Indigenous players rising up North Shore ranks

Above: Cameron Graham playing for the Sydney Swans Academy.


Written by Lachlan McKirdy.

They may both be playing footy on Sydney’s North Shore, but teammates Cameron Graham and Johnathan Hookey grew up in vastly different settings.

Living in Ceduna, South Australia, Cameron Graham spent his childhood diving off the local jetty with his cousins and Uncles, catching razor fish as they shot by.

Hookey grew up in urban Redfern, just a 20 minutes drive from the North Shore Bombers clubhouse – a place the players now call home.

Both Graham and Hookey are of Indigenous backgrounds and play in the Bombers’ Under 19s squad, with Hookey quickly his mark on the Division One side.

A Bunjalung and Wiradjuri man, Hookey’s first sporting love did not lie within AFL, but rested on the athletics track where he was drawn to high jump. So much was Hookey’s talent and passion for the sport, that he competed in at the 2015 Junior Commonwealth Games. But it wasn’t until he ran into a friend who was playing for the Bombers, that he was convinced to give AFL a go.

Hookey’s natural speed and extended leap lent themselves to Aussie Rules immediately. His varied abilities make him hard to pin for the opposition, and allow him to be placed wherever the coach needs him.

North Shore Junior Club Liaison Officer, Peter McCutcheon says that ‘Jono’ has become a ‘real handful’ for other teams – a skill any footballer would love to hold.

Contrastingly, Cameron Graham has been playing AFL with his cousins since he was a child, though football was not everything to Graham and his family. Following training, they would go kangaroo hunting or cook up the feast of razor fish they had hauled in that afternoon.

With AFL being a part of Graham’s fun and games growing up as a kid, it wasn’t until he moved to Armidale in 2014 and started playing for the New England Nomads, that he realised he could turn his talent into a feat.

Having won two Premierships with the Nomads, Graham was invited to take part in a Sydney Swans Academy session in Coffs Harbour. Told by the Academy that his skills could improve with experience, Graham made the move to join the AFL Sydney competition.

In 2017, Graham found himself selected to take part in an AFL’s ‘Under 17s Futures’ match where the Sydney Swans Academy played the GWS GIANTS Academy. Named ‘Best on Ground’ for the match, Graham was also able to slot a goal to make sure of a Swans Academy win.

For now, football remains a passion project for both Graham and Hookey, juggling university commitments, and travel between Armidale and Sydney to play when possible – but both have their sights set on pushing for the senior divisions at the Bombers.

This weekend, the AFL will celebrate Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round – a week devoted to acknowledging and honouring the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. All AFL teams will play in an Indigenous designed Guernsey with ceremonies and acknowledgements to take place at all games.

XBlades AFL Sydney encourages all clubs to support Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round in 2017 and years to come.

The Sydney Swans will play Hawthorn this Friday night for Marn Grook at the SCG. More information here.