NT great David Kantilla during his playing days. Pictures: AFL.com.au / NTFL.com.au

FOR MANY the Tiwi Islands is a magical place where the names Rioli, Long, Campbell and Tipungwuti have become names affiliated with class and excellence. But the name of David Kantilla is not as easy to recall or locate.

Coming from the Tiwis and playing for St Mary's, Kantilla would become something of a cult figure in Adelaide when he arrived to play with South Adelaide.

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In his first game playing full-forward with the Panthers, he used his height and considerable leap and skill to kick six majors. However, his skills lent themselves more to the role of rucking duties and it was here that Kantilla would make a name for himself. Within two seasons playing with the Panthers, he would become the club's fairest and best.  

But the challenges for Kantilla were not just the distance of being away from his homelands and family, they were meteorological and personal.

A photograph in the local Adelaide paper sees Kantilla sitting in a hot bath covered in suds earning him the nickname 'Soapy'. Kantilla would spend many hours in a hot bath before and after games in Adelaide, such was the acute cold he was experiencing.

To exacerbate the social navigation, Kantilla's wife was also profoundly deaf.  With no family in Adelaide and playing in an era where David was not considered a citizen, the challenges for the Kantillas were considerable. Again, it was football and Kantilla's ability when he had it in his hands that enabled people to understand and care. 


Going on to play over 100 games over some six seasons, Kantilla would win four state games, becoming the first Tiwi Islander to achieve such a feat. Under the coaching and guidance of South Australian football great Neil Kerley, Kantilla would go on to win a premiership for the Panthers and become a genuine star of the SANFL competition. 

On return to the Tiwis around 1966, he worked on the Islands and became the captain-coach of St Mary's. However, in 1978 Kantilla was killed in a motor vehicle accident.

For many the legacy of David Kantilla is tangible, with the long heritage of players coming from the Top End and in the main function room at TIO Stadium being called Kantillas.