From the mission to a champion of Australian sport, Bill Dempsey’s road through adversity to being one football’s greats has been further recognised with another long-waited accomplishment.
Dempsey was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday after a career spanning two states and territories and close to 500 games at the top level.
Born in the small railway town of Birdum in 1942 he spent much of his childhood at the Retta Dixon mission, 500 kilometres away from his home and mother.
Dempsey was removed following the deaths of his father, a returned serviceman, and sister after contracting meningitis.
His mother would continually fight for her son and remain a huge part of his life.
While still a boy, Dempsey played in premierships for Northern Territory football league side Darwin Buffaloes before relocating to Western Australia to play with West Perth in 1960.
Early contracts allowed his return to Darwin each summer to play with his former club, balancing footy with night school in accountancy and later running his own scaffolding business.
At 187 centimetres Dempsey would play primarily as a ruck before West Perth’s recruitment of Australian football giant Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer as captain-coach ahead of the 1968 season.
Dempsey then slotted into the back-pocket as a resting replacement for Farmer in the middle, though it wouldn’t affect his influence and status in the game.
VFL sides South Melbourne, Footscray and Hawthorn would all vie for his signature over the years.
Had the same interest come from Dempsey’s beloved Richmond he could have seen a move east, though the offer never came.
His 1969 Simpson Medal as best on ground in that year’s WANFL grand final against East Perth in front of 51,000 fans remains a crowning achievement of his career.
At Tuesday night’s Hall of Fame ceremony, Dempsey retold the story of how his medal was found by a pair of prospectors after being lost during Cyclone Tracy in 1974.
He had gifted it to his mother in Darwin, which she mistakenly called the Simpson desert medal.
“Guess where they found it?” Dempsey said.
“In the Simpson Desert.
“It’s a spooky story.
“You couldn’t make the story up.”
He played in 343 games across 17 season at West Perth, including three premierships in 1969, 1971 and 1975 and 14 state games for Western Australia.
The Territorian’s legacy in the sport has continued long after his presence on the field.
In 2005 Dempsey was inducted into the Australian football Indigenous team of the century at back pocket with his mate Polly Farmer pinching the ruckman spot.
In 2022 Dempsey was honoured as the ambassador to the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous round.