Late on January 16, 2010, just a few days after Marlion turned 18, Jess started having contractions. She and Marlion caught a taxi to the hospital. Jess recalls the experience. “Marlion Jr was the only difficult birth of my kids. The baby took a long time to come.”
Jess laughs and adds, “Marlion was trying to rub my back but he wasn’t doing it properly, so I told him to stop.”
Sacked as masseur, Marlion curled up on the couch while Jess was given an epidural.
Eventually, on January 17, 2010, Junior was delivered. Marlion was in a state of semi-shock. He didn’t think he was ready for it, but Jess never had doubts.
“I knew he was going to be a good dad. I saw him with my nieces and nephews and there was something about him when he was with them. I knew,” she says proudly.
The birth of Marlion Jr heralded a new level of instability for the teen parents. It was too hard living in the pocket of (Jess’s sister) Leekesia, especially with both sisters having new babies, so Marlion and Jess headed down to Jess’s aunty and cousin in Waroona, but that also was only temporary.
Moving from relative to relative over the next nine months, it was certainly not the stable existence that a teenage mother needs after such a life-changing event.
“They would ask for rent but spend it on *smile*, and so we’d just move on to the next relative with a room.”
By “*smile*”, Marlion is talking booze and drugs. The story of Marlion and Jess makes you wonder how any young couple with no family financial support or stable employment could actually succeed.
The odds were stacked against Marlion and Jess, but they had one huge thing going for them: each believed in the other.
But Marlion didn’t yet believe enough in himself. In his heart he wanted to be a really good father.
He knew how hard it had been for Jess growing up with a father who was always in jail. That was the last thing he wanted for any child of his.
But he was 18 with very limited education and no skills outside of some innate athletic ability. He looks back on his younger self now with regret.
“I wasn’t ready to be a father. I didn’t want to change.”
Had he cut down on the partying and assumed more responsibility, they might have been able to make do and the drift towards the rocks may have been averted.
But he had no job and no real goal, and was hanging with a tight crew of friends all as rootless as he was. He was granted one reprieve when he turned up for the court appearance on which he’d been granted bail.
“My lawyer was waiting for me outside the court.”
It was good news: the (assault) charges had been dropped. But that’s where the good news ended.
Marlion had begun the slide. He started drinking alcohol regularly and, for the first time in his life, taking drugs, mainly ice.
The drug was all over Fremantle and Marlion had no trouble scoring. Its attraction was simple.
“Gave me a rush at first, then I felt calm. Your problems didn’t matter any more. At least, not till the next smoke.”
After a bout on ice he’d just want to sleep for days. There wasn’t enough from his Centrelink payments to pay for food, accommodation and his party lifestyle.
Inevitably, he and his crew began to deal. It seemed easy: easy to get the drug and just as easy finding customers. The only rule they operated by was they would not sell to anybody under 18.
Their customers were predominantly Indigenous. “Older people, people my age, men, women, some white people. It was everywhere.”
Marlion did not have problems with others trying to knock him over for his money or drugs. In fact, the hardest thing about dealing was getting the money out of anybody you sold it to on the tick.
In the end, Marlion pretty much gave up dealing. Getting paid was a hassle and he didn’t like having drug business anywhere near Jess and Marlion Jr.
Deep inside, Marlion knew he needed to be better than this for his kids. But the pressure built relentlessly. Because Marlion and Jess had no fixed address, more grief followed.
“I missed my Centrelink appointments and got cut off because of the moving.”
It was a vicious circle. Now there was no money coming in at all.
Marlion, Dominic and a mate began to go looking for easy money at night, stealing from cars. That didn’t produce much.
“You might find a wallet that lasted for a few days. The other boys had a car. We’d go out cruising. And from there it went all haywire.”
If they found money, the partying would regularly last from midday through to five or six the following morning. They’d go to nightclubs or the casino and burn through their score. The amphetamine kept Marlion buzzing for hours, but after the buzz came the withdrawal.
He would be sleepy and unmotivated. To party longer, Marlion and his mates needed a bigger score. And so there Marlion was, on a warm November night in Spearwood, looking for money, for a high, for a buzz, for escape. And that was when he made his next fateful misstep.
Marlion served every day of his two and-a-half-year sentence (for burglary, released on June 8, 2013), but that wasn’t because he was a troublesome prisoner.
Part of the reason Marlion did not apply for parole, he says, was that he was simply ignorant of the whole legal process.
“There was things I didn’t know, being inside. Or found out after.”
There were also loads of restrictions applying to parole and information he simply couldn’t give the authorities.
Like ‘Where will you be living?’ – “I didn’t know where I was going to be living.”
“It was too hard. I said, I’ll do my time, all of it, no parole.”
His sense of frustration is palpable. Sure, if you jumped through hoops you could get some early freedom, but there were too many hoops, and how painful was your landing going to be if you got it wrong? For Marlion, the preferable option was for him to do his time and emerge with a sense of freedom and his slate wiped clean.
