Koori carnival creates community

Published on MAJ Felicity Hamblin (author), ABIS James McDougall (photographer)

Location(s): Bendigo

Topic(s): Defence Indigenous Development Program (DIDP), Australian Rules Football

The Australian Defence Force Australian Rules Association Guyala Sea Hawks players from both the mens and the womans teams at the Koori carnival held at Bendigo, Victoria. (photo: ABIS James McDougall)
The Australian Defence Force Australian Rules Association Guyala Sea Hawks players from both the mens and the womans teams at the Koori carnival held at Bendigo, Victoria.

Thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander footballers from around Australia converged on Bendigo over 17-18 October for the Koori carnival, an indigenous Australian rules footy competition featuring the first Australian Defence Force indigenous team.
 
Eighteen men from Army and Navy laced up their boots and took to the field, playing four games against experienced Victorian and New South Wales players.
 
Seaman Communication and Information Systems Tom Smith, of HMAS Cerberus, said he was surprised at the number of people who came along to play, or watch, the competition, and said it was a fantastic way to get the indigenous community together.
 
“It was a great opportunity to get among my own people and hear their stories,” he said.
 
And while the team didn’t manage a victory, he said the way they worked together on the field was impressive.
 
“I reckon we played alright for the people we had; we had a lot who had no AFL background and to see them play the way they did was pretty impressive.”
 
The competition featured 23 all-male teams, with females participating in the netball competition only.
 
It seems the Australian Defence Force women didn’t get this message though, deciding to create their own Australian rules team that played an exhibition match before the carnival’s final.
 
Army Corporal Rhiannon Busch said it was a great opportunity to get the women involved in what is often seen as a men’s sport.
 
“We approached the Koori carnival with the idea of having a women’s exhibition match at the Koori carnival, between the Australian Defence Force and a team of local girls who were there to play netball but play footy as well,” Corporal Busch said.
 
“So we managed to get up with some of the local girls playing with us. A lot of the girls had never played before, but they managed to play really well on the day,” she said.
 
Seaman Jordon Hegarty, who normally plays touch footy, said she was amazed at the support shown by the crowd.
 
“There were a lot of indigenous people who came out to watch us and the netball comp,” Seaman Hegarty said.
 
“It was so good having all that support, especially being a female and playing the only female footy game.”
 
Chairman Australian Defence Force Australian Rules Brigadier Matt Hall said it was an important step in getting an indigenous Australian Defence Force team up and running as a regular feature in both the Koori Carnival and Australian Defence Force football comp.
 
“Bringing our indigenous Australian Defence Force members from all over Australia to represent the Defence indigenous community and increase participation is such a terrific opportunity for these players,” Brigadier Hall said.
 
“We hope to implement a program that will enable the numbers to grow and skill levels to increase.
 
“Our key aim is to get as many players as we can next year to our training development period in early April, and then go forward with a permanent indigenous team, while our goal for the women is to stand up a nine-a-side competition in 2016 and take it from there.”