“I’m super proud of my heritage, where I come from and of my people,” says Lance “Buddy” Franklin over the phone. The AFL superstar is talking about his Indigenous background that he inherited from his mother, a Whadjuk-Noongar woman from Western Australia. Franklin’s pride is reflected by the tattoos that cascade down his left arm. Below his shoulder, there is a portrait of an Aboriginal elder playing the didgeridoo that melds into a series of Indigenous-inspired motifs and images. “Next to the picture of the old fella, it’s all about land, kangaroos, the bush,” he says. “It’s just telling a story about hunting, and where we come from really. But it’s a pretty special piece of artwork that really means a lot to me.”
The reason that Franklin’s background is under discussion is due to his new initiative with Zenith. The Sydney Swans player has collaborated with the Swiss watch brand to design a special version of their DEFY Extreme model. With standard models retailing from upwards of $25,000, this is an impressive watch in itself due, in part, to being powered by the El Primero 21 calibre, an exceptionally precise 1/100th of a second automatic chronograph. But what makes this piece unique is that aspects of Franklin’s heritage and the rugged Australian landscape have been introduced to inform the watch’s unique look. The sapphire dial has been crafted in a custom-made red/orange hue while the sub dials have been given a texture that evokes the sacred site of Uluru.
Only two pieces are being produced. The first belongs to Franklin himself, while the second will go under the hammer on the auction site, loupethis.com. All proceeds from the watch will go towards The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation and their vital work with the Alice Springs community, providing hundreds of children and young people with Literacy Packs, full of learning supplies and books.
The ALNF’s support is urgently needed, too. According to their research, 46 per cent of Aboriginal adults in Australia are “functionally illiterate”, a figure that can reach up to 70 per cent in remote areas. Worryingly, this cycle is yet to be broken. Using the Grattan Institute’s 2016 report “Widening Gaps”, year nine Indigenous students in very remote areas were found to be ﬁve years behind in numeracy, six years behind in reading, and seven to eight years behind in writing.
“Obviously, myself being Indigenous, my kids being Indigenous, just to see what the charity do to raise awareness is unbelievable,” says Franklin, who has been an ALNF ambassador since 2018. “I think sometimes we take education for granted – we think of it as a given. To see what the foundation is doing for Indigenous kids is fantastic.”
Franklin speaks from the vantage point of acknowledging the profound difference that education made to his own life. He grew up in Western Australia about 170km northeast of Perth with four older sisters on a small hobby farm with sheep, goats, horses and a pet donkey. “We were literally out in the dirt, in the middle of nowhere,” he says.
The nearest community was to be found in Dowering, a dusty wheatbelt town with a small population of under 500. The website aussietowns.com.au describes it as “particularly sleepy”. By outback standards, Franklin’s upbringing was not excessively remote. Yet hearing the footballer speak about his childhood still gives you a sense of the isolation and the resulting lack of facilities. “The local school was called Ejanding and it only had 12 or 13 kids in it,” Franklin recalls.
Growing up as footy-mad kid who’d spend hours kicking a ball against the corrugated tin walls of a shearing shed, Franklin’s obvious talent meant that he was able to get a sports scholarship. As a teenager, he went to Wesley College in Perth – a private school that’s honed the skills of many a future AFL star, including Ben Cousins. Today, Franklin is very aware of how lucky he was to get that chance and credits it with giving him the springboard for his magnificent career.
“I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to go to such a prestigious school,” he says. “Without that chance, who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t be playing AFL – you never know. That school gave me an opportunity to get an education. But also to try my shot at football, too.”