To celebrate the AFL’s 2021 Sir Doug Nicholls Round which commences tonight Milestones and Misses are taking a comprehensive look back at the exhilarating football career of Nicky Winmar, a sublimely skilled wingman/half-forward who took spectacular marks, kicked team-lifting goals and laid fierce tackles.
During his 251 game, 13 season VFL/AFL career with St Kilda from 1987 to 1998 and the Western Bulldogs in 1999 Winmar was a trailblazer, becoming the first indigenous player to reach 200 games. Winmar won St Kilda’s best and fairest in 1989 and 1995 and was selected in the All-Austrian team three times, 1991 and his b & f winning seasons. Winmar is a member of the Indigenous Team of the Century, St Kilda’s Team of the Century and was also one of 13 people inducted into the St Kilda Football Club’s Inaugural Hall of Fame in 2003.
Throughout his Australian Rules Football career in the VFL/AFL and at lower levels Nicky Winmar had regularly been subject to racial abuse from opposition fans and opposition players. At the conclusion of his AFL club, St Kilda’s game against Collingwood at Victoria Park on Saturday 17 April 1993 Winmar decided that he had to take a stance against the on-going racism. In response to the racial vilification he and team-mate Gilbert McAdam had received from the crowd that day he lifted his St Kilda jumper up, pointed to his skin and said “I’m black and I’m proud to be black.”
The moment when Winmar made this stance was captured by photographer Wayne Ludbey is shown above and appeared on the front page of the Sunday Age the following day. This image has become one of the most famous photographs not just in Australian Rules Football but in Australian Sport. The image from this photo that has been sculpted by Louis Laumen, a 2.75 metre bronze statue of Winmar was unveiled on Saturday 6 July 2019 in a prominent position in front of Optus Stadium which is the home ground of both Western Australian clubs in the AFL – the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers.
Through their scintillating performances during the game against Collingwood, together with Nicky’s gesture after the game of lifting his jumper, pointing to his skin to signal “I am black and I am proud” Winmar and McAdam made a significant stand against racism, one that proved to be a turning point for the AFL and Australian society in general.
Two years later, following an incident of Collingwood’s Damien Monkhorst racially vilifying Essendon’s Michael Long in the drawn 1995 Anzac Day game the AFL increased their attempts to stamp racism out of the game. After this incident the AFL introduced “Rule 30 under the Player Rules, covering Racial and Religious Vilification, the AFL addressed the issue of racial abuse on-field and the Player Rules established a process to deal with any complaints, as well as setting out annual education programs which are conducted for all clubs and officials.”1
The AFL’s Rule 30 covering Racial and Religious Vilification was later expanded and is now known as Rule 35. An article published on afl.com.au on March 16, 2021 provided detail on this expansion, saying “Originally designed to combat on-field abuse relating to race, colour and religion, the rule was amended in 2013 to incorporate vilification relating to disability, appearance and sexuality. Rule 35 applies to both the AFL and AFLW competitions as well as being adopted by community leagues around the country.
On the recommendation of Michael Long, Rule 35 will now be known as the Peek Rule to recognise and honour the work of long-term AFL administrator Tony Peek who worked closely with the League’s indigenous players to understand the impact of vilification in the code and develop a rule to combat vilification.”2
Whilst several players have been suspended for racial vilification in the 26 years since Rule 30 was introduced in 1995 and expanded as Rule 35, players are far better educated about these issues now than they were in 1995, which significantly reduces the likelihood of a player racially vilifying another AFL player on the football field. Through the introduction of these measures Australian Rules Football has also played an important role in increasing the knowledge many people in the general public have about these issues.
Whilst most people now realise that racial vilification is unacceptable there have been several instances in the past decade of supporters at AFL games racially abusing players. Other members of the crowd have been quick to report instances of racism by supporters, and if a member of an AFL club has made racist remarks the club has cancelled the supporter’s membership.
The first Dreamtime at the ‘G game was played between Essendon and Richmond in July 2005 during NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week, which is the first full week in July. The first AFL Indigenous Round was held during National Reconciliation Week in Round 9 2007 from Friday May 25, to Sunday May 27 and has been part of the AFL fixture in every year since with Essendon playing Richmond in the Dreamtime at the ‘G game on the Saturday night of Indigenous Round.
As part of Indigenous Round each AFL club has a specially designed Indigenous Round guernsey inspired by stories and themes which have a connection to that club. It is common for an AFL club’s Indigenous guernsey to be designed by past or present Indigenous players from that club or for the guernsey to be designed by a family member of a player or by an indigenous artist.
Winmar’s involvement in the St Kilda Football Club’s 2021 Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round Campaign
On 17 May 2021 the St Kilda Football Club launched their 2021 Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round Campaign at RSEA Park Moorabbin, one element of the campaign was Nicky Winmar designing St Kilda’s 2021 indigenous jumper. At the launch Saints Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Matt Finnis commented “Nicky was adamant that he could bring something different to the design of our indigenous jumper which is not to take back from the jumpers that we have worn in the past but it is an opportunity to extend, to be different. It looks like no other indigenous guernsey that has been worn on the field of AFL and we are incredibly proud of that. Ultimately, what we love is that it does celebrate one of the real legacy moments, not just in Australian sport but in broad Australian society. We think back to that day, 17th of April 1993 and what Nicky stood up for at that time and then think about all those that have followed Nicky’s journey and that’s where ‘The Ripple Effect’ documentary comes into play.”
When Winmar presented the St Kilda 2021 Indigenous Guernsey to the club’s playing group he commented on his design “I admire the indigenous dot paintings that they have throughout Australia up north but I wanted to do my own sort of designs. The (Willy) Wagtails we name them Djiti Djiti’s, they are cheeky little birds, you usually see them on the footy oval prancing around. These two (Nicky points to the Willy Wagtails which are his family totem), my parents are no longer with us and it is like every time you see two Willy Wagtails it is like family is coming back to us to talk to us, let us know what is going on. I painted that, the silhouette is the statue as we know. On the back I have got my hands. The aboriginal place of dancing back in the old ceremony days used to have a hand on each others back and say I have got your back brother. So it’s a way to say I will always be there for youse. That’s what I want to bring out this year, I know it is different but it could be a powerful sort of jumper. Just wear it with pride and respect and yeah, go for it.”
The photo above was posted on the St Kilda Football Club’s Instagram account on 17 May with Winmar holding the Saints 2021 indigenous guernsey he designed, surrounded by indigenous players Paddy Ryder, Brad Hill, Ben Long and Jade Gresham wearing the guernsey.
Appearing on the 21 May 2021 episode of Television show ‘Yokayi Footy’ St Kilda defender Ben Long commented on wearing an indigenous jumper designed by Nicky Winmar “Obviously Nicky is a past player who is one of the greatest from St Kilda Football Club and I think it is awesome that he has got the opportunity to showcase and design his indigenous jumper. I know it is going to be a special moment and yeah, really looking forward to it.” St Kilda will wear their Winmar designed Indigenous jumper in Round 11 against North Melbourne tomorrow afternoon Saturday 29 May and Round 12 against Sydney on Saturday 5 June, with both games scheduled to be played at Marvel Stadium. On Thursday afternoon 27 May “the Victorian government again placed the state into a seven-day lockdown after a surge in coronavirus infections. No crowds will be allowed to attend the three Melbourne matches in round 11.”3 The Winmar designed Saints Indigenous guernsey’s were extremely popular with fans and quickly sold out. St Kilda are re-stocking the jumpers from their suppliers and orders can continue to be made by fans.
In relation to St Kilda’s 2021 Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round Campaign an article published on saints.com.au on 17 May 2021 said “The round will launch alongside the Winmar-led documentary, The Ripple Effect, and affiliated program Point + Be Proud, which aims to educate the community about the ongoing impacts of racism on Indigenous mental health and wellbeing. Point + Be Proud will be delivered through schools and sporting organisations across Melbourne’s south.”4
Appearing on the 17 July 2020 episode of ‘Yokayi Footy’ St Kilda Football Club’s Indigenous Liaison Officer Nathan Lovett-Murray commented on ‘The Ripple Effect’ documentary “When I started working at St Kilda Football Club I spoke to the CEO Matt Finnis and said ‘Look, I have got this idea and I would love to get Nicky’s story but not just Nicky’s story, other indigenous and multi-cultural athletes that have been through racism and bullying and how that impacted on their mental health.’ So developed this documentary and took the idea to Peter Dickson who is one of the best in the business. We talked about it and he loved the idea and from there I had to go and raise the money for the doco and we had some really great support from Vic Health, headspace, Orygen, Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, First Nations Labour Hire, these organisations that were able to come to the table and really support making this documentary happen.”
At the end of the St Kilda Football Club’s 2021 Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round launch event MC and Saints Communication Manager Clair White asked Peter Dickson “What is the message that you are hoping people walk away from ‘The Ripple Effect’ with. There is a lot to take out of it, if you hope that people walk out of it with one message what would it be?” Peter responded “It’s a difficult one. As mentioned in the film we are not going to solve racism with this documentary. All I can hope and I think the school program is another element that is massive for me because that’s on-going. Nathan and St Kilda are going to be out at schools over the next few years showing a little snippet of the film and discussing it so I guess for me it is opening up the discussion again. If one thing people can take out of it is just to have some empathy for what goes on in this country. I think this will hit them in the face, that’s exactly what I tried to do, we can fluff over it but this is a pretty heavy look at it, I just hope that some change occurs.”
Nicky WInmar’s phenomenal football career including his stance against racism at Victoria Park on 17 April 1993 is comprehensively covered below.
