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How Graham 'Polly' Farmer changed the game

How Polly changed the game A look at the life and achievements of indigenous great Graham Polly Farmer
Current Geelong No.5 Nakia Cockatoo with a mural of Graham 'Polly' Farmer - AFL,Indigenous,Graham Farmer
Current Geelong No.5 Nakia Cockatoo with a mural of Graham 'Polly' Farmer
I understood that as a ruckman I had more opportunity to get the ball; and when I got the ball I was under pressure, so handballing enabled me to release it faster.
Polly Farmer

GRAHAM ‘Polly’ Farmer has gathered accolades as easily as he gathered possessions.

The West Australian and Geelong great – one of the original 12 Legends inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in 1996 – boasts many claims to fame.

Farmer is the game’s greatest ruckman, probably the greatest Aboriginal player, possibly the game’s greatest player, arguably the greatest team-maker given he piloted Geelong and WAFL clubs East Perth and West Perth to premierships, and the first player to use handball as a weapon.

He is also a proud member of the Noongar clan, which originated in the south-west corner of Western Australia and has proven such a fertile breeding ground for footballers.

Aside from Farmer, the Noongar clan lays claim to producing, among others, fellow Legend Barry Cable, the Krakouer brothers (Jim and Phil), Nicky Winmar, Peter Matera and, more recently, Lance Franklin.

Former Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy, that great nurturer of Aboriginal footballers, described the Noongar as a feared warrior tribe – "the Zulus of this nation".

That warrior spirit was alive in Farmer, who fought overwhelming odds to achieve greatness.

Graham Vivian Farmer grew up at Sister Kate’s orphanage for mixed-descent Aboriginal children in Perth.

"If it had not been for Sister Kate’s, I would have had an ice block’s hope in hell of ever leading a normal life," Farmer later recalled. "I was one of the lucky ones."

It was at Sister Kate’s where Farmer received his famous nickname – he was originally called ‘Polly the Parrot’ because he talked so much. Ironically, as a footballer, he spoke little on the field.

As a boy, Farmer suffered from polio, resulting in his dominant left leg being slightly shorter than his right leg. Football was the vehicle to a better life.

Farmer carried a footy everywhere and, after researching the training methods of champions in various sports, dedicated himself to achieving maximum fitness.

"I prepared myself to suffer the consequences of 100 minutes of football," he told the AFL Record in 2006.

Handball was the key to Farmer’s game from a young age.

"Because I was big and not so coordinated, I found it easier to handpass than to try to evade players and kick," he said.

"I understood that as a ruckman I had more opportunity to get the ball; and when I got the ball I was under pressure, so handballing enabled me to release it faster."

He was also a revolutionary ruckman who would jump early into his opponent and either palm the ball or grab it and handball clear of the congestion to a running teammate. At Geelong, that teammate was often Bill Goggin.

"It was incredible to watch," Geelong’s late premiership coach Bob Davis once told the AFL Record.

"With due respect to all of our players at the time, Polly was the team. He made all the others.

"Without him, we wouldn’t have won the 1963 premiership."

Footy history would have been quite different had Farmer been granted his wish for a clearance to Richmond at the end of 1955, when the then 20-year-old signed with the Tigers and even relocated to Melbourne.

Six years later he chose Geelong over St Kilda because of his friendship with coach Davis, who recalled that snaring Farmer on a massive contract was "like all our Christmases had come at once".

Wherever he played, Farmer won flags and individual awards.

He claimed three Sandover medals in five years (one retrospectively), finished runner-up in a Brownlow Medal and won 10 best and fairest awards and several Team of the Century honours.