Walgett and Mindaribba do battle in Woy Woy
I was there. The crowd was screaming, sitting right up against the sideline in fold-out chairs. There was lots of catching up and discussing the state of play, and lots and lots of family and kids.
All in all, there were over 15,000 spectators, more than some NRL games and certainly a better crowd than our Commonwealth Games athletes have been getting in Delhi.
So what is a white woman’s view of the NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout? Well, it’s a bloody awesome weekend. This was not my first and will not be my last.
As we know, the mighty Northern United lost in the first round to the Newcastle Yowies. After a week of arguments in the media about whether or not Yowie’s player Timara Tahu called Caleb Binge a ‘black c…,’ one reaction might be to tell Chris Binge and his Northern United players to ‘suck it up boys, you got knocked out by a better team.’
In a case of team against team, word against word, isn’t there a better way than an ugly row in the paper, to sort this out? I can tell you for sure, it was hard to hear the person next to you, let alone what was said on the field.
What most people don’t know is that the 40th year of this great event attracted 67 men’s teams from across the state and there was also a ferocious women’s competition.
Teams such as the Mungindi Grasshoppers, Goodooga Magpies, Toomelah Tigers, Wellington Wedgetails, Moree Boomerangs and Boggabilla Warriors came to Woy Woy to battle it out. Have a look at a map of NSW and find out exactly where some of these tiny communities are – out past Lightning Ridge, nestled up against the NSW/QLD border. Some lost in the first round and, like Northern United, faced a very long and disappointing drive home.
Other teams boast language names like Kalatteen, Nulla and Mindaribba, conjuring up not just a deep sense of community pride but also of tribal warfare. What could be more League than that?
Rugby League runs through the veins of Aboriginal people in NSW. League is a force for good in many far flung communities and those far flung communities reward the game by producing stars like Preston Campbell and Nathan Blacklock, both from Tingha. Nathan Blacklock was at the Knockout this year playing for the Tingha Tigers.
And there were other former NRL players out there, guys who have let themselves go since the disciplined days of professional sport. This was certainly the case for Nulla Dolphin, Troy Robinson who was once with Souths. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He seemed to defy the laws of physics. How did a man that shape move so fast?
The teams that contested the grand final, Walgett and Mindaribba, had played 300 minutes of football by the end of the three days, a Herculean effort!
The eventual winners were the Walgett Aboriginal Connection with a magnificent forward pack made up of Manly’s George Rose, his brothers and mates. Another NRL player, Ben Barba from the Bulldogs, was cast out to play centre as his younger brother, Marmot took over the play-maker duties. Marmot, who looked 13, was amazing and in my eyes, the future of the game.
Surely, League devotees should be salivating at the prospect of such a festival of footy, rallying behind the event and rushing to be involved.
As for that remark, we have annual awards for sexist remarks called the Ernies and men including Andrew Johns have won for using the term ‘black c…’. It’s not just racist, it’s also sexist, and thanks to statements made to the media this week where they admitted to using or condoning the remark, Daine Laurie and Anthony Mundine now face being nominated for an Ernie. Tahu’s use of the phrase remains unsubstantiated and therefore not eligible for nomination.
However, in terms of a racial slur, I am certainly not qualified to judge what is or isn’t OK to be said between two Aboriginal players on a footy field. But I would like to ask why the media is fixated on one alleged incident in what was overall a fantastic event. Is it a backhanded way of letting Andrew Johns off the hook? Instead, why not ask Brad Fittler what he thought of the actual footy that was played. He was there.
As Nulla player, Cameron Blair said with a sense of resignation, “This stuff about Northern United and Timara is in our local paper. It’s sad. We had a great event. But all you read about is the bad stuff, there’s nothing good.”
In fact, some members of the media even struggle to get the name right. It is the NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout, not ‘an Indigenous football carnival.’ It’s an important name and sums up the event perfectly. Let’s use it. And let’s see those with an interest in Rugby League – the NRL, the clubs and News Limited pay proper attention to an event the people of NSW should be proud of.
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