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Sport From the APY Lands to Alice Springs, hundreds descend on Hermannsburg for sports weekend

10:31  06 may  2018
10:31  06 may  2018 Source:

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a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera© Provided by ABC Grandstand

They've been dubbed the "black Olympics" of the desert.

Each year, remote communities across the Northern Territory host a three-day sports carnival, going head-to-head with competitors from as far as 1,000 kilometres away.

This weekend was no different, with hundreds of budding sports stars descending on Hermannsburg — about 125 kilometres west of Alice Springs — to try their luck at a range of sports.

"It's about encouraging young people," said Cliff Raggett, a football player for the Western Aranda Bulldogs.

"They look after us and elders look after their young ones.

"When we [usually] train in this oval there's only a couple of people here. But when the sports carnival comes … then there's everybody packed."

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By 1900 average attendance at church services had increased to about hundred . Even during WWII, Noel Loutit, commander at Alice Springs wanted the mission closed. However it was decided to place Rex Battarbee, a retired soldier and artist at Hermannsburg to make sure nothing would happen

With community groups from across the Northern Territory and South Australia taking part, the competition is seen as a way to unite different language groups and bring people together.

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During footy season the Hermannsburg community get together to watch AFL on TV and on weekends many make the trip to Alice Springs to support local teams. The pots on display in Our Land is Alive depict important moments across many years of the game.

Fly to Alice Springs or Ayers Rock airport (direct flights take about three hours from Sydney). The legendary Ghan railway travels between Darwin and Adelaide over the course of four days, stopping in Katherine, Alice Springs and Coober Pedy.

But once the sirens sound, things can get fierce.

"You've got to see who is the best team in the competition," Mr Raggett said.

a group of people posing for a picture© Provided by ABC Grandstand "It gets rough on the field and when you get out after the siren, you've got to shake [their] hand to show respect."

Annual event steeped in history

The first remote community to launch the sports carnival was Yuendumu, north-west of Alice Springs, more than 50 years ago.

Since then, the event has progressed in leaps and bounds, attracting punters from the APY Lands to the Top End.

"Sports weekend starts way back when we were kids. Hermannsburg used to go to Yuendumu," said Mary Anne Malbunka, a Hermannsburg local and Western Arrernte community sports member.

"That was a really big sporting [event], we use to go there to challenge.

"It started in Yuendumu, then we had sports, then sports at Papunya. Then the big one use to be at Yuendumu, that was really nice."

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For Ms Malbunka, the annual event is an opportunity to reunite with family.

"As an Arrernte woman I see families from Papunya or other communities come here, it's like families get together," she said.

"It's the only time you can meet families when you come together for sports weekend."

AFL teams of the desert

Throughout most of Australia, professional AFL teams represent a suburb or city.

In Central Australia, the remote Indigenous communities playing at the games have adopted the colours and logos of these professional AFL teams themselves.

It is not uncommon for residents to design their cars and outfits to represent their sports teams.

"Our local team is Western Aranda Bulldogs, and this colour has been carrying on for a long time," Mr Raggett said.

"We still got the same colours. We never change it."

For traditional owner Damien Williams, the competition is both a celebration of family and culture and an opportunity for remote Indigenous players to make it to the AFL.

"I think the chance or the opportunity for an AFL scout to come out to a community is a great thing," Mr Williams said.

"I think they will find some players that are hidden away from the scouting lane that the AFL use."

Mr Williams said above all he was proud of the achievements of his people.

"I feel proud that people get to see what we can do," he said.

"People just come and have a good time and enjoy themselves and have a bit of fun as well."

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