Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer Retired VFL Player and Coach
Graham Vivian Farmer, popularly known as “Polly”, is a retired Australian Rules football player and coach.
Graham Farmer was born in Western Australia and joined the East Perth football club as a Ruckman in 1953. Physically, the great Graham “Polly” Farmer stood 75 inches (191 centimetres) tall and weighed 210 lb. or 94 kilograms. A characteristic that helped him to win ruck contests easily was his amazingly and naturally high leap.
In his time with the East Perth football club, the well-known player managed to win several awards and contributed to the team by winning three great premierships.
Almost ten years later in 1962, he was recruited by the Victorian Football League (VFL). The VFL league ten appointed him to the Geelong Football club where he played 101 games and also captained the team for three successful seasons.
Polly then returned to Western Australia and acted as the Captain/coach of the West Peth football club in 1968. He also led the club to premiership in 1969 and 1971 which was played against East Perth. Once Farmer retired as a player, he went ahead and coached Geelong, East Perth and Western Australia’s first ever state of origin team.
Graham Farmer is a well-known legend of Australian Rules football and is famous to be the one who revolutionised ruckwork and handballing. The Graham Farmer freeway in Graham’s hometown of Perth has been named in his honour.
Farmer’s Childhood Days
Farmer, who was 21 months old, was taken to Sister Kate’s church home in Queen’s Park along with his other siblings.
The church was known to be for the delicate, sick and destitute; Polly says that if it weren’t for Sister Kate, he would never have been able to lead a normal and happy life. He says that all he has is because of her and that she and her dedicated helpers gave him a chance to make something out of himself.
An interesting fact about Graham Farmer’s childhood is him being affected by Poliomyelitis; this left him with a left leg that was shorter than his right. Another fun titbit was that Farmer was nicknamed “Polly the Parrot” at age six because he chattered away like a parrot.
Later on, while he was still at high school, Farmer was spotted by talent scouts for East Perth Football, which he joined immediately.
Farmer’s Football Career
Once he joined the East Perth Football Club, he began his top level career in 1953 with the West Australian National Football League (WANFL).
From the year of 1953-1961, Polly played 176 games with East Perth and managed to win the club’s Fairest and Best award seven times in that duration. Farmer was also a member of their Premiership teams in 1956, 1958 and 1959.
Farmer was later recruited by Bob Davis in1962 to the Geelong Football Club in the VFL. Unfortunately, Polly severely injured his knee in the first few moments of his debut for Geelong. The injury caused him to miss the rest of the season as he had ligament damage that was serious.
However, Farmer recovered in a year and returned to the field in 1963, where he won a Premiership with Geelong. He also managed to come second in the Brownlow Medal behind that great winner, Bob Skilton. Sometime later, Farmer was made captain of the Geelong Football Club from 1965 to 1967.
Polly returned home to Western Australia in 1968 and gladly accepted and played out the role of the coach with the West Perth Football Club, rivals of his previous club, the East Perth. His endeavour with West Perth proved to be fruitful as he was able to lead the team to premierships in 1969 and 1971 while managing to defeat East Perth both times in the Grand Final.
Farmer finally retired from playing football in 1971 at the age of 36 years and was celebrated for playing 76 games with West Perth.
In 1973, Farmer returned to the VFL as the coach of the Geelong Football Club and continued to coach the team until 1975. His short coaching period with Geelong was due to the fact that he had an increasing stressful relationship with the club’s committee. This is why he returned to coaching East Perth again from 1976-1977.
Farmer also coached the very first Western Australian state of origin team in 1977.
Unfortunately, Polly was fired as the coach of East Perth in 1977 due to internal conflict and was replaced by Barry Cable in 1978. After he was sacked, the former coach of East Perth said, “When the going gets tough, a club should stick together and fight to beat it.
But some people chip and chip at the ground underneath you in trying to find someone to blame. I do my best in football and I have no time to protect my back, so it’s left wide open. Maybe that’s a lot of my trouble.”
Going through Farmer’s history, it can been noted that he played 31 games for Western Australia, five games for Victoria and had the pleasure of being selected in the All-Australian team in 1956, 1958 and 1961.
Overall, he played 356 league games which included 30 finals, 10 Grand Finals and six premierships.
One interesting fact about Polly is that he had been known to practice handballing through the car windows of car yards where he had worked as a child. Because of this, one of Farmer’s football legacies was to change handballing from a last resort option to a “dangerous offensive weapon”.
In his years of coaching, Farmer was able to positively influence many Geelong players; the latter say that Polly was a one-of-a-kind coach who taught them everything they know without even speaking a single word.
Overall, Farmer was a skilled, strong and mobile ruckman who will be remembered in AFL football.
Awards And Achievements by Graham Farmer
Farmer won a variety of different awards in the entire course of his career and these have been talked about in detail below.
- Polly was awarded the Simpson Medal in 1959 for his performance against South Australia in the Perth Carnival.
- Later on, he was also awarded the Tassie Medal for being judged the best in the event.
- In 1957, Farmer was tied for the WAFL’s Sand over Medal with East Fremantle’s Jack Clarke, but lost it on the countback. However, when the WAFL awarded retrospective medals for those who missed out on countbacks, he received his in 1997.
- Polly was also awarded the Simpson Medal for performing the best on ground in the Grand Final in 1959 and once again in 1961 when he played against Victoria in the Brisbane Carnival.
- In his times with Geelong, Farmer won the team’s fairest and best awards in 1963 and 1964
- During the AFC Championships in Adelaide, Farmer was awarded his fourth Simpson Medal, which was a great honour for him.
These aside, one of his well-known establishments is the Polly Farmer Foundation which was also facilitated by Fred Chaney, former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Sir Ronal Wilson, former High court judge, and Greg Durham, the chief executive of the Geelong Football Club.
This establishment was developed to help build a foundation for young Aboriginal people who had the potential to excel in sports as well as other professions and businesses.
In the year 1971, Polly became the very first Australian football player to receive a Queen’s Honour when he was named a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The footballer’s name was also included in the 150 bronze tablets set into the footpath along the St George Terrace, Perth.
Moreover, in 1996, Polly was inducted into the inaugural Australian Football Hall of Fame as one of the 12 official legends. In addition, WA Transport Minister, Eric Charlton announced on 6th October 1997 that the $400 million Northern City Bypass would be called the Graham Farmer Freeway as Polly deserved at least one city transport network named after him. Interestingly, the freeway connects the two worlds of West and East Perth, which were the teams coached by Farmer.
Finally, He was also entered into the West Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2004. All of these come as no surprise since this athlete was one of the best in Australia.
Farmer’s Personal Life and Legacy
Farmer met a Tasmanian woman, Marlene, who was holidaying in Perth in 1956 and married her a year later in 1957. The two have three children: Brett, Kim and Dean.
Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties and issues, Farmer and his wife had to sell their house in 1992 and ran a two start South-way Auto Lodge motel until 1998.
Polly also worked for 6PR during the football season where he was required to promote the Graham Farmer Freeway for Main Roads Western Australia until June 2000. Sadly, because of debts and other money problems, the football legend had to put up his Sandover medals of 1956, 1957 and 1960 for sale in 2000 along with his MBE.
Currently, Polly is battling with dementia and his wife, Marlene says that even though it is a great struggle, they manage to live life and appreciate all that it has to offer.