The footy world is mourning the death of perhaps the greatest indigenous player and ruckman of all time, Graham "Polly" Farmer. Farmer, 84, died at his home in West Australia surrounded by family. He had been in poor health for some years and his wife Marlene revealed in 2012 that Farmer was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Farmer revolutionized the role of the ruckman with his sublime skills not only in the air, but at ground level as well. He lacked speed so used the handball as an attacking option when most other sides did not. He honed his handball skills in his native West Australia, where he would handball through a half-open car window. He was also a fitness fanatic, with daily running and weights sessions to, as he put it, "... to suffer the consequences of 100 minutes of football."
Farmer grew up in an orphanage for Aboriginal children in a Perth suburb. He always claimed the upbringing gave him a chance to make something of himself. It was at this orphanage where he received the nickname "Polly" for his talkative nature. Ironically, as a footballer, he was very quiet on the field.
He also suffered a bout of polio as as a child, leaving his dominant left leg slightly shorter than his right leg. But it did not stop him from joining East Perth at the age of 18 in 1953. As a ruckman, he developed the skill of leaping early to beat his opponent and gain possession of the ball and get it to a teammate. Two years later, Richmond got him to sign with them and he even moved to Melbourne but East Perth blocked the move so he had to return to West Australia. Six years later, and with numerous awards and several premierships to his name, he decided to try again for a spot with a a VFL club. Both Geelong and St Kilda were keen to get him but he was friends with Geelong coach Bob Davis, so he was off to the Cats. Davis said at the time that getting Farmer was "like all our Christmases at once". However, getting him did not come cheap with the Cats paying a then unprecedented £2,000 for his transfer fee from East Perth. It nearly seemed the money paid would be wasted when Farmer injured his left knee in his first game in 1962, restricting him to just six games that year. He came back the following year and formed a lethal pairing with rover Billy Goggin and was key to driving the Cats to the 1963 premiership. Davis said of Farmer, "With due respect to our other players, Polly was the team. He made all the others … The whole team improved around him. We wouldn't have won the '63 flag without him." Farmer's last game with Geelong would also provide the most bitter memory of his glittering career. It was the Grand Final loss to Richmond and Farmer believed his team had been unfairly treated by the umpires. After that game, he returned to be captain-coach at West Perth where he won two more premierships. He returned to coach Geelong for three seasons, but with no success.
Media personality Sam Newman was Farmer's understudy for four seasons and one of his biggest fans. Newman, in an interview with the Geelong Advertiser said, "Without speaking one word, he (Farmer) taught me everything I know. I watched how a man overcomes not the physical, not the mental, but the spiritual – that's the most important."
AFL boss CEO Gillon McLachlan said Farmer's legacy stretched beyond the football field, " ... as a proud Noongar man, he was a leader for the Aboriginal community and his standing in the game and in society enabled his people to believe that they too could ... achieve their best potential. He laid the path for so many great footballers from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to come into the elite levels of the game and showcase their skills.At every point of his career, his teams found success on the field, thanks largely to his dominance that built a record that few players could ever hope to match."
Geelong CEO said that Farmer was the "DNA" which shaped and defined the character of the Geelong Football Club. He went on to say, "Polly Farmer was a pioneering figure in both Australian football and in changing Australian culture. Polly’s record ... stands among the greatest that the game has known. He revolutionized football with his brilliant ruck play and use of handball ... He thrilled crowds both in Victoria and in Western Australia and was the first indigenous coach in the history of the VFL/AFL. The fact that Polly ... remains an iconic figure today for the Geelong faithful speaks to the impact he had on the club, our supporters and the region. The Geelong Football Club will forever be better due to the fact Polly played and coached us. Polly remained a role model for today’s players. He came to our team hotel a few years ago when we were playing in Perth and the excitement among our group was incredible. Polly had a caring side. Back in 2004 James Kelly suffered a broken leg in Perth and was forced to remain in hospital. Polly regularly visited him over that period. One Geelong person looking out for another ... While it is easy to focus on Polly’s feats as a player, his role as a family man was even more significant. His love of his wife Marlene and his three kids Brett, Dean and Kim was known to all ... ".
Former Richmond star Kevin Bartlett tweeted, "Sad to hear of the passing of Polly Farmer arguably the greatest player of his era and the games greatest ever ruckman . Changed the game of VFL football with his handball skills . How lucky was I as a young player to share a room with him in Ireland on the 68 Galahs tour. RIP"
East Perth 1953-61: 176 games, 157 goals
Geelong 1962-67: 101 games, 65 goals
West Perth 1968-71: 79 games, 55 goals
Western Australia: 31 games, 17 goals
Victoria: six games, six goals
Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee (Legend) 1996
He was unanimously voted in as an inaugural Legend when the Hall Of Fame was founded in 1996
AFL Team of the Century 1996 (ruck)
Western Australia Team of the Century
Geelong Team of the Century
West Perth Team of the Century
East Perth Post-War Team of the Century
Indigenous Team of the Century
2nd Brownlow Medal (equal) 1963
Sandover Medal 1956, 1957 (retrospective), 1960
(West Australia Brownlow equivalent)
Simpson Medal (WAFL Grand Final) 1959, 1969
(best on ground, WA Norm Smith Medal equivalent)
Simpson Medal (interstate) 1956, 1961
All Australian (carnival) 1956, 1958, 1961
Geelong best and fairest 1963, 1964
East Perth best and fairest 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961
West Perth best and fairest 1969
Geelong premiership 1963
East Perth premierships 1956, 1958, 1959
West Perth premierships 1969, 1971
Geelong captain 1965-67
West Perth 1968-71
East Perth 1976-77
Western Australia 1970-71, 1977
Source: afl.com.au, Stacey Oates, Geelong Media Release, sen.com.au (audio broadcast 8/14)
Article last changed on Monday, August 19, 2019 - 1:19 PM EDT