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Sport, the glue which could help repair remote Aboriginal communities, academic tells enquiry

22 November 2012

A Deakin University academic will call on government and football sporting agencies to direct more funding and support to sport in remote Aboriginal communities as a way of improving the condition of their people and ultimately the towns themselves.

Dr Bruce Hearn Mackinnon, a lecturer with Deakin University’s School of Management and Marketing and author of “The Liam Jurrah Story: From Yuendumu to the MCG” made his plea during his submission to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs enquiry into the contribution of sport to Indigenous wellbeing and mentoring which is sitting in Melbourne today (22 November).

“My submission is based not so much on my academic interest, but more importantly, on my decade long involvement with the remote Warlpiri community of Yuendumu, in the Northern Territory,” he told the committee.

“The Collingwood Industrial Magpies, of which I am Vice President, is a unique organisation (comprising Collingwood supporters within the industrial relations profession) committed to engaging with Indigenous communities through a common love of sport, and Australian Rules football in particular.

“It has maintained a support link with the community of Yuendumu, by assisting their football club, the Yuendumu Magpies.”

Dr Hearn Mackinnon said he had made numerous visits to Yuendumu and other remote communities since 2007 where the evidence of stark disadvantage, poverty, poor health, violence, crime, substance abuse and illiteracy was all too plain to see.

“Most, if not all, of these disturbing factors, from my personal observations and experiences, are the outcomes primarily of listlessness,” he said.

“More than any other factor, a life of sitting around doing nothing, is a life lost.

“It results in boredom, depression, mental illness, violence, crime, substance abuse and tragically even suicide.”

Dr Hearn Mackinnon said the situation was nothing short of a national disgrace and arguably, needed to be recognised for what it is, a crime against humanity.

“We have failed these communities and ourselves,” he said.

But Dr Hearn Mackinnon said there was a bright spot – sport in remote Aboriginal communities was one of the few activities people had a passionate and emotional engagement with.

“In the communities of Central Australia, with which I am most familiar, football is the one activity and discussion topic, over which people can be relied upon to get excited and energised,” he said.

“Surely, if we want to assist these communities get active, to become dynamic centres of activity, then the first – not the last – priority should be to help these communities build on the activities they are already engaged.”

Dr Hearn Mackinnon said football offered a number of benefits to the communities by engaging them, offering a safe and healthy way for young men to express their manhood, as well as helping its participants develop confidence and creating social cohesion.

“Football energises whole communities not just males, as anyone who has attended a remote community sport weekend can attest to,” he said.

“But women’s sport as well, be it basketball, softball or more recently, the emerging phenomenon of women’s football, is also widely played in remote communities.”

Dr Hearn Mackinnon said despite the potential, sporting clubs in remote communities were fragile as resources were directed to major town centres like Alice Springs or Darwin.

“Few resources or attention seem to reach out to the people in remote communities,” he said.

“Football clubs in remote Indigenous communities require not only players, but coaches, physios, trainers, administrators, bus drivers, cooks, time keepers, umpires etc.

“There is clearly the potential to activate and engage large numbers of people in these communities, far beyond those playing the sport.

“To equip these communities with the necessary social capital to deliver in these areas obviously requires training and resourcing.”

Dr Hearn Mackinnon said if properly established and resourced, sporting clubs and football in particular, could provide a vehicle for wider capacity building and community development.

“Developed, structured and run by the communities themselves, such sporting clubs could form the foundation for emerging Indigenous entrepreneurship and transformative forms of self-governance,” he said.

News facts
  • Sport in remote Aboriginal communities is one of the few activities people have a passionate and emotional engagement with
  • Despite the potential, sporting clubs in remote communities were fragile as resources were directed to major town centres like Alice Springs or Darwin
  • Sporting clubs and football in particular, could provide a vehicle for wider capacity building and community development.

Media contact

Sandra Kingston
Deakin Media Relations
03 9246 8221/ 0422 005 485
sandra.kingston@deakin.edu.au

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

22nd November 2012