How ABC's Tony Armstrong rose to fame

·Contributor
·5-min read

Former AFL player Tony Armstrong burst onto the radar after becoming the ABC News Breakfast's sports presenter in June 2020.

The loveable larrikin has charmed viewers of both ABC and Channel 10, where he is often a guest on The Project, flexing his cheeky wit and friendly banter.

ABC News Breakfast hosts Michael Rowland, Tony Armstrong, Nate Byrne and Lisa Millar smiling on set
Tony Armstrong with his ABC News Breakfast co-stars Michael Rowland, Nate Byrne and Lisa Millar. Photo: Instagram/@tonaaayy

He was rewarded with his own show, A Dog’s World, which looked at the relationship people have with their pooches, and is quickly becoming one of Auntie's lead TV hosts.

So it was little wonder when he took home the Silver Logie for Most Popular New Talent this year.

Tony Armstrong stands smiling in a wine blazer with black suit showing off his silver Logie for most popular new talent
Tony Armstrong won the Graham Kennedy Award – Most Popular New Talent – at the Logies this year. Photo: Getty Images

A proud Barranbinya man, Tony, 32, has relished the opportunity he's been given as a presenter after the end of his AFL career.

"I’m very careful about calling myself a role model," he told the Celebrity Whisperer.

"The important thing for me is to set a really good example and to open doors by creating opportunities wherever I can for others.

"From my perspective, it’s about doing the best job I can for myself, which will then inspire others."

He puts his success down to being easy to identify with.

"I'm bit of an everyman," he told TV Week.

"Playing AFL, you talk to all types from all walks of life, from a CEO to a member of the cheer squad.

"That helps you become really relatable ... that's a strength of mine."

Tony Armstrong smiling big as a he makes a catch at a Collingwood training session
Tony Armstrong during his time with Collingwood AFL club. Photo: Getty Images

He certainly didn't dream about this career trajectory as a young man though.

"It’s so weird because I never pictured this," he told The Guardian at the beginning of the year.

"When you’re 15 and you’re like, oh, I’ll be an astronaut, or I’ll be a neuro-physicist or whatever.

"This wasn’t on my bingo card."

Young Tony wanted to be a drummer.

"I played drums for 10 or 11 years when I was younger and wanted to be a session drummer when I grew up," he says.

"Those are the people who, say, Justin Bieber would call up when he’s in town and wants to lay down a track with drums.

"I wouldn’t have actually been good enough for the job, but that’s what I wanted to do."

Despite being an 'everyman', Tony is not afraid to bring up difficult issues, particularly around Australia's relationship with First Nations people.

"This country still can't accept it's a racist country.

"You still can't accept it's built off the back of slavery, it's built off the back of dispossession, it's built off the back of rape and pillage of Indigenous people," he said when talking on The Project about the overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in the prison system.

"And we've just got to be better."

Tony is the only child of a mother who, while not indigenous herself, helped foster in Tony a sense of pride in his heritage and culture.

Left: Toddler tony looking at the camera being held by his mum Margaret. Right: A young Tony smiling in a school photo in shirt and tie
Tony Armstrong was brought up by his mum Margaret to be proud of his background even though he was only one of three kids with Indigenous heritage at his boarding school. Photo: Instagram/@tonaaayy

"She's everything to me," he says about mum Margaret.

"Every opportunity I've gotten has been because of her."

One of only three Indigenous children at his Victorian boarding school, growing up wasn't always easy.

"You put up all these defence mechanisms without even realising it.

"Every room you walk into, you're basically the only Blackfella.

"Everywhere you go, you're always a point of difference," he told Mamamia's No Filter podcast.

But that's where his talent and love of sports gave him an advantage.

"Because I was an only child, playing sport was where I got to make friends, hang out with people, all of those kinds of experiences you don't necessarily get when you're an only child," he says.

"I had an awesome upbringing, but sport was the place where I found my sense of community."

While he originally wanted to play rugby league, his talent in AFL saw him drafted for Adelaide in 2007 at just 18 years old.

He went on to play for the Sydney Swans and Collingwood before his AFL career ended in 2015.

Waleed Ali, Nazeem Hussain and Tony Armstrong on the set of The Project.
Tony Armstrong has seen his popularity rise with appearances on The Project. Photo: Instagram/@tonaaayy

He wasn't done yet though.

In 2019, Tony became the first Indigenous Australian to call AFL on commercial radio.

TV followed and the rest, as they say, is history!

"I love the opportunity now that News Breakfast is giving me to put an Indigenous face on mainstream telly.

"It's great," he says.

Tony has never met his dad and has no interest in doing so, but he does want to learn more about his first nation's background.

"I just want to go to where I'm from, really get in touch with one side of my heritage - and probably the side that I identify with the most because I walk around with it," he said.

"Racism is just part of life for me, it happens so much, from slurs to police profiling you, to people following you around in shops, it's so tiring."

"I'm lucky now to be really comfortable in who I am."

With his straight-talking attitude, sense of humour and natural charm, we predict this is only the beginning for Tony, as he continues to connect with his audience and be a real voice for the future.

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