Early life and WAFL career with South Fremantle from 1983 to 1986
Neil Elvis ‘Nicky’ Wimar was born on 25 September 1965 in the Western Australia country town Kellerberrin. Nicky played junior football for Pingelly in the Upper Great Southern Football League. Pingelly is a small country town 150 kilometres south of Perth located in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. Nicky’s father Neal was a shearer and encouraged Nicky to strive to play Australian Rules football in the VFL where it was critical to be a good wet-weather player, Nicky comments “My brother and I used to turn on the hoses and pretend it was a muddy ground in Melbourne. We’d act like our favourite players. I was Malcolm Blight.”5
When Nicky was a junior footballer his dad emphasised that tackling was a critical skill in Australian Rules, Nicky comments “Dad always said that the main thing in the game was not only kicking but tackling as well. Aboriginal players can read a tackle a lot better because we can anticipate where a player is heading. You have to get in the right position to do it properly.”6
When interviewed by Karla Granton in an episode of the SBS TV Program ‘Living Black’ which went to air on 29 September 2014 Nicky spoke about growing up, saying “Dad was a shearer and he worked on the farm, he grew up in the reserve days. Other cousins were great footballers and great sports people. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. At the age of 14 years old I started shearing sheep with my dad because he was a shearer, and farm work and I thought this is the country life that I want to be in, I didn’t know that I was going to go on to where I am today, he had other ideas, other plans for me Karla. I miss him, he was my best friend you know, I’ll always respect and love the person he was. It’s just emotional when I do talk about him, my mum’s gone now too, my youngest brother too.” Nicky went on to say “At the age of 15 I played for Pingelley A grade which is the senior level and won the best and fairest for them and then I went to South Freo, my dad was a great inspiration.”
Nicky was a North Melbourne supporter growing up. When Winmar was playing for Pingelly as a 15 year-old, South Fremantle coach Mal Brown specifically went to watch him play after hearing of Nicky’s exquisite skills. A couple of seasons later Winmar joined West Australian Football League (WAFL) club South Fremantle and was coached by Brown. In Round 9, 1983 Winmar at 17 years of age made his debut for South Fremantle in the West Australian Football League (WAFL), he played 13 games in his debut season mainly playing at half-forward and on a wing.
In an article titled ‘Vic Park scared me and I don’t jump at shadows’: Nicky Winmar in his own words’ published on afl.com.au on July 6, 2019, the day his statue was unveiled Nicky wrote about the start of his football journey “When I was 15 I played seniors and won the fairest and best with the Pingelly Panthers. That’s where it all started. It’s been a fair old journey that I have had. Going to Perth to play with South Fremantle was hard. All I wanted to do was go home. I stuck at it and was rewarded playing alongside a legend, Stephen Michael.”7
During 1984 and 1985 Winmar spent more time playing as a rover for South Fremantle and he played a total of 33 games across these two seasons. In 1987 the West Coast Eagles became the first West Australian team to join the Victorian Football League (VFL) and there had been considerable speculation that Winmar would be one of the players recruited by the expansion club. A groin injury restricted Winmar to 12 games for South Fremantle in 1986 which hindered his chances of joining the West Coast Eagles.
In four seasons in the WAFL Winmar played a total of 58 games for South Fremantle and was a regular goalkicker whether playing as a forward or in his more customary role as a midfielder, he kicked 98 goals at a very impressive average of 1.7 goals per game. Other strengths of Winmar during his four seasons in the WAFL were his skills, ball-winning ability, spectacular marking and tackling.
Several Victorian VFL clubs were interested in recruiting Winmar including Essendon, North Melbourne, St Kilda and Richmond, Nicky met with Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy. The profile for Winmar in ‘The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers’ says “When the Eagles were putting a side together they were interested in 35 players and had to cut back to 30. Winmar was one of the five that missed out.”8 Although Winmar was sublimely skilled several of these VFL clubs decided against recruiting him, with the strongest criticism being that Winmar wasn’t consistent enough.
Three consecutive top two finishes in St Kilda’s best and fairest from 1987 to 1989
Victorian VFL club St Kilda recruited Nicky Winmar who was a very good mark for his size at 183 centimetres tall and weighed 81 kilograms, with his wide ranging skill-set he had the versatility to play in several positions in the midfield or forward line.
At 21 years of age Winmar made his VFL debut for St Kilda against Geelong in Round 1 1987 at Moorabbin on 28 March, he had 13 kicks, four handballs, two marks, laid three tackles and kicked a goal in the one point loss. Winmar quickly established himself in the St Kilda side and only missed two games for the season, Rounds 13 and 14 with injury. Although he developed strong teamwork with several of his St Kilda team-mates the combination of Winmar and fellow 21 year-old Tony Lockett was something to behold. Although Lockett was a bulky full-forward he was very quick over the first five to 20 metres which meant that when Winmar with his precise foot skills delivered the ball to a fast-leading Lockett the full-back had very little chance of effecting a spoil and preventing Lockett from taking the mark.
In each of the four seasons from 1983 to 1986 before Winmar joined St Kilda the club finished on the bottom of the ladder, winning a total of only 15 games during this period. The Saints played an exciting brand of football in 1987, winning nine games to finish in 10th place, three games and percentage outside the final five. With greater composure and more experience in close games St Kilda could have finished higher on the ladder as three times they lost by a goal or less. St Kilda had a strong home ground advantage at Moorabbin and won seven of their nine games at this ground, with the two losses being to Geelong by a point in Round 1 and Essendon by 15 points in Round 11. Winmar played a pivotal role in St Kilda’s improvement in 1987 finishing runner-up in the best and fairest behind Lockett and polled 10 votes in the Brownlow Medal to finish equal 13th overall. Winmar had two best afield performances with the first one being in Round 7 against Richmond with 17 kicks, three handballs, six marks and four goals in the 23 point victory. Winmar was also best afield in the 15 point loss to Essendon at Moorabbin in Round 11, having 17 kicks, three handballs, nine marks, a team-high six tackles, and kicked two goals.
Winmar kicked multiple goals in 11 games during 1987 including four goals four times and three goals three times, kicking a total of 37 goals to be ranked third at St Kilda behind Tony Lockett (117) and Rod Owen (39). Lockett had an historic season, breaking the St Kilda record for most goals in a season, he won the Coleman Medal as the leading goalkicker in the VFL and also won the Brownlow Medal as the best and fairest player in the VFL, polling 20 votes to tie with Hawthorn rover John Platten.
In 1987 Winmar played 20 matches for St Kilda, averaging 14.6 kicks, 4.1 handballs, 4.5 marks and 1.9 goals per game, he ranked second at St Kilda for total kicks with 290, 14 behind Greg Burns, fifth for marks, fourth for disposals and first for tackles. One of the weaknesses which contributed to Winmar being overlooked by the West Coast Eagles and other VFL clubs was his inconsistency, however in his debut VFL season this was not an issue as he regularly played high quality football and only had less than 16 disposals in three of his 20 games. Winmar proved that he was not just worthy of a position in a 20 man VFL team, he would of been in the top handful of players at any club during his debut VFL season. Winmar was one of only 19 players to poll at least 10 votes in the Brownlow Medal, he ranked 29th in the VFL for kicks per game and equal 25th in the VFL for total goals.
Nicky wore the number 7 jumper in all 12 seasons with St Kilda, the Saints have been blessed with the calibre of player wearing this jumper, Winmar was succeeded by Lenny Hayes who like Nicky become a three-time All-Australian and all-time great of the St Kilda Football Club.
In January this year an article was published on Milestones and Misses comprehensively covering the career of Australian Rules Hall of Fame Inductee Lenny Hayes. Below is a link to this article as well as the St Kilda page of this website which includes articles on current AFLW players as well as past and present Saints AFL players.
St Kilda won three of their first nine games in 1988 but only recorded one more win for the season, full-forward Lockett only played eight games, missing three games with suspension from Round 2 to Round 4 and the last half of the season with an ankle injury. Winmar started the season well, having at least 18 disposals in the first four rounds of the season. In round 3 against North Melbourne Winmar had a team-high 19 kicks, six marks, six handballs, laid three tackles and kicked three goals – ranked equal second for the game to receive 2 Brownlow Medal votes in the 26 point win at Moorabbin.
When Lockett was on the sidelines Winmar spent more time playing closer to goal, however he still played significant time in the midfield during 1988 so it was a great performance of Nicky to be ranked equal 11th in the VFL for total goals. Nicky led St Kilda’s goalkicking in 1988 with 43 goals, ahead of Lockett (35), and Rod Owen (30). Winmar kicked multiple goals in 14 games, including four goals in Round 19 against Footscray and three goals on eight occasions.
Winmar polled eight Brownlow Medal votes comprised of the two votes four times, to be ranked equal first at St Kilda with Bradley Gotch. In 1988 Winmar played 21 of a possible 22 matches, only missing Round 17 with a hamstring injury, he averaged 14.2 kicks, 2.9 handballs, 4.2 marks and 2.1 goals per game, he ranked third at St Kilda for total kicks, third for marks, fifth for disposals and sixth for tackles. Winmar finished runner-up in the St Kilda best and fairest, behind captain and full-back, the late Danny Frawley.
During his first two seasons at St Kilda Nicky Winmar had exceeded all expectations that the Saints had at the time of recruiting him, however in 1989 he elevated his game to an even higher level to be one of the best players in the competition.
In Round 2, 1989 against Carlton at Moorabbin Winmar had an equal team-high 18 kicks, five marks, four handballs, kicked a goal and played a pivotal role in the match-winning play, with the Saints trailing by two points Winmar kicked to Lockett who beat his opponent Stephen Silvagni to mark 35 metres out, Lockett kicked the set-shot goal, his 10th of the match with 35 seconds remaining to give the Saints a memorable four point victory.
Due to suspension and a thigh injury Lockett was restricted to only 11 games for the season, the last one being in Round 15. With Lockett out injured St Kilda still had one of the best key forwards in the competition, centre half-forward Stewart Loewe in the side. Playing in the midfield in Round 18 against Geelong Winmar was judged best afield, with 20 kicks, two handballs, five marks and a goal.
With Lockett missing the Round 20 game against Carlton with a thigh injury and Stewart Loewe also on the sidelines injured, Nicky Winmar played at full-forward with devastating effect, having 16 kicks, one handball, 12 marks, and was extremely accurate, kicking eight goals, one behind and received the 3 Brownlow medal votes, despite Winmar’s heroics St Kilda lost a thrilling away game at Princes Park by a point
Loewe returned for the Saints Round 21 game and played predominantly at centre half-forward against Melbourne who were fourth on the ladder with 14 wins and six losses. Winmar proved his superb performance at full-forward in Round 20 was not a fluke, playing in that position again and for the second week in a row was the most dominant player on the ground, kicking nine goals, three behinds, he also had 19 kicks, one handball and 10 marks in the upset 32 point victory to receive the 3 Brownlow Medal votes for the second week in a row and the third time in four games. It is very rare for a VFL/AFL footballer to be best afield three times out of four games but for these best afield performances to be in two completely different positions as Winmar did late in the 1989 season as a midfielder in Round 18, and then as a full-forward in Rounds 20 and 21 is almost unheard of.
