Community engagement

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Norman McDonald

Photo of Norman McDonald1925-2002

An important contributor to Aboriginal inclusion in the AFL

Uncle Norm McDonald, better known as ‘Macca’ to his family and friends, contributed in a number of ways both on and off the football field. As well as being a spectacular AFL player, Norm was a talented boxer and a professional sprinter. Norm was nicknamed by fans as 'the black bullet’, due to his blazing speed.

Norm, a Gunditjmara man, was born in 1925 and was a proud father, husband and grandfather. Norm grew up on Lake Condah Mission before his mother passed away from tuberculosis, after which he was placed in the boy’s orphanage, Geelong Protestant Orphanage, with many of his cousins. This was a time that Norm never talked about.

Norm was also a paratrooper in the Army from 1942 to 1946. Norm lied about his age, having enlisted at the age of 16. Norm received several Medals of Service for his duty.

Recruited to Essendon Seconds

Before being given the opportunity to represent the state by being recruited to Essendon Seconds in 1946, Norm played for Geelong's RAAF team in Belmont. His career took off when he arrived at Essendon. Norm would tell his family and friends that he was from a footy era, where players would have been happy to pay to be able to play for their team.

He was a passionate Essendon player who used his talent, hard work and impressive skills to become one of the greatest half back flankers in the late 1940s and early 1950s; a time when Aboriginal Australians were treated extremely poorly. Norm never let racism on the field bother him. Norm would say that he was there on his merit and not his colour.

Norm wore the Essendon number 4 guernsey with pride and followed the team with interest even after his playing days ended. Norm’s sporting achievements did not stop there. He won the Australian Amateur 500m trial, and won the Bendigo Gift in the record time of 11.7 seconds , as well as the Wangaratta, Maryborough and Lancefield Gifts, and was runner-up in the Stawell Easter Gift in 1952.

Norm’s first AFL game

Norm’s first AFL game was in 1947. Norm had extraordinary natural ability and balance. He took risks and his fast speed made him unstoppable. He could turn defence into attack in a moment’s notice and his fantastic ball handling skills meant he could turn a game around. This made him a favourite among the crowd.

Norm played 128 games for the Bombers during 1947 to1953 and is considered one of Essendon's greatest half back flankers. He had the honour of receiving best first year player in 1947, most improved player in 1948, and the Crichton Medal in 1951 for best and fairest. Norm made grand final appearances from 1947 to 1951 and was a member of both the 1949 and 1950 premiership sides. Norm was the Bombers' second top Brownlow Medal vote scorer in 1948, 1950 and 1951 (equal).

Retiring from professional football

In 1953, Norm retired from professional football with his last game being a semi-final between Essendon and Footscray. Norm then tried his hand at coaching.

Even though Norm retired, he was never forgotten and still remained a favourite among fans; he was featured in many newspaper articles and his family continues to receive fan mail.

Almost forty years later, in 1991, Essendon recruited its second Indigenous player Michael Long, who chose the number 4 guernsey in Norm’s honour. This was something Norm was thrilled about at the time.

Fighting against oppression and promoting equality

Norm was an inspiring man who fought against oppression and promoted equality for Aboriginal Australians. He believed that you should not judge a person based on their colour, but their character and he expected the same treatment in return.

Norm was a man ahead of his time who proved that, while being different can make it hard to fit in, it was not impossible.

In Norm’s later years he returned to Lake Condah Mission with his family where he shared his cultural knowledge and stories of growing up on Lake Condah Mission.

In 2002 Norm passed away leaving a remarkable legacy for his family, friends, fans and the AFL.

Honoured by Essendon Football Club

In 2002 he received the honour of being named as the 33rd best ever player to play in the red and black at the Champions of Essendon Gala Dinner. Being honoured as a Champion of Essendon was a testament to the excellent player and person he was.

In 2002 he was also recognised by the club on its 'Spirit to Win' mural in the new gymnasium, acknowledging his attribute of speed as an essential component for a successful team. In 2005 Norm was listed as the half back flanker of the Aboriginal Team of the Century, and in 2014 he was honoured once again by being named one of Essendon’s Indigenous Stars.

Norm is remembered by his family as a down to earth larrikin who loved a good laugh, and for his passion for sport.