A post-match brawl between players and supporters at a rugby league match in Newcastle last fortnight, was sparked by racial slurs from the crowd, directed at Indigenous players of the opposing team.
The match between Dora Creek RLFC and West Wallsend RLFC was cut short after West Wallsend Magpies players were continuously called “black dogs, monkeys and apes” by supporters of the Dora Creek club both during and after the game.
The West Wallsend club was immediately booted from the remainder of the competition by the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL), who is conducting an investigation into the allegations of racism. Five players from the team are facing suspension.
Members of the Newcastle Aboriginal community have now spoken out about their past experiences of playing against the Dora Creek club at their home ground.
They are calling for the Dora Creek RLFC to be sanctioned, and for an overhaul of how racism is dealt with within the competition.
The top of the table clash at Dora Creek Oval on September 19 was a tough and willing affair. The first placed Dora Creek Swampies were well in control, leading the Magpies 36-16 when the referee called the match off approximately 20 minutes early.
West Wallsend player Jacob Briggs, who was sitting on the interchange bench towards the end of the game, told NITV News there was noticeable tension between the Dora Creek crowd and his team throughout the match.
Mr Briggs said while he is used to the opposition crowd regularly stirring up the other team, he was shocked when he heard one of the home supporters yell out a racial slur.
“People were arguing with the bench and going back and forward, and then I heard the words ‘black c—t' from one supporter,” he said.
“I said, ‘mate who are you calling that’ and he said ‘you are all black apes’. I started firing up and everyone got between us and calmed it down.”
When the referee blew the whistle to end the game early, players began to shake hands before starting to walk off the field. It was then it is alleged the same supporter sung out the words ‘black ape’ towards one of the West Wallsend players.
The player confronted the person in the crowd over the racial slur, which led to pushing and shoving, and eventually the brawl.
“I heard a few names from a few different people,” said Mr Briggs. “It all kicked off and I went over to my daughters in the crowd to make sure they were okay.”
“I wanted to break it up, I didn’t go looking for a fight, but I saw my brother Issac with a few blokes on him, so I am not going to stand there and watch.”
One of the men who is prominent in the vision of the fight, West Wallsend player Tyson Leota, faced Newcastle Local Court yesterday in relation to the incident.
His lawyer, Iain Bruce, told the judge that Mr Leota and his teammates were acting in self-defence after they were called, “black dogs, monkeys and apes”
It is not the first time there have been claims of racism from the Dora Creek crowd.
‘Couldn’t tell which Black person it was’
In July this year, the Waratah Mayfield women’s team put in a formal complaint against the Dora Creek RLFC, alleging that the club’s trainer approached Waratah girls during a game and called them “dirty black little shits” and assaulted one of their players which included squirting water in their faces.
Waratah's Head Coach, Gamilaroi woman Sheridan Noble, said her team also received further racial abuse from the club and its supporters for the entire duration of the game and felt like they were in an “unsafe environment.”
“I just said to the girls ... we’ll play the game and I will follow up on what I have to do and all I want you girls to do is focus on playing football, because that’s what we’re here for,” she said.
“They played on and then, I think it was in the last quarter, when another one of our girls, she’d been tackled by one of their girls and as she went to get up, there was a penalty blown and that girl said to our girl, ‘you black dog.'”
Ms Noble said the crowd (Dora Creek supporters) started to join in and the racial abuse started coming from inside the clubhouse which was situated next to the field.
“Through that whole moment, I was sitting on the sideline on the bench and I could actually see the windows shaking in the clubhouse in the workers club, and we could hear and see the men and girls behind the glass, sticking their fingers up and they were all inside the clubhouse calling our girls, ‘black dogs, dirty black dogs.'”
Ms Noble first made a complaint to her club secretary on July 25, it was escalated by then Newcastle Hunter Rugby League board member Dave Wild to the New South Wales Rugby League, on July 30.
In the complaint, Ms Noble requested that Dora Creek be investigated and that the league put in stronger measures to prevent any further “attacks of racism” before their next game against the club.
The email in part stated that Waratah players were "scared for their safety at this field as you simply cannot get out of that field in a hurry."
However, Ms Noble said she received no reply from NSWRL until almost two months later.
