Friday, January 22, 2016

To get to Halls Creek from Perth, you need to take a three-hour flight north-east to Kununurra near the Northern Territory border and then drive four hours south-west down the Great Northern Highway. The population of the small remote town in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia is about 1000, although Sam Petrevski-Seton thinks it's less than that.

That's probably because Petrevski-Seton knows most of them on a first-name basis. His family lives at "the bottom end of town", near where the garden area creek runs. But his neighbours are also family – uncles and cousins are scattered around town. When he was younger, there was an open-door policy in Halls Creek and Petrevski-Seton would casually hop from place to place finding things to do.

After school he would often gather with friends and go searching for birds to hunt in the bush. In wet season when the creeks fill up, they'd go swimming or walk up stream to the nearby bridge, jump on a big tube and float back towards home. Petrevski-Seton liked the rain; it created mud, which he loved to flick up on his mates while they rode their dirt bikes or even play mud fights.

Petrevski-Seton wasn't always seen as one the most exciting young footballers in the country. The skillful and classy prospect grew up chasing a different dream, compared to his peers. While other teenagers wanted their names called by AFL clubs at the draft, Petrevski-Seton – like many of his Indigenous elders – wanted to be a cowboy (more often referred to as a cattleman or stockman).

Sam Petrevski-Seton grew up planning to become a cattleman. Picture: supplied

Petrevski-Seton's first three years were spent living on a cattle station 70km from Fitzroy Crossing, the nearest major town to Halls Creek. It is where his dad, Christopher Seton, worked, having also grown up in the area. When Sam was three, the family moved to Halls Creek, where Petrevski-Seton's mum, Angeline Petrevski, came from, but the sense of being on the land never left Sam. In the years since, he has regularly helped out at the Burk's Park cattle station in the region, enjoying the relaxed nature of outback life in Western Australia.

"It's stress-free. You've got nothing to worry about when you're out there. You get up at the break of dawn, sit around the campfire with a cup of tea in your hand and plan out your day," Petrevski-Seton says.

"You start every morning by locating your horses and bringing them into the yard, do the work needing to be done around the station and go from there."

The Halls Creek local is as comfortable in the saddle as with a Sherrin. Picture: supplied

Football has always been central to the Halls Creek community. Petrevski-Seton joined the Hall Creek Cowboys when he was seven, and quickly started to show his coordination: he was fast, albeit small, and by the time he was 13, had been picked in the senior team Halls Creek Hawks.

But growing up in a place like Halls Creek lends itself to trying out sports few would give a go, and Petrevski-Seton found he was as comfortable bull riding as we was dodging opponents and kicking with both feet on a footy field.

Petrevski-Seton started bull riding as a 12-year-old. He loved the thrill of it. It gave him a rush like nothing else, and the more he did it the more competitive he became. He started entering contests against other boys, and found he was good. "There are a few blue ribbons in the cupboard back home, plus some trophies. Not many, but there are a few," he says.

Rodeo, or competition bull riding, requires riders to sit on the back of the bucking bull for eight seconds. One judge assesses the rider's technique while the other evaluates the animal's performance. Petrevski-Seton admits there were nervous moments, especially knowing his then-60kg frame – he's only 73kg at the start of his draft year – might have been at the mercy of the 1100kg animal.

"You just hang on for dear life," he says. "It comes down to your courage and your technique.

"Eight seconds feels like 10 minutes up there, but you just have to hang on. If you're putting on a great show and you're hanging on you'll get a great score, but if the animal just runs out and stays relatively calm, you might not.

"It's one of the most dangerous sports in the world."

Petrevski-Seton's rodeo days helped stock the family trophy cabinet. Picture: supplied

That real danger was why Petrevski-Seton needed to stop. The last time he jumped on the back of a bull was a week after the NAB AFL Under-16 championships in 2014. After blitzing at the carnival for Western Australia and establishing himself as the early candidate to be the No. 1 pick in 2016, Petrevski-Seton headed back home to Halls Creek. There was a rodeo competition on, and he won the title. Two days later he returned to Perth and was training with Claremont, his WAFL club.

