The son of German immigrants was so moved by his time with Collingwood reserves that he changed his name to commemorate it.
It can’t have been easy being German immigrants during the First World War. And it certainly wasn’t for Hugo and Bertha Umlauft and their young sons, who suffered extensive persecution. But they and their family seemed to bear no grudges: one would serve our country in the Second World War and another ended up with a unique and lifelong connection to the Collingwood Football Club.
Hugo and Bertha had arrived in Australia in 1908 and 1910 respectively. Their first son, Wilhelm Sydney (better known as Syd), was born in 1911 and their second, Hugo Siegfried, two years later. By this stage the family had moved to Epping, where they bought and ran a successful local bakery.
Within two weeks of the First World War having broken out, Hugo responded by applying successfully for Australian citizenship. But that didn’t stop some local residents from refusing to accept the family as ‘real’ Australians, and subjecting them to harassment and abuse.
Still, the family persevered and they would go on to become respected and long-standing members of the local community. By the 1930s, both brothers had left the family bakery business and started working at Abbotsford Brewery. But they remained highly active in the local Epping sporting scene, starring at football, cricket and tennis.
Hugo was particularly gifted, having played for Epping seniors at both cricket and footy age 17. At cricket he was as handy all-rounder who would win awards for both aspects of the game. At footy he was a goalkicking forward: one newspaper described him as “a spectacular centre half-forward who plays a great game”. He played in several Epping Premiership teams, including two in 1935 and ’36, when he was vice-captain.
By this time he was already being called ‘Col’ – a good-natured nickname bestowed on him after he played some footy with Collingwood’s reserves team (Collingwood Districts) between 1932 and 1934. He is listed as having played nine games and kicked five goals, but records for the era are incomplete and he may have played more than that. Either way, it seems almost certain that his entry to the team had come through his work at the Brewery, where Jock McHale was a manager and many Collingwood, Districts and Abbotsford footballers worked.
It seems that ‘Col’ did get close to senior selection for the VFL Magpies: a newspaper report from 1934 said he would “probably have a run with Collingwood this week”. But the big break never came, and he instead satisfied himself with a distinguished career at local level, despite also trying out with Preston in 1935
Col and his brother Syd were very close, and they later bought a bakery together in Garfield, near. Their parents moved from Epping to be near them. They then moved to other bakeries at Skipton, then Ballarat before finally moving to New South Wales.
But in the mid-1960s he decided to formalise that little piece of Collingwood that he had been given back in the 1930s – he changed his name by deed poll to Hugo Siegfried Colin Umlauft, and preferred to be known as ‘Col’ or ‘Collie’.
He might only have played nine reserves games for us back in Depression times, but Col Umlauft’s story demonstrates one thing many of us know instinctively: once you’re a part of Collingwood, you’re Collingwood for life.
Much of the information in this story came from a story by Robert Wuchatsch in a 2013 newsletter from the Friends of Westgarthtown. Visit westgarthtown.org.au