AFL History Highlights

We take a trip down memory lane of sport with the help of State Library Victoria's image archives. Photographer Rennie Ellis captured the heart of historical matches, star players, and moments in AFL.

Carlton supporter AFL Grand Final Carlton defeated Geelong, by Rennie Ellis, 1995 Grand Final
25 Mar 2021
Last updated
16 Apr 2021

The AFL we watch today is like an art form, perfected over years of technology, strategy and formidable sportsmanship. The game has come a long way from the rough and tumble sport it was so many years ago, and the 80s were (literally) game-changing years for AFL.

We saw the introduction of the drafting process of players, the salary cap and fans welcomed Sunday footy to the fixture.

Every weekend the field was filled with historical players like Gary Ablett, Dermot Brereton, the flamboyant Warwick Capper and beloved Jim Stynes.

The 80s paved the way for a nationally recognised game; the Victorian Football League officially became the AFL in 1990, introducing interstate teams like Adelaide Crows, Fremantle and more.

Carlton supporter AFL Grand Final Carlton defeated Geelong, by Rennie Ellis, 1995 Grand Final
Carlton supporters, Carlton vs Geelong AFL Grand Final, by Rennie Ellis, 1995, H2010.108/544

1995 Grand final: Carlton vs Geelong

The 1995 AFL Grand final saw Carlton take the flag against Geelong, winning by an eye-watering 61 points. It was a record-breaking game for The Blues, bringing them a total of 16 premiership flags - a record they now share with Essendon.

Greg Williams took home the Norm Smith medal in the 1995 premiership after scoring five goals for the match, three of them in the third quarter – helping drive home the win for Carlton.

The attacking midfielder’s 32nd birthday was also the day of the Grand final, giving him plenty of reasons to celebrate!

Unfortunately for Carlton supporters, this would be their last successful premiership – the team now holds record for earning more wooden spoons in the 21st century than any other AFL club.

But, for the diehard fans – there’s always next year.

Geelong and West Coast football players on field during a game, by Rennie Ellis
Geelong vs West Coast football players on field during a game, by Rennie Ellis, 1990s, H2010.108/549

Gary Ablett Senior

Hailing from Drouin in Country Victoria, Gary Ablett Senior is widely regarded as one of the AFL's best ever players.

One of his most unforgettable performances was with Geelong in the 1989 VFL Grand final against Hawthorn, still regarded as one of the toughest Grand finals of modern football.

Ablett kicked nine goals in the nail-biting match, and although Geelong lost by a measly six points, his efforts meant he was awarded the Norm Smith Medal.

An iconic moment, this would make Ablett the second member of the losing team in VFL/AFL history to win the award.

To this day, Gary Ablett Snr is the only player in VFL/AFL history to win the Coleman Medal three seasons in a row.

Grand final opening Sydney versus North Melbourne, 1996 AFL Grand Final, by Rennie Ellis
AFL Grand final opening Sydney vs North Melbourne, 1996, by Rennie Ellis, H2010.108/546

1996 Centenary Grand Final: Sydney vs North Melbourne

The 1996 AFL Grand final marked 100 years of Aussie Rules Football. The Centenary match saw the Sydney Swans and North Melbourne Kangaroos go head to head for the iconic gold premiership cup.

With Sydney and North Melbourne coming in first and second place respectively in the home and away season, this game had all the makings of a perfect Grand final.

It was a star-studded match, with Wayne Carey playing forward for North Melbourne, Tony Lockett playing for the Swans, kicking six goals in the first and only Grand final of his career.

Paul Roos was also playing for Sydney, holding the record for most games played (314) before participating in his first Grand final.

In the end it was North Melbourne that won, beating Sydney by 43 points to win the centenary premiership flag.

About Rennie Ellis

Rennie Ellis' photography is a record of Victorian life and culture in the late 20th century. Best known for his fly-on-the-wall photography, Ellis captured every slice of Australian life over a thirty-year period. State Library Victoria is the archival home of the Rennie Ellis Collection , consisting of more than half a million images and extensive manuscripts. It is the largest ever photographic collection acquired by the Library, and offers incredible insight into the life and work of one of Australia’s most prolific social documentarians.