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Bert Mills, a tribute

Ardent Hawthorn Member Glenn Elliott is to be congratulated for the tribute that he has instigated in his hometown of Bethanga to recognise local football legend and Hawthorn Hall of Fame inductee Bert Mills.

Glenn, who works as an underground miner in the Pilbara, Western Australia has lived in Alice Springs for the past 20 years and first contacted the Hawks Museum in late February 2012. 

He wanted to know what we could tell him about Bert Mills, as he would like to do something to honour him in his town of birth, Bethanga.

Well-known Bethanga resident, farmer and local historian Norm Martin, who recently passed away at the age of 95 had previously mentioned to Glenn’s mother Marie that a Bethanga footballer had played for Hawthorn and was her son, Glenn a big Hawk fan aware of this fact. 

Glenn was puzzled why he had not heard of Mills before and was surprised to learn that he had made Hawthorn’s Team of the Century. 

Glenn decided such a football hero should be honoured in the town he grew up in.

It was agreed that next time Glenn came to Victoria, he would visit the Hawks Museum to view the Mills collection. 

The Museum was able to supply Glenn with copies of photos, a biography and a replica Mayblooms guernsey similar to one worn in the Mills era and an address where he could get them suitably framed.

Come 27 July (when Glenn next visited Victoria and the framing of the memorabilia had been completed), he met with the Hawks Museum Curator to be photographed with the newly created tribute for Bert Mills. 

Adding to Glenn’s excitement was that a rare opportunity for him to see the Hawks play in a game at Etihad Stadium taking on archrivals Essendon later that night.  The Hawks won, and a jubilant Glenn left next morning for his hometown of Bethanga for the unveiling of the tribute for Bert Mills.

At a small gathering at the Courthouse Hotel with the blessing of publican Leslie Smith the Mills tribute was unveiled in the main bar.  In attendance were relatives of Bert Mills along with a number of Glenn’s family and mates from his school days. 

This is where Glenn’s mother Marie came to the fore. 

Locating descendants of Mills had proved to be a challenge until a Bethanga resident, Judy Mitchell who was on a trip to Mauritius organised by the Wangaratta Probus Club in a conversation with another traveller, Lorraine Cameron mentioned that her father grew up in Bethanga, her father was Bert’s brother Arthur.  A Mills link had been found and Lorraine contacted the cousins and they all came for the unveiling.

The Bert Mills Record

Bert Mills played 196 games between 1930-42 kicking 60 goals.  He was captain in 1932, 1934, 1938 and 1940-41.  He won the Best & Fairest in 1933, 1935, and 1939 and represented Victoria 11 times and was awarded HFC Life Membership in 1939.

Mills was born in 1910 and at the age of 15 was playing in Bethanga’s senior team.  A photo of a Bethanga football team from circa 1925 shows Mills in the back row alongside Glenn’s grandfather. Glenn himself would later pull on the boots for Bethanga in the mid 1990s.   Mills family moved to Wangaratta in 1929 and with his brother Arthur joined the Wangaratta Magpies. 

He was recruited the following year to Hawthorn in 1930.  They were tough years the Mayblooms as they were know then won few games.  However Mills was a shining light, he soon established a reputation as one of the leading ruckman in the VFL possessing a natural spring for the tap-out and was an exceptional mark and kick.  The team was so short on big men that Mills would assume the role of centre half back when he rested off the ball.

At the age of 22 he was appointed captain winning his first best and fairest award the next year.  With his blonde hair, good looks and striking physic and all round football ability Mills won The Argus most popular player voted by VFL supporters in 1936.  In 1941 he was appointed playing coach before he retired in 1942.  Throughout his career, Mills received numerous offers to transfer to more prominent clubs because of his outstanding leadership and playing ability but he could never be persuaded to leave his beloved Mayblooms.

Fifty-nine years later in 2001 when Hawthorn named its Team of the Century Mills was an automatic selection.  He was named in the back pocket and second ruckman to Don Scott.  His personal playing record was very impressive and many who saw him play readily recalled his inspirational leadership.

Two years later in 2003, Bert Mills received further recognition when he was inducted into Hawthorn’s inaugural Hall of Fame.  He was one of nine players named.  He stands alongside the likes of John Kennedy Snr, Leigh Matthews, Graham Arthur, David Parkin, Peter Hudson, Don Scott, Peter Knights, and Michael Tuck.  He was the only player to be recognized prior to the Hawks first finals appearance in 1957.

Of further interest, Glenn’s research also revealed a connection between the Mills family and a more recent Hawthorn champion in Shane Crawford, whose grandfather married one of Mill’s daughters.  At a Crawford family Christmas dinner in the early 2000s, members of the Mills family presented to Shane Crawford a box of Bert Mill’s football memorabilia to be returned to Hawthorn.  Included in the box was The Argus Trophy that Mills had won as the most popular VFL player for 1936.  That trophy can now be seen in the Best & Fairest Cabinet within the Hawks Museum.

Glenn Elliott with his tribute to Bert Mills.

Glenn Elliott and members of the very proud Mills family stand proudly with the framed tribute to Mills.