In the book ‘1989 Football The Year in Review’ 20 experts were asked a series of questions, including ‘best kick in VFL’ and ‘best mark in VFL’, Winmar received three nominations as the best kick in the VFL and two nominations as the best mark in VFL, the only other player to be nominated in both the kick and mark categories was Gary Ablett senior, highlighting Winmar’s phenomenal skill level in two of the most important aspects of the game. The two games played between St Kilda and Carlton in 1989 were both among the best handful of home and away games of the season and in the same publication a quarter of the experts nominated one of the games between St Kilda and Carlton as the best home and away match of the season, comprised of three experts saying the Round 2 St Kilda four point win at Moorabbin and two experts nominating the Round 20 Carlton one point win at Princes Park.
During 1989 Winmar played all 22 matches for the Saints, averaging 15.0 kicks, 3.7 handballs, 4.6 marks and 1.6 goals per game, he ranked first at St Kilda for total kicks, third for marks, third for disposals, fifth for tackles and second for goals with 43, behind Tony Lockett who finished third in the VFL goalkicking with 78, behind Jason Dunstall (138) and Gary Ablett senior (87). Playing most of the year as a midfielder or half-forward Winmar finished 11th in the VFL for goalkicking and was ranked 20th in the VFL for total kicks.
In the final three games of the season Winmar was a resounding success playing at full-forward, having at least eight scoring shots and averaging 6.7 goals and 9.7 marks per game, figures Lockett – one of the greatest full-forwards in the history of the game would be proud of.
Winmar won St Kilda’s 1989 best and fairest, making it three consecutive top-two finishes, a remarkably consistent start to his AFL career, especially given that he was criticised for not being consistent enough when he played in the WAFL. Winmar polled 16 Brownlow Medal votes to finish equal third with Essendon midfielder Tim Watson and Hawthorn full-forward Jason Dunstall, ineligible Sydney centreman Greg Williams also polled 16 votes. Geelong centreman the late Paul Couch won the award with 22 votes from Hawthorn rover John Platten on 20 votes.
Winmar was named at half-forward in the 1989 VFL Team of the Year – the equivalent of the All-Australian team currently, no other Saints were named in the team. Gary Ablett senior was named on the opposite half-forward flank with Carlton captain Stephen Kernahan being named as centre half-forward between the sublimely skilled duo.
Fourth year blues in 1990 and reacting with physical force after being racially vilified
In 1986, the season before Winmar joined the VFL the league consisted of 12 clubs comprised of 10 clubs in Melbourne, as well as the Geelong Cats and Sydney Swans. In Nicky’s debut season of 1987 the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Lions joined the VFL to make it a 14 club competition. In recognition of the VFL becoming a National competition it was renamed the Australian Football League (AFL) in 1990, the following season the Adelaide Crows joined the AFL and all five states on the Australian mainland had at least one AFL club based there.
Nicky played 17 of St Kilda’s first 19 games in 1990, only missing Round 10 when he was dropped to the reserves for disciplinary reasons, and Round 14 with a thigh injury. Recognising his phenomenal skills and the damage he could cause with the ball, opposition clubs were focusing more energy on ways to curb Winmar’s influence on matches and attempted to reduce the amount of time and space he had to work with the ball. Whilst he averaged 18.1 disposals per game in 1990 which was very similar to his first three seasons he was being forced to handball more which resulted in his kicks per game falling to 12.35, a drop of almost two kicks per game from his previous low of 14.24 in 1988. Winmar provided a harsh assessment of his form in 1990 saying “People say that you have the second year blues, well I think they hit me in the fourth year. Nothing went right and I went right off the boil”9 Winmar remained a valuable player for St Kilda in 1990 and he averaged 1.5 goals per game to go along with 18 disposals, however he hadn’t been able to maintain the lofty heights he reached during his first three seasons with St Kilda.
Throughout his football career, both in Western Australia and Victoria Winmar had been racially vilified by opposition players many times. In Round 19, 1990 at Waverley Park Hawthorn centre half-forward Dermott Brereton took every opportunity when the ball was out of his area to racially abuse Winmar in an attempt to put him off his game. Winmar snapped and attempted to get some retribution on Brereton by using physical force, which ended in disaster with Winmar being suspended for 10 games for kicking and eye-gouging Brereton. This resulted in Winmar missing the last three games of 1990 and the first five games of 1991, two games of the suspension were served in the 1991 pre-season competition. In August 1998 Brereton wrote an article apologising for racially abusing Winmar, writing “Of all the tribunal sentences I received, I was never suspended for what I see now as a cowardly attack. If there was something I could change from my career, it would be the ugly comments I used to put those two players (Winmar and West Coast’s Chris Lewis) off their games, in what we thought back in those days was a part of the game,” in relation to the suspension Winmar received Brereton went on to write “I was the one who should have received a penalty. I’m ashamed of what I did back then to provoke Nicky.”10
Unfortunately in the 1990’s and earlier decades some players considered anything, including racial abuse to be fair game if it helped them put in an opponent off his game. Less than five years after the encounter between Winmar and Brereton the AFL introduced the Racial and Religious Vilification code. After its introduction no player would have to withstand the frequent barrage of racial abuse that Winmar did that day against Hawthorn in August 1990 at Waverley Park. Indigenous players Winmar and Essendon’s Michael Long played pivotal roles in the AFL introducing the Racial and Religious Vilification code after they stood up against racial remarks made by supporters and a player respectively. After the code of conduct was introduced Winmar commented about racism “I remember it being there for many years. You just get sick of it. We just go out there to play football and it did effect me a lot in my junior years. I wish they had brought in the code of conduct earlier than now.”11
During 1990 Winmar played 17 of St Kilda’s 22 matches, averaging 12.4 kicks, 5.7 handballs, 3.2 marks and 1.5 goals per game, he ranked eighth at St Kilda for total kicks, ninth for disposals, eighth for tackles and fourth for goals with 26, behind Tony Lockett (65), Stewart Loewe (50) and Craig Devonport (28). Winmar polled one Brownlow Medal vote for the season, in Round 4 against Sydney, having 15 kicks, three handballs, six marks and kicking four goals, four behinds. It was one of three times that Winmar kicked four goals in a game in 1990, he kicked multiple goals seven times, however his accuracy around goal let him down as he kicked 26 goals, 33 behinds for the season.
St Kilda break finals drought in 1991, Winmar selected in All-Australian team
After serving the remainder of his suspension Winmar played his first game of 1991 for St Kilda in Round 7 against Adelaide, also making his return in the same game was full-forward Lockett who had missed the first six rounds of the season due to a back injury. In their comeback games both players performed exceptionally, Winmar had a then career-best 33 disposals comprised of 22 kicks and 11 handballs, he also took six marks and kicked a goal, whilst Lockett had 19 kicks, 15 marks and kicked 12 goals in St Kilda’s 131 point win against Adelaide at Moorabbin. The victory against Adelaide set a record for St Kilda’s greatest ever winning margin, and currently ranks second, having been surpassed by St Kilda’s 139 point defeat of Brisbane in Round 22, 2005 at Etihad Stadium.
In his third game of 1991 in Round 9 Winmar polled the three Brownlow Medal votes in the six point win against Sydney at the SCG, having a game-high 23 kicks, eight handballs and five marks. Winmar was one of only two Saints to surpass 22 disposals, with 31 – six more than the second ranked Saint Nathan Burke.
With Winmar and Lockett on the sidelines St Kilda had been competitive, having two wins, a draw and two losses in their first five matches of 1991. With the key duo back in the side St Kilda won seven of their next eight games starting with the win against Adelaide to place themselves in a commanding position to make their first finals appearance in 18 years. The Saints then lost four of their next five games to fall back to a pack of teams fighting for the final three spots in the top six. St Kilda finished the season well, winning their final four games to finish the home and away season in fourth position with 14 wins, seven losses and a draw. West Coast had been the dominant side of the 1991 home and away season and finished on top with 19 wins, three games clear of Hawthorn and Geelong. Melbourne and Essendon finished fifth and sixth respectively both with 13 wins and nine losses.
Under coach Ken Sheldon St Kilda played an entertaining brand of football in 1991 and the side that played Geelong in the second elimination final included four All-Australians from that season, Winmar (half-forward), Lockett (full-forward), Stewart Loewe (centre half-forward), and David Grant (half-back), with other prominent players being captain Danny Frawley, and emerging stars Nathan Burke and Robert Harvey. Winmar had 27 disposals against Geelong, ranked second on the ground, and along with Harvey and Gilbert McAdam provided great supply to Lockett who was superb, kicking nine goals, five behinds. The Saints lost Grant and Burke early in the game after they were both knocked unconscious by Gary Ablett senior in separate instances. St Kilda started the second half 19 points in front, however in 1991 AFL teams only fielded sides with 20 players, not being able to use their interchange bench at all due to the loss of Grant and Burke proved to be extremely telling as Geelong led by Billy Brownless with eight goals finished stronger to overrun the Saints and win by seven points.
Three years later in 1994 AFL teams increased from 20 players to 21 players and just four years after that AFL teams were further increased to 22 players which made it far easier for club’s to combat having one or two players injured during a game and unable to take any further part in the game.
After not making the finals for 18 seasons the Saints were unlucky that a quirk in the structure of the finals system in 1991 resulted in a massive variance in the outcome for the winner and loser of the second elimination final between Geelong and St Kilda. St Kilda as the loser of this game was eliminated whilst Geelong as the winner then received the double chance and were only eliminated after they had lost their next two games – a semi final to Hawthorn by two points and a preliminary final to West Coast by 15 points. In 1992 this quirk was rectified with the sides that competed in the two elimination finals being eliminated after they lost a final and the double chance rightly being removed for the winners with third playing sixth in one elimination final and fourth playing fifth in the other elimination final.
