Australian rules footballer Anthony William Watson McDonald-Tipungwuti had his life transformed by two unexpected encounters that gave him opportunities, hope and a bright future he could not before have envisaged.
The 24-year-old, 1.71-metre player, recognised by his famous dreadlocks and notable for his explosive pace, excellent ball use and emphatic tackles, had his ?rst unexpected meeting when he crossed paths with Jane McDonald on the Tiwi Islands at the age of 16.
Anthony was born and raised on the islands, off the coast of Darwin, in an Indigenous Australian family. His father died when he was a baby and, while his mother is still alive, he was raised by his beloved grandmother until she died when he was 10.
He then lived with his aunt until meeting Jane, who came to the islands with her daughter, Nikki, to work at a local school.
At the time, Anthony spoke barely any English.
A pair of socks was the catalyst for his first bonding experience with Jane.
“There was one training session where I forgot my socks and I said to Mum, ‘Do you have any spare socks?’
“She said to my sister (Nikki), ‘Go on, take off your socks and give them to Anthony’. From then on, we had a connection,” Anthony remembers.
The following year, 2009, Anthony was adopted by Jane in Gippsland, and in 2010 he came to study at Chairo Christian College near Pakenham, where Jane worked, with his main goal being education.
Football was an added bonus, and he started playing with TAC Cup outfit Gippsland Power — where he featured in two grand final teams — and the school eventually gave him one afternoon off a week to work with his coaches.
Later Jane “took off her mum hat” and turned coach too.
“She was pretty hard — that’s what mums are for,” he said.
“But I look at it as a real positive. She has made me become a good footballer rather than taking all the easy roads. She gave me that hard feedback to improve on, giving me advice and pushing me to become a better player.”
Anthony had been working in Essendon Football Club’s community department and had spent three years on the Bombers’ VFL list, before he worked up the courage, with encouragement from Jane, to ask coach John Worsfold to give him a chance to train for the 2015 draft. He has played with Essendon in the AFL, ever since.
“I’m really lucky and grateful that they gave me the opportunity. I haven’t looked back since,” grins Anthony.
to give my
life to God”Jane still works at the college in Gippsland and is there for him as he continues to adjust. “She’s helped me with life and footy,” he said. “She’s teaching me a few things around the house and how to look after it.” She is also in charge of his strict training diet.
Another thing Jane has helped Anthony with, is his faith, and in 2015 he had a spiritual encounter that caused him to fully embrace Christianity.
“In the year before I got drafted, I made that decision to give my life to God,” he said. “I made the decision where I needed a change in my life. God’s been good. He gave me a good opportunity and from the start and to the end. He is there to look up to and encourage me to work through life.”
Anthony and Jane pray together before he goes into the rooms before every game, and he joins the club chaplain again before the match to communicate with God.
“It’s one of the things that just reminds me that God is there to guide me through the tough times on the field and off the field,” he said.
“It’s building in me, Christianity. It is pretty hard in an AFL environment, but I really enjoy the challenge. It’s a good challenge – you’ve got to be truthful in your faith and accept people for who they are.”
The Bible says becoming a Christian is being adopted into God’s family and taking on a new identity – just like the way Anthony took the McDonald family name in 2014 to re?ect his new identity as part of her family.
Anthony says he fitted right in with his four siblings from the minute he arrived.
“We had all bonded straight away. So we made it official. I said, ‘I’m part of the family’, but the one thing I needed was the name.
“I explained the reason (to family on the Tiwi Islands) and said, ‘Jane is my mum and they’re my family now and I’m lucky to have them in my life’.”
Jane has said she’s lucky that she found Anthony but they are both fortunate to have found each other and even more blessed to have found the love, purpose and security that comes from being “found” by Jesus.•