2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Peter Ware

Thursday Island, with a total area of 3 sq km and a population of 2,805, located 39km north of Cape York Peninsula, is a tiny ‘home’ to some really big personalities. Like NFL Super Bowl champion Jesse Williams, dual Olympic basketballer and three-time NBL champion Danny Morseu, noted rugby league coach Matthew Elliott, Queensland Premier John Douglas, dancer/actor and NAIDOC award winner Elma Gada Kris and ‘The Mills Sisters’, formerly the ‘Singing Grandmas’, and a largely unheralded Australian footballer.

Peter Ware, one of 11 children to an Indigenous family, spent his first five years on ‘TI’ before moving to the Gulf of Carpentaria and later to Cairns. There he played rugby league on Saturdays and Australian football on Sundays with Centrals Aloomba. He was good. Very good.

At 16 in 1976 he won the Reg Lillywhite Medal as the best and fairest player in the Cairns Under-18 competition, before graduating to the senior side to played alongside a young Wayne Brittain, whose younger brother Craig was taking the junior ranks by storm.

Ware was a local favourite. As Kay Oliver wrote on an on-line forum: “ Went to school both at Cairns Central and Cairns High with Peter, Agnes and Winston. Lovely family. Always remember Mrs Ware singing in church, had the most loud and beautiful voice. Peter was so talented. I think also was the Male Sportsman of the Year at High School.”

In 1981, when Craig Brittain won All-Australian Under-18 selection and shared in Windsor-Zillmere’s QAFL premiership to earn a contract with VFL club North Melbourne, Ware, living in Cairns after his family had moved out to the mines, played for Cairns against Townsville and his cousin, Garbutt Magpies star John Santos. Each had a good day both were picked for North Queensland and the scouts were all over them.

Soon, the familiar names at ‘Centrals’ would go their different ways. Wayne Brittain went on to be a premiership coach at Zillmere before coaching Carlton in the AFL and having a stint as an assistant-coach at Brisbane, and Craig Brittain played at North Melbourne, won a Grogan Medal and was a premiership-winning Zillmere captain and coach. But little did anyone realise at the time that Ware, too, would forge a path of his own which ultimately would see the trio reunited in the Queensland Football Hall of Fame.

After a going showing for North Queensland, Santos joined QAFL newcomers Sherwood, while Ware was approached by WAFL club Swan Districts through Bob Lowry, a 150-game player with the club from the 1950s. In a nutshell, he said ‘come and play in Perth’. It was the beginning of a steep learning curve.

“I didn’t even know they played football in Perth,” Ware admitted. “But I figured ‘why not?’ I could always go back.” So suddenly the boy from “TI” moved almost as far as he possibly could without leaving the country to play in 1982 with a proud club formed in 1932 where in 1962 Haydn Bunton Jnr, son of the legendary triple Brownlow Medallist, had won the WAFL’s Magarey Medal and led Swans to the first of three consecutive premierships.

Oddly, among Ware’s new teammates at Swan Districts was Leon Baker, originally from Bunbury, south of Perth. Four years older, he had travelled the country to play football, and had played for Souths Balaclava against Ware in Cairns.

In 1982, in the Swans’ famous black and white, Ware earned his stripes in the reserves, playing just once in the seniors. But in 1983 he was a regular in a side coached by Western Australia football legend John Todd. Wearing the #31 jumper, he enjoyed an 18-4 record overall as they finished third on the home-and-away ladder at 16-5 before beating East Fremantle by 59 points, minor premiers South Fremantle by 21 points and then Claremont by 21 points in the grand final in front of a crowd of 47,740 – about 17 times the Thursday Island population.

It was a star-studded Swans side, with WAFL greats Stan Nowotny, Ron Boucher, Don Langsford, Bill Skwirowski, Barry Kimberley and Keith Narkle, current West Coast chairman Alan Cransberg, inaugural Fremantle Dockers coach in waiting Gerard Neesham, and a host of future AFL players – Phil Narkle, Don Holmes, Murray Rance, Peter Sartori and Baker, who would debut for Essendon the following year and play a key role in the 1984-85 premierships.

Twelve months later Ware missed a chance to be a part of a Swans’ hat-trick when he missed the 1984 grand final with a broken hand after playing for WA against South Australia in Adelaide, when they got home by a point after a late Robert Wiley goal.

A prototype of the modern running defender, lean, quick, and skilful, Ware said he was known at the time as ‘Midnight’ and ‘The Black Flash’, before hurriedly adding “I don’t know if you can say that these days”.

Whatever his name, he was a star of the competition and among countless players shortlisted for the formation of the West Coast Eagles in 1987. He missed the cut but wasn’t overly concerned. “I didn’t really have any great aspiration to play VFL. I was just happy playing with my mates,” he said.

Now 63, he retired from football at the end of 1990 after 132 WAFL games but played for another ‘five or six’ years in various Sunday Leagues in and around Perth. “I just loved playing,” he said. “I didn’t get paid or anything, but I just loved it.”

He idolised the great Indigenous players of WA like the Narkle brothers, Phil and Jimmy Krakouer, Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer, Stephen Michael, and Bill Dempsey, and has a special soft spot, too, for Andrew McLeod because, he says, he has a tattoo of the Torres Strait headdress known as ‘Darie’ to which Ware will always be proudly connected.

For years, the ever-smiling and always chatty Ware would head home to Cairns to see family over summer, but rarely these days. After all, his parents have passed away and there are only four members of the children still alive. He has one sister living on Mao Island, 40km north of Thursday Island, one sister working in radio in Sydney, and a brother living in Perth.

Never married and a truck driver for 40 years, he lives in suburban Morley, loves cray fishing, and is a regular at Swans games on a Saturday. “I’m pretty chilled. Nothing much worries me. I just do my thing and enjoy it. I love this place.”

What does he think of travelling to Brisbane with partner Cindy to the Brittain brothers in the Queensland Football Hall of Fame? “Man, I was blown away. I didn’t even know there was a Hall of Fame.”

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