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Graham Vivian ‘Polly’ Farmer (1935-2019), a Noongar man from Western Australia, grew up in Sister Kate’s Children’s Cottage Home. It is thought his mother did not have the resources to care for her son and left him voluntarily at Sister Kate’s.

After a childhood running around outside at Sister Kate’s, and despite a bout of polio which meant one of his legs was shorter than the other, Graham began playing Australian Rules Football (AFL) with the East Perth Royals in 1953. By 1955 he had become a star.

Graham Farmer’s 1956 season was almost the stuff of legend. While representing Western Australia at the Perth carnival he won both the Simpson Medal as his state’s best in the win over South Australia, and the Tassie Medal as the top player of the series. Needless to say, All Australian selection also followed. Later in the year he won the first of three Sandover Medals (one of which was awarded retrospectively), and helped the Royals to a Grand Final victory over South Fremantle (Devaney).

Farmer moved to Victoria and the Geelong Cats team at the end of the 1961 season.

He chose the Cats because as he reflected,“I wanted to get with a club that had struggled and were looking to achieve some sort of success.” And at the age of twenty-seven in 1962, Farmer’s VFL career with the Cats began (Gorman).

In 1963, the Cats beat Hawthorn to take out the premiership, and Farmer was named Geelong’s Best and Fairest (as he was also in 1964).

Farmer was renowned for his attacking tapouts, and constructive use of handball, as well as his outstanding leadership and ability to overcome injury, which saw him become one the giants of the competition and famed for his battles with other greats, particularly Carlton’s John Nicholls (Sports Australia).

Before Farmer’s prominence in Victoria, Aboriginal Australian footballers were little known. He chose to ignore the racism he experienced.

Graham Farmer returned to Western Australian in 1968 and became the coach for West Perth in the Western Australian Football League (WAFL). He was the first Aboriginal Australian coach in the AFL. As a coach, Farmer is remembered as a hard task-master but …

It paid off, and in 1969 and 1971, West Perth beat their arch-rivals and Farmer’s old club, East Perth (Gorman).

Farmer has received many accolades, including “greatest ruckman“, “greatest Aboriginal player” and “first player to use handball as a weapon.”

He was an innovator in football, he was courageous in football, he was one of the first adventurers…He thrilled the crowds, that’s what I remember the most, the way he took the ball before the peak and hand-balled it before he landed (Brian Cook, cited by ABC News).

Amongst many other awards, in 1970 Graham Farmer was the first footballer to receive an MBE (Member of the British Empire).  He was inducted into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and received a Centenary Medal in 2001 for his services to Australian football. In 1996, the Graham Farmer Freeway, a 6.4-kilometre freeway linking the Perth suburbs of West Perth and Leederville, was named in his honour.

Graham Farmer established the Polly Farmer Foundation in 1994. The Foundation supports Aboriginal Australian students to complete their secondary education and “move into successful post-school pathways, including university, direct employment, apprenticeships, traineeships and technical training.”

Graham Farmer died in 2019 after a decade of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In 2020, he was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated brain trauma, such as concussion. CTE can only be diagnosed after death during an autopsy.


Australian Associated Press. “Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer the first Australian rules footballer to diagnosed with CTE.” The Guardian, 27 February 2020. 

Buti, Tony. “Against all odds, Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer sparked a football revolution.” WAtoday, 15 August 2019. Available here.

Devaney, John. “Graham ‘Polly Farmer.” Australian, 2012. 

Gorman, Sean. “Polly Farmer: the chatty kid who changed Australian rules football.” The Guardian, 14 August 2019. 

“Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, AFL star and Indigenous trailblazer, dies in Perth aged 84.” ABC News, 14 August 2019.  

Niall, Jake. “Farmer, Graham Vivian (Polly) (1935–2019)”. Indigenous Australia.

“Sister Kate’s Children’s Cottage Home (1934 – 1980).” Find & Connect, 2021.

“Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer MBE Australian Football.” Sports Australia, 2020. 

Image available here.