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Champion Australian Rules footballer and proud Arrernte man, Sonny Morey (b. 1945) was in residential and foster care as a child.

Sonny Morey was born to Aboriginal Australian Nancy Pununga, and an Australian-born station owner of Irish descent, Tom Gorey. He spent the first six years of his life at Yambah Station, north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

Then at the age of seven, Sonny was stolen from his family by “government officials” while playing with a cousin on the Todd River. His surname was changed by authorities from Gorey to Morey and he became a ward of the state. Sonny never saw his mother again.

Sonny spent the next six years at St Mary’s Hostel in Alice Springs.

“I felt like I was abandoned by my family, because I thought they’d come anytime and I’d go home,” he says. “But that didn’t happen. And so, as you get older, you think your family has lost interest in you, and so you move on (Ashenden).

In 1958, Sonny and two other young boys were suddenly uprooted. They were flown to Adelaide and moved into St Francis House in the beachside suburb of Semaphore. St Francis House was an institution that also housed Aboriginal activists Charlie Perkins, Gordon Briscoe, Vincent Copley, and footballer Richie Bray.

Sonny describes being removed from his family as a member of the Stolen Generations as a traumatic, terrifying experience. He had mixed experiences at St Francis. Sonny has described the wrath of Mrs Schroeder, who was a “fierce lady”, as completely opposite to the calming presence of Sister Eileen, who he characterised as “an angel in disguise,” (Morey, 1996).

St Francis closed in 1959 when Sonny was fourteen years old. He was then placed with foster parents, Ada and Sydney Maguire. When Ada left her violent husband, she and Sonny moved closer to Gawler football oval where Sonny was “already making a name for himself” (Ashenden).

Sonny’s love of football gave him direction and purpose. He played his first game for Central District Football Club in 1964 as one of the club’s first competing players. Sonny went on to play two hundred games for the club and also played state football for South Australia.

By the time he retired in 1977 he had clocked 2013 league games and four state games in a career which earned him selection in a Central District best team of 1964-2003 (Ashenden).

Sonny was the first Central District Bulldog player to register a kick in the SANFL. He won ‘best-and-fairest’ in 1970 and was named in the club’s ‘Best Team 1964-2003’.

Sonny held a number of different jobs before retiring in 2006. He worked as a fitter and turner, a storeman, and a sports store manager. Sonny also worked for Telecom, and was a community police officer for thirteen years with SAPOL (SA Police). After he formally retired, Sonny worked on an investigation into the abuse of children in the Northern Territory and Western Australia for six months.

Sonny and his wife Carmel have been married for over fifty years. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. Sonny is the subject of a recent biography by Robert Laidlaw and Robin Mulholland launched by the Premier of South Australia, Steven Marshall, at Central District Football Club on 22 August 2020.

Robert Laidlaw appreciated the opportunity to sit down with Sonny Morey to share his story.

“His perseverance and determination through some horrible times is something that sticks with me… He’s such a nice guy, and so open about everything he’s been through. It was a real pleasure to produce and I hope we’ve done him justice” (Phillips, 2021).


Argent, Peter. “SA indigenous icon Sonny Morey.” South Australian National Football League, 5 July 2022.

Ashenden, Paul. “At last I know I was never abandoned.” The Advertiser, 22 August 2020.

Ashenden, Paul. “Sonny Morey, SANFL star and Stolen Generation member and the nun who changed his life.” SA Weekend, 22 August 2020.

Morey, Sonny, and Annette Roberts. “Interview with Sonney Morey [interviewed by Annette Roberts].State Library of Western Australia, 1996.

Phillips, Liam. “Highlighting an SA legend.” The Bunyip, 19 August 2020. 

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

“St Mary’s Hostel (1947 – 1972).”  Find & Connect, 2020.

Image supplied.