2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Ricco Butler

This story contains names deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Only two players in senior football across the country have won a major league best and fairest medal four times. Port Adelaide’s Russell Ebert, elevated to Legend status in the AFL Hall of Fame this year, won the SANFL’s Magarey Meal in 1971-74-76-80, and Swan Districts’ Bill Walker, another AFL Hall of Famer, won the WAFL’s Sandover Medal in 1965-66-67-70.

The Queensland equivalent to the two interstate giants of the game is Ricco Butler, a brilliant indigenous player from the Garbutt Magpies in Townsville who won three League medals, lost a fourth through suspension, and was runner-up in a fifth.

Described by ‘The Townsville Footballer’ as “a wingman/rover with uncanny ball control and a terrific burst of speed’, Butler emerged as a star of the Townsville Australian Football League when he played in Garbutt’s first premiership side in 1958. They kicked 8-0 (48) to beat South Townsville (41) in only their fourth season in the competition.

In 1959 Butler played in the Mt. Isa League, but in 1960 he returned to the Magpies, a club made up entirely of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, and to put together a career that, according to “More of the Kangaroo,” written by Murray Bird and Greg Parker, totalled more 300 senior games over 20 years.

The brilliant Butler won what at the time was known as the Howatson Medal as the League’s best and fairest player in 1961-64-67, and was runner-up in 1965 to South Townsville’s Terry Gould.

In 1970, when the medal was renamed the J.L.Williams Medal after the founder of the League, he finished equal first in the vote count with Currajong’s Peter Cox but was ineligible due to a suspension.

He played in nine TFL grand finals for six premierships in 1958-61-62-64-65-66 and topped the League goal-kicking twice in 1961-67. He later coached Garbutt Magpies in 1977-78 but passed away on 26 March 1985 aged 49.

He was rated “the best player I’ve ever seen” by long-time Townsville journalist and former TFL publicity offer Alf Wilson, who broke the news of Butler’s pending Hall of Fame induction in the local press. “He wasn’t big but he was brave, skilful, quick and elusive … everything else.”

A proud Bandjan man who also excelled in rugby league, Butler was born in Ingham and was the father of four children – sons Lance (now 62), Hayden (59) and Norman (55), also played with the Magpies, and daughter Bernice (56). Brothers Russell, Bertie and Gully also played with Garbutt.

He was a cult figure among Magpies supporters, who out-numbered supporters of other clubs during his prime, and played at times with fellow 300-gamer Wally Tallis, father of Australian rugby league star Gordon Tallis.

Our Supporters