When mum gave me away
My earliest memories are of living with my Nan in Geelong. I didn’t have much to do with Mum or Dad, to the point where when Nan said one day, ‘Your Dad’s coming to see you’, I was like, ‘My Dad? I have a Dad?’
I had no idea Dad was a white man, I just thought he’d be Aboriginal. I was pretty excited to meet him. We spent the day together and I haven’t seen him since.
One day out of the blue, my Mum came and got me from Nan’s and we went up to Broken Hill. I was born there, before Mum sent me and my older brother James down to live with Nan, while she stayed in NSW with our younger brother Thomas.
I ended up living with my uncle in Broken Hill after Mum just dropped me there and left. She did that a lot – just left us at random houses and disappeared for a couple of months. Eventually, Mum married our stepfather Vinnie, they had a couple of kids and we all moved to Red Cliffs near Mildura.
One day when I was about seven, the child protection department pulled up at the house and took me and James away. I remember thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’ I only found out not long ago that Mum had given us away.
They were always drinking and when they drank, there was a lot of fighting. I saw a lot of bad things as a young child that I’ve had to put behind me. No kid should see the things I’ve seen.
I was pretty excited to meet Dad. We spent the day together and I haven’t seen him since.
I was taken to live in a group house in Mildura. Initially, a couple of my cousins were there too but kids would come and go. Different people looked after the house, including my aunty Melanie and a woman named Ruth, who made me go to church every Sunday. I remember that, because I didn’t like going to church. But they were really nice people, nobody there did wrong by me.
I used to ask to do chores, because we’d get money for that and I’d wanted a bike for a long time. I mowed the lawns and saved enough to buy myself a bike. I’d build jumps out the back and ride over them. If I wasn’t on my bike, I was playing basketball. I just loved basketball. They put up a ring for me and I was out there by myself every day.
I did a lot of things by myself. I wasn’t allowed to leave the group home after school, so I did everything on my own. I never really had any proper friends while I was there – when other kids came to the house I’d make friends with them but before long, they’d leave.
Because the other kids wouldn’t be there for very long and I was there all the time, I got it in my head that no one wanted me and I’d be there forever. I guess I was a little bit lonely but even when I was living with Nan, I did things on my own, went my own way.
MY NEW MUM
I went and lived somewhere else for a while but I didn’t like it and asked the department if I could go back to the group home. When I was about 10, one of the workers there said someone wanted to meet me. Her name was Sue Lovett and she came to Mildura in a bus with her kids. They made me feel really welcome right from the start, it was awesome.
I got another phone call a week later asking if I’d like to go down and stay with them in Geelong. I went down for a while and the next question was, ‘Do you want to come live with us?’
And I said, ‘Yes!’
Sue had four of her own children – Alinta, Stephen, Aaron and Kiah. They made me feel so welcome, sharing rooms to make room for me, giving up stuff so I could live there.
I was speechless when I got to the house. When I was at school back in Mildura, kids used to ask, ‘Where do you live?’ And I’d have to say I lived in a group home. They’d ask, ‘Where’s your Dad?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know my Dad, I’ve only met him once’. Being asked those questions was hard.
Then Sue brought me in and I could say, ‘This is my family’. It was an amazing feeling.
I remember thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’ I only found out not long ago that Mum had given us away.
Sue soon became my Mum. How would I describe her? She’s caring, she’d do anything for you but she’s also a really hard lady, a strong indigenous girl. She’s a straight-out person. That’s why I love her – because she’s so honest and loyal.
She takes kids in just to help them, she’d help anyone. Without her, I’d probably be in the same boat as some of my other relatives – stealing, drinking, doing drugs. I didn’t want to be like my uncles and aunties who were doing that, I took a step back and had a look at it.
As a young kid, I was really hyperactive and eventually, I was diagnosed as ADHD. At school, I was an angry kid for a while, always getting in fights. Kids would say something about my mother, or that I didn’t have a Dad – and I’d fight back.
I settled down when I moved in with Sue. She said, ‘You’ve got to take responsibility for your behaviour, it’s up to you’. I grew out of it I guess, stopped taking my medication, reached a stage where I could control myself. My goal has been, ‘Be happy, there’s people out there who are a lot worse off than you’.
SIGNED UP FOR FOOTY
I’d never even watched footy when I moved in with Sue’s family. One day, she came home and said, ‘I’ve signed you up for football’. She told me I’d be wearing No.4, because that was her Dad’s number.
