By Natalee Kerr
Tributes are flowing for AFL champion and former Cats star ruckman Graham “Polly” Farmer after his death this week.
Farmer died in Perth on Wednesday aged 84 after a 24-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the original legends inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, he was widely regarded as among the game’s greatest players.
Farmer played 101 games for the Cats, winning a premiership medal in 1963 and captaining the club from 1965 to 1967.
Farmer “revolutionised football” with his style of rucking and trademark use of the handball, said Cats chief Brian Cook.
“Polly Farmer was a pioneering figure in both Australian football and in changing Australian culture,” Cook said.
“Polly’s record as a footballer stands among the greatest that the game has known.”
Farmer spent six seasons with Geelong as a player and a further three as senior coach. He was one of the first indigenous coaches in the history of the VFL and AFL.
Farmer was named in the AFL’s team of the century. He was also honoured as captain of the Indigenous team of the century.
Farmer remained an “iconic” figure and role model for the Cats’ players, Cook said.
“He came to our team hotel a few years ago when we were playing in Perth and the excitement amongst our group was incredible.
“Back in 2004 James Kelly suffered a broken leg in Perth and was forced to remain in hospital (and) Polly regularly visited him over that period.”
Mayor Bruce Harwood said Farmer was a “widely loved figure” within the city.
“He was a favourite on the Kardinia Park terraces and his number five could be found on the back of Cats jumpers all around the town,” Cr Harwood said.
Farmer played 356 games from 1953 to 1971 across the WAFL and VFL leagues, featuring in six premiership sides and winning 10 club best and fairest awards.
AFL chief Gillon McLachlan said Farmer’s legacy went further than the football field.
He also became a “leader for the Aboriginal community”, McLachlan said.
“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.
“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.”
Farmer passed away in hospital surrounded by family.
His death followed the loss of fellow former Cats Kevin Higgins and John Scarlett, who both died last month, and Russell Middlemiss who passed away last week.