FOR MANY who read Marlion Pickett's new biography the themes raised in it will possibly be some they had not considered before.
Despite it being a battler/football story, it reads like a Steinbeck novel cum Tarantino film due to the vividly unfolding drama on almost every page. Alliteration aside, this is not because of the glitz and glamour of football that Pickett has transitioned into but the hard tack, everyday experiences of urban Noongar life where Pickett is from. It is a world barely seen or understood by white Australia.
Written by the crime fiction author and Australia's proto-punk, Dave Warner, in conjunction with Pickett, the book is an insight into the social world of urban Indigenous Australia, primarily that of Noongars, the traditional owners of the south-west of Western Australia.
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Noongars have made up approximately 20 per cent of the Indigenous AFL playing cohort for about 25 years. These include some of the greatest to have played like Graham 'Polly' Farmer, Barry Cable, Peter and Phil Matera, Nicky Winmar, Phil, Jimmy and Andrew Krakouer, Lance Franklin, Michael Johnson and Michael Walters. Pickett's name is now etched into that long football heritage.
Incredulously, the thing about Pickett's story is that it nearly did not happen.
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Playing his first league game in the 2019 AFL Grand Final, Pickett's story became the story given the game was ostensibly over at half-time.
Since the Richmond victory Pickett's story has been held up to the light many times in the press and on Australian Story, illuminating his battles through life making errors with almost every decision. Drugs, jail, alcohol, violence, suicide, aimlessness, alienation, racism and injury all play their part in Pickett's world.
I have read plenty of these stories before, but never have I read it in such a concentrated and unflinching way.
The thing about Pickett's story is that if it only achieved a redemption story it would be great. The fact that it reads like a thriller where at literally every juncture in his life Pickett seems to stand at the edge of the abyss, makes it something more than just a 'footy book'.
For me it is hard to understand how he survived intact and sane. He does so because he loves his family and his football and all those who showed faith in him. In the end it is because of Pickett's love of himself and his absolute determination to make something out of his life which gets him through.
There are many staunch, quiet heroes in the book.
The primary one is Pickett's partner, Jess Nannup. The love they have for one another, as evidenced by their children, is the circuit breaker for Pickett to leave his wayward, pointless ways. Nannup's stoicism and care is breathtaking and precisely the type of support Pickett required to get to the next level and then the next.
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Nannup says: "Marlion was inside for two years. I stuck by him then and I’ll stick by him now."
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His manager and South Fremantle director Anthony Van Der Wielen is another. Like a figure out of The Sopranos, Van Der Wielen employs all his street smarts and business acumen to help his charge. He does this by telling Pickett's story to anyone who will listen in clubland, and that he steps up at critical times where all hope seems lost. Realising in Pickett there is a player of considerable talent, he also understands that the challenges Pickett has had are not insurmountable, but they are challenges none the less. For Pickett and Van Der Wielen it is about respect and rapport.
The other is the author Dave Warner. When I first heard he was writing the book I was taken aback. Crime fiction and writing lyrics are one thing, to go into a story like Pickett's and extract the crucial elements so that it may speak is another. Add the challenges of Zoom meetings and phone calls due to COVID-19 and to arrive at a place of knowing one's subject intimately is a feat to be applauded. Warner has kicked out the jams with aplomb and care.
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For me what the Marlion Pickett story does is show yet again the redemptive power of football.
There are several stories like this now in the public domain: Syd Jackson's, Andrew Krakouer's, Polly Farmer's. But the flip side to this is the many stories that don't end well for many different reasons. Shane Yarran and Chris Yarran are but two.
The Pickett book does not sugar coat or dress up the challenges that First Nations players face. It is not a primer on 'how to save the Aboriginal footballer'.
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What it does is show that when preparation meets opportunity, success can be achieved. Not just on-field success, memberships or premiership points. It offers something more. It offers hope and the understanding that if real coexistence is to be achieved and reconciliation is to be maintained, all parties have to take ownership and start to listen.
Listening and understanding help open our hearts and minds, and this is why football is so important. It disarms us and enables us to share in a shared history that has had so much damage along the way.
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Football and Pickett's story is about mending these fractured elements and through its lesson we become better - better as a community, better as a nation, better as people. We just have to have the belief it can happen and, just like Marlion, we roll up our sleeves and get on with it.