We all know Marlion Pickett’s story. From prison through the WAFL to the AFL premiership with Richmond (twice). That’s ok for a quick footy chat but a book needed the right writer.
Dave Warner is one of Australia’s best crime writers. He’s also a footy nut and could have made up this story. Warner would have made the crimes more spectacular but there’s jail time, chases on foot and in cars and enough fighting to satisfy Robert G Barrett.
Warner may have made the footy content more believable. AFL debut in the grand final? That’s stretching it. And there’s no way the hero would be a South Fremantle player (below, photo by Les Everett*) – he would have started out in the blue and white of East Fremantle.
What Warner does so well in this book is to build the tension. So often Pickett’s action or inaction, family circumstances, bad timing and bad luck seemed certain to lead to derailment. His early family life was a mixture of love, drugs, alcohol, violence and a lack of direction that placed some emphasis on going to school but little thought about what would happen next. Growing up quick and not growing up at all.
Total escape from such circumstances isn’t possible and not even desirable. As the Bruce Springsteen character Highway Patrolman Joe Roberts said: “Man turns his back on his family well he just ain’t no good.”
A charge of grievous bodily harm (later dropped) after an altercation with an abusive drunk led Pickett to a decision that changed everything. “Avoid and abstain” is how Warner put it. “… no more ‘bullshit’ in his life, no alcohol or drugs or fighting.” While Pickett’s blind turn in the 2019 AFL grand final announced him to the wider footy world, the avoid and abstain sidestep early in his WAFL career was the move that made it all possible.
There are others heroes in his book including Pickett’s stoic partner Jess Nannup (the mother of his four children), manager Anthony Van Der Wielen, many at South Fremantle Football Club especially Tony Walters and those with courage, patience and understanding at Richmond Football Club.
Van Der Wielen’s description of a funeral service near Harvey south of Perth emphasises the enormity of Pickett’s story and also lends a cinematic quality – do you think anyone’s thought of a movie? I’d say Warner’s already onto the screenplay.
As a young man, bored and directionless, Marlion Pickett wandered the streets ready for a fight, flirting with trouble. He found trouble. He got out of it. Others in his situation. Most? Don’t. This is a sobering story in more ways than one.
Belief. Marlion Picket & Dave Warner is published by Simon & Schuster.
*The close-up photo is Marlion Pickett lining up for an impossible shot for goal at Fremantle Oval – 50 metres out on the boundary. He kicked it,