Matt Henderson, NT Cricket Regional Cricket Officer is based in Alice Springs and regularly conducts cricket clinics and competitions in the Central Desert Region. In April, Matt travelled to the small community of Ampilatwatja, in the heart of Alyawarr country on the Sandover Highway, 307km south east of Tennant Creek.
The region has a rich artistic and cultural history. Alyawarr people have always lived there and have close ties to the people living at Alpurrurulam and surrounds.
In the 1990s, the Utopia Station was returned to traditional ownership and the Alyawarr people of Ampilatwatja made a claim for their traditional homelands. The local Community Arts Centre features outstanding artwork by local artists who pay homage to the significance and use of traditional bush medicine in their work.
Of his recent trip, Matt said “It’s not always easy, but it’s rewarding to work with the kids and school community. There’s always a variety of activities going on and I touch base with the teachers at the school beforehand to plan a program for clinics in school time, plus after school games.”
Working in remote areas can have its challenges, like having to plan for travel in difficult conditions. Once you leave the tarmac for Ampilatwatja, there’s still over 200kms to travel on the red dirt.
“You have to adapt and plan activities on the spot, depending on what is happening in the community at the time. Sometimes people are away, or not available, so we make sure we’ve got gear and are prepared for anything. Building relationships is really important, so we get involved in whatever’s going on, like movie nights, or a barbecue as well as running free and open sessions where anyone can come down for a game of cricket” he said.
On this trip Matt met with Jacinta, the new Sport and Recreation Officer in the Barkly region who had also travelled out to the Community. “Jacinta came down to the school to help out with the sessions each afternoon and we actually got some of the teenage girls coming down to play cricket too”.
Matt spent a week in the Community, helping boys and girls with their cricket skills as well as teachers, who brushed up on scoring the various formats. Being able to equip others means there is the opportunity for ongoing support in the community between visits.
“With a few afternoon sessions under their belts, the young boys were really starting to bowl well and hit the ball hard. It’s great to see that no matter where you are, people love to smash the ball, whether it’s at the MCG or in the desert. By the end of our time there, the girls were really doing well and we regularly had 25-30 kids playing after school for a few hours” recalled Henderson.
The next step on the cricket pathway for the boys and girls in the remote areas of NT is to get involved in the Remote Community Carnivals held by NT Cricket throughout the year, like the Rossy Williams Shield played in Tennant Creek, which is an 8-hour drive away.
Mitch Farnell, NT Cricket’s Game and Market Development Manager said “people drive hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres in the Territory to be part of the Remote Carnivals. Living in remote areas, everyone accepts that it will be a long drive, but they make the trip year after year and often follow the circuit of carnivals, just to be part of the action”.
Last year, Matt coordinated the Central Desert Cup in the small town of Ti Tree along the Stuart Highway, 193km north of Alice Springs. The Central Desert Regional Council assisted and the weekend competition brought 70 boys and girls together from seven communities, some of them, like Yuendemu being hundreds of kilometres away.
Joel Morrison, CEO of NT Cricket reiterated the importance of providing an accessible pathway for Indigenous cricketers. “One of our major focus areas is to clearly map a pathway for anyone in the Northern Territory who picks up a bat and ball to provide them with regular opportunities to play. Which is why programs such as this one are so important because they provide remote communities with the opportunity to experience cricket, learn the skills and develop a love for the game just like any other community in the country.
“These activities then lead to communities sending players to participate in remote carnivals held across the Territory, which then acts as a stepping stone to the annual Imparja Cup in Alice Springs which is an amazing celebration of cricket and Indigenous culture. We had 58 teams playing in the Imparja Cup in 2018 across the youth, men’s and women’s divisions, and thanks to the great work of Matt and others who deliver these programs every year these numbers will only grow in the future.”