Month: November 2016

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)


In the midst of one of World War II’s most horrific and bloody battles, an unconventional hero stood out.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the incredible true story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a medic who saved over 70 lives in the Battle of Okinawa. The catch? Doss was a devout Seventh-Day Adventist who was a conscientious objector, refusing to carry a weapon. He brought numerous men to safety under constant threat of enemy fire and ended up becoming the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The film’s opening act shows us Doss’s quaint life growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of rural Virginia. A scrawny young man with southern charm and good manners, Doss is interested in studying medicine – though that may or may not be in an effort to woo pretty nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). Doss also relies on his faith to get him through difficult times, including an often contentious relationship with his father Thomas (Hugo Weaving), a WWI veteran who suffers from PTSD and alcoholism.

When WWII breaks out, Doss believes it’s his duty to serve, but as a pacifist, he refuses to carry or fire a weapon. Not surprisingly, this causes tension when Doss goes through basic training, drawing the ire of his drill instructor, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) as well as the mockery of the soldiers in his unit. Both Howell and Capt. Glover (Sam Worthington) attempt to get Doss discharged via Section 8 (psychological instability) but are unsuccessful. No would-be soldier has ever graduated from basic without getting weapon-certified, and they don’t want Doss to be the first.

Eventually, Doss is sent to a military tribunal, and things look pretty grim. But Thomas Doss ends up going to bat for his son, with the help of his former commanding officer. In the end, Doss is allowed to serve on the front line without using a weapon. Afterwards, Doss marries Dorothy in a brief ceremony and is then sent overseas.

The second half of the film focuses on the Battle of Okinawa itself. The film’s title is taken from the rugged ridge that Doss’s unit must take in order to secure the island and reclaim it from Japan. Doss, considered a coward by everyone else around him, must put both his faith and all his physical abilities to the test in order to save those around him – as well as himself.


I saw Hacksaw Ridge a few weeks ago in LA. When it was finished, the theatre sat stunned in silence for a good 10 minutes before getting up and leaving.

That’s the kind of reaction that acclaimed director Mel Gibson was going for. The 60-year-old Gibson takes the director’s chair for the first time since 2006’s Apocalypto, and the results are nothing short of breathtaking. As a director, Gibson holds nothing back, and cinematographer Simon Duggan paints a vivid picture of the bleak, shell-shocked Okinawa landscape. Make no mistake, this movie is VIOLENT, and Gibson throws us directly into the action and never lets go.

This film has an outstanding performance from Andrew Garfield, who portrays Doss with earnestness and conviction. The film succeeds as both a harrowing retelling of Okinawa and as one man’s struggle to remain faithful and dutiful despite persecution. The real Doss was humble and mild-mannered, and Garfield nails it. It’s a very vulnerable performance, and I have no doubt that Garfield will get nominated for his fair share of awards.

Hacksaw Ridge was actually in the works for some time. Several prominent members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church had been trying to get Hollywood producers to bite on this project for years, but it was never fully realized. (It was even rumored that Hal B. Wallis, legendary producer of Casablanca, was once interested in making a film about Doss.)

In fact, the real Doss – who died in 2006 – was not a fan of Hollywood movies and saw no benefit in adapting his own story to the screen. He didn’t want to be immortalized or mythologized as a larger-than-life figure, rather just as a good Christian man who performed his duties.

Hacksaw Ridge is also, to some extent, a paradoxical statement – in that it’s a brutally violent war movie about a pacifist. While just as gory as previous Gibson films like Braveheart or ApocalyptoHacksaw Ridge is also a bit of a departure for Gibson because the protagonist never engages in any sort of violence. Either way, that specific paradoxical statement lifts the film and helps it become a larger-than-life story about courage and conviction. In the end, Hacksaw Ridge is an outstanding achievement and one of the best films of the year.

Grade: 9/10

Directed by Mel Gibson

Written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan

Produced by Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, Brian Oliver, David Permut, and Tyler Thompson

Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths, and Hugo Weaving

Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, including grisly images.


HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Wernher von Braun (pt. 2)


John F. Kennedy was known for his anti-Communist views and had expressed concern over the Soviet Union’s technological developments. His desire to overtake the Soviets during peacetime was apparent, and he saw space as the perfect way to accomplish this goal. Concurrently, the Soviets had achieved another major accomplishment – launching the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin – in April 1961. The Americans responded, sending the first American into space (Alan Shepard) less than a month later.

