From The Desert To The Big Smoke

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 - 11:29 AM

The Western Desert is a region in remote central Australia where the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson deserts converge and its inhabitants have a deep connection with country.

Stretching 600,000 square kilometres from the Nullarbor in the South to the Kimberley in the North, and from Percival Lakes in the West to the Pintupi lands in the Northern Territory, it’s an area rich in culture and biodiversity where bilbies, rock wallabies and quolls actually exist outside of urban myth. So why would three Western Desert youths want to leave the world’s most iconic desert landscape?

The opportunity to participate in Swan Districts’ Development Program was a huge motivator for Punmu resident, Isaac Biljabu, and brothers, Aazarius and Zacharia West from Kiwirrkurra to temporarily swap their desert home for the urban jungle. Scouted by Swans’ representative, Trevor Screaigh, the three boys were excited to be selected to showcase their skills in the 2018 Simply Energy West Australian Football League Talent Carnival. 

Each year, emerging football players in three age groups (under 14s, under 15s, and under 16s) are chosen by the nine participating WAFL clubs to represent their teams in a three round tournament. Taking place over a two week period in late September / early October this year, the purpose of the carnival is to foster youth talent in a team sport and introduce players to the talent pathway.

According to Michael Ablett, West Australian Football Commission Talent Pathway Manager, the carnival gives footballers, coaches and umpires the chance to develop and display their abilities.

“Players are able to test themselves against the state’s best emerging young footballers in a competitive match-day environment and in doing so, prepare for progression through to the next stage of the talent pathway,” Ablett said.

Passionate and highly committed to nurturing the potential and personal development of Western Australian youth, the Swan Districts Football Club operates a talent development program in conjunction with the WA Football Commission. The club scout’s talent in three zones including the eastern Metropolitan area, the Pilbara and Bunbury – and invites teens demonstrating aptitude in AFL football to join the Swans’ comprehensive training program.

“The boys undertake talent development and training at varying times throughout the year to enhance their leadership, decision-making and field skills,” said Phil Smart, Swan Districts’ General Manager of Football Operations. “They participate in approximately 14 training sessions, depending on the age of the child but we’re careful not to overload them, mindful of their schooling and community responsibilities.”

In 2017, the Ngurra Kujungka Council (NK) voted to develop pathway opportunities for Martu youth. Since then, the Council has introduced a community-driven initiative that utilises sport as a gateway to future career opportunities and established relationships with the WAFC, the Naitanui Academy and Swan Districts to facilitate sporting pathways for the young people of the Western Desert.

“Parnngurr Councillor, Murphy Williams and I held discussions with Kim Hannah, Game Development Coordinator from the Naitanui Academy and Swan Districts Football Club CEO, Jeff Dennis,” said NK Program Manager Mike McMonigal.

“Our first meeting with Jeff was very positive and we are looking forward to further discussions with Jeff and Greg Harding, Talent Manager for the Swan Districts Football Club. Both organisations accepted an invitation to attend the July Youth Festival in Punmu with a view to talent identification.”

The Martu Youth Festival is an integral part of Ngurra Kujungka’s annual events calendar. Not only is it a highly anticipated social event where the Western Desert communities come together and enjoy music, the festival provides a unique opportunity for young people to train with the best of the best and showcase their sporting skills that potentially open up possibilities for them beyond the Western Desert.

“The good news is that three Western Desert boys, Isaac Biljabu, Aazarius West and Zacharia West were selected by the Swan Districts at the Martu Youth Festival to participate in the WAFC carnival,” added McMonigal.

“Selection for the Swan Districts Development Program is ongoing,” Phil Smart, Swan Districts’ General Manager of Football Operations, explained. “We have scouts that go and watch community and school football. The club made it a priority to send a talent scout to the Youth Festival and were extremely pleased to provide the Western Desert boys the opportunity to demonstrate their ability for the State Academy selectors”.

“This year, we invited nine Pilbara youths and the three Western Desert boys to participate in our program to hone their skills and support their overall development,” said Smart.

“The chance for the metropolitan and country boys to interact is invaluable. It’s a fantastic opportunity, particularly for the boys from remote areas, to be involved in an elite talent program, to take back to their communities the experience and the level of skill required to play at a higher level”.

Strengthening the relationship between the Swans and the Western Desert community, NK Program Manager McMonigal expressed appreciation on behalf of the Martu people and publicly stated “the Ngurra Kujungka Council is pleased that our collaboration with Swan Districts Football Club is providing pathway opportunities for the talented Martu youth. This is a unique opportunity for these young people to train and play for an elite sporting organisation and we are thankful to Jeff Dennis, Phil Smart, Shane Beros, Trevor Screaigh and Swan Districts FC for their help and support in making this happen”.