In 1991 Winmar played 17 matches, averaging 17.4 kicks, 7.9 handballs, 3.8 marks and 0.7 goals per game, despite missing six games Winmar ranked third at St Kilda for total kicks, seventh for marks, fourth for disposals, third for tackles and ninth for goals with an inaccurate 12 goals, 13 behinds. Winmar polled 11 Brownlow Medal votes to finish equal 19th overall, ranked second at St Kilda behind Tony Lockett with 16.
St Kilda players made up half of the forward line in the 1991 All-Australian team with Winmar being named at half-forward, Loewe at centre half-forward and Lockett at full-forward. During 1991 Winmar spent more time in the midfield with his disposals rising to 25.3 per game, a significant increase of 36% on his previous best of 18.6 in 1989. Although Winmar spent less time in the forward line and his goals per game dropped to 0.7, St Kilda had a potent forward line with five players kicking over 20 goals – Lockett (127), Loewe (43), Frank Coghlan (33), McAdam (26) and Dean Rice (21). Winmar had at least 20 disposals in 15 of his 17 games, and had more than 26 disposals eight times, including five games in a row to finish the season, from Round 21 to the elimination final. During 1991 Winmar ranked eighth in the AFL for kicks per game and 19th for tackles per game.
1992 -St Kilda make finals again, Winmar reaches 100 AFL games and takes Mark of the Year in his milestone game
In the first eight games of the 1992 season Winmar had a greater impact on the scoreboard than he had for the entire 1991 season, kicking a total of 16 goals, with a best of four goals against Adelaide in Round 7. Winmar kicked multiple goals six times during this period, however didn’t achieve it once more for the rest of the season, mainly as a result of spending less time in the forward line. In Round 18 against West Coast at Waverley Park Winmar set a new career best with 37 disposals, comprised of 28 kicks and nine handballs, he also took eight marks and kicked a goal in the 66 point win to receive the 3 Brownlow Medal votes for the only time of the season. Winmar polled eight Brownlow Medal votes, ranked fifth at St Kilda behind Loewe (16), Harvey (12), Burke and Lockett (both 10), highlighting the quality of these five players, when St Kilda’s team of the century was selected in 2001 all five were in St Kilda’s starting 18. The only other team-mate of Winmar’s who was selected in the team was the late Trevor Barker who was named at half-back, Winmar would go on to play the exact same number of games for St Kilda as Barker – 230.
In Round 3 1992 Winmar played his 100th AFL game at 26 years of age in his home state, Western Australia against West Coast at Subiaco Oval. By that stage of his career Winmar had already created a vast highlights reel and for his milestone game he made another addition, winning the 1992 AFL mark of the year for a spectacular mark. Nicky’s right knee landed on the left shoulder of Chris Waterman and he took a remarkable chest mark, despite tumbling to ground and landing on his side Winmar held onto the mark cleanly.
St Kilda scraped into the finals in 1992 – finishing in sixth position with 14 wins and were only percentage ahead of Carlton who thankfully for the Saints lost the final game of the home and away season to West Coast at Subiaco, enabling St Kilda to make the finals.
The sixth placed Saints faced third placed Collingwood in an elimination final at Waverley Park. In a thrilling contest St Kilda prevailed by eight points, it was St Kilda’s first finals win since the 1973 elimination final against Essendon. The following week Footscray defeated St Kilda by 29 points in a semi-final at Waverley Park. Winmar injured his shoulder in the semi-final loss to Footscray and wasn’t happy with the support provided to him by St Kilda after the game.
In 1992 Winmar played 23 of a possible 24 matches, only missing Round 14 with the flu, he averaged 16.9 kicks, 6.0 handballs, 4.4 marks and 0.9 goals per game, ranking second at St Kilda for total kicks, equal fourth for marks, second for disposals, third for tackles and fourth for goals, he ranked in the top 20 of the AFL for kicks and tackles per game.
1993 – Winmar starts in blistering fashion and makes a stance, saying ‘I am black and I am proud’
In Round 2 1993 against North Melbourne Winmar was magnificent, having 17 kicks, 14 handballs, five marks, four tackles and kicked a goal to receive the 3 Brownlow Medal votes in the Saints thrilling seven point victory at Waverley Park.
In Round 4, St Kilda played Collingwood in an away game at Victoria Park on Saturday 17 April which started at 2.08 pm which was the traditional time for games to start then. St Kilda were in good form having won two of their first three games, however Collingwood had an even better record, having won all three games. Increasing the degree of difficulty St Kilda full-forward Tony Lockett missed the game due to suspension and ruck-rover Robert Harvey suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Lockett and Harvey are both Brownlow Medallists, have been elevated to Legend status in St Kilda’s Hall of Fame and are team-mates of Winmar’s in the St Kilda Football Club’s team of the century.
Throughout the day racial abuse was directed at Winmar and McAdam by the Collingwood supporters, the abuse started at half-time of the reserves when Winmar and McAdam walked onto the ground to check the playing conditions and also to allow McAdam to familiarise himself with the ground as it was the first time he had played at Victoria Park. Being racially abused by supporters was not restricted just to this game, it had happened regularly to this point of Nicky and Gilbert’s football careers, in the VFL/AFL, as well as state leagues – the WAFL and SANFL respectively, and at lower levels. Before the Round 4 1993 game against Collingwood started Winmar and McAdam made a pact to respond to the racial abuse they were copping from Collingwood supporters with their actions on the field, Winmar said “It was amazing, you get so fired up. It makes you feel like you want to go out and run amok on the field. We got spat on and sworn at but we went out and showed them we’re brothers, no matter what tribe we are or where we’re from.”12
After trailing Collingwood by eight points at half-time St Kilda kicked 11 goals to seven in the second half to win by 22 points and record their first victory against Collingwood at Victoria Park in 17 years. Winmar and McAdam keeping their pact, running amok on the field to be the best two players on the ground. McAdam had 21 disposals and kicked a game-high five goals – two more than the second ranked player to receive the three Brownlow Medal votes, whilst Winmar had 25 disposals, laid a team-high seven tackles – two more than the second ranked Saint, and kicked a goal to receive two Brownlow Medal votes.
On Friday 5 July 2019 Wayne Ludbey appeared on ABC Radio Perth program ‘On Breakfast’ with Nadia Mitsopoulos and Russell Woolf. Wayne joined Nadia and Russell in the studio and Nadia’s opening question was “Could you hear the things that were being said to Nicky during the game?” Wayne replied “Nadia, I was over the boundary line and at the end of the game once the siren had sounded my sole purpose was to try and get the best possible, what I envisioned would be a jubilation shot of one of the winning St Kilda players. Gilbert McAdam was best on ground that day, kicked five goals, he was in the middle of the ground, he was a long way away from me, whereas Nicky Winmar who was the second best player on that day was much closer to me, he was probably within 30 yards of me, right in front of me in front of the boundary line, so I put my camera and lens on him and started photographing him initially in a euphoric moment of victory, he was a warrior celebrating a first-time victory in 15 years and when you are in that moment when you are in the zone I was totally focussed on him and I honestly couldn’t hear any noise or vilification, no.” Nadia asked “Could you hear anything that Nicky was saying as he was with his teammates?” Wayne replied “Well actually in the narrative of the photos where he did lift his jumper and point to his skin, in response to the crowd he said “I’m black and I’m proud to be black.”” Wayne went on to say “You can see in the photo he is standing up quite indignantly, proud and at the height of that stance that is what he said.” Nadia asked “When you took that photo did you appreciate what you were capturing at that moment?” Wayne responded “Look it was something that wasn’t normal, it was something that you weren’t used to seeing or photographing on a footy field. I knew immediately that it had to be recorded in the following day’s ‘Sunday Age’. In those days we weren’t shooting digital, we were shooting film so you couldn’t actually look at the photo. Once he had done that Nicky then turned and ran to Gilbert McAdam in the middle of the oval and hugged him really, really hardly, like a bear hug and Nicky in that euphoric sort of mental state, he was just repeating over, and over and over “I’m proud to be black” while he was hugging Gilbert in the middle of the oval.”
Russell asked Wayne “If you hadn’t taken that photo would someone else have taken that, would that moment have survived without you?” Wayne replied “Well alongside me was the opposition photographer, John (Feder) from the ‘Sunday Herald Sun’, so he’s got a version of it. When I went back to the ‘Sunday Age’ office I wouldn’t say I was hysterical but I was very adamant that it get in the paper, the paper was set and I made the editor’s change the paper and I kept repeating the quote because I knew it was so important, and thankfully they listened to me, unfortunately John’s editors went with a different verbal interpretation of the photo – ‘gutsy effort’.
In May 2013 Winmar travelled to Melbourne for Indigenous Round and commented about that day at Victoria Park 20 years prior, and in particular the infamous photograph taken by Ludbey of Winmar lifting his jumper and pointing to his skin, which has become one of the most famous photographs ever taken of an AFL player. On Ludbey’s photo Winmar commented “I was pretty emotional about it the next day when I did see it. A lot of people said, what happened? And I said to them ‘I wanted people to know that I am black and I am proud’.”13
When appearing on the Fox Footy program ‘Open Mike’ with McAdam in May 2013 Nicky commented “What made us go out there and perform to our best? We wanted to show the public not only how good we were, but just stand side by side as brothers as well, we had reached breaking point (about being racially abused) as well.” Nicky went on to say “enough is enough, we’ve got to stand up for our next generation as well.” When asked to provide more detail about the racist remarks they received at Victoria Park that day Gilbert replied “We don’t want to open up old wounds and if I told you what they said it wouldn’t be nice for TV I’ll tell you right now. We’ve moved on now, that was 20 years ago, we have laid the foundations for the young ones today, hopefully they don’t have to put up with the words that were used when we were playing.”
