Published by Andrew McMurtry, 10 Aug 2018 on News.com.au
PICASSO eat your heart out — this AFL “oval” is a cubist’s dream.
On the biggest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria — between the Northern Territory and northern Queensland — is Alyangula Oval, a footy field that’s as Australian as the meat pie.
One of three used in the Groote Eylandt Football League (GEFL) — and the only one with lights — the oval looks like it was marked by a linesman who had one too many beers.
But it’s really just a bit of Aussie ingenuity that highlights the locals willingness to do whatever it takes to enjoy the game they love.
Groote Eylandt Football one of three grounds used in the local league
The lights are the big issue with the ground, which was cutting into the forward pocket and providing its unique shape.
Swerving in and out at one end while going almost straight as a tryline at the other, the forward 50 is a goal kickers nightmare.
Robert Hince is a man with many hats in the Groote Eylandt community. He’s an AFL regional development manager who coaches the GEFL representative team, umpires games and runs training sessions to name a few of his roles.
Hince said Alyangula is one of the unique things about being involved in regional football.
“You can only do what you can do up here with the ground markings,” Hince said.
“That’s the problem with that pocket — whoever in their wisdom put the light poles in, put them in that pocket in the middle of the ground so we have to make do.”
The GEFL has four teams play in the competition across a 12-round season with four games at each ground in a town called Umbakumba, one called Angurugu and Alyangula, which hosted night matches throughout the season.
The final round of the season was played at the ground but it will see no finals action.
The honour falls to Umbakumba, a ground Hince said is “about the same size as the MCG” and has some unique challenges of its own.
“There is no real grass on it, everything just burns off and there’s no irrigation on the ovals down there,” he said.
“It’s just sort of weeds and dirt. I wouldn’t want to play on it but these blokes love it and would play on anything.”
Previously a two-team competition, the GEFL now has four — the Swans, the Tigers, the Lions and the Dreamteam — bringing together the two local indigenous communities on the island made up of the Anindilyakwa people.
In the past, the league had just two teams split down township and family lines, which had led to some trouble in the past.
“What used to happen was Anurugu and Umbakumba would have a team and there was a little bit of trouble with fighting because it was family,” Hince said.
“We’ve split that up so no team is one clan or one family together against another and we haven’t had one bit of trouble on ground all year which is great.”
With the popularity of AFL in the area, the sport is looking to provide positive social changes through its programs.
A women’s AFL competition is starting with 36 women turning out for a training session last week.
The league has sent a representative team to the mainland for the Barunga Festival, which celebrates remote indigenous communities through music, art, culture and sport.
The league also incorporates the NO MORE campaign discussing family violence, education around men’s health and substance abuse, and providing classroom support in local schools.
Opportunities have been opened for children through the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre in Darwin which provides a sporting and education program for indigenous students in remote areas.
Of the programs added this season, Hince said “it’s been a good year, we just need to build on it for next year.”
The Swans were crowned minor premiers last weekend ahead of this weekend’s finals series.
Asked who is looking like the likely premiers, Hince said, “We’ve only got four teams so anyone’s got a chance to win.”