Prior to anti-discrimination rules and regulations being put in place in the AFL, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players regularly faced abuse and racism from both spectators and payers alike.
It was a hard time to be Indigenous in the AFL, but they stayed strong and sought help where they could.
On the 17th of April 1993 Collingwood faced St Kilda on the magpie’s home ground at Victoria Park. During the warm up before the game, St Kilda’s Gilbert McAdam – who was about to play his first game at Victoria Park – and Nicky Winmar copped racial abuse from the sidelines leading them to decide that something had to change – that they would take a stand and not let the abuse get to them and instead let it fuel them to win.
Tension was high as St Kilda had beaten Collingwood the year before in the finals, but they had not beaten them at Victoria Park since 1976. Ultimately though, St Kilda came out victorious and Winmar and McAdam were named ‘best on ground’.
At the end of the game when the siren went off, Nicky Winmar found himself near the Collingwood cheer squad, who, angry with the outcome of the game, were once again hurling abuse in his direction.
Picture: John Feder.
This led to one of the most well-known moments in AFL history. Winmar raised his hands in victory to the cheer squad and then proceeded to raise his jumper and point to his skin saying
‘I’m black and I’m proud to be black’
This moment was immortalised in the photographs Wayne Ludbey and John Feder who each fought with their respective editors to have the photos published. Within days everyone was discussing the event.
The following weekend Collingwood’s President, Allan McAlister made things much worse for the club which was being criticised as racist, when on television he attempted to assure the public that the Magpies were not a racist club, he finished his speech by confirming that that Collingwood did not have an issue with Indigenous Australians
... as long as they conduct themselves like white people, well, off the field, everyone will admire and respect them’
Discussions and debates continued throughout the season and by the end of 1993 the AFL promised to establish a code of conduct, this was slow moving though and a draft wasn’t ready till the beginning of the 1995 season. On Friday 30th of June 1995, ‘Rule 30: A rule to combat racial and religious vilification’ was established, it stated
‘no player … shall act towards or speak to any other person in a manner, or engage in any other conduct which threatens, disparages, vilifies or insults another person … on the basis of that person’s race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin’
The ruling sent a message that racism would no longer be tolerated.
Image source: BBC News.
Winmar’s actions sparked national discussion and action around racism in the AFL and inspired many other payers to take a stand.
His actions changed the game for the better and in 2019 he was honoured with a 2.75m statue that recreates the moment Winmar lifted up his jumper and pointed to his skin. The statue can be found at Optus Stadium in Perth, closer to where Winmar, a proud Noongar man, is from.
- Nicky Winmar’s stand, National Museum Australia
- The day Nicky Winmar drew the line, The Age
- Nicky Winmar statue unveiled at Optus Stadium in Perth, The Guardian