Footy isn’t just about playing the game – it’s about community.
And as a major supporter of the Jabiru Bombers, Buslink NT is doing its bit to make sure those in the region who want to play Aussie Rules are able to, transporting players on a 550km round trip to Darwin for NTFL away games.
Club President, Tamara Spence said while other teams faced many challenges, the team based in the Kakadu region faced its own unique set of problems.
“Around 50 percent of our local players live in the remote community of Gunbalanya, 60km northeast of Jabiru.
“But when the Arnhem Land wet season happens, we have to fly those players out because we can’t cross the East Alligator River. Depending on the wet season, they usually get cut off from Christmas onwards, making it difficult for those players to access games.
“In the past, when the local mine was fully operational and we had access to boats owned by eager club supporters, players would make the boat trip through heavily croc-infested flood waters,” she said.
The club has been a Jabiru staple for the last 40 years and one of its primary objectives is to promote community involvement and support the local Aboriginal community.
“At the moment we’re sitting at close to 80 percent Indigenous players,” she said.
She said some of the club’s players don’t have access to vehicles due to financial hardships, so the fact that Buslink was able to help was very much appreciated.
“Because Buslink is already so heavily involved in the community in the Northern Territory, it’s nice for us to have a connection with such a recognisable brand,” Mrs Spence said.
“It’s easy for us to say the Buslink bus is coming to pick you up, and we know they’ll get to their games safely and on time.
“It’s also great to work with the local drivers because they understand some of the challenges and are respectful and helpful.
“It’s really nice to have that connection.”
Mrs Spence said it was also great to have the NT’s largest bus operator on board because club finances were impacted by the need to sometimes fly up to 15 stranded players to home and away games.
While close to 70 players belong to the club, as well as a coach, two assistant coaches and other supporting members including goal umpires and water runners, the Bombers draw just the one adults’ team from its pool of registered players.
“Players come from as far afield as Kakadu to Katherine, and Daly River to Darwin. Due to this, they train separately, and sometimes haven’t even met before their match – in fact, we’ve never played the same combination of 24 men, and it is not unusual for players to be learning each other’s names on game day!
“Some of our players are shift workers and we’re also heavily affected culturally, as some might have family obligations and cultural business they need to attend, so our numbers fluctuate,” she said.
“Most of our players are adults, but every now and again we need to draw on some local under 18s.
“Out remote, they don’t have as easy access to other clubs, and they can’t afford to travel, so we try and help as many as we can. Whilst there are some remote football competitions located within the Arnhem region we try to give them the opportunity to play in Darwin as much as they can.”
Mrs Spence said the club’s multicultural nature meant non-Indigenous players had the chance to interact with players from cultures that they might otherwise not get the chance, showing the game of AFL provides opportunities to share culture and bridge a language divide.
Mrs Spence, a lawyer, has been involved in the club for eight years, but this is her first as President.
“I was head trainer – the medic,” she said.
“We’ve got a really good volunteer base and I like the idea of being involved in a community like this.”
The Jabiru Bombers’ travelling and commitment record is unequalled in the Northern Territory for a remote area side that plays in a metropolitan football competition. The Bombers travel more than 550kms 12 to 14 times a season.
Their 2021 season kicked off on Saturday 2 October and runs until the end of March 2022.
Buslink is the official school transport and charter bus provider in Jabiru, employing three staff locally, and operating three 20-seater Coaster vehicles on school runs from its Jabiru depot. Routes include a 162km round trip to Cooinda in the south, and two 101km round trips – north to Cahills Crossing and west to Kapalga.