Heather Anderson was a talented AFLW player and veteran. This week, her loved ones are grieving.

Content warning: This post includes discussion of suicide that may be distressing to some readers.

Heather Anderson was a talented AFLW player who was best known for her stellar effort on the field and the fact she often wore bright pink headgear – which she wore to allow her vision-impaired mother to identify her on the field.

As Heather said to Mamamia in 2017: "[Mum] hated watching me get smashed and she couldn't really see me play in the field. I hated pink and anything girly, so she would joke, 'Maybe if you spray painted your helmet pink, I'd come and watch you play'.

"So I bought one in a sports shop as a joke and said, 'now I've got one you've gotta come watch me play'. It just sort of went from there."

Heather was also a veteran, who had joined the army back in 2013 as a medic, helping rebuild communities during the devastating 2020 bushfires and the pandemic.

This week, news broke that Heather had passed away at the age of 28. Heather was a current serving medic, and tragically took her own life in the army barracks on Sunday morning in Perth.

Watch: testimony from the Royal Commission into Veteran Suicide. Post continues below.

Video via ABC News.

Heather was a bright star in the AFLW league, and had a promising career ahead of her in the sport. 

She was the 10th selection in the inaugural AFLW draft in 2016, and was the first player selected from the Northern Territory. She went on to play for the Adelaide Crows in the 2017 AFLW season and played in the winning grand final against Brisbane.

A shoulder injury ahead of the 2018 season sparked an end to her time in the AFLW, something she said she was devastated about.

"As soon as my shoulder went (the second time), I had this sense of dread, this gut feeling, that this was going to be my last game," Anderson told at the time of her retirement in 2017.

"So, I think it's something I've been tossing up since then, and as I went through recovery and got to a bit of a crossroad where I had to make a decision, I started thinking about it a lot more," she said.

"I know the reasons I'm doing it are the right reasons, and I know it's for the best. But, looking back, and thinking about the past 17 years with footy and other contact sport (rugby and judo) and what I've done and the people I've met, I think that's what I'm struggling with."

In a statement on Twitter, the Adelaide Crows said they were "deeply saddened" by the "unexpected passing" of Heather, sending their thoughts and prayers to her family and friends. 


AFLW boss Nicole Livingstone also expressed her "deepest compassion to Heather's family, friends and colleagues".

"Words cannot express the deep sadness amongst the AFL and AFLW community at this time. Our sincerest condolences are to the Anderson family," Livingstone said.

Channel 7 commentator, AFLW player and former Survivor contestant Abbey Holmes, who played alongside Heather in 2017, said on Instagram: "Shattered. You were the ultimate professional. The ultimate teammate. You will be greatly missed."


Current Crows captain Chelsea Randall also spoke of her heartbreak via social media, writing it "doesn't seem real that you're gone".

"Selfless, courageous, hard-working and one of the all-time greats. A true ultimate teammate and the kindest human you would ever meet. I feel so fortunate that footy brought our lives together. To call you a mate, and to have shared in so many special memories. I’ll miss you so much buddy," she said about Heather, whose team nickname was 'Heads'.

"Our deepest condolences to Head's family and friends. Rest In Peace Heads. Love you m️ate."


And there have been hundreds of tributes and messages from strangers in the wake of her death.

Across Australian veteran community pages this week, in particular, there's been an outpouring of condolences.

As one prominent support page said: "We can't harp on this enough which is why we repeat it so often. Whether you are serving or ex-serving, know that we are a community that helps each other out. Please reach out to your mate for help if you need it. There is so much out there now to support you and most importantly, you are not alone. It's time we reach out and conduct a matecheck on our mates."

In a statement, the Australian Defence Force confirmed Heather's death.

"It is with great sadness Defence can confirm the death of an Australian Army soldier Private Heather Mary Anderson on Sunday, in Perth. Anderson was a gifted athlete playing professional AFLW football with the Adelaide Crows and as part of the ARMY AFLW squad, and served her country for many years," the statement read.

"The death of any Defence member is a tragedy and deeply felt by the Defence family and community. We extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Private Anderson. We are providing welfare support in accordance with the wishes of her family."


The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicidhas exposed a damning culture of institutional abuse and a lack of mental health support for its veterans. And over the past year, the Royal Commission has had hearings across Australia, with more than 1,900 submissions and 194 witnesses sharing their experiences.

It's hoped further change and greater support services will be put in place, given since 2001 more than 1,200 ADF members and personnel have died by suicide.

When Heather spoke to Mamamia five years ago, she spoke about her passion for raising money towards Soldier On Australia – a service supporting veterans who have been physically or psychologically affected by their service.

"It's something I'd very much love to bring awareness to, to reduce the stigma and raise a few funds to help people with that recovery," she said.

If you would like to donate to Soldier On in Heather's name, you can do so here.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036. Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046.

Feature Image: Getty/Official headshot from Adelaide Crows Football Club.