The talented Ernie Dingo returns to his basketball roots

Ernie Dingo
Ernie Dingo

Actor and TV presenter Ernie Dingo was a gun basketballer in his day, playing the game at a State level for the East Perth Eagles and for the Perth Wildcats in the 1970s.

“I was a hero,” he laughs, chatting over the phone from location in Willare in the West Kimberley.

The 65-year-old Ernie is not quite as sprightly as he was in those days, but that won’t stop him having a good crack when he gets together with former basketball colleague and Aboriginal performer Dr Richard Walley.

The pair will be a part of the Australian Masters Games which, due to Covid, will now be held in Perth in April 2022. They will be part of a Wildcats reboot team. 

West Australians will know Ernie from the last four years with his SBS series Going Places, but we’ve seen him in everything from the movies Crocodile Dundee, Bran Nue Dae and Heartland, to hosting the long running The Great Outdoors.

He’s taking a break from Going Places as the program contends with Covid. Ernie says the program is working to re-invent itself in the pandemic era using presenters in different States.

“I’m a bit towie about going over there all the time, and having to come home and isolate,” Ernie says.

“But I want to do more WA stories.

“You could do a whole series in the South West, a whole series in the Mid-West, a whole series in the Pilbara and a whole series in the Kimberley.”

But for the time being Ernie is based in Perth which has given him a great opportunity to be involved in the Masters Games.

“I’ve had mates talking about the games for years, but I’ve always been too busy – and not that I wasn’t old enough.”

An opportunity to be a part of a reboot of the 1982 Wildcats team was ideal.

As a 10-year-old growing up in Mullewa in WA’s Mid-West, Ernie says he loved basketball.

“I played State in ’73, and I love the game, I love the camaraderie and it’s a part of a lot of Aboriginal communities, and during the seventies it was a big thing.”

But is he still fit enough to play?

“By the time I stand up and get ready to sub-in, I think I’ll be ready for a break,” he laughs.

“But the boys have been training while I’ve been on the road and while I haven’t had much ball use, I do take a ball with me while I’m travelling and you can always find a hoop, and that seems to be where I get my fitness.

“Fitness at my age is as long as your eyes can move around, that’s fine.

“But I still like to get out there and prove the young fellas wrong.

“That’s going to be the fun thing about the games, what I’m disliking so far is that the opposition are going to try and block you, when you are on the court on your own you can be putting up three shots from anywhere.

“In the game there’ll be blokes jumping all over you to try and stop you, I’ll have to call a Covid two metre strike and stay out of the zone.”

Ernie says age has made him a little more circumspect.

“The young Ernie Dingo would have had a crack at anything, but these days, I say ‘yeah, done that, and I’ll watch from here, thank you’. 

“It’s not so much about being wiser, it’s more about practicality.

“You know there are some things you can’t do, it’s not a wise move to do them, and while sometimes you have a crack at them, it’s more about only doing what you need to do. 

“I don’t have to prove to the world how good I am, I know my limits.”

While Ernie says he gets branded as an elder, he believes because of his role in the movie Bran Nue Dae he’s more often known as Uncle Tadpole.

“It’s a bit hard to shake that image. Everywhere I go people call out ‘there goes Uncle Tadpole’.

“I just heard a little girl, about eight, at the last community we were at last week. She said to her mother ‘there’s Stevie Johnson Tadpole’, her mother said to her ‘no that’s Ernie Dingo’.

“She said ‘who’s Ernie Dingo? And that’s the norm in Aboriginal communities.

“The adults look and say ‘there’s Ernie Dingo’ and the kids will look and say ‘what, that’s Uncle Tadpole not Ernie Dingo’.”

The Masters Games Wildcats team will see Ernie reunited with Richard Walley for the return of the 1982 Perth Wildcats team.

The Australian Masters Games celebrates around 50 sports, with no qualification criteria, other than meeting the minimum age requirement of 30.

Mike Ellis, captain of the retired Perth Wildcats team, played for them for 10 years, and says that in addition to competing for the gold medal, the team has plans to replicate the original 1982 Wildcats uniform for the special event.

“We’re looking forward to joining in on the fun and celebrations at this year’s Australian Masters Games, in our home city,” Mike says.

Eight of the 1982 team’s original players will take part in the Games.

The Australian Masters Games was due to be held in October but has now been postponed until April 2022. 

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Journalist and public relations specialist Allen Newton has worked across major media organisations in Western Australia and PR locally and internationally. He and wife Helen Ganska operate Newton Ganska Communications. Allen started his journalism career at the long defunct Sunday Independent and went on to become the founding editor for news website PerthNow, Managing Editor of The Sunday Times and PerthNow and then Editor-In-Chief of news website WAtoday. As well as news, he has been an editor of food and wine, real estate, TV and travel sections. He’s done everything from co-hosting a local ABC television pop show, to editing a pop music section called Breakout with Big Al, and publishing his own media and marketing magazine.