To mark the 25th anniversary of his stance against racism Winmar went back to Victoria Park on Thursday 12th April 2018 with Ludbey as well as Age Journalist Jake Niall and discussed the impact that day a quarter of a century earlier had made. In an article published in the Age on 14th April 2018 “When Nicky Winmar did this 25 years ago: ‘I’m proud to be black’” Winmar commented to Niall ‘‘The picture stands for itself. Twenty-five years ago, we’re still standing here, talking here, talking about the same story, which is part of history.”14 In 1993 many people held the view that what happened on the field or at the ground should stay at the ground and some of these people didn’t approve of Winmar’s proud stance after St Kilda’s victory against Collingwood in Round 4, 1993. After the game Winmar and his family required security guards to take them to his car outside the ground. Whilst 28 years on it seems obvious that Winmar’s stance against racism and Ludbey’s photo of this moment was a big story, at the time it wasn’t so clear and the moment has definitely grown in significance as the years have passed. In Niall’s article Ludbey commented to Nicky ‘‘I think we were pretty lonely at the 15-year mark, mate. We had a lot of people who thought we’d misinterpreted it, or I’d misinterpreted the moment or romanticised the moment and questioned whether I was standing on the soap box.’’15 Ludbey had to lobby for his photo of Winmar together with an article by Nick Place to be prominently displayed. Eventually Ludbey was successful and the day after the game Ludbey’s now infamous photo of Winmar together with Nick Place’s article ‘Winmar: I’m black and I’m proud of it” were both included on the front page of the ‘Sunday Age’.
During the first four rounds of the 1993 season Winmar played superbly, averaging 28.5 disposals and four tackles per game to lead several media awards, St Kilda had won three of their four games to be fourth on the ladder.
Due to the effects of the racial abuse he had received in Round 4 against Collingwood and a financial dispute with St Kilda Winmar did not play for the club again until Round 8, missing the losses in Round 5 and 7, the Saints had the bye in Round 6. On SBS Television program ‘Living Black’ on 29 September 2014 Winmar spoke about the after-effects of his stance against racism, saying “I was frightened for my life after that, I had death threats, I walked away from the game, I didn’t want to play anymore, I just feared for myself and my family.” Karla Grant asked “So what changed, you did go back obviously, what made you go back?” Nicky responded “The club itself, St Kilda were great, my teammates, I missed them. I was pretty young at the time. I just wanted to finish off what I started, I wanted to get to the milestone, I was the first indigenous player to play 200 games for VFL/AFL.”
During the few weeks away from the club momentum was lost by both Winmar and St Kilda in terms of their on-field performances. Winmar didn’t poll another vote in the Brownlow Medal for the season and St Kilda slid down the ladder to finish in 12th position out of 15 teams with 10 wins and 10 losses in one of the closest VFL/AFL seasons ever with Essendon finishing first, only three wins and a draw ahead of St Kilda. There was a sizable gap to the bottom three teams with Brisbane and Richmond finishing in 13th and 14th position respectively with four wins each whilst wooden spooners Sydney had only one win for the season.
During 1993 Winmar played 16 of St Kilda’s 20 matches, only missing two matches from his Round 8 return onwards due to a groin injury – Rounds 15 and 22. Nicky averaged 17.1 kicks, 6.4 handballs, 4.0 marks and 0.8 goals per game, Winmar ranked second at St Kilda for total kicks, fifth for marks, third for disposals and tackles and equal seventh for goals. Winmar kicked multiple goals on three occasions, with four goals against Brisbane in Round 11 and two goals twice.
Winmar started the 1994 season in the St Kilda reserves team, returned to the seniors for Round 2 against North Melbourne and set a new career high with 39 disposals, comprised of a game-high 31 kicks and eight handballs, he also had five marks and received two Brownlow Medal votes. The next week Winmar was critical to St Kilda defeating Essendon by 14 points at Waverley Park, being best afield with a team-high 27 disposals, comprised of 23 kicks and four handballs, he also kicked three goals. After having at least 27 disposals in his first two games Winmar had over 21 disposals in only three of his remaining 14 games in 1994 and for the second year in a row didn’t poll a Brownlow Medal vote for the rest of the season after starting in blistering fashion. Winmar missed Rounds 17 to 19 due to suspension and Round 21 with concussion, he played 17 of a possible 22 matches, averaging 15.1 kicks, 5.9 handballs, 3.9 marks and 0.9 goals per game. Winmar ranked fourth at St Kilda for total kicks, equal seventh for marks, fourth for disposals, sixth for tackles and fourth for goals with 15, behind Lockett (56), Craig O’Brien (53) and Loewe (19).
Winmar wins St Kilda’s 1995 best and fairest and is selected in All-Australian team
Whilst Winmar’s form tapered off as the 1993 and 1994 seasons progressed, in 1995 his form picked up in the second half of the season, culminating in a combined 81 disposals in his last two games of the season. In Round 21 against Fitzroy Winmar equalled his career best with 39 disposals, comprised of 25 kicks and 14 handballs, the following week in his 175th VFL/AFL game he set a new career best with 42 disposals against Footscray, comprised of 28 kicks and 14 handballs, he also laid six tackles, kicked a goal, took five marks and received two Brownlow Medal votes. Winmar’s 42 disposals in a game placed him second on St Kilda’s all-time list for most disposals in a game behind 44 disposals by Robert Harvey in Round 2, 1992. 25 and a half seasons later Winmar’s 42 disposals against Footscray in Round 22 1995 is now equal ninth on St Kilda’s all-time list. It was to be the last time that Winmar had more than 32 disposals in a game.
Winmar kicked multiple goals seven times in 1995, amazingly this was in consecutive games, starting with three goals in Round 7 against Footscray and then two goals in each of his next six games. Winmar only kicked a total of four goals in his last nine games of 1995, however he won more of the ball during this period, five of his nine games with more than 25 disposals were after Round 13.
In 1995 Winmar played all 22 matches for St Kilda, averaging 17.6 kicks, 7.3 handballs, 4.4 marks and 1.0 goals per game. Winmar ranked in the top 10 of the AFL in three categories, being ranked second for kicks per game, seventh for tackles and sixth for disposals. It was the fifth season in a row that Winmar was ranked in the top 12 of the AFL for kicks per game, having previously been eighth in 1991, 11th in 1992, ninth in 1993, and 12th in 1994. Highlighting just how difficult it is for a player to maintain such an outstanding level of performance over a prolonged period of time Winmar was the only player in the AFL to be ranked in the top dozen for kicks per game in all five seasons from 1991 to 1995.
Winmar was selected on a wing in the 1995 All-Australian team, joining St Kilda team-mate Robert Harvey who was selected in his customary position of ruck-rover. Michael Long was named on the opposite wing to Winmar whilst Lockett in his first season for Sydney was named at full-forward. Winmar led St Kilda for total kicks, disposals and tackles, ranked second for marks, third for handballs, and fourth for goals with 21, behind Loewe (76), O’Brien and Peter ‘Spider’ Everitt (both 32). Winmar polled 10 Brownlow medal votes, ranked equal third at St Kilda with Burke, behind Harvey (16) and Loewe (13).
In three seasons from 1993 to 1995 the highest St Kilda had finished on the ladder was 12th, Danny Frawley retired at the end of the 1995 season having set a new club record of 177 games as the Saints captain from 1987 to 1995. Nathan Burke and Stewart Loewe were appointed co-captains and St Kilda started the 1996 pre-season with very little expected given their performances in the previous three seasons and the loss of critical experienced players Lockett and Frawley in the previous 18 months.
Winmar stars in 1996 pre-season, injures knee early in the home and away season
The 1996 pre-season night competition was played in a knock-out format, unexpectedly St Kilda progressed to the Grand Final to play Carlton who dominated in 1995, winning 20 of their 22 home and away games and all three finals to win the 1995 premiership, however one of these losses was to the Saints who comprehensively outplayed them in Round 9, winning by 56 points, 80 to 24, in front of 17,902 supporters at Waverley.
The 1996 pre-season Grand Final between St Kilda and Carlton at Waverley Park was attended by 66,888, the second biggest pre-season crowd ever, and they witnessed the Saints easily win the pre-season premiership by 58 points. Playing on a wing 30 year-old Nicky Winmar was best afield in a classy performance to win the Michael Tuck medal, having 28 disposals and five marks, his outstanding first quarter was critical to St Kilda gaining the ascendancy over Carlton early and set the tone for the rest of the game.
St Kilda lost their first two games of the 1996 home and away season, however thing became worse in Round 3 with Winmar suffering a knee injury and St Kilda losing to Melbourne by 10 points at Princes Park. Nicky tore his medial ligament and spent a prolonged period on the sidelines.
Winmar made his return for St Kilda in Round 13 and played his best game of the season in the final game, having 22 kicks, 10 handballs, four marks, four tackles and polling a Brownlow Medal vote in St Kilda’s 69 point win against Adelaide at Waverley Park in Round 22.
During 1996 Winmar played 11 matches, averaging 13.6 kicks, 6.8 handballs, 4.6 marks and 0.9 goals per game. Winmar ranked fourth at St Kilda for kicks per game, and 31st in the AFL. St Kilda finished 10th on the ladder with 10 wins and 12 losses, but had been able to get valuable games into younger players such as Aussie Jones, Joel Smith and Tony Brown which proved invaluable the following season.
St Kilda make 1997 Grand Final, Winmar becomes first indigenous player to reach 200 VFL/AFL games
St Kilda lost their opening game of the 1997 season to Hawthorn by a goal and Winmar was dropped to the reserves for Round 2 for disciplinary reasons. Nicky returned to the seniors in Round 3 and proved critical in St Kilda’s thrilling seven point win against Collingwood at Waverley Park. In a skilful display Nicky had 20 kicks, seven handballs, kicked two goals and was voted best afield by the umpires for the 14th and final time as a St Kilda player. After the Saints lost their next two games to have a record of one win and four losses it looked very likely that St Kilda would miss the finals for the fifth season in a row, however the Saints improved to win six of their next eight games.
The 1997 season was shaping as one of the closest in the history of the VFL/AFL, and after 13 rounds St Kilda were seventh on the ladder with seven wins, six losses and a percentage of 106.1%. In 1997 the top eight teams made the finals, amazingly after Round 13 only two games and percentage separated Geelong, second on the ladder with eight wins and Fremantle who were 13th with six wins. St Kilda were one of seven teams from fourth to 10th with seven wins.
