In a remote corner of the country, the oldest surviving Aboriginal football club faces some exceptional challenges. Remarkably, it's not only surviving, but thriving thanks to the commitment of a close-knit community.
Rhiannon Elston

SBS News
20 Mar 2017 - 1:34 PM  UPDATED 20 Mar 2017 - 4:34 PM

The Koonibba Roosters are the oldest surviving Aboriginal football club in the country. The football team, formed in a Lutheran Mission outside of Ceduna in far western South Australia, can trace their origins back 100 years.

Club 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 … have been in the club for more than 100 years. Just a lot of love.

“Without the club there'd be nothing in this town. So I think the footy is a big thing here," Mr Benbolt explains.

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."

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," Mr Coleman says.  

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

Player Lawrence Benbolt told SBS News: "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, Chairman of the Far West Aboriginal Sporting Complex, says the club and the Koonibba community rallied hard to raise funds to help fix some of the club's lingering challenges.

The club launched an online fundraising campaign last year that has almost reached its target of two hundred thousand dollars.

"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," Mr Miller says.

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.

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

"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," Mr Benbolt adds.

Teammate Aubrey Bolton says the sporting ground might be in need of an upgrade, but one thing that won't change is their love of the game.

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

Make sure you’re watching NITV every Thursday from March 23 @ 730pm AEDT to catch all the latest AFL news on the Marngrook Footy Show.

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