Shortly after Shepard’s successful flight, President Kennedy addressed Congress, declaring a set of goals for the nation, one of which was to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth by the end of the decade. Understandably, the President’s landmark announcement kicked NASA into an even higher gear than before. Even after Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, NASA continued its effort to reach his goal.

NASA administrators quickly began to focus on the three primary tasks at hand: A) find more astronauts and formally establish the Apollo lunar program, B) commission civilian contractors to build the various spacecrafts, and C) use one of von Braun’s theories as a way to launch into space and travel to the moon and back. All of these topics were hotly debated by many at NASA. But ultimately, help came from an unlikely place.

Before Kennedy’s death, von Braun had stumbled upon an obscure theory. An engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, John Houbolt, had developed a similar theory to von Braun’s Earth orbit rendezvous – except that it was in lunar orbit.

Von Braun heard about this theory through NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans, who had received a letter from Houbolt. Seamans was skeptical at first, but von Braun loved it, and he used his influence at NASA to lobby for lunar orbit rendezvous. Eventually, in 1963, top brass at NASA selected the theory as the way to go to the moon.

Afterwards, von Braun and his team turned their attention to building bigger and better rockets to get NASA astronauts to the moon. Von Braun’s brainchild, the Saturn V, was used on almost every Apollo mission and was considered the crowning achievement of America’s space program.

Eventually, as we all know, von Braun’s Saturn V was the catalyst to get Apollo 11 to the moon on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin changed the course of history by becoming the first men on the moon. Back on Earth, an emotional group at Mission Control – along with millions of people at home – were tuning in. Von Braun was there, too, forever thankful that he and his team were able to accomplish such an daunting and incredible task.


The Apollo program was officially discontinued in late 1972, shortly after von Braun had retired from NASA. He moved onto a civilian job as VP of Engineering and Development at Fairchild Industries in Maryland.

Sadly, a year later, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Von Braun continued working as much as he could in the aerospace industry, and was invited to speak at numerous colleges and universities. But by the time he was to be awarded the National Medal of Science in 1977, he was too ill to attend the ceremony, as the cancer had spread to his pancreas.

On June 16, 1977, the 65-year-old von Braun passed away peacefully, leaving behind his wife, Maria, and their three children. He was buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia.


Wernher von Braun’s gravestone is small, although his legacy was anything but. May he continue to inspire us in extraordinary ways.

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Wernher von Braun (pt. 1)

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That sums up the United States’ questionable alliance with the Soviet Union during World War II, in which Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was viewed as a lesser danger than Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, despite Stalin’s body count being significantly higher than Hitler’s.

So it’s all the more ironic that when a “space race” commenced between the U.S. and the Soviets in 1957, the Americans’ only hope was a German.


Wernher von Braun was born on March 23, 1912 in Wirsitz, in the Posen Province of the former German Empire (now part of Poland). The Von Braun family was wealthy and influential; Wernher’s father was a former Minister of Agriculture in the Weimar Republic, while his mother was descended from medieval royalty, including monarchs of England, Scotland, Denmark, and France.

Von Braun was the middle of three sons, and as a young boy, he developed an interest in astronomy after his mother bought him a telescope for his birthday. However, the young von Braun considered music his first love, as he was a talented cellist and pianist who also had an ear for composing.

At the age of 13, von Braun began attending a boarding school in Ettersburg, but was not considered a gifted student in subjects like math or physics. However, he began reading the works of rocket pioneer Hermann Oberth and developed a keen interest in rocketry and engineering. Von Braun later said of Oberth:

I owe to him not only the guiding star of my life, but also my first contact with the theoretical and practical aspects of rocketry and space travel. A place of honor should be reserved in the history of science and technology for his ground-breaking contributions in the field of astronautics.

From 1930-32, von Braun attended the Technische Hochschule Berlin (Technical School of Berlin), where he was able to work with his idol Oberth. Von Braun graduated with a diploma in mechanical engineering, but his true love revolved around the possibility of spaceflight.

Von Braun firmly believed that the future of rocketry was tied to the future of engineering. Space travel, he claimed, would require much more than the current technology in order to be successful long-term. Von Braun pursued further post-graduate studies at ETH Zurich – a prominent institute of technology in Switzerland – where he also became well-versed in military rocketry. 

Around the same time, the Nazis had gained power and were quickly becoming a major force in the country’s politics. Despite being from a well-regarded political family, von Braun considered himself politically apathetic and didn’t hold a strong opinion on Hitler or his party (although he eventually acquiesced and joined the Nazi Party in 1938).