Winmar played 18 of St Kilda’s 22 home and away games during 1997, he was dropped to the reserves in Round 11 for not attending a training session and he missed Round 19 with a calf injury. Winmar made history in Round 17 against the Brisbane Lions on Sunday 27th July at Waverley, becoming the first indigenous player to reach 200 VFL/AFL games, a magnificent achievement which has since been achieved by several more indigenous players including Eddie Betts, Peter & Shaun Burgoyne, Leon Davis, Shane Edwards, Jeff Farmer, Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, Adam Goodes, Chris Johnson, Michael Johnson, Chris Lewis, Peter Matera, Andrew McLeod, Michael O’Loughlin, Byron Pickett, Paddy Ryder, Gavin Wanganeen and Daniel Wells. Winmar reached the milestone at 31 years of age, two months before his 32nd birthday, joining team-mates Stewart Loewe (playing his 230th game) and Nathan Burke (219th game) as 200 game players for the Saints. Only two other players in the St Kilda side for that game had more than 100 games VFL/AFL experience – Robert Harvey (171th game) and full-back Jamie Shanahan (117th game). St Kilda defeated Brisbane by 48 points in Winmar’s 200th game with the milestone man kicking an equal game-high three goals, had 11 kicks, seven handballs and six marks.
After Round 5 St Kilda turned it around in phenomenal fashion, winning 11 of their last 14 games to not just make the 1997 finals but finish on top of the ladder with 15 wins and seven losses, percentage ahead of Geelong in second place.
In their first final for five years St Kilda trailed Brisbane by five points at half-time of the qualifying final at Waverley Park but took control in the second half to win by 46 points, Winmar had 16 kicks, three handballs, three marks and kicked two goals to play an important role. With the win St Kilda earnt the week off and progressed to their first preliminary final in 25 years. After the qualifying final win against Brisbane Winmar travelled to Western Australia to visit his ill father Neal.
The reigning premiers North Melbourne defeated West Coast by 13 points in the first semi-final to progress to a Friday night preliminary final against the Saints at the MCG. The underdogs, St Kilda proved too strong for North Melbourne, winning by 31 points at the MCG, Winmar had 10 kicks, five handballs and kicked three goals – ranked equal second at St Kilda with Stewart Loewe, behind full-forward Jason Heatley who kicked seven goals straight.
St Kilda went into the 1997 Grand Final against Adelaide as red-hot favourites having set a new club record with nine consecutive wins. On the night before the Grand Final Nicky’s father Neal died. Worried that Winmar would be drained before the Grand Final even started the St Kilda match committee debated not picking him for the game, but in the end decided to select him.
St Kilda started the Grand Final against Adelaide at the MCG well and held the ascendancy during the first half, however despite starting the second half with a 13 point lead they were over-run by the Adelaide Crows with Darren Jarman playing a key role up forward and finishing the match with six goals. Adelaide started the last quarter with a 10 point lead and kicked away to win the Grand Final by 31 points. Winmar had nine kicks, four handballs and kicked a goal in the Grand Final loss.
During 1997 Winmar played 21 of St Kilda’s 25 matches, averaging 12.1 kicks, 5.3 handballs, 3.2 marks and 1.3 goals per game. Winmar ranked eighth at St Kilda for total kicks, sixth for tackles and fourth for goals with 27, behind Heatley (73), Loewe (54) and Everitt (44), he ranked equal 31st in the AFL for total goals. Winmar kicked multiple goals eight times, comprised of three goals three times and two goals five times.
St Kilda make finals in 1998, Winmar has a roller-coaster season
The Saints won 11 of their first 14 games in 1998 to be top of the ladder, however they faded as the season progressed, winning only two of their last eight games of the home and away season. In Round 20 against Carlton at the MCG opposed to tagger Anthony Franchina, Winmar lost his focus and had just eight disposals. When asked about this game Winmar said “I was frustrated, things were going bad in my personal life, it just went wayward, lost it, and sort of went walk-about for a while.” Winmar was disciplined for his disappointing actions during the game against Carlton and dropped to the reserves for Round 21, but returned to the seniors the following week. St Kilda finished sixth on the ladder with 13 wins and nine losses behind minor premiers North Melbourne who had 16 wins, the Western Bulldogs (15), Sydney (14), Melbourne (14) and Adelaide (13).
Winmar played St Kilda’s last three games of the season and was one of the club’s best players in both finals losses. After trailing by 22 points at half time of their qualifying final against Sydney at the SCG St Kilda fought back well, Winmar had an opportunity to put St Kilda in front in the dying moments but he was tackled as he kicked which caused the shot to narrowly miss and Sydney won by two points. Winmar had nine kicks, four handballs, four marks and kicked an equal team-high three goals.
In the 51 point semi final loss to Melbourne Winmar was one of St Kilda’s best players, having 20 kicks, nine handballs and five marks, he led the Saints for disposals and had 11 inside 50s, the only other Saint with more than three inside 50’s was Robert Harvey with five.
During 1998 Winmar played an equal career-high 23 games from a possible 24 matches for St Kilda, averaging 13.4 kicks, 8.1 handballs, 4.7 marks and 0.7 goals per game. Nicky averaged 21.5 disposals per game, his most since having 24.9 disposals per game in 1995, he ranked 23rd in the AFL for total kicks. Winmar ranked third at St Kilda for total kicks and marks, equal second for handballs, third for disposals, fourth for tackles, second for handball receives, fifth for looseball gets, equal fifth for inside 50s, and seventh for goals with 16. Winmar finished eighth in St Kilda’s best and fairest with 87 votes, one vote behind defender Matthew Young in seventh place. Winmar kicked multiple goals five time with a season best of three goals in the finals loss to Sydney.
At the end of the 1998 season St Kilda decided not to offer Winmar a contract for 1999, with his performance in Round 20 when he lost his focus against Carlton considered to be a critical factor in the Saints reaching this decision.
Winmar joins the Western Bulldogs for 1999 season
Nicky turned 33 years old the day before the 1998 Grand Final, however his body was the best it had been since his sensational season in 1995, and his performances throughout the season showed that he still had more to offer at AFL level. Due to this Nicky nominated for the 1998 National Draft and was the first player with previous AFL experience picked in that draft, being selected by the Western Bulldogs with pick 30. The Western Bulldogs had lost in the 1997 and 1998 preliminary finals to Adelaide and felt that Nicky would provide a valuable injection of class and experience to the club.
Winmar made his debut for the Western Bulldogs in the opening round of the 1999 season against their nemesis Adelaide and was in the Bulldogs best players with 11 kicks, 11 handballs, one goal and five inside 50’s in the Bulldogs 13 point win. Winmar played 20 of the Western Bulldogs 22 games during the home and away season, missing Round 9 with a cheek injury and Round 18 with a groin injury. Nicky predominantly played in the forward line and kicked multiple goals 11 times, including four goals three times and three goals on three occasions. Nicky polled four Brownlow Medal votes comprised of one vote against Sydney in Round 14 for a 15 disposal, three goal performance and three votes in Round 20 against Richmond when he wound back the clock to have 14 kicks, nine handballs, seven marks and kicked four goals in the Bulldogs 46 point victory.
In the final round of the home and away season, four weeks before his 34th birthday Winmar played his 250th VFL/AFL game and celebrated in style, having 14 kicks, four handballs, four marks and kicked an equal game-high four goals in the 67 point victory over Port Adelaide at Princes Park.
The Western Bulldogs finished fourth on the ladder with 15 wins, six losses and a draw and played West Coast who had recorded 12 wins and 10 losses, in a qualifying final at the MCG. Winmar was injured early in the game which proved to be a critical loss for the Bulldogs as West Coast defeated them by five points in a low scoring game, 65 points to 60. The injury prevented Nicky from playing in the semi-final against Brisbane at the Gabba which the Bulldogs lost by 53 points, ending their season.
In 1999 Winmar played 21 of a possible 24 matches for the Western Bulldogs averaging 7.5 kicks, 3.5 handballs, 3.3 marks and 1.6 goals per game. Winmar kicked 34 goals, ranked equal 24th in the AFL and third at the Western Bulldogs behind Paul Hudson (57) and Chris Grant (37).
Retirement and career achievements
Winmar retired from AFL Football at the end of the 1999 season, having had a 13 season career in which he played 251 games, kicked 317 goals and was selected in the All-Australian team three times – 1989, 1991 and 1995. After wearing the number 7 jumper for his 12 seasons with St Kilda Winmar wore the number 1 jumper during his season with the Western Bulldogs.
Over his 251 game VFL/AFL career Winmar averaged 14.3 kicks, 5.6 handballs, 4.1 marks, 1.3 goals and 0.34 Brownlow votes per game, in eight of his 13 seasons he kicked at least 20 goals and in all 12 seasons at St Kilda he averaged at least 17 disposals per game. Winmar was a sublime user of the ball and was also a great ball-winner, in most of his 13 VFL/AFL seasons he ranked in the top 30 of the competition for either total goals, or kicks per game, and managed to even achieve both feats in the same season multiple times highlighting the impact he made in the midfield and the forward line. Winmar ranks in the all-time top 20 for both games (17th) and goals (12th) for St Kilda.
As well as quantity Winmar also delivered a high degree of quality and in 2001 was selected on the wing in St Kilda’s team of the century. One of Winmar’s greatest strengths was his versatility, allowing him to be very damaging whether he was playing as a midfielder, small forward, or when required, as a leading forward. Nicky had electrifying skills and has a highlight reel that would be surpassed by very few of the 1,625 players that have represented St Kilda during the club’s 120 year plus history in the VFL/AFL. Winmar was a great exponent of spectacular overhead marking, a precise kick, textbook tackler and also kicked skilful team-lifting goals.
During his 12 seasons with St Kilda Winmar won the best and fairest twice – 1989 and 1995 and was runner-up in his first two seasons in 1987 and 1988. In Nicky’s career with the Saints two other players won the Saints best and fairest twice, Tony Lockett and Nathan Burke, only bettered by Robert Harvey with four best and fairest awards. In his autobiography Harvey wrote about Winmar “He was always an amazing footballer, even on the training track. As a kid you would just marvel at him – whether it was left or right boot, he would never miss with his passes. In games, his chasing, tackling and effort were terrific in much the same way as Trevor Barker had been.”16
In 2001 Winmar was selected on the wing in St Kilda’s team of the century. Five of Winmar’s team-mates during his 12 seasons at the Saints were also selected in the team, being the late Trevor Barker (half-back), Stewart Loewe (half-forward), Tony Lockett (full-forward), Nathan Burke (forward pocket) and Robert Harvey ruck-rover).