In an email sent by the Manager of the Newcastle-Central Coast Regional Rugby League, Keith Onslow, no support was offered to Waratah Mayfield. Instead, both clubs were threatened with expulsion should another incident of racism occur by Dora Creek.
“Your club's concerns expressed below have been forwarded to the Dora Creek club as notice,” the email from Mr Onslow said.
“Further to this, it is advised that should there be a repeat of previous conduct / incidents stemming from this impending fixture, it shall result in both clubs being immediately stood down from any further participation in NSWRL competition, pending additional sanctions."
The email was sent to Ms Noble on September 16, three days before both her team, and the West Wallsend Magpies played Dora Creek at their home ground.
Previously, the former club Awabakal United, which competed in the second-tier competition in seasons 2018-19, was also on the receiving end of racist abuse from Dora Creek supporters.
Former club President Paul Douglas told NITV News that in 2018 the club's Women’s League Tag team was also subjected to abuse, including being called "black dogs".
“One of the comments was made and heard over the ground microphone, saying they didn’t know who scored because they couldn’t tell which ‘black person’ it was,” said Mr Douglas.
“The club is responsible for players and supporters, but also has a duty-of-care for other teams that come there, and I don’t think they take it seriously.”
Mr Douglas said he reported the racial abuse to the Newcastle and Hunter Community Rugby League and “nothing official happened”.
Following the fight on September 19, the West Wallsend club was immediately expelled from the rest of the competition by the NSWRL, and five players were stood down.
The players will learn of their suspensions this week.
But the NSWRL’s decision not to also ban Dora Creek from the remainder of the competition then prompted four of the Newcastle Hunter Rugby League’s board members to immediately stand down.
In a Facebook post uploaded on Friday September 25, Secretary Chris MacPherson said the board members stepped down “in response to what they see as not timely enough action responding to allegations of racial vilification” and other acts that breached the league’s code of conduct.
“We applaud the NSWRL on its prompt action to deal with the violence of the weekend but believe the time it has taken to address concerns and allegations of vilification is not adequate” the statement said.
Board member Dave Wild also announced via social media that he would be stepping down from his role, which prompted user ‘Mavi Mavs’ to comment that “unfortunately you couldn’t get rid of the racism Dave.”
Mr Wild then responded through the NHRL page, saying in part “Unfortunately you can’t put brains in statues … There certainly has been a sustained effort, almost all of which the general public are unaware of.”
NITV News has reached out to Dave Wild for comment.
The NSWRL is currently investigating the allegations of racism in the lead up to the fight.
It met with members of the wider Newcastle Aboriginal rugby league community last week, including Jacob Briggs, Sheridan Noble, Paul Douglas and a number of the West Wallsend players that have been stood down.
The group expressed its concerns and reiterated the history of racial slurs that originated from the Dora Creek crowd over the past couple of years.
Sheridan Noble told NITV News that following the meeting she had little hope things would change.
"When you look at it properly, there was no justification around why they didn't suspend Dora Creek from the league," said Ms Noble.
"They had already received a notice in writing (from Waratah Mayfield) to say that they were on notice, that if they were to breach any of that, then they would be suspended from the competition.
“There was not enough support and communication with us from the league when we sent the first complaint, and that's what we’re trying to change.
“It's not just our responsibility, it's not just New South Wales Rugby League’s responsibility, not also just the NRL’s, it’s everyone’s responsibility in the community to call racism out when it happens.”
Mr Briggs says the meeting was ”positive” and a step in the right direction but he wants to see some concrete changes made.
“We need to get the message across, the racism needs to be out of the game. You think it’s all going away and then it just comes back,” he said.
A change.org petition has been created by Tanaya Williams, who plays in the Waratah women’s team.
It calls for Dora Creek to be suspended from the rest of this year’s competition, cultural awareness training to be undertaken by the club, for the club to release a statement condemning racial abuse by its supporters, players and staff, an 8 match automatic ban for any member of the club who breaches the League’s code of conduct, and an apology from the NSWRL for not taking appropriate action sooner.
The petition currently has over 1000 signatures.
The NSWRL declined to comment due to its ongoing investigation.
NITV News also approached the Dora Creek club for comment, and was informed it had been advised not to participate.