In 1934, von Braun was conducting research on liquid-fueled rocketry at Kummersdorf, located about 15 miles south of Berlin. There, he was discovered by Walter Dornberger, an artillery captain in the Third Reich who was also fascinated by military rockets. Dornberger contacted von Braun and arranged for him to receive a government research grant. Von Braun accepted and soon relocated to the University of Berlin, where he received his doctorate in physics.

Having successfully recruited von Braun, German scientists turned their attention to rocketry. Third Reich engineers were very interested in the work of American physicist Robert Goddard, whose influence was apparent as the Germans worked to perfect their new A-4 rocket.

Von Braun was soon named technical director (serving under Dornberger) at a new military rocketry facility in Peenemünde, a scenic town on the Baltic Sea in northern Germany. There, they began working with the Luftwaffe on military rockets and long-range missiles. There was no secret that the Nazis, who had banned civilian use of rockets, were aiming (no pun intended) to take over Europe.

After London refused to fall during the Blitz, Hitler began to commission new types of rockets and missiles to target the city. In July 1943, during the thick of the war, von Braun approved a report which was sent to Hitler, featuring films of war-ready rockets and other aerial weaponry. Hitler was so delighted, that he made von Braun – then only 31 years old – a professor.

At the same time, however, von Braun began to have misgivings about his involvement with the Third Reich. Part of his concern was with SS General Hans Kammler, a brutal commander who enlisted POWs and other camp prisoners as slave laborers for the rocket program at Peenemünde. Reportedly, von Braun was alarmed when he saw repulsive working conditions at labor camps and factories, but denied ever seeing anyone tortured or killed. “I realized that any attempt of reasoning on humane grounds would be utterly futile,” he later recalled.

By this time, British intelligence services and the Royal Air Force were aware of the Nazi facility at Peenemünde and began a strategic bombing raid over two nights in August 1943. The facility largely survived the bombing, but von Braun’s engine designer and chief engineer were killed.

In February 1944, another prominent Nazi official, Heinrich Himmler, brought von Braun to his headquarters and recommended that von Braun work closely with Kammler in order to ensure the efficiency of the V-2 program. However, Himmler was using von Braun as bait in an attempt to oust Kammler and take over the V-2 program himself.

Unknown to von Braun, he had been under surveillance for months. While socializing at a colleague’s house one evening, von Braun lamented that he was wasn’t working on space travel projects for the Third Reich and doubted that Germany could win the war. His comments were reported by a spy. Believing that von Braun was a communist sympathizer who would flee the country if allowed, Himmler ordered him arrested and detained for two weeks.

In the meantime, Dornberger was still loyal to von Braun and tried to petition his release from party leadership so that the V-2 program could continue. But by now, the Soviets were marching towards Peenemünde, so Kammler ordered von Braun and his team to relocate closer to Berlin. Von Braun, in fear of being captured by Soviet soldiers, fabricated documents and joined his men at the new facility.

After Germany was defeated at the Battle of the Bulge in early 1945, von Braun and team were relocated again to the Bavarian Alps, where they would be less of a target for Allied bombers. But Allied troops were closing in on Berlin, and defeat was imminent. By May 2, 1945, von Braun had escaped to Austria, where he stumbled upon members of the U.S. Army’s 44th Infantry and surrendered. Unbeknownst to von Braun, Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin only two days prior.

After the Americans accepted his surrender, von Braun spoke of his harrowing experiences designing weapons of death for the Nazis, as well as his admiration of historic American values:

We knew that we had created a new means of warfare, and the question as to what nation we were willing to entrust this brainchild of ours was a moral decision more than anything else. We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.

Von Braun’s importance was not lost on the American military command – they were well aware of how many German scientists were still alive and how valuable their knowledge was. The Soviets were already planning to annex parts of eastern Europe, so once the Americans had secured Berlin – with the help of Britain and France – they wanted to get their hands on the remaining scientists. This was known as Operation Paperclip.

After being detained and debriefed, von Braun remained in American hands until he could be sent back later that summer with a security clearance. Eventually, he and his men were flown to Fort Bliss, an isolated Army outpost just north of El Paso, Texas.

El Paso was utterly unfamiliar to von Braun, who was still treated with suspicion by the Americans even well after the war was over. Von Braun remarked that “at Peenemünde, we were coddled, but here you were counting pennies” and jokingly referred to himself as an “American prisoner of peace.”

