May 2005

Arts & Letters

‘Brotherboys: The Story of Jim and Phil Krakouer’ by Sean Gorman

By Paul Daffey

As footy-mad youngsters, the Krakouer brothers’ inventive quest to improve their Aussie Rules skills included practising over the kitchen table in the family home at Mount Barker, WA. While their father Eric, one of several quiet heroes in this sad and stirring story, sips his tea after a hard day’s shearing, the two brothers try to handball a pair of rolled-up socks as close as possible to his nose. To those who took even a fleeting interest in the Krakouers’ careers with Claremont and North Melbourne in the 1970s and 80s, it will come as no surprise that Eric Krakouer felt a gentle swish of air as the socks passed within a bootlace of his proboscis.

Brotherboys is as comprehensive as any sporting biography produced in Australia, certainly more detailed than any previous football biography. And while the football stories are dazzling, the book’s success lies in its exploration of Aboriginal issues. Especially compelling are the early chapters which talk of the boys’ upbringing in a family of 12. The focus is on Jim, the older, brooding brother, whose 16-year sentence for drug trafficking gained national notoriety. Gorman, a white man, includes himself in the narrative to great effect. His work alongside Aboriginal men in shearing sheds aroused his interest in indigenous affairs, and his personal dealings shine a clear and occasionally damning light on black and white relations. Those early adult years spent shearing, rather than in universities or newsrooms, are important. Gorman sometimes over-reaches and is occasionally inelegant, but by far the most telling aspect here is his heart. It’s enormous.

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