I will be uploading a daily(ish) blog during my 3 week stay in Australia, and this trip is made possible by SportsHosts. The following is a part of this series. You can also find this on the SportsHosts blog here!
I had high expectations for Broome. In many ways, probably too high. There was no way that my time here could live up to what I had envisioned, right?! Except they did. Broome was everything and more than I expected.
Most people don’t visit Broome when they travel to Australia. Heck, even most Australians haven’t visited Broome. It is a remote beach town in the Northwestern Australia, in an area known as the Kimberley, marked by the red sand, rugged ranges, gorges, and a largely isolated coastline. The next closest major city (Perth) is a 3 hour flight away. When I landed in Broome, it felt more like a beach hut than an airport. About 40% of the population in the area is indigenous, and the nearest towns could be a 2-4 hour drive away on a bright red sand road. I was excited to have the chance to get to know members of the Indigenous community and learn more about their experience and life in Australia.
I arrived in Broome two days prior to meeting my local hosts, so I had some time to do touristy things, including riding camels at sunset on Cable Beach and a bus tour up the Dampier Peninsula. While on the tour up the Dampier Peninsula, one of our stops was at a fish hatchery at One Arm Point. The hatchery guide mentioned that he had to run a little early because he had to go meet his footy team as they prepared for tomorrow’s game- of course, I chimed in asking what team he played for in the league.
We chatted about what the heck a girl from Philadelphia was doing so far from home and about the local footy league. Sunset camel rides and bus tours only scratch the surface of a place – they don’t force you outside your comfort zone or help you connect with the locals. While I am happy I have those scenic pictures from those tours, but I am even happier that I got to go beyond the guided tour learn a little more about the local community in Broome.
That night I met my local host, Mick, for a drink to confirm the details for the weekend. The plan was to meet up on Saturday for a full day of footy and then on Sunday drive two hours up the peninsula to go mud crabbing. I am not sure if it is possible to get more of a “local experience,” than what I had lined up. Mick is the CEO of a non-profit, Garnduwa, that works with remote communities of the Kimberley to build sustainable sport and recreation programs. It was established in 1992 by over forty Indigenous representatives, and works to enable Indigenous people to have a say in their own sport and recreation destiny. While the local football league is not associated with Garnduwa, it was great to learn about what they are doing in the Kimberley region.
The local footy league is called the West Kimberley Football Association and is comprised of eight teams. Games are played throughout the weekend with the majority taking place on Saturday. Mick’s team is Cable Beach, and I was quickly suited up with a Cable Beach polo and hat.
The first game of the day at 10am on Saturday was the women’s team: this is the their first official full season. I had the chance to speak with some of the athletes, and learn about their experience playing footy. Their sentiments about its importance in the local community would be echoed by every individual I talked to that day.
The next game was a big one as it featured Cable Beach. Located about a 10 minute drive from Cable Beach, it feels as though everyone from town is at the field watching. The atmosphere there was different than I expected. People sitting around the oval on blankets in the shade. Kids running around having a kick or getting ice cream. Teams warming up right in front of you. This is a Saturday tradition for the community; what I imagine Friday nights are like for high school students in Texas.
The games were actually very competitive. This came as somewhat of a shock to me. Not that local leagues can’t produce very real talent, but it usually feels more like it is one or two players standing out of the crowd. As I watched, surrounded by Cable Beach fans and family, I found myself getting very into the game, stressing out when they missed a goal and cheering on a good play.
After the Cable Beach game, I had a chance to talk to their coach. He stressed how important footy and sport in general is to the entire region. For many, there isn’t much else to do. Sport gives them a healthy outlet; one that many need. For the youth, it gives them role models and a healthy activity. Even if at times the games on weekends can get a little heated, it is still a good family outing. Teammates are like family – and for many, they are actually related. After the day’s games, many teams headed back home. For some, that meant a two hour bus ride to their homes.
I didn’t get the chance to really chat with people about the struggles indigenous people face here. I guess that is because that isn’t how it works. You don’t just show up and expect people to start talking about those things. They are complex and complicated matters that are very personal. While those things may have a day to day impact on their life, it isn’t the only thing happening.
The Cable Beach team met at their sponsor bar – Divers Tavern- following the game. While it felt like just a normal run of the mill night, the specialness of this wasn’t lost on me. Here I am in Broome, Western Australia, hanging with the local footy team sharing conversations about life in America and life in Western Australia. You can’t pay for that kind of experience.
Riding camels on Cable Beach was a special experience, but by checking out the local footy league, I feel like I got to know the real Cable Beach. Sometimes the most unforgettable moments aren’t the Instagram worthy pictures you take, but instead happen over drinks at the pub with the local footy team.