AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan said the death of Australian Football Hall of Fame Legend Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer had marked the passing of the greatest big man in the history of Australian football, and had taken a beacon from his wider community.
Farmer, 84, passed away on Wednesday in Perth surrounded by his family, after a long and courageous battle with illness in his latter years. McLachlan said Farmer’s pre-eminent place among the game’s champions was assured for as long as Australia's only Indigenous game was played into the future.
"When the Australian Football Hall of Fame was founded in 1996, Graham Farmer was one of the elite dozen players in our game’s history who was deemed both exceptional and worthy to be an inaugural Legend," Mr McLachlan said.
"When discussing ruckmen, every player who saw him play or took the field against him, deferred to Polly.
"Our game has always started in the centre square, with a contest between two big men, and Polly was the greatest of all the big men who seek to set the standard of competitiveness for their teams, lead from the front at every contest and compel their team mates to match their skills and commitment in the pursuit of victory.
"Beyond football, 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 reach the peaks and 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."
Across 19 seasons with East Perth and West Perth in the WAFL and with Geelong in the VFL, Farmer was a central part of six premiership sides, won 10 club best and fairest awards in all, as well as being a dominant player at state level for both Western Australia and Victoria.
Selected as an All Australian from three separate carnivals in 1956, 1958, 1961, he also won the Sandover Medal three times in the WAFL and is recognised as the First Ruckman in each of the AFL’s Team of the Century, the Geelong Team of the Century,the West Perth and East Perth Teams of the Century and the Indigenous Team of the Century, where he was also named captain.
Farmer is credited for changing the way in which the ruck position was played, as his skills evolved the position.
Using an early leap in the ruck contest to either take possession or to highlight his tap work to his smaller men, such as his partnership with Geelong rover Billy Goggin, he was a strong mark, good at ground level and was among the first to pioneer the use of attacking handball.
Farmer was a proud member of the Noongar clan from south-west Western Australia and his total senior game tally of 393 matches, when combining games for his WAFL and VFL clubs and matches at state level, is only exceeded among indigenous players by fellow Hall of Fame Legend Barry Cable (403 games in total for Perth/North Melbourne/East Perth/WA/Victoria).
We send our condolences to Polly’s family, community and those who carry on his influence through the important and meaningful work of the Polly Farmer Foundation, Empowering Aboriginal Students to reach their aspirations through education.
Australian Football Hall of Fame, Inaugural Legend of the Game (one of 12).
Played 176 games for East Perth 1953-61, kicking 157 goals.
Played 101 games for Geelong 1962-67, kicking 65 goals.
Played 79 games for West Perth 1968-71, kicking 55 goals.
Played 31 games for Western Australia, kicking 19 goals.
Played six games for Victoria, kicking six goals.
East Perth Best and Fairest 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961.
Geelong Best and Fairest 1963, 1964.
West Perth Best and Fairest 1969.
Sandover Medal 1956, 1957, 1960.
Simpson Medal 1959.
East Perth premiership 1956, 1958, 1959.
Geelong premiership 1963.
West Perth premiership 1969, 1971 (both as playing coach).
All Australian 1956, 1958, 1961.
AFL Team of the Century (First Ruck).
Indigenous Team of the Century (First Ruck, captain).
Geelong Team of the Century (First Ruck).
West Perth Team of the Century (First Ruck).
East Perth Post War Team of the Century (First Ruck).
West Perth coach 1968-71 for premierships in 1969 and 1971.
Geelong coach 1973-75.
East Perth coach 1976-77.