Norm McDonald (right) in action during his career with Essendon. Picture:

IN AN era where there was barely an Aboriginal player, let alone any Torres Strait Islander players, Norm McDonald stood out from the field due to his wiry build but also the way he played the game.

Born in 1925 just before the Great Depression, McDonald came from a tough inner-city existence in Richmond and this was bolstered by his heritage as he is from the 'fighting' Gunditjamara. 

SIR DOUG NICHOLLS ROUND Explore the Indigenous history of our game

Having served in the Royal Australian Air Force, he commenced his career with Essendon in 1947. In this debut year he would take out the best first-year player award due to his ability to read the play and his speed – a perfect skill set coming off the half-back line. 

Encouraged by his coach Dick Reynolds to play his natural game, McDonald was so good at both of these things that he developed a novel approach of positional play. In an era of backs 'wearing the forwards like gloves', McDonald would stand several metres off his opponent, giving him a running option should the ball become loose and bounce his way. But given his speed and football literacy, if the ball did arrive to his opponent 'laces out' McDonald would close the space down quickly and out mark his opponent or destroy the ball movement into the forward line.


He became a favourite at Windy Hill where his dashing runs were highlights of the games when a dearth of innovation in coaching and playing could result in contests that were more dour than spectacular.

It was through his style that McDonald caught the eye of state selectors, playing for Victoria twice and winning premierships with Essendon in 1949 and 1950 and also the Essendon fairest and best award in 1951. In the following year he would play his 100th game for the Bombers. 

McDonald was a natural athlete and also competed in boxing and athletic events, mainly sprints, in country Victoria and remained active in his communities until his death in late 2002.