This article is from The West on the misspelling of Captain Peter Hedlund’s name, courtesy of The West, 13 June 2020
A mistaken caption on a century-old football team photograph has helped link a pioneering Swedish sailor responsible for the naming of Port Hedland with Des Headland, the AFL’s only Aboriginal No.1 draft pick.
Headland is one of football’s most prominent Aboriginal voices as chairman of the Indigenous Players Alliance.
As his two former teams — Brisbane and Fremantle — return to action at the Gabba today, he is intrigued that his Noongar and Yamatji pedigree is mingled with Swedish ancestry.
“All our family had blond hair as kids and now we know why,” he said.
Headland is the great-great great-grandson of Peter Hedlund, right, who inspired the name of the Pilbara port and has hundreds of descendants — white and black — spread across WA. Headland’s great-grandfather William — Peter Hedlund’s grandson — was just two when he was taken from his Aboriginal mother at Shark Bay and placed at New Norcia mission where he grew up and became a country football star.
A photograph of William Headland ran in the WA Football 101 series in April where it was used mistakenly to identify George Blurton, the winner of the short-lived Cookson Medal as the best player in the WAFL in 1915.
Blurton was a brilliant footballer at Midland Junction, the second Aboriginal player to appear in the WAFL after Jimmy Melbourne, and later a key member of the successful Wanderers team that played at Moora.
The identification error had been perpetuated over more than a century, including in early 20th century newspapers and Alan East’s history The Sandover Medal Men, until Des Headland’s father, also Des, spotted it in The West Australian.
“It is a great story but the photo you have of George is not him,” Des Sr said.
“The photo you have in the paper is my grandfather William Headland.”
The photograph, top, was of the 1913 New Norcia team, including a 21-year-old William Headland.
It is a striking image, not least because the footballers were Aboriginal while the trainers and assistants were predominantly white.
The Headlands were not aware of the Shark Bay link until Des, around the time he moved to the Dockers after winning the 2002 premiership with Brisbane, discovered his lineage while on holiday in the area.
“I was walking down the street in Denham when I was approached by some people who said ‘did you know your mob is up here?’,” he said.
“I thought they meant my Noongar mob from Perth but they were talking about the local Yamatjis.
“I didn’t know anything about William being taken from Shark Bay but I have found out a fair bit about the family since then.”
Those family links go back nearly a century and a half.
Peter Hedlund, a stern blue-eyed Swede from Baltic port Hudiksvall whose features are clearly evident in the photo of William Headland, migrated to WA in the 1850s where he became a successful explorer, pearler and seafarer who carried cargo to the early north-west settlers.
In 1863, he ran his lugger Mystery ashore as he searched for a suitable port for the growing Pilbara pastoral industry.
Thirty years later, the new town at the site was named in his honour – though the spelling had changed — as Port Hedland.
Hedlund had died a violent death by then, killed by his Aboriginal crew near Roebuck Bay in 1881 before they scuttled the Mystery, but not before he had nine children with his wife Ellen Adams.
Their second son Joseph had two children — Daisy and William with his wife Mary McQuay in Shark Bay. When he died at 30, the two youngsters were taken from their mother and sent to New Norcia where they grew up and had nothing more to do with their Shark Bay family.
An 1899 New Norcia census signed by Bishop Salvado identified the pair as half-caste children and estimated their ages at seven or eight.
Another girl on the census, 14-year-old Agnes Williams, later started a family line that would include Headland on his maternal side as well as fellow AFL stars Derek Kickett, Dale Kickett, Lance Franklin, Paddy Ryder and Jeff Garlett.
Doug Headland, who was drafted by the Dockers in 1994 but never played a match, is another cousin.
William Headland was a country star as was his son Hubert who won a premiership with Three Springs in 1948.
Hubert, above, was 15 when he put his age up to enlist in the army alongside his brothers during World War II, but returned to have 18 children, including Des Sr.