There was a genuine buzz about Petrevski-Seton after the carnival. His three games on the Gold Coast that week left recruiters stunned. The way he weaved through traffic, tackled, took marks, kicked goals and did everything with a level of class and poise made him a clear standout.

"He's the best kid I've ever seen at that age," one senior AFL recruiter thought to himself. Another said the midfielder/half-forward could have been drafted that year – as a 16-year-old two years before he was eligible – and still have been selected in the top-10.

Petrevski-Seton went back to the WAFL after the under-16s, and played 10 under-18 Colts games for Claremont, averaging 17 disposals.

Family matters for junior star

Petrevski-Seton's pure talent has made him one to watch, but he also has a surname that is difficult to forget. He is one of four siblings. He has an older brother, Cody, who turns 20 this year, and a younger brother, CJ, who is 14. Their younger sister Angel turns eight this year. Their mum, Angeline, carries the surname of her father, who came to Australia from Yugoslavia.

Angeline's mother is indigenous. Cody is Sam's only sibling who carries the surname of both parents, with CJ (Seton) and Angel (Petrevski) taking just one. Christopher and Angeline chose to select the surnames based on which family member each child looked like when they were born. Among his family and close friends, Petrevski-Seton is known as 'Sammo' (Sam is the name of his maternal great grandfather, and the continuation of names is a cultural norm.)

Fishing is a less dangerous pursuit than rodeo for many Halls Creek locals. Picture: supplied

Petrevski-Seton's family is the driving force behind his football ambitions. Footy has already taken him to many places around Australia, and right now it finds him in Los Angeles, on the west coast of the United States, as part of the NAB AFL Academy's two-week overseas training camp. After winning All Australian honours last year at under-18 level as a bottom-ager, Petrevski-Seton has already attracted kudos as one of the best players in the prestigious squad on tour.

But there are still things he wants to achieve this year: play regular senior football for Claremont in the WAFL and be a back-to-back All Australian. He doesn't think much about the draft, but knows he has spent the past week at the IMG Academy in Florida training hard for a reason.

"I started to play some good footy back home and at that point, I thought I was good enough to aim for the big stage of the AFL," he says.

"Growing up, a lot of my friends and schoolmates had pretty rough childhoods. They could have been where I am, but they just didn't have the same support.

"My family supported us, gave us the best chance to succeed and directed me where to go in life. This year's as much for them as it is for me."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

BY THE end of 2011, Sam Petrevski-Seton wasn't spending much time at school. He was committed to being a rodeo star and was working as often as he could on cattle stations close to Halls Creek. He was 13, and he found he had more passion for things other than school. His parents allowed him to skip the classroom for work, realising how much their son loved being on the land, compared to sitting at a desk.

He's more comfortable on the land than behind a desk, but Petrevski-Seton is unafraid to push his limits. Picture: supplied

But in early 2012, after a chance meeting with former Hawthorn player David Polkinghorne (who was running a church in the region), Petrevski-Seton was offered the chance to move to Sydney with a group of Halls Creek teenagers to study.

The study program focuses on indigenous kids planning to leave school, offering participants the chance to complete high school.

"I remember being out at a cattle station when they asked me if I wanted to go. I had a think about it with a few of my uncles working there," he says. "I thought I'd take the opportunity and the next week I was in Sydney."

The adjustment was huge, but living with one of his aunties made it a little easier. The biggest change was the lack of footy he was playing. Petrevski-Seton can't remember too many AFL ovals, and he barely had a Sherrin in his hand the semester he was there. He missed the fun he had as a rodeo rider, and also his family.

He was already on AFL club radars, even if he didn't know it. Hawthorn was attempting to set up an indigenous academy system for young players to get scholarships for Melbourne schools, and its then-recruiting manager Gary Buckenara had been tipped off by his former teammate Polkinghorne about "this Sam Seton kid".

"He was making people look silly even back then he was so good," Buckenara recalled.

Petrevski-Seton didn't last long in Sydney, however, moving back to Halls Creek and completing year nine there. Towards the end of 2012, he started contemplating a move to Perth. He applied for some scholarships, and was accepted into Christchurch High School but the boarding house was full. He tried another – Clontarf Aboriginal College. He had heard about its reputation for producing AFL footballers in the past – including Patrick Ryder, Chris Yarran and Michael Johnson – and thought it sounded more like what he wanted.

