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Graham Vivian (Polly) Farmer (1935–2019)

by Glen Quarterman

Football great Graham “Polly” Farmer has become the first Australian rules player to be ­diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy — the crippling neurological disorder caused by repeated head knocks.

The diagnosis of Stage III CTE was confirmed after tissue from his brain was analysed at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital late last year, the ­Herald Sun reports. Medical experts believe the devastating condition is caused by repeated head or subconcussive knocks over many years. Farmer died last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

A report released overnight in online medical journal Acta Neuropathologica Communi­cations confirms his CTE diagnosis and sheds light on the football legend’s suffering over two ­decades.

Associate professor Michael Buckland, head of the RPA’s ­department of neuropathology and founding director of the Australian Sports Brain Bank, said Farmer’s case was the most severe CTE diagnosis he had seen.

“It was first slide under the microscope and, wow, here it (CTE) is,” he said. “In this case the CTE change was severe and Alzheimer’s disease was at an ­intermediate level.”

CTE can be diagnosed only after death.

Farmer’s son Brett said: “I have got memories of Dad lying on the couch with a bucket and vomiting after games. And it didn’t happen just a few times. That is a sign nowadays that you have got concussion.”

Professor Buckland has previously diagnosed CTE in three former rugby league players, including Canterbury star and coach Steve Folkes and former Eastern Suburbs hooker Charles “Peter” Moscatt, as well as a boxer. Former rugby union player Barry “Tizza” Taylor was diagnosed with CTE at the Brain Bank in Boston. Farmer’s diagnosis takes the tally to six but Professor Buckland said there were “more in the pipeline”.

CTE symptoms include memory loss, confusion, ­impaired judgment, impulse control problems, depression, anxiety and often begin years after the last brain trauma.

Farmer’s children Kim, Dean and Brett decided to allow their father’s brain to be tested in the hope it would shed light on CTE.

The six-time premiership player in the WAFL and VFL died last August aged 84.

Herald Sun

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Citation details

Glen Quarterman, 'Farmer, Graham Vivian (Polly) (1935–2019)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012