Son of the sea at home with the Sharks

TWENTY minutes from the beach but with enough land to ride motorbikes and shoot guns.

Deakin University footballer and marine science student James Crawford is no stranger to the sea, growing up on Flinders Island, in Bass Strait.

Deakin University footballer and marine science student James Crawford is no stranger to the sea, growing up on Flinders Island, in Bass Strait.

Deakin University footballer James Crawford’s childhood seems unremarkable when compared with any other in south-west Victoria.

Except his took place more than 600 kilometres away. 

And you’ve got to catch two flights to get there, unless you prefer to travel by boat. 

Crawford grew up on Flinders Island, a parcel of land 54 kilometres off the north-east tip of Tasmania with a population of about 900. 

The family — Steve and Maree and their four sons, of which James is the eldest — are from Lackrana, a farming district in the island’s east.

His dad is a sheep farmer, running 5000 head of merinos on 485 hectares (1200 acres). His mum is a nurse with the Flinders Island Aboriginal Association.

Crawford never thought of his childhood as unique. 

He attended Flinders Island District High School until grade 6 before boarding at Launceston Church Grammar School. School holidays and long weekends were spent on the family farm, where his father had little trouble finding work for him to do.

“I was similar to most farm kids. We got to drive cars and ride bikes and shoot guns pretty young,” Crawford said.

“It was good because you were only 20 minutes from the beach.  I went fishing and surfing a lot. 

“Looking back, it was a pretty cool way to spend your childhood.”

His football career started with little league on Flinders Island, although the term “league” is a stretch. With only two teams, “Red” always played “Black”.

Private school football followed, while he also ran around with South Launceston and North Launceston in his teens. 

But then came the question of what to do after graduating.

Growing up near the coast, marine biology piqued his interest. Crawford applied for Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus, got in and promptly deferred.

“I wanted to get away (from Tasmania), see the mainland. Last year I did a gap year working in the shearing sheds as a wool presser,” he said.

“We were based in Hamilton but we got to travel, which was the good part of the job. We went over to South Australia, the Barossa Valley, did a lot of time up at Broken Hill, Armidale, Tamworth, Dubbo.”

The hours spent on the road allowed Crawford to see parts of Australia he otherwise never would have. But it came at the cost of playing football.

He had little hesitations pulling on a Deakin University jumper when he finally settled into uni life this year. 

“I wanted to get a full season under my belt, play seniors,” he said.

“One of the main things I was big on was because I’m a first-year (student), I wanted to meet a lot of the second and third years at the club.

“If you live on res, you meet a few but you don’t have classes with them.”

Unsurprisingly, Crawford stands out among his teammates — and not just because of his back story. 

Firstly, there’s his blonde mullet — part of the reason he’s become a cult figure at the Pond. 

“I haven’t really cut it since grade 12. It’s a signature a little bit. I probably will but I might wait until after footy,” he said.

Secondly, and more pertinently, is his football ability. 

Crawford isn’t setting the world alight but his presence as a key forward has been noticeable.

He has kicked 19 goals in nine matches, featured in the best three times and has gone goalless once. Only Steve Byron (21) has more goals at the club.

Deakin University has only enjoyed two wins this season, against Russells Creek and Timboon Demons, with injuries and unavailability frustratingly common. And with university holidays about to start, its depth is about to face its annual test.

Winnable matches in the next month — against Timboon Demons, East Warrnambool and Russells Creek — have suddenly become 50-50 contests but Crawford is upbeat.

“It was hard playing all the top teams in a row, that knocked us around a bit. We’re feeling a lot better at the moment,” Crawford said.

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