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Champion soccer player and significant artist, Aboriginal Australian John Kundereri Moriarty (b. circa 1938), was in residential care as a child. 

John Moriarty was born in Borroloola, a small town on the land of the Yanyuwa people in the Northern Territory. At the age of four his mother took him to the Roper River Mission school at Mirlinbarrwarr and from there he was taken to a town in NSW.  

We were bundled onto the train and brought down to Adelaide. Then we went by train to Melbourne and on to Sydney where we stayed for a while. We then travelled to Mulgoa about 40 miles west of Sydney at the base of the Blue Mountains (Smith). 

The Church Missionary Society Home for Half Castes at Mulgoa was set up in 1942 and until 1947 “housed Aboriginal children who had been evacuated under military orders by the Commonwealth Department of Native Affairs” (Find & Connect). 

Despite the children being instructed to forget their language and culture, some of the boys’ mothers taught them about “our family connections, country and culture…” (Smith). 

In 1949 John arrived at  St Francis House in South Australia where he lived with other Aboriginal boys including Charles Perkins, Richie Bray, Gordon Briscoe, and Vincent Copley. 

Playing sport was an important outlet for the St Francis House boys and their talent was noted by local coaches. By the late 1950s, Moriarty shone as a star soccer player with Juventus and was then approached to represent South Australia; he played for the state team seventeen times. In 1961 Moriarty was the first Aboriginal Australian selected for the national soccer team, the Socceroos, although he never played because Australia was suspended by FIFA.  

In 1953, when John was fifteen he accidentally reconnected with his mother in Alice Springs.  

Kathleen O’Keefe had instantly recognised her son after so many years. They sat on the kerbside and talked about family (Smith). 

When it came to setting up an organisation to encourage football training and education, Moriarty chose his birth place, Borroloola, to create the first John Moriarty Football (JMF) football initiative in 2012. In 2014, eight children from JMF went to Brazil to watch the Socceroos play in the World Cup game against Chile. The program is part of the Moriarty Foundation, founded by John and Ros Moriarty in 2011 to provide locally-led initiatives using the Aboriginal worldview to reduce intergenerational disadvantage. 

JMF launched a new initiative in 2021, Indigenous Football Australia, to extend JMF across Australia.  

“Equitable access to football means kids can come through, have good health, well-being, get a good education and increase their engagement in the community,” Mr Moriarty says (Silva). 

John Moriarty began his working life as a boiler maker. In 1970, he was the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from Flinders University in South Australia. The following year, he received a Churchill Fellowship to study preservation of culture amongst First Nations peoples, and he then went on to work for both the State and Commonwealth public service.  

John Moriarty and his wife, Ros, set up the Balarinji Design Studio in 1983 to promote  “authentic engagement with Aboriginal people, culture, art, stories and identity” (Moriarty Foundation). Balarinji was commissioned by Qantas airlines to design artwork for a Boeing 747-400 in 1994—Wunala Dreaming—and for a Boeing 747-300 in 1995—Nalanji Dreaming. Balrinji’s designs have won many awards, including a UNESCO Achievement Award in 2021, and the organisation was inducted into the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) Hall of Fame the same year. 

John Moriarty has been recognised with numerous awards. In 2000, he became a Member of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his advocacy on behalf of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. He received the Flinders University Convocation Medal in 2001. Moriarty has also received honorary doctorates from the University of South Australia (1997) and Flinders University (2016), was inducted into the Football Federation Australia (FFA) Hall of Fame in 2015, and received a prestigious Diversity Award from FIFA in 2018. 


Citation for the Award of the Degree of Doctor of the University honoris causa. Mr John Moriarty AM, BA Flin. Flinders University,  

Intili, Daniela. “Indigenous Football Week sparks calls for greater Aboriginal representation in game.” ABC News, 9 November 2020,  

Knijnik, Jorge and Hunter, Jane. “The pedagogy of courage: critical Aboriginal football education in Australia’s Northern Territory.” Critical Studies in Education, (2020): 1-16.  

Mark, David. “John Moriarty Football program aims to inspire Australian kids on World Cup soccer trip.” ABC News, 9 June 2014,  

“Moriarty’s gain membership to AGDA Hall of fame.” Architecture & Design, 13 July 2021.  

“Our Story”. Moriarty Foundation, 2022.

“Roper River Mission (1908-1988).” Find & Connect, 2021  

Silva, Nadine. “New Indigenous Football initiative launches to help more kids kick more life goals right across Australia.” NITV News, 15 April 2021.  

Smith, Mark. “John Moriarty: My mother found me in Alice Springs.” Alice Spring News, 29 March 2019.   

Stamocostas, Con. “Les Scheinflug and John Moriarty recognised by FFA.” ABC News, 27 November 2015.  

Stamocostas, Con. “Top Three FIFA honour for Socceroo John Moriarty.” The Women’s Game, 24 September 2018.  

“St Francis House (1946-1961).” Find & Connect, 2020.  

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