Australia

Worth a Krak: Brothers forever changed Indigenous pathways

Left, Phil Krakouer and Jimmy Krakouer, brothers,

It wasn’t until after I’d started my AFL career that I got it.

I’m not talking about handling everything involved in being an AFL player — believe me that took time — what I’m referring to is understanding what my father and uncle had done for Aboriginal kids everywhere.

They created a pathway for so many to follow, including myself and it wasn’t until I got to Richmond that I appreciated what they’d done at North Melbourne and the impact it had in the decades that followed.

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First of all I didn’t realise how good they were and it initially felt strange being referred to as the son of North Melbourne legend Jimmy Krakouer.

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Famous brothers Phil (left) and Jimmy Krakouer who set alight the VFL during the eighties.
Famous brothers Phil (left) and Jimmy Krakouer who set alight the VFL during the eighties.

My only memories of the North days was going to the creche at Arden St with Uncle Phil’s kids and even looking at photos now from back in those days, a lot of it still doesn’t register.

What I quickly realised when I came over to Melbourne was the sense of awe that the Kangaroos team was held in and how it was full of superstars like Ross Glendinning, Malcolm Blight and Wayne Schimmelbusch.

My dad and uncle’s journey to get there was incredible. Going from the bush of Mt Barker to the bright lights of Perth to play with Claremont was a huge move.

So then to go from the WAFL to playing at North Melbourne in the VFL across the other side of the country was really incredible.

It was a hard time for Aboriginal people in general around that time so for them to create a pathway, to take on this role as trailblazers and pioneers was so important for future generations.

Jimmy Krakouer during his time with St Kilda back in 1990.
Jimmy Krakouer during his time with St Kilda back in 1990.

It’s funny because despite what my father had done I didn’t aspire to play AFL when I was younger. I enjoyed running around with my mates at the Gladstone Park Kookaburras in Melbourne before we moved back to Perth.

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It was the same over there, I just enjoyed playing with my mates at the Fremantle Hawks and getting some feedback from Dad who was always my harshest critic.

Things changed when at 16 I had my first daughter and then I knew I had to get a job and luckily that turned out to be in the AFL with Richmond.

It was a major culture shock and took me a couple of years to get acquainted with the intense demands of the elite level, from training schedules to the importance of diet and sleep.

By my third year I finally understood what was required and after a couple of pre-seasons under my belt I’d established myself as a regular senior player and was offered a three-year contract.

Then in 2006 my journey diverted down the wrong path.

Andrew Krakouer says he only realised the incredible contribution of his father and uncle later in his career. Picture: Supplied
Andrew Krakouer says he only realised the incredible contribution of his father and uncle later in his career. Picture: Supplied

One stupid decision completely changed my life. I did the wrong thing, there are no ifs, buts or maybes about it. I’m fully accountable for what happened and how it impacted a lot of people’s lives negatively.

It was tough for me to be able to navigate through. Being locked in a prison cell and not being able to be there for my family was devastating.

Funnily enough it was an old cliche from football — “You only control what you can control” — which helped me get to a good mental space given the environment I found myself in.

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Obviously during that time there were a lot of things I couldn’t control in prison so I just focused on what I could and what would make me a better man when I was back with my family.

What happened next I didn’t think would happen in my wildest dreams. My love of football saw me go back to Swan Districts as the club had supported me when I was away. They created a really safe work environment and space for me to be able to thrive and succeed with my football.

I was able to go out and have fun with the result being the best year of my football career and one of the best years of my life.

Everything fell into place, we were a very good team and the longer the season went the better it panned out. Winning the Sandover Medal, the grand final and the Simpson Medal put me well truly back on the AFL radar.

Tony Lockett with Jimmy Krakouer and his son Andrew, aged seven at the time.
Tony Lockett with Jimmy Krakouer and his son Andrew, aged seven at the time.

Going back became a no-brainer when the opportunity to play with one of my best mates, Leon Davis, at Collingwood emerged. I was a lot better prepared this time around for the AFL, both mentally and physically, and ended up playing 23 of 25 games in my first season.

It was a crazy scenario, having been out of the system for three years, here I was in a grand final against Geelong in a game which was in the balance at the start of the last quarter.

Unfortunately, the Cats were too good on the day and denied me the ultimate fairytale ending.

A knee injury early in the next season set me back and I never really got back to where I wanted over the next couple of years. I then found myself out of favour with coach Nathan Buckley and the end came quicker than I expected.

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There were some incidents that happened when I was at Collingwood and when I feel the time is right I will elaborate. Everyone is on their own journey and my brother Heritier Lumumba is doing that now and I respect and support him.

When I reflect back on my journey so far I come back to how important it is for Aboriginal people to see people who look like them, talk like them, have the same culture and background as them, on TV doing great things.

It is relatable and plants a seed that hopefully one day I can do that.

That’s what my dad and uncle did and hopefully I’ve helped grow that pathway even further for the next generation.

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