Elcho Island's Umpire Road Show

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By Chris Kamolins
AFL Field Umpire

Sometimes we explore other parts of the globe before checking what’s in our own backyard. I am guilty as charged of that offence.

When appointed to the Port Adelaide v Richmond game at TIO Stadium in Darwin I was given the opportunity to travel to the islands in the top end a few days early and assist in promoting AFL and umpiring.

I was born and bred in the city and could only imagine what I was about to experience. I touched down at Darwin Airport in the early hours of Thursday morning and was met by Mark Noonan, AFLNT Umpiring Manager. We boarded a 30 seat aircraft taking us to Milingimbi - 50 minutes by air Nth East of Darwin. After a brief stop we continued on for a further 20 minute flight to Galiwin’ku the main town of Elcho Island. Elcho Island is only 6 km wide x 55km long with a population of 2000 people.

We were greeted at a corrugated shed known to the locals as the airport terminal by Tavis Perry, who for the last 2 years has worked on the Island as an AFL Development officer and his girlfriend Nic, a school teacher from Yarrawonga.

It soon became obvious to me that Tavis is a popular man among the locals who spend their day wandering around the town. Tavis explained to me that around half of the men on the island play Australian Football and it is his responsibility to organise all things football.

We visited Shepherdson College, the only school on the island, and met with the principle Bryan Hughes who is incorporates AFL in the school curriculum where possible.

In the afternoon Mark, Tavis and I conducted an umpiring/football clinic for approximately 50 local kids.  The showed unbelievable talent at all skills required to play (and officiate) the game.  Goal kicking from the near impossible angle deep in the forward pocket resulted in goals than behinds and most were doing it in bare feet. The football ground where the clinic was held had bent posts, an array of rocks, potholes, old shoes and bottles and I didn’t hear one complaint.

The outdoor basketball court hosted the Galiwin’ku Football Association Presentation night that evening and with a large proportion of the locals present it promised to be an entertaining night. Awards were given to the better players with player interviews and a roaring cheer for the local hero’s. Midway through the night an elderly local took charge of the microphone and with spear in hand warned the locals to beware after his brother had recently been taken by a crocodile on the island.

Johnny G was awarded with the umpire of the year award and presented with an AFL Umpires uniform.

The night was full of anticipation as the Galiwin’ku Football Association Grand Final was to be played that weekend with St Marys v Cats in the u/13  and Tigers v Eagles in the senior Grand Final. Unfortunately I was leaving the next day and wasn’t going to witness the Grand Final parade which was the next night, where by the players are paraded around the town, with hundreds of locals following them on their path around the red soiled streets.

The next day was an early start as we joined the local ‘Football Academy’ players. These teenagers play and do extra training aiming to learn as much as they can about football. 

From there we headed for a game of board football, a game of 6 on 6 played on a basketball court with 1 point awarded for a ball kicked into the backboard. The skills on display were amazing, with many of the 13 year olds having equal ball skills to many professional AFL footballers. I was the only one playing in shoes and that didn’t help my game!

The raw ability was evident and the sole focus was on attack without much consideration for defending.  Following this it was breakfast with the academy players where I took the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with them. Apart from their real names they all have given themselves nicknames, at this breakfast table there were young men introducing themselves as ‘Buddy Franklin’, ‘Leon Davis’ and ‘Aaron Davey’.

We finished up by speaking with year 8 and 9 students about AFL football, the players, the importance of learning and living a healthy and fit lifestyle.  We spoke about diet, geography, the life of an AFL football umpire, dreams and the importance of striving to achieve your goals.

Soon we were back to the corrugated shed and back to Darwin.

This was an amazing experience and certainly provided evidence that Australian Football truly is a game for everyone.

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