During 2003 Winmar was one of 13 inaugural inductees to St Kilda’s Hall of Fame and was joined by two of his peers Barker and Lockett. The 10 predecessors of Winmar’s that were inducted into St Kilda’s inaugural Hall of Fame were in alphabetical order, Darrel Baldock, Carl Ditterich, Ian Drake, Verdun Howell, Allan Jeans, David McNamara, Bill Mohr, Neil Roberts, Ross Smith and Ian Stewart.
On 1st August 2005 Nicky Winmar was selected as a half-forward in the Indigenous team of the century, the only other player in the team who represented St Kilda was Jim Krakouer, selected in a forward pocket, Krakouer played 134 games for North Melbourne from 1982 to 1989, followed by 13 games for St Kilda from 1990 – 1991 as a team-mate of Nicky.
Winmar represented Western Australia eight times in State of Origin and in 2009 he was inducted into the West Australian Hall of Fame for his club performances, with in order South Fremantle (58 games and 99 goals from 1983 to 1986), St Kilda (230 games and 283 goals from 1987 to 1998) and the Western Bulldogs (21 games and 34 goals in 1999).
The statue of Winmar unveiled at Optus Stadium on Saturday July 6th, 2019 was a fitting honour, however there is another honour which he is yet to receive – being inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Determining who is inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame is a subjective matter, however you can mount a strong case that Winmar should be inducted. Some players that have been inducted into the HOF during the past decade were only selected in one or two All-Australian teams during their career and played the vast majority of their career in one of the three areas of the ground, forward line, midfield or backline. Nicky sustained a high standard throughout his VFL/AFL career, was selected in the All-Australian team three times, had sublime skills and displayed that he could win matches off his own boot whether playing in the midfield or the forward line. Winmar also played an influential role as an Indigenous trailblazer, in Round 17, 1997 becoming the first indigenous player to reach 200 VFL/AFL games.
A tournament for underage indigenous footballers called the ‘Nicky Winmar Cup’ was established in 2009 in his honour as a joint venture between the West Australian Football Commission and the West Australian Department of Sport and Recreation.
In 2013 the National Sports Museum at the MCG celebrated the 20th anniversary of Winmar’s stance against racism on 17 April 1993 at Victoria Park with an exhibition titled ‘Black and Proud: A stand against racism.’ Guest curator of the exhibition Matthew Klugman commented on Winmar’s stance “It’s hard to think of a more important popular Australian image over the last two decades. It’s up there with the 1968 Black Power Salute as a defining image of race and sport, and its enduring significance can be seen in the way it continues to be shown over and over again – in newspapers, posters, galleries and on city walls.”17
In May 2013 Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam both travelled to Melbourne for Indigenous Round and the 20th anniversary of the Round 4 1993 game against Collingwood, the duo both went back to Victoria Park, the venue for the infamous game. McAdam reflected back to that ground breaking day ”A lot of good came out of that because it did make a lot of people stand up and take notice and probably get a better understanding of Aboriginal Australia and how we feel and the things we had to put up with to play the game. A lot of stuff back then was hush-hush so for it to come out was massive. It opened a lot of clubs’ eyes, and not only clubs but supporters. When I see AFL today in 2013 and I see so many Aboriginal players in all the different clubs, it makes me proud that it can have an impact on the younger ones.”18
The iconic image at the conclusion of St Kilda’s victory against Collingwood at Victoria Park on April 17 1993 of Winmar lifting up his jumper and pointing to his skin to display that “I am black and I am proud” was “not captured by TV cameras, but football photographer Wayne Ludbey caught the act after hearing first-hand the abuse that had come Winmar’s way during the day.”19 The photo taken by Ludbey of Winmar (which is shown as the feature image for this article) was featured the following day on the front page of the Sunday Age, and whilst people quickly recognised that it was an important moment the significance of Winmar’s gesture 28 years ago has increased over time as looking back now people can acknowledge that it was a turning point in the AFL realising that they needed to take action to stamp out racism, which in turn has been a key driver in society realising that racism is unacceptable.
When asked on ‘Open Mike’ by host Mike Sheahan in May 2013 ‘is there anyone that played against either of you two that you haven’t forgiven for what they might have said’ Gilbert responded ‘no I’m happy with blokes on the field, what’s happened happened, we can’t change the past’ and Nicky added ‘no grudges against them.’
On the highlight of his time at St Kilda Winmar commented on ‘Open Mike’ “Just being at St Kilda, they were a great club to be with, and they looked after me, and helped me in a lot of things, being part of Tony Lockett in the side and Robert Harvey and Nathan Burke and Stewart Loewe, I sort of miss them guys, they were great friends.”
Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam will forever be linked together due to the events at Victoria Park 28 years ago, McAdam played 111 AFL games comprised of 53 for St Kilda between 1991 and 1993 and 58 games for Brisbane between 1994 and 1996. McAdam left St Kilda in 1993 due to family reasons, he was appointed as the AFL’s first indigenous liaison officer and was a host of the ‘Marngrook Footy Show’. Before starting his VFL/AFL career McAdam made history in 1989, when playing for Central District he became the first Indigenous player to win the Magarey Medal as the best player in the SANFL. When asked for his thoughts on Nicky Winmar as a player McAdam commented “Pound for pound he is the greatest aboriginal footballer that I have ever seen. He had every trick in the book, from the x factor, to tackling, to one percenters, I have never seen any AFL Indigenous player do what Nicky Winmar did on the field.”
One of Winmar’s fellow Indigenous Team of the Century Members in Adam Goodes took a stance after he was racially vilified by a Collingwood supporter when he was playing for the Sydney Swans in Indigenous Round on 24 May 2013 at the MCG. Goodes a two time Brownlow Medallist played one of his greatest ever games and for only the second time in his career achieved the double of at least 30 disposals and three goals in a game to play an integral role in Sydney’s 47 point victory and poll the three Brownlow Medal votes. Immediately after being racially vilified by a Collingwood supporter late in the last quarter Goodes reported the incident to security staff, the spectator was a 13 year-old girl. A distraught Goodes left the field and headed to the change-rooms.
During a press conference the day after the Round 9 game Goodes said “To come to the boundary line and hear a 13 year-old girl call me an ape, and it’s not the first time on a footy field I have been referred to as a monkey or an ape, it was shattering. When I turned around and saw it was a young girl, and I thought she was 14, that was my initial thought, I was just like really, how could that happen, and all this week is a celebration of our people, our culture, and I had the absolute privilege of meeting the great man Nicky Winmar two days ago now, and what he was able to do for us 20 years ago and to be able to make a stand myself. It’s not her fault, she’s 13, she’s still so innocent, I don’t put any blame on her, unfortunately it is what she hears, the environment that she’s grown up in that has made her think that it is OK to call people names, I can guarantee you right now she would have no idea how it makes anyone feel by calling them an ape, it cut me deep and affected me so much that I couldn’t even be on the ground last night to celebrate the victory, to celebrate Indigenous round, and I’m still shattered, personally, yeah it’s tough. Loving the support of my friends and family, and people in social media, it’s fantastic but I think the person that needs the most support right now is the little girl.”
Whilst Goodes did receive considerable support from the public for his stance against racism, a group of people had a different view and Goodes was also subjected to a barrage of booing from spectators late in his career which had a profound impact on him and led to him missing Sydney’s Round 18, 2015 game against Adelaide, he retired at the end of the 2015 season.
In 2019 two documentaries – The Final Quarter and The Australian Dream were released which covered the final years of Goodes’ career. On 7 June 2019 the AFL released a lengthy statement, part of the statement said “Through Adam’s story, we see the personal and institutional experience of racism. We see that Australia’s history of dispossession and disempowerment of First Nation’s people has left its mark, and that racism, on and off the field, continues to have a traumatic and damaging impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and communities.
“The treatment of Adam challenges us, and our right to be considered Australia’s indigenous football code. Adam, who represents so much that is good and unique about our game, was subject to treatment that drove him from football. The game did not do enough to stand with him and call it out.
“We apologise unreservedly for our failures during this period.”20
In recognition of Winmar St Kilda played a home game against Collingwood as the opening game of Indigenous Round in 2014 on Friday night May 30 at Etihad Stadium. In October 2013 Winmar spoke about the game “This year it was fantastic to get over (for the 20-year anniversary), so it’s great we can play this game against the Magpies. I have been over (to indigenous round) a few times and have been to the Richmond-Essendon game for Michael Long, and I am really looking forward to this game with Collingwood.”21
In the SBS TV Program ‘Living Black’ that aired on 29 September 2014 Stan Alves who coached Winmar at St Kilda from 1994 to 1998 commented on Nicky “He is what I would call an x-factor, that capacity to have that fierceness in him that his tackling, his chasing and things like that just made him a complete footballer, a magical footballer to watch and a treat to coach.” During the program Karla Grant asked Winmar “So tell us what is Nicky Winmar doing these days, what are you involved in?” Nicky replied, “I did a bit of mining work for a while for a few years, a bit of guest speaking every now and then. I had a bit of a health problem a few years ago, I had a heart attack, I had a stem put in which is scary. Its in my families genes, my dad died from it at the age of 50, I am 49 now, don’t know what caused it, it just happens. I find it hard to work sometimes these days because the medication I’m on, they don’t like employing people with health issues, it’s been pretty tough, I’ve really enjoyed who I am.”
