Poorne Yarriworri (c. 1844–1889), better known as Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin, was the only First Nations person to play top-level Australian football in Victoria in the 19th century.

Since then, only around 40 First Nations Victorians have followed in his footsteps.

The current over-representation of First Nations people in Australian Football derives primarily from the selection of players from Western Australia and the Northern Territory, rather than Victorians. 

Pompey Austin was far more than a footballer. At various times throughout his short life he was an athlete (pedestrian as they were known in those days), cricketer, possibly a boxer, racehorse owner, jockey and horse-breaker, artist, musician, explorer, entertainer and public speaker.

His memory lived on after his death, and his son and grandson carried the ‘Pompey’ name into the next two generations. 

03:27 Mins
Published on

Albert "Pompey" Austin

Peek Whuurong Elder Uncle Rob Lowe from the Maar Nation presented the Geelong Football Club with a message stick in honour of 150 years since Albert Pompey Austin played for the Geelong Football Club.

Published on

During the First World War his name was referenced by soldiers and by sportsmen reflecting on their own careers.  

Only later in the mid-twentieth century did he disappear from public consciousness until Mark Pennings rediscovered his first and only game for the Geelong Football Club in the opening match of the 1872 season, and Jan Critchett wrote about the three generations of Pompeys.

Trevor Ruddell followed with an article on his sporting career and so sports historians are aware of his existence, but the wider community have very little knowledge of this remarkable human being. The first biography of the man himself by Roy Hay was published in 2020. 

Getting around Victoria to take part in athletic and other sporting events required a means of transport and Pompey sometimes ‘borrowed’ a horse and its accoutrements to do so. For a brief period he seems to have had a horse of his own.

He probably used his substantial winnings from a number of athletic events at Belfast, now Port Fairy, to buy a racehorse on which he won a hurdle race, riding the horse himself. He was a skilled horse-breaker. 

It was his sporting career - as a pedestrian, cricketer, footballer and possibly a boxer - on which his contemporary and later reputation rested. Pompey first came to public notice as a hurdler, high jumper and flat racer. He took part in a number of athletics meetings in the Western District in the 1860s and 1870s.

His breakthrough season was in 1872 when he won every race in which he competed at the Geelong Friendly Societies meeting on Easter Monday against some of the best local runners.

He returned again in May for another meeting where he seems to have performed less well, but the following day he was selected to play for the Geelong Football Club against Carlton, the previous year’s top team, in the opening game of the new season.

The Geelong team was supposed to be captained by Tom Wills that day, but the notoriously unreliable Wills was missing when the game started. He turned up later on and joined in. Neither side scored a goal. 

Pompey was poleaxed by a Carlton opponent in the opening stages of the game. This must have caused him to consider whether he risked his athletic career and the income it generated if he engaged in the violent clashes which were part of the early game and for a long time thereafter.

He never got the chance to play at the top level again, though he took part in local competitions in the Western District for Framlingham and Cobden and in the Ballarat area for Albion Imperial, often being named among the best players for his team. 

Pompey had no successors at the Geelong football club until the signing of Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer in the 1950s. Since then, a number of First Nations players have represented the club with distinction.