Hyatt stands tall as Indigenous Veterans come together

While the sun is setting on another long summer of cricket in Australia, there is still a couple of matches of significance to be played out, in the little country Victorian town of Harrow.

And at the heart of the contest stands Aboriginal man Rob Hyatt, a lifelong cricket devotee and a key organiser of the Victoria versus New South Wales Indigenous Over-50s Veterans clashes that will take place this weekend.

The two limited-overs contests will honour the history of First Nations people in the sport while also allowing another generation of men to connect. The venue is steeped in Indigenous history – it is where Indigenous cricket great Johnny Mullagh (born 'Unaarrimin') learned to play cricket in the 1860s.

The concept was born, fittingly, on a cricket field, when last year Hyatt was playing for Victoria in the National Over-50s tournament. Having performed an Acknowledgement of Country ritual before his team's matches, he was approached by three New South Wales players prior to the two sides squaring off in the grand final.

One of those men was Matt Lewis, who reconnected with Hyatt when the NSW players came up with the idea of sending a team to Harrow to honour their Indigenous elders. And if they were going to play a match, they needed an opponent.

"They gave me a hug at the end of the Acknowledgement, before we'd even started playing," Hyatt tells "And then just having conversations along the way – as we do when we play cricket – they talked about the fact they were coming down to Harrow, to basically commemorate and connect to the 1868 (Aboriginal men's squad tour of England) and the Johnny Mullagh story.

"As a part of that they were wanting to organise a game against a Victorian Over-50s First Nations team. That came up in December, and we've spent the past few months slowly putting together a Victorian squad."

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Hyatt has been given strong support from Cricket Victoria (CV) as well as the First People's Assembly of Victoria, who provided funding for state uniforms for the two matches – a 45-over game and a T20 game – to be played at Johnny Mullagh Reserve.

For the 54-year-old, the match – and moreover, the weekend – is a thumbnail sketch of much of his adult life. As a teen, Hyatt began a journey to connect more strongly with his family and his Indigenous heritage, and he never looked back.

"I do believe I was one of the lucky ones that I got to do it at such a young age," he says. "I had some older Aboriginal people in my life who were very cultural, were mentors and continue to be mentors still now – almost 35, 40 years on.

"It was always (reiterated to me) that being Aboriginal is something to be proud of – that being Aboriginal does not have to be detrimental; it's not what's going to hold you back in life."

For beyond a generation now, Hyatt has been an influential figure within Indigenous cricket, having sat on Cricket Victoria’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee for more than two decades while also sitting on the National Indigenous Cricket Advisory Council.

He has been involved in the National Indigenous Cricket Championships as a player, coach and Cricket Victoria representative, and has also conducted cultural learning experiences for the Australian men's team.

And the common theme running through all of his involvement is the notion of cricket acting as a vehicle for personal development.

"We've always run our Cricket Victoria programs from two facets," says Hyatt, who also works full-time managing cultural experiences at the Koori Heritage Trust in Melbourne.

"One is around cricket development and increasing cricket participation. And that development element is around putting together a men's and women's squad, and hopefully transitioning some of the younger ones into Premier cricket and onto those cricket pathways.

"But the other side of it, which has been a real core value to all of our programs for well over 20 years now, has been the development just simply of young Aboriginal people, and in that, supporting and strengthening their culture. For some, it's putting them on the pathway to understanding their Aboriginality and identity as well.

"So if we can use the sport of cricket to support their development as young Aboriginal people, then you get the bonus of developing not only good young cricketers, but good young Aboriginal people for our communities as well."

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Hyatt insists the same broad sentiments applies to the annual National Indigenous Cricket Championships in Alice Springs, with additional value found there in the cultural exchanges among, and an increased understanding of, Australia's diverse Indigenous population. And even in the case of the upcoming Veterans match, the idea of what boils down to focusing on the person over the player holds true.

"I've played Veterans cricket (in Melbourne) for the past five years and I do it purely for my own enjoyment – it's really renewed my passion for cricket," Hyatt says. "And I'm finding that connecting to a lot of other men my age, forming new relationships and friendships, has been a really important piece of my turning 50 and moving through my 50s.

"So now with the opportunity to do that with a group of Aboriginal men, that adds a real cultural element to it as well.

"But I think it's also when we look at Aboriginal health, for example, we target a lot of areas of our community, and one of the areas that I'm passionate around is physical and mental health for older Aboriginal men.

"If we can use cricket to support the development of men's health – be it physical or mental – then that's all the better. We'll maintain connection across our own group moving forward beyond just this one weekend, with the hope that we'll continue to do this (First Nations Veterans match) yearly.

"And New South Wales has been fantastic in that space of actually wanting to embed a program that we'll look to gather around every single year. And so it's not just something to look forward to each year – it's talking and chatting with fellows for potentially 365 days, and using that connectedness which supports culture, but also supports health and well-being."

Victoria's Veterans side will notably include three men who took part in the 1988 Aboriginal tour of the UK (commemorating 120 years since the pioneering Aboriginal tour of the UK in 1868): Laurie Marks, Greg James and Bert Pearce.

For now, Hyatt is dealing with a couple of last-minute withdrawals owing to what he labels "old man injuries – back and calf issues". Come Saturday however, he plans to be among the thick of the action, representing his people with the pride and distinction he always has. 

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