One AFL recruiter judged Petrevski-Seton the best he'd seen at his age. Picture: supplied

He won a position and studied there from year 10-12, finishing school in 2015. Getting a year 12 certificate was a significant achievement, and made Petrevski-Seton feel proud. The move also taught him plenty away from the classroom. When he first shifted, he lived with 10 other boys from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions with a host family. They had to keep the house clean. If they didn't do their part and left a mess, they had to write, in capitals, 'I WILL NOT LEAVE RUBBISH IN THE KITCHEN' at least 100 times (and up to 300 times) on a notepad. Some were regular offenders. Petrevski-Seton learned quickly.

"It was like what Bart Simpson does in detention at the start of every Simpsons episode," Petrevski-Seton says. "I only did it twice. I was one of the good boys. I learned a lot about cleaning and respecting others, and I've taken that into the 'Claremont house' now, where I do the chores after dinner, wipe the benches and help make dinner."

Up for a challenge

The Claremont House is where Petrevski-Seton moved in two months ago and where he will spend this year. Claremont Football Club runs the house, and Petrevski-Seton pays the club rent.

He lives with three other players, and they share the chores. Being away from home doesn't necessarily fuss Petrevski-Seton; he has a calm demeanour that deflects stress and worry. He's engaging and a little cheeky, and he holds eye contact during conversations. But there were elements of moving from Halls Creek to Perth that took him some getting used to.

The main thing was communicating. In Halls Creek, Petrevski-Seton speaks Kriol, a broken version of English. When he arrived in Perth, he barely said a word, too nervous he'd get something wrong. He struggled to translate all words from his own language into regular English. He had to get lessons organised through Clontarf, and he asked players at Claremont for their help if he didn't know a word or turn of phrase. After months of English lessons, he speaks it fluently and confidently now, only slipping back into Kriol when on the phone to his family or friends. "It was a challenge I hadn't thought about before I moved," he says.

Talking more is an aim for Petrevski-Seton this season, as he hopes to improve his leadership skills. He was appointed Claremont's under-18s captain for the first month of the season – the position will be rotated – and he was pleased people had noticed his efforts to be more encouraging towards others.

"I'm not one of the loudest, but I know everyone's name, where they come from and a little bit about each of their backgrounds," he says. "I've made an effort to do that."

Petrevski-Seton has been working on developing his leadership in 2016. Picture: supplied

His growing confidence was obvious in the Academy team's first game of its April camp this month, when the group of under-18 prospects took on Werribee's VFL side at the MCG. Petrevski-Seton kicked the opening goal and was the best player on the ground to half-time before he faded and finished with 13 disposals.

He was a bit quieter the next week when the Academy lost to Geelong's VFL side, but he was glad to get more experience against senior players. Four rounds into the WAFL season he hasn't yet had a senior call-up for Claremont, which is starting to frustrate him.

"I had been telling a few people I was going to be playing seniors before the under-18 nationals like last year but that hasn't happened yet, so hopefully that's not too far away," he says.

"I feel like people are watching me more this year. I'm a little bit more developed and a bit older. I've done some things already last year, so I've got a lot to show."

He has already shown recruiters his level of commitment. In February, Petrevski-Seton had planned to head to Broome to celebrate his 18th birthday. His parents had booked his flight, and they were going to drive eight hours from Halls Creek to meet him there, along with cousins from home and Fitzroy Crossing. A total gathering of about 20 family members was expected. But three days before, Petrevski-Seton had to phone his mum and tell her the trip would need to be cancelled. Western Australia had a state talent testing day, and he planned to take part in testing and meet with clubs.

"It was going to be the last time in a few months that I'd get to go home and see my family. But I wanted to show how much I want an AFL career, and a fair few of the clubs were impressed with what I decided to do," Petrevski-Seton says.

"It was the right decision, but mum didn't like it. She was really excited I was heading back, but I hope it showed people how serious I am."

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