American forces had seized numerous unfired V-2s at the end of the war and soon shipped them to the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, an Army facility close to Fort Bliss. The Army intended to study the V-2s in order to use them in both military and civilian-conducted tests. It was here, finally, that von Braun studied his first love – space rocketry – and the potential of it for use in peacetime.

In 1950, von Braun was transferred from the deserts of New Mexico and Texas to the humid environs of Huntsville, Alabama, home of the Army’s Redstone Arsenal. Here, he developed the first Redstone rocket, designed for live tests of nuclear ballistic missiles.

But suddenly, America was caught off guard, and the future of spaceflight became tangible. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, sending American officials into a panic. Sputnik was by no means a threat, but everyone realized that the unknown, peaceful nothingness of outer space could eventually become ground zero if the Soviets were ever to launch an orbital attack on the U.S.

In response to Sputnik, von Braun’s team used their newly created Jupiter-C rocket to launch America’s first satellite (Explorer) a few months later. But the next few years proved to be frustrating ones for von Braun. Across the globe, the Soviets had their own genius rocket scientist, Sergei Korolev, whose cutting edge rocketry methods put the U.S. to shame. It became clear that the space race was underway, with the ultimate goal being to land on the moon.

In the end, this was a blessing in disguise for von Braun. Before Sputnik, his ideas of space exploration wouldn’t have been taken seriously. But now that the Soviets were ahead in the space race, von Braun was able to explain his theories about space travel to his colleagues, including the higher-ups at the newly-created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).


Von Braun had two primary theories about the way to get to the moon:

  1. The so-called “direct ascent” was very simple: build a massive rocket, attach a spacecraft on top, and blast off into the heavens.
  2. The second method, “Earth orbit rendezvous,” was much more complex: it involved several different launches, all containing specific parts of the lunar spacecraft, which would then dock with each other in Earth’s orbit before heading off to the moon.

Von Braun presented both ideas to NASA, but the new government agency didn’t want to bite off more than it could chew. After all, they were still perfecting unmanned satellites and recruiting the first group of elite astronauts. The moon seemed like a long way off, both literally and figuratively, and the Americans needed to catch up with the Soviets in Earth orbit before they ever thought about lunar travel. NASA certainly had an attitude of “walk before you run,” and while von Braun understood that, he was privately disappointed. At around the same time, America was about to elect a new president – one who was quite fascinated with space travel.



HISTORY OF FOOTY: The Irish Experiment

Cork v Donegal - GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final

Awhile back, I wrote a blog about the similarities between Australian rules football and Gaelic football. Given these strong connections, there was always a chance that Gaelic footballers would be willing to play footy in the VFL/AFL.

The primary reason has been the lure of a quality salary. To this day, Gaelic football – as organized by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) – is one of a few amateur sports left in the world, prohibiting players from receiving any payment. Considering the similar styles of play and the general stamina required to do so, a handful of Irishmen in recent years have been keen to play a different code of football and get paid to do it.

The so-called Irish experiment began when legendary VFL coach Ron Barassi Jr. started developing a plan to spread Aussie rules nationwide. Barassi had recently helped bring the new Sydney Swans to prominence as the first non-Victorian footy club to play VFL, and afterwards, he turned his attention around the globe to Ireland.

Barassi believed that the athleticism and ball skills of Gaelic footballers would be invaluable to the sport of footy. Pegging them as quick learners and agile ball-handlers, Barassi recruited two key players – Jim Stynes and Sean Wight – and brought them to play for the Melbourne Demons in 1985.

Despite their overall talent and athletic ability, Stynes and Wight struggled to adapt to Aussie rules at first. In the 1987 VFL preliminary final, Stynes made a crucial mistake that resulted in a narrow loss to Hawthorn, understandably casting a large amount of negative publicity on the Irish experiment.

AFL Round 1 - Collingwood v Melbourne

Stynes continued developing throughout the next few seasons, winning the Brownlow Medal – awarded to the best and fairest player in the AFL – in 1991. However, many other Irishmen came and went around the same time, and not every footy club was buying into the idea. Despite several high-profile Gaelic recruits, the trend wasn’t really catching on.

Stynes’s brother, Brian, was drafted by Melbourne in 1988, but played in only a handful of games before getting cut at the end of the season. The highly-touted Gaelic footballer Dermot McNicholl – who had a sensational career with County Derry GAA – was also a disappointment, playing in only three footy matches for St Kilda in 1990. He later returned to Ireland to pursue a university degree.

Other than a few successes, the Irish experiment was grinding to a halt by the mid-to-late 90s. Considering the expenses involved in international recruiting, Melbourne’s front office wasn’t too keen to continue the Irish experiment, and the Australian media began to question the efficacy of international recruiting at all.

