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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Wiluna’s Martu Eagles take on Dalkeith-Nedlands in tenth annual AFL match

Out in WA’s red dirt country, in the little town of Wiluna, the pint-sized players give no quarter on the footy field.
It’s been this way for at least ten years.
This game – is no exception.
With a footy in their hands the boys and girls from Wiluna are almost unstoppable.
Every year for a decade, the battlers from the WA country town have played against the city-slicker kids from Dalkeith-Nedlands.
“Come on” yells Stacey Petterson, long-time coach for Wiluna’s Martu Eagles.
And this year – the game is close.
Standing on the sidelines is 26-year-old Zareth Long. Ten years ago he played in the ruck for Wiluna in the very first game of what would become an annual tradition.
His team won that day.
But Mr Long said when the Wiluna kids step off the field - winning became a much tougher proposition.
Local jobs are scarce, and keeping kids in school is a challenge.
“Around here, it’s tough, it’s a bit tough,” Mr Long said.
He said winning the annual footy game against players from one of the wealthiest areas in the country was a much-needed confidence boost in Wiluna.
While some of the city kids Mr Long played against a decade ago are studying to be dentists, lawyers and script writers, some of his Wiluna teammates like Ashley Gilbert, have battled to get ahead.
“Yeah, there’s been a bit of trouble, for a while there,” Mr Gilbert said.
At 19, he’s now graduated high school, and looking for work.
Mr Gilbert and Mr Long were helped by Murlpirrmarra Connection, an organisation which works to improve education opportunities for kids in the Goldfields. It also organises the annual footy game.
Mr Long was the first to graduate high-school under the organisation’s program.
Murlpirrmarra stalwart Mitch Wilson said Wiluna locals faced all the challenges of living in a remote community.
“The Dalkeith-Nedlands kids…have a different lifestyle to the kids here. They have different opportunities,” he said.
“The Martu people, it’s a lot about culture. The biggest thing (these kids need) is a future. They don’t have the same opportunities as kids in bigger towns.”
Mr Wilson said local government and mining companies were pretty much the only employment options, the latter the avenue that Mr Long has taken.
He watches the game intently, where his eight-year-old son has taken the field. There is pride in his eyes, and a smile on his face.
But unlike the annual game in Wiluna, the Federal Government’s Closing the Gap Initiative is not going well.
It too kicked off ten years ago, but stripped of funding it found to have only met three of seven key targets. The policy is currently undergoing a review.
On the sidelines of the game in Wiluna, former Indigenous Affairs Minister Fred Chaney airs his concerns.
‘It’s just an excuse for inaction,” he said.
“As far I’m concerned they should get on with the business of actually closing the gap by working with communities instead of just bossing them around.”
Wild-haired and wild-eyed, the Wiluna kids give their all on the field this year.
And it looks like Dalkieth-Nedlands might win this year’s game.
Until suddenly, a flurry of goals turns the tide in favour of the bush kids.
Mr Long nods at his son.
“I’m hoping he’ll be better than me, when he gets older” he said.
Wiluna’s Martu Eagles came back to win the game 46 to 41, closing the gap on the field, hoping to do the same off it.