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Reconnecting family to the Magpies famous Anzac Day connection

Andrew Mathieson -

Wally Lovett nervously strolls around the boundary of the MCG in the final moments before tossing the coin to one of the AFL's biggest days of the year.

"I'm very excited – I've just stopped shaking," he tells a social media team that follows his every step of the honour during last year's Anzac Day match between Collingwood and adversaries Essendon.

The 1982 Collingwood rover, who went on to play for Richmond for a further two years, should be in his element on Anzac Day.

Not necessarily because the first Indigenous footballer to pull on a Magpies guernsey played in front of a comparable crowds to the 95,069 that happened to turn up for the 2023 Anzac Day battle.

Moreover Collingwood's sold-out grand final defeats of 1979 to 1981, nor Richmond's similar fate for the 1982 decider also against Carlton was still before his time in the spotlight of his career.

The only Anzac Day match among his 27 senior appearances between his two clubs, there was even 40,038 less in the ground than for the Tigers' turn back in 1984 than the traditional blockbuster 40 years on.

"It's a very different feeling today to any other day that I played," Wally tells the Pies faithful.

"There's going to be quite a few thousand more than I faced on this arena in my days.

"I'm just find the atmosphere chilling."

But the commemorative date remains special above all things, including this annual football match, for the generations of a proud Aboriginal family and a bloodline that has served in the Australian armed forces for more than a century.

They're blackfullas that were prepared to sacrifice their lives in a foreign land at war.

A greying Wally Lovett, nowadays 62, counts no less than 21 members of the proud Kerrup-Jmara clan of the fighting Gunditjmara nation – dating back to World War I – that also had to fight against the tides of post-colonial history.

Five brothers, including Wally's grandfather, Frederick Lovett, were the first to defy racist laws in what is perhaps one of the most extraordinary stories of service to an entire nation, and not just theirs in south-western Victoria.

Still more than 50 years of the sorry tale before First Nations' citizenship, the Lovetts joined a group of Indigenous men from around Heywood determined as any solider buried in Anglo-Saxon or Christian roots to fight largely for the King and country.

Legislation then prevented the men that were not counted in Australia's population to go to war. The Lovetts had to seek special permission from authorities to overlook the conventions of the day – and they did.

"Everyone in our mob is absolutely stoked to have that history behind us – we're all very proud," Wally says.

"Not everyone can skite about their family like that and we certainly bring it up all the time. It's a big thing with us."

Lovett's grandfather was the first sibling accepted on May 13, 1917, and the Private in the 29th Reinforcements of the 4th Light Horse Regiment enlisted to fight in Palestine during World War I, including the famed cavalry charge that broke Turkish defences.

Frederick was later discharged on June 15, 1919, and awarded two service medals.

Brothers Alfred, Leonard, Charlie, and Herbert Lovett, mostly separately, displayed a heroism on the French battlefields before returning safely with great distinction.

But that was where the honours ended for the Lovetts.

"They were hailed as heroes when they landed in Sydney, but the closer to home they got, the blacker they got," Wally says.

"Once they all got back to our home area, it was back to being treated as second-class citizens."

The men were not allowed to benefit from Australia's solders settlement scheme that provided work and land when larger rural lots were subdivided into smaller farming blocks for returning men from war.

That was not the last of the insults.

They even arrived back to where they called home, only to find out their Lake Condah Mission site, near Heywood, had been divided up and given away to white solders.

"That is one of the biggest, sad points for us," Wally says.

"This was the place where they were born and (the government) was giving the land to other soldiers but not to them – yet they were born there. It's just so unfair."

There were no real gripes from the Lovetts when four of the brothers still re-enlisted a second time and their youngest brother, Samuel, of the 13 children to Wally's great-grandmother, joined them for World War II.

Frederick rose to a Corporal this time around, but could only serve in the Australian Army Catering Corps as a cook after a bull gored his eye while farming years earlier.

By the time the brothers were past 50 and approaching 60, Charlie's daughter was also serving in the same conflict with the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force.

Four generations have gone on to fight in Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

The story of the Lovetts is world famous within military circles to the point that one renowned historian in London's Imperial War Museum has never heard generations of another single family replicating such service for their nation.

So astonishing is such the feat that the Canberra building that houses the Department of Veteran Affairs has been named Lovett Tower in their honour after the soldiers of the family were inducted into Victoria's Aboriginal Honour Roll back in 2013.

Their story is also unmissable living or passing through Heywood.

That small township's large water tower has been decorated with a mural that depicts images of the four Lovett brothers, in addition to Captain Reginald Saunders, who the Purnim man was Australia's first known Indigenous officer during war.

"I'm very proud of my whole family, and what they've done," Wally says.

"I've always been proud of being Collingwood's first Indigenous player, and being an AFL footballer.

"But my football side of things is just a bit of sand on the beach compared to what all these blokes did.

"They put their hands up at a time when nobody else wanted them, and they put their life on the line.

"Because of that, Anzac Day means a lot to us."

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