I played for Belmont and I remember so clearly the first game against Modewarre. We ran out on the ground and I was clueless, had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know where to stand. They just put me at full-forward and said, ‘Stand there’.
The ball got kicked down, I couldn’t see anything because the sun was in my eyes. I stuck my arm up and it just landed in my arm. I turned around and snapped the goal with my left foot, and everyone ran over to me. That was the greatest moment; I was like, ‘I love it, this is my game’.
I was at a leadership school in Gippsland one day, when Sue rang me up and said, ‘We’re moving to Heywood’. That’s where all her family’s from, in western Victoria near the South Australian border. I said, ‘Why? I like it in Geelong’. But we fitted in really well over there. It’s a small town and everyone was just so welcoming.
I wasn’t the smartest kid at school – I could barely read and write when I moved in with Sue. But with the support of good people, I knuckled down, got to high school and started loving it. I was really social, which helped. I ended up being the first person in my family to finish high school, which was an amazing achievement.
They had to build a program around my football, because I was travelling three hours each way from Heywood to Ballarat every Tuesday and Thursday to train with the Ballarat Rebels in the TAC Cup, then back again, or to Melbourne on weekends to play.
At that time, I had a mentor come into my life, Andrew Eade, which came about through a school mentoring program. He was really important helping me through school. Five years later, I’m part of his family, he’s part of my family, he goes around and sees Mum. We all just came together, like it was meant to be.
When I was about to turn 17, I played in a senior premiership for Heywood while playing in the under-18s as well. I was lucky enough to get voted best on ground in the senior grand final. Being the smallest kid out there was scary at times but I had family in the team, they made me feel confident, because they had my back. I was very small back then but I just used my assets – my running, my skills.
I saw a lot of bad things as a young child that I’ve had to put behind me. No kid should see the things I’ve seen.
In my bottom age year at the Rebels, I didn’t take footy too seriously. Then, one of their officials Phil Partington gave me a spray one day, told me I had the X-factor, asked why I was stuffing around. I had another coach rip shreds off me the next year and the penny started to drop that they saw something in me that I couldn’t see.
In my second year with the Rebels, we had a bye one week, so I played for Portland in the Hampden league and did well. The interleague game against Ovens and Murray was coming up and they picked me in the squad on the back of that game. I didn’t know any of my teammates, had only met them a couple of times at training. I was really nervous – the Ovens and Murray have got some big boys and I was still really small and skinny. But I got into it, kicked three goals and was awarded best on ground.
I got invited to the state draft combine and, after that, Geelong’s recruiter Stephen Wells got in touch and asked if he could come to Heywood to meet me. I thought we were just going to have a chat but he told me Geelong was going to take me in the rookie draft. Mum started crying, everyone started crying and I was like, ‘Do I cry too?’ It was surreal.
THE MOMENT WE MADE IT
The past 18 months have been amazing. The Geelong Cats footy club have made me feel really welcome, it’s like they’re all such good blokes. They all wanted to know my story.
Before I made my debut against Carlton in round 10, Joel Selwood called Mum without me knowing and asked her to present my jumper. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Joel had the box with my jumper in it in the rooms and he got up and said, ‘Mate, we’ve never done this before but we’ve brought your Mum in to present your jumper’. I thank him so much for that.
Pretty much all of Heywood was there that night – all my family, my brother, sisters, their partners, their kids, my mentor Andrew and his sons and daughters, all my cousins and mates. My little brother was supposed to play in the Auskick game at half-time but he just wanted to meet Tommy Hawkins. He loves Hawk more than he loves me.
I BROKE THE CYCLE
Sue Lovett gave me a second chance at life. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her and the other good people who came into my life. She’s my Mum and I love her.
Having been a foster child, I’ve seen the difference adoption can make in someone’s life. Whether you’re indigenous, non-indigenous, you’ll make a difference. You can help someone live the life they deserve.
When I think back to that little boy feeling alone in a group home in Mildura, I’m proud that I’ve taken huge strides. After my first game, I went home and sat on my bed and thought, ‘Did that just happen?’ I’m still only 19 but my life has been an amazing journey.
The message I’d have for other foster kids out there is you can do anything if you believe in yourself. There was only one way for my family but I’ve shown there’s another path, another option. I did it. I made it. I broke the cycle.