23 years after taking a stance against racism Winmar took another strong stance, playing a key role in the lead up to St Kilda’s AFL Pride Game against Sydney in Round 21, 2016 at Etihad Stadium in support of his gay son Tynan. Nicky commented “Dad always said to be proud of who and what you are, no matter what. We’re not here forever so you’ve got to be as proud for as long as you can. I am who I am and I am proud of my stance on racism in sport. I’m proud to be a father to my son who’s gay and I just want to support him and his friends and anyone else out there as much as I can.”22
Nicky Winmar statue unveiled in Perth on Noongar land at Optus Stadium
During 2017 football fans Alex Wadelton and Aaron Tyler set up a crowd-funding page for a statue of the iconic moment that Wimmar lifted his jumper up and pointed to his skin at Victoria Park. Whilst Winmar was in Melbourne during April 2018 he was measured for the statue.
The project come to fruition and the AFL unveiled the statue of Winmar in front of Optus Stadium on Saturday July 6th, 2019. There had been much debate about the best location for the location of the Winmar statue with options being Victoria Park, St Kilda’s training base RSEA Park in Moorabbin, or Optus Stadium in Perth, the city where Winmar began his senior Australian Rules career. The decision was for the Winmar Statue to be located at Optus Stadium the home ground for AFL club’s West Coast and Fremantle. Given that the capacity of Optus Stadium is 60,000 people far more people will be able to see the Winmar statue at this location than at Moorabbin or Victoria Park, however there were strong arguments to have the statue at either of these locations. Being a Noongar man it was also important to Nicky that the statue was located on Noongar land. Noongar Native title areas cover South-West Western Australia.
On June 9 2019 it was announced that the Winmar statue would be unveiled on Saturday 6 July, 2019, the day that the 50th derby between West Coast and Fremantle was played. This day was also the eve of the 2019 National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week which was from 7 to 14 July. Western Australia’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt spoke about the impact Winmar made as a trailblazing footballer and went on to say “But this defining action also propelled him into the arena of social justice. Nicky’s actions that day have inspired countless other young people both in sport and in life to stand up and be proud of yourself and your heritage.”23
On Friday 5th July, 2019 when Wayne Ludbey appeared on ABC Radio Perth program ‘On Breakfast’ with Nadia Mitsopoulos and Russell Woolf, Nadia asked “What about Nicky Winmar and how he reacted and the fact that we still talk about this 26 years later and your photo is being immortalised in bronze tomorrow, but what responsibility do you bear on the impact it had on him because I am sure it provided him with some ups and downs?” Wayne replied “Yeah, look it’s a conversation that we have had just recently and I think it is an important one to share with your listeners. We are all celebrating his courage and what an amazing strength of character he had on that day and we have done that for the last 26 years. “Just recently Nicky said to me: ‘I really appreciate you’ve changed my life, but for me, I’m having to embrace possibly one of the worst days of my life over and over again’.” Nadia asked “How does that make you feel?” Ludbey responded “Having met Nicky and been on this road for 26 years with him, it has been an education, I am just a suburban kid from near Glen Waverley and I have learnt so much from him about indigenous culture and I need to learn more, I need to educate myself about indigenous culture. I just hope I haven’t ruined his life. That’s what my immediate thought was. It was quite a sobering comment to make and one that I have reflected on in the last four weeks since he said it.” Russell replied “I would love to think on balance that he is happier that it was taken.” Wayne said “Look, he’s very excited about the statue, we had a beer in the pub near the statue yesterday and he’s really chuffed and the warmth and well-wishers that he received yesterday when I was with him in Perth was overwhelming.” On the Nicky Winmar statue Ludbey commented “I love it, I saw it about a year ago, it was quite an emotional moment, I think it is one of the better statues I have seen.” Nadia asked “Surely for you that must be the ultimate complement, to have your photo immortalised that way?” Ludbey responded “You know what, I really prefer not to have had to take the photo, I would prefer that we celebrate Nicky Winmar for 250 amazing games of AFL. He was a champion, had everything, great mark, lots of pace, fed Stewart Loewe and Tony Lockett, one of the AFL or St Kilda greats Nicky Winmar. In a way I would probably prefer we weren’t here, but look I am very honoured to be here and looking forward to tomorrow.”
On Saturday morning 5 July 2019 a group of Western Australian based St Kilda supporters the ‘Western Saints’ marched across the Matagarup Bridge whilst chanting St Kilda’s theme song shortly before the Winmar statue was unveiled on the banks of the Swan River. At the unveiling of the statue an emotional Winmar was joined by Ludbey, McAdam, AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLaughlin, AFL General Manager Inclusion and Social Policy Tanya Hosch, WA Premier Mark McGowan, West Coast CEO Trevor Nisbett, Fremantle CEO Steve Rosich and an array of former indigenous players including Michael Johnson, Des Headland, Dale Kickett and AFL Australian Football Hall of Fame members Gavin Wanganeen, Peter Matera and Michael O’Loughlin. AFL CEO Gillon McLaughlin commented “There are moments in sport that capture the public imagination and transcend the game – and Nicky Winmar’s defiant stance proclaiming his pride about his Aboriginality is one of those moments. It helped change our game, and I hope, change our country. We are very proud of this statue, and thankful to the Western Australian Government for helping make this happen.” McLaughlin also said “It’s a great moment for Nicky, for football, for Indigenous Australia and hopefully the broader community. It’s an iconic moment and it’s fantastic it’s recognised so dramatically in such scale here. I think sport, generally, plays an incredibly important role in having the conversation (about racism), showing leadership and moving the conversation forward. The leadership and courage of Nicky and Gilbert McAdam that day sparked a conversation. To put it up in lights like this means a lot of people can continue to have a conversation when they see it.”
At the statue unveiling on Saturday 6th July 2019 AFL General Manager inclusion and social policy Tania Hosch commented “The fact that it stands for more than football and more than just an individual, it stands for respect and stands for saying racism is not OK is incredibly significant and I think it’s still relevant today, as it was then. I’m so pleased for Nicky, for the Noongar people and for Western Australia to have that recognition on Noongar country.”24
Hosch also spoke about the impact Winmar’s stance against racism had made in the past but also mentioned the impact his stance and now his statue could have in the future saying “I really hope that everyone remembers when they see this statue that we can never take our foot off the pedal when it comes to addressing racism. That we’ve always got to stand up to racism in the fine way that Nicky Winmar has done. It has inspired generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander footballers and all footballers and many, many Australians. This is a really, really significant moment for the country, I’m so pleased for you that this statue has landed on your (Noongar) country and this great football state of Western Australia.”
After the Nicky Winmar statue was unveiled on Saturday 5th July, 2019 Fremantle Football Club Indigenous and multicultural liaison officer Michael Johnson commented “Being an Indigenous boy growing up and remembering that moment, it’s something special. It’s an awesome experience to be here and see how many people are here to represent St Kilda as well as the Indigenous and Noongar people. Where it sits, it’s a perfect spot in front of Optus Stadium and especially when you come across the Matagarup Bridge, everyone can see it. It’s important it’s in WA, it’s where he’s come from. It’s his land, he’s a Noongar man and it’s here along the river and the story of him being an Indigenous, Aboriginal and Noongar man from Pingelly, it’s not just for him, it’s also for where he’s come from, his family and football in general. Nicky had to move away from South Fremantle, away from his friends and family and shift over to Melbourne and follow his dream of playing AFL footy in a time when racism was at its height. It means a lot to the Noongar mob, what he’s done. You can go through all the different names, Michael O’Loughlin, Che Cockatoo-Collins, Gavin Wanganeen, all those guys played at a tough time and they’ve just made it a lot easier for young Noongar men like myself to come through. These guys have led the way to make it a lot easier to transition into the AFL system.”25
At the statue unveiling in front of Optus Stadium on Saturday July 6th, 2019 Winmar commented “It’s a surreal thing to be a part of and it’s something my family are very proud of. I hope this statue encourages more conversations and education about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture.”Later in the day after his statue was unveiled Winmar commented “I am very happy. I had a few tears earlier when I saw my family and loved ones and my dad’s brothers are here and my mum’s family. I hope they look after it for me. I did get fond of it back home where it was in Melbourne, I was going to keep it, but it found a home. This is here for everybody to come and tell their next generation about respects of persons and the people we are.”26
During his phenomenal football career Winmar was a trailblazer that has left a significant legacy, becoming the first indigenous player to reach 200 VFL/AFL games and created a phenomenal highlights reel with his mix of high-flying marks, skillful goals and textbook tackling.
Winmar made a significant impact when after the conclusion of the Round 4 1993 victory against Collingwood at Victoria Park, in response to the racial abuse he had received he lifted his jumper up and pointed to his skin colour signalling that he was proud of his indigenous heritage. It is a moment that has made a lasting impression not just on Australian Rules Football but on society in general, with Nicky Winmar’s response to the racial abuse he received from Collingwood supporters that fateful April day in 1993, and the pride he displayed about his indigenous heritage being the turning point in the AFL’s push to stamp racism out of the game.
On his involvement in the St Kilda Football 2021 Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round Campaign Nicky Winmar commented to ‘saints.com.au’ “It’s a story that needs to be told. I’m incredibly proud to continue the conversation of reconciliation through The Ripple Effect documentary, the Point + Be Proud program and the design of this year’s Indigenous Guernsey for Sir Doug Nicholls Round. Making that stand at Victoria Park all those years ago and seeing the impact it’s had is really moving for me, my family and my people. I hope this documentary has the power to create meaningful change between individuals and our country as a whole. While we’re all taking steps in the right direction, we still have such a long way to go until true reconciliation is reached.”27
By Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
Photograph of Nicky Winmar by Wayne Ludbey
5 Playright Publishing Pty Ltd, Heroes with Halos – St Kilda’s One Hundred Greatest by Russell Holmesby, page 286
6 St Kilda Football Club, The Saint, April 1995, page 15
8 Bas Publishing, The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers by Russell Holmesby & Jim Main, Ninth Edition, page 929
9 Playright Publishing Pty Ltd, Heroes with Halos – St Kilda’s One Hundred Greatest by Russell Holmesby, page 286
10 St Kilda Football Club, Strength through loyalty: Saints at Moorabbin and beyond by Russell Holmesby, page 180
11 Playright Publishing Pty Ltd, Heroes with Halos – St Kilda’s One Hundred Greatest by Russell Holmesby, page 287
16 Pan Macmillan Australia, Harves Strength through loyalty by Robert Harvey, page 82
Milestones and Misses
Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW) and the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey, such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey the sportspeople have had during their career.