In 2001, the experiment unofficially began again, when the Sydney Swans recruited 20-year-old Irishman Tadhg Kennelly from County Kerry GAA. Kennelly was a smashing success as a defender for the Swans, and made history in 2005, when he became the first Irish-born player to win an AFL premiership.

After a very solid seven-year career with the Swans, Kennelly struggled with injuries and eventually decided to return to Ireland in 2008. However, both he and Stynes are considered two major successes in the Irish experiment.

Currently, the situation is much better than it was with Melbourne in the 80s. With the AFL’s increasing focus on bringing in diverse recruits, Ireland will continue to be a target for coaches and recruiting managers alike.

Here is a list of former Gaelic footballers who have played Aussie rules professionally (includes their former GAA club):

  • Colm Begley, County Laois GAA (Brisbane Lions/St Kilda Saints, 2006-2009)
  • Paddy Brophy (West Coast Eagles, 2015-2017)
  • Martin Clarke (Collingwood Magpies, 2007-2009)
  • Paul Earley, County Roscommon GAA (Melbourne Demons, 1984)
  • Tadhg Kennelly, County Kerry GAA (Sydney Swans, 2001-2008)
  • Dermot McNicholl, County Derry GAA (St Kilda Saints, 1990)
  • Caolan Mooney, County Down GAA (Collingwood Magpies, 2012-2014)
  • Jamie O’Reilly, County Down GAA (Richmond Tigers, 2010-2011)
  • Michael Quinn, County Longford GAA (Essendon Bombers, 2009-2010)
  • Brian Stynes, County Dublin GAA (Melbourne Demons, 1982)
  • Jim Stynes, County Dublin GAA (Melbourne Demons, 1987-1998)
  • Tommy Walsh, County Kerry GAA (Sydney Swans, 2012-2014)
  • Sean Wight, County Kerry GAA (Melbourne Demons, 1985-1995)


Here’s a current list of former Gaelic footballers who are currently on AFL lists (includes their former GAA club):

  • Ciaran Byrne, Carlton Blues (County Louth GAA)
  • Ray Connellan, St Kilda Saints (County Westmeath GAA)
  • Conor Glass, Hawthorn Hawks (County Derry GAA)
  • Cian Hanley, Brisbane Lions (County Mayo GAA)
  • Pearce Hanley, Gold Coast Suns (County Mayo GAA)
  • Conor McKenna, Essendon Bombers (County Eglish GAA)
  • Conor Nash, Hawthorn Hawks (County Meath GAA)
  • Mark O’Connor, Geelong Cats (County Kerry GAA)
  • Colin O’Riordan, Sydney Swans (County Tipperary GAA)
  • Ciaran Sheehan, Carlton Blues (County Cork GAA)
  • Zach Tuohy, Geelong Cats (County Laois GAA)

HISTORY OF FOOTY: St Mary’s Football Club


Despite not being featured in the national AFL competition, the St Mary’s Football Club has a long and storied history. The team, known as the Saints, plays in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL), and is the winningest football club anywhere in Australia, with 35 premierships since their founding in 1952.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, footy is played differently in the Northern Territory than anywhere else in Australia. In the other states and territories, Aussies play cricket in the summer (October-March) and footy in the winter (April-September). But in the Top End of the Northern Territory, the weather is completely different, so they play footy in the winter months. Because of the massive amounts of rain from October to March, cricket can’t be played, and due to hard playing surfaces in the summer, footy can’t be played. Therefore, the playing seasons are switched.

Footy is extremely popular in Darwin and the rest of the Top End, despite the harsh weather. People there also have a different vibe than in the rest of the country – so in order to understand the St Mary’s Football Club, you need to understand the Top End itself.


The Top End is the northernmost part of the Northern Territory. Primarily centered around the Territory’s capital city, Darwin, the Top End is a land of extremes. Not only does this region contain the many deadly creatures that Australia is famous for, but the climate is also tropical monsoonal, with stifling humidity and potential typhoons and floods during the wet season.

Darwin (population 142,000) has gained a reputation as a hidden gem among the touristy outback. The city was originally established as a pioneer outpost on the Timor Sea designed to open up trade with nearby Southeast Asia, and is drastically different from the more popular and crowded cities of Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth. People in Darwin (called Top Enders) have individualistic attitudes, great senses of humor, and laid-back lifestyles. They’re different and proud of it, and they pride themselves on their hardiness and resilience.

