The “famous Old Dark Navy Blues” went some way towards removing an infamous old dark stain on their otherwise proud history with Aboriginal players back in 2016.
On that sunny Monday morning of May 16, Carlton formally acknowledged – almost 90 years after the fact – that a Blues regime had racially vilified a young Doug Nicholls.
Mavis Thorp Clark’s 1965 biography Pastor Doug, written in collaboration with Nicholls, reveals that in the pre-season of 1927 the then 20-year-old speedster from southern New South Wales went to Princes Park because a Blues scout had told him, “If you come to town, try us at Carlton – we’ll give you a go.”
However, Nicholls missed out on the final playing list, told he was too small. (At just 157cm, he remains the equal-second shortest League player ever.) But he suspected other factors were at play.
Pastor Doug exposes the ugly truth: “He was not really surprised. The weeks had not been happy. His teammates were not eager to play with an Aborigine. No one would willingly give him a rub-down. There were complaints that, because of his colour, he smelt. Doug was bitter about that, though he did not say anything.”
It’s important to note that Nicholls was known to underplay the racism he was subjected to.
Nicholls’ daughter Pam Pedersen told the AFL Record: “Dad hardly spoke about that horrible episode at Carlton. He must have been too sad. But he always carried it with him.”
Pedersen, known as ‘Aunty Pam’, is a Yorta Yorta elder and respected community leader in her own right.
She was last year invited to join Carlton’s Reconciliation Action Plan advisory board (“I only agreed because of what happened to Dad,” she insisted) and was pleasantly surprised when told the club planned to officially reconcile with her family.
“Some family members may still be bitter, but I’m not – I respect the club for trying to make amends,” Aunty Pam said.
So it was that the Blues invited the Nicholls clan to an intimate ‘Galnyan Yakurrumdja’ – which Aunty Pam translated as ‘respectful acknowledgement’ – attended by club management, staff, the football department and players, including Aunty Pam’s nephew Andrew Walker.
Then Blues CEO Steven Trigg took to the lectern and expressed disappointment that it had taken so long to “clear the air” on the issue, lamenting “the pain, the hurt, the grief” it had caused Nicholls, his family and his people.