Jess, who had been struggling with not one but now two young children, was less than happy about that. “I understood that he wanted to just have it all out of the way but, yeah, I had the kids on my own,” she says, trawling back through memories of tough times as a teenager with no car, two small kids and no place of her own.
Nobody was more unhappy with Marlion, though, than he was himself.
On 8 June 2013, at the age of 21, Marlion was released. Jess was there to meet him. A friend of a friend had driven her out. The boys were at home.
Now-AFL pair Tim Kelly and Marlion Pickett after winning a WA state game in 2015. Picture: Supplied
Later, when Marlion first saw his boys, Latrell greeted him with ‘Hello, uncle’. Marlion nearly broke down right then and there. His voice wavers.
“I’ll never forget that. He didn’t recognise his own father.”
The moment is burned in Jess’s memory too. She saw Marlion’s devastation. ‘He crumpled. It broke him.’
All through prison, Marlion knew he had to change, but perhaps in that awful moment as he realised that he was a stranger to his own boys, he actually found the impetus he needed.
Everything Marlion had promised himself he would be as a father he had so far failed to deliver. But he vowed he would do everything in his power to turn it around from that point on.
As Marlion watched the prison recede in the distance, he knew he owed Jess, and he owed his kids. Jail had very nearly been the end of Marlion.
The thought of Jess and his two young boys waiting for him, the youngest born while he was in prison, had both tormented and motivated him. In jail he had found himself in the darkest pit, not one of manmade walls but of self-loathing.
Sometimes, after speaking to Jess and hearing her troubles, troubles caused by him, the despair had been so profound that he had succumbed.
Four times he had tried to take his own life. And yet he’d survived.
But Marlion knew survival wasn’t enough. Walking constantly at his shoulder was self-doubt. Was he strong enough to pass the tests that would come in the future?
Would he lapse back into the life he’d had, or could he claw his way up to the top of that tree and finally be able to look out over a new world? Jess believed in him, but to succeed, Marlion had to find a way to believe in himself.
Every footy-mad boy dreams of kicking a goal in the grand final. This was Marlion’s chance to score his first AFL goal, and in the biggest game of them all.
“I was definitely nervous. I didn’t want to miss it. I tried to chuck the ball around so I felt comfortable with my walk in.”
One of the aspects of his game that Marlion had worked hard to improve while at Richmond was his kicking.
“I was never that pleased with my kicking. For a while my run-up was too long. Then I was kicking into the man on the mark. Every night after training I would try and practice.”
Virtually every spectator at the ground or watching on TV held their breath as Marlion started his run-up.
The drama did not escape Damien Hardwick, as he recalled on Australian Story.
“The moment Marlion’s having a shot at goal and the murmur that is going around, this is like a fairytale. This couldn’t happen, could it? We couldn’t have a kid that’s been in jail, 27 years of age, he could not possibly kick a goal. It’s an incredible story; hard to believe it happened, really.”
Marlion ran straight, relaxed and smooth.
The ball dropped, his boot drove into it. Standing in front of the goals, Jack Riewoldt watched the ball sail over his head right through the middle of the posts and his joy is palpable on the gameday video.
The most beautiful thing about the moment is not that Marlion kicked the goal but the joy that it brought to everybody. Of course, Marlion’s family, close friends and teammates were thrilled, but so were strangers who knew nothing about him except his backstory.
When Marlion kicked that goal, it was life-affirming. Those watching celebrated not just a goal, not just one individual’s triumph but our shared humanity.
We wanted Marlion to succeed and we can be proud of ourselves for that. ‘Everyone came running. It was one of the best moments in my footy life,’ says Marlion. But it was tinged with sadness too.
“When I kicked that goal, I thought of Sam (Jess’s brother, who took his own life in July 2019).
“One of the last conversations I had with him on the phone was him saying he was going to be there for my first AFL game.”
By three-quarter time the Giants had still only scored two goals and the Tigers twelve. Knowing their team was in an unassailable position the Richmond fans had the rare joy of celebrating for the entire last term, but Marlion’s self-imposed trance during the game only ended when he heard his name being called out at the post-game presentation.
“Until then I had forgotten about the crowd. Then I heard my name and all those people cheering. I can’t describe what it feels like to have all those people chanting your name. It is just the best feeling.”
I cant wait for this book.
The reviews are suggesting
its a proper book
Any idea how to purchase it to maximise $$$ in the picketts kick?
You would be wrapt as I am that he stayed true to his word and the Tigers have seen his worth more than just football.I cant wait for this book.
The reviews are suggesting
its a proper book
Any idea how to purchase it to maximise $$$ in the picketts kick?
I dont like mucking around with what’s not broke and Kmac and the Pickett form an awesome defensive wing combo , however id be interested to see how Pickett would go off half back ? and one of the kids could get a go on a wing
but he dropped a mark in the backline, in torrential rain, so he isn't much chop."Pickett ranked #3 at Richmond for tackles, #5 for score launches, #6 for ground ball gets and in the top 10 for goal assists, inside 50s, intercept possessions and metres gained." - from re-signing article on RFC site.