Australia's oldest Aboriginal footy club again proves its resilience

21 Mar 2017By Rhiannon

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Koonibba players (SBS)

SBS World News Radio: In a remote corner of the country, the oldest surviving Aboriginal football club faces some exceptional challenges yet, remarkably, it's not only surviving but thriving.

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The Koonibba Roosters can trace their origins back 100 years.

The football team was formed in a Lutheran Mission outside of Ceduna in far western South Australia.

As unofficial club historian Phillip Miller explains, the club has produced many strong footballers and won many premierships.

"Lot of good players come out of the club. Big names, Colemans, Millers, Wares... and the list goes on."

Koonibba is the oldest surviving Aboriginal football club in the country.

Current player Lawrence Benbolt says he and many of his teammates can trace their own personal history through the club's ranks.

"Most of our last names, the names have been in the club for more than 100 years. Just a lot of love. A small town that we grew up in and, I guess, without the club there'd be nothing in this town. So I think the footy is a big thing here."

The team's home ground is the Far West Aboriginal Sporting Complex in Ceduna.

The manager of the Complex, Darryll Coleman, says the club is not a wealthy one, and money to keep the grounds in good condition can be hard to find.

"We have had issues where we got told by the league we couldn't play here because of the conditions of our grounds one year. So we had to go to other clubs locally, and play our home games on their grounds."

Last year, under increasing pressure from rising costs and high regional unemployment, the club faced its toughest match yet.

A battle for survival.

Here's player Lawrence Benbolt again.

"We sort of fell down, we were sort of broke. We had a big water bill. The grass wouldn't grow. We were sort of running around on half dirt, half prickles."

Wayne Miller is the Chairman of the Far West Aboriginal Sporting Complex.

He says the club and its community of Koonibba rallied hard to raise funds that would help fix some of the club's lingering challenges.

The club launched an online fundraising campaign last year.

It has almost reached its target of $200,000.

"It's a good cause, what we're fighting for. We wanted to make our club sustainable, we wanted to keep our club going for future generations, and we really have to do that through upgrading our facilities, making it more efficient, reducing the overhead costs."

Donations have come from a range of sources -- from local organisations and community members to a large sum from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

But Wayne Miller says none of it would have happened without the community's dedicated efforts -- which went right down to a grassroots level.

"It's really been driven by our community. You know we've had a number of our community members donate cakes for cake stalls."

The funds will be enough to install a new irrigation system, which will drastically cut the water bill.

And enough to connect power to the lights, so training can take place at night.

Koonibba Roosters player Wilfred Edwards and his teammate, Lawrence Benbolt, say the long-term survival of the club is critical for the community.

(Edwards) "It means a lot to us, we grew up all our life playing footy."

(Benbolt) "It also keeps a lot of the guys out of trouble. Not off doing crime and all that stuff. Keeps them here on the right track."

Lawrence Benbolt and teammate Aubrey Bolton say the sporting ground might be in need of an upgrade, but one thing that won't change is their love of the game.

(Benbolt) "We just love our footy. Doesn't matter what we train on."

(Bolton) "Could be red dirt, gravel, we'll still put in 100 per cent to get the job done!"

 

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