous player to represent the State and starring in the Bloods’ 1961 premiership.
He was then lured to North Melbourne. Crows ace Izak Rankine started at West, while Kenny Karpany played 68 games and kicked 45 goals until last season.
West Torrens had David Lee, Ken Croft, Joe Clarke, spectacular speedster Kevin Hill, who 129 games for the Eagles, Allan Calyun, Robert Muir (originally from St Kilda, who also played with Woodville), Michael Long (for a season before he went to Essendon), his brother Noel Long and Kevin Taylor.
Of the recent Eagles, classy midfielder Jared Petrenko was club best-and-fairest in 2016, while small forward Tyson Stengle played a key role in their 2021 premiership before being recruited by Geelong and starring in the Cats’ 2022 flag, adding All-Australian selection for good measure.
Norwood had John Clarke, the rugged half-back, brother of West Torrens’ Joe Clarke, whose brilliant career was sadly cut short by a severe knee injury.
Since then, the Redlegs have featured Joe Ahmat, Matthew Ahmat, Robbie Ahmat, David Byrnes, Geoffrey Clark, Tony Johnstone, Paul Motlop, John Tye, Anthony Wilson – now at Port Adelaide – Luke Wilson, Austin Wonaemirri and Roland Ah Chee.
Sonny Morey is an iconic figure at Central District. Morey, a child of the Stolen Generations, is a positive person whose inspirational story was told in the book Sonny by Robert Laidlaw and Robin Mulholland.
He was runner-up to Malcolm Blight for the 1972 Magarey Medal, won a club best-and-fairest award and was the first Bulldog to play 200 games.
Just about as popular was Wilbur Wilson. When he wheeled onto his left foot anywhere near the goals the crowd at the Ponderosa immediately came to life. And there was plenty of excitement when Phil Graham, 1989 Magarey Medallist Gilbert McAdam, big-kicking Derek Kickett, pocket rocket Eddie Hocking and Shane Tongerie had the ball.
Eddie Sansbury kicked five goals in the Doggies’ 2003 grand final win while Jonathon Griffin was a premiership player in 2007. The Lochowiak brothers, Anzac, Mihail and Jacob joined the club from Sturt this year.
Four Indigenous players have represented Adelaide in the SANFL this season.
AFL-listed Shane McAdam and Tariek Newchurch have been joined by Crows SANFL development players Isaya McKenzie and Blayne O’Loughlin.
McAdam, recruited from Sturt at the end of 2018, is the nephew of Central great Gilbert McAdam. Eighteen Indigenous players have represented Adelaide in the SANFL since 2014. Charlie Cameron showed his early potential with the Crows while mercurial Eddie Betts made a SANFL guest appearance kicking four goals against Glenelg at the Bay in 2019.
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