Darwin has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times – most notably in 1942, when Japanese forces bombed the city’s harbor repeatedly, killing nearly 300 civilians as well as military personnel. And on Christmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy  – the deadliest natural disaster in Australian history – wiped out the city again. The courage and perseverance of the Darwin natives have been well-documented as the city has continued to fight for its survival.


Footy has been played in the Top End since 1910, developing a very large following, particularly among local Aborigines. This is an important connection for St Mary’s, as the club was actually formed in 1952 in order to let Aboriginal soldiers play footy while they were stationed in Darwin. At the time, only one other local club allowed Aborigines to play footy, so this was a key development. To this day, St Mary’s is composed of numerous indigenous players, and coaches pride themselves in scouting the best local talent available.

Since their founding, the Saints have had an astonishing record of success, with an all-time winning percentage of .726 and 34 outright NTFL premierships to their name. Despite not being one of the original clubs in the NTFL competition, the Saints have always featured elite athletes playing high levels of footy.

The highest individual honor in the NTFL is the Nichols Medal, given annually to the best and fairest player in the competition. Saints players have taken home this medal 23 separate times, more than any other club. The first winner of the Nichols Medal, Bill Roe, was the first Darwin-born player to play interstate footy (in Western Australia).


Some other notable players to have donned the green-and-white Saints jumpers include Maurice Rioli, one of the first Aboriginal players to make an impact on the national level. Originally from the Tiwi Islands (located off the coast of Darwin), Rioli was one of the greatest players of his era, playing for the VFL’s Richmond Tigers from 1982-87. After he retired from footy, he was named to the VFL/AFL’s Indigenous Team of the Century, and later worked in politics and community activism in the Northern Territory before his death in 2010.

Rioli’s family legacy is equally impressive – his brothers Cyril and Willie are former players and current coaches, and his nephews Dean, Daniel, Willie Jr. and Cyril Jr. have also played professionally. The grandstand at TIO Stadium (the main footy oval in Darwin) is named after Maurice Rioli.


Another notable Aborigine who originally played for the Saints was David Kantilla, a Tiwi Islander who also broke the color barrier, this time in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL). Kantilla’s two older brothers were even on the inaugural Saints team in the 1952-1953 season.

Kantilla stood at an impressive 6’5″ and was a physical footballer who played in the SANFL from 1961-66 before returning to the Top End as a coach. Tragically, Kantilla was killed in a car accident while visiting family on the Tiwi Islands in 1978. He was posthumously inducted into the Northern Territory Hall of Champions in 1997.

A more recent St Mary’s product to make waves in the AFL was Xavier Clarke, a speedy midfielder who played eight seasons with St Kilda. After retiring in 2011, Clarke has dedicated himself to helping indigenous youth in the Northern Territory, working with the AFL Players’ Association to provide affordable housing and ending homelessness in Aboriginal communities.

Today, the Saints carry their significant history into the future, and are hoping to continue to collect as many NTFL premierships as possible. With a strong track record of sending footballers to other states and even to the AFL, there is no doubt how significant St Mary’s legacy is to the sport. The Saints continue to entertain and inspire the people of Darwin with their exciting brand of footy. I wish them a terrific season!

Here’s a list of former St Mary’s players who have made a major impact at higher levels of footy:

  • Ronnie Burns, Geelong Cats (1996-2002)/Adelaide Crows (2003-2004)
  • Peter Burgoyne, Port Adelaide Power (1997-2009)
  • Warren Campbell, North Melbourne Kangaroos (1994-1995)
  • Scott Chisholm, Fremantle Dockers (1995-1998)/Melbourne Demons (1999-2000)
  • Shaun Edwards, GWS Giants (2012-2013)/Essendon Bombers (2014-2016)/Sydney Swans (2017-present)
  • Raphael Clarke, St Kilda Saints (2004-2012)
  • Xavier Clarke, St Kilda Saints (2002-2009)/Brisbane Lions (2010-2011)
  • Michael Long, Essendon Bombers (1989-2001)
  • Cyril Rioli, Hawthorn Hawks (2008-present)
  • Rupert Betheras, Collingwood Magpies (1999-2003)
  • Daniel Rioli, Richmond Tigers (2016-present)
  • Maurice Rioli, Richmond Tigers (1982-1987)
  • Ben Long, St Kilda Saints (2017-present)
  • Jake Long, Essendon Bombers (2016-present)
  • Austin Wonaeamirri, Melbourne Demons (2008-2011)