For 20 years, the largely Indigenous community of Tennant Creek had no regular season cricket competition, but with hard work and community spirit, cricket is once again flourishing in the Barkly region.
When Marcus Maher moved to the Northern Territory township of Tennant Creek to work with Anyingingyi Health Corporation, he discovered AFL was the only structured sport in town and set about playing a major role in revitalising cricket in the community.
He worked hard to establish local interest and engagement in a variety of sports but wanted to get cricket up and going again. Purkiss Reserve was already fitted with lights and Mr Maher knew it was the perfect venue, but he needed a cricket pitch.
‘‘We got a flexi-wicket mounted and started playing 7-a-side, 7-over cricket which is much shorter than T20,’’ he said.
And behind the scenes, Mr Maher was filling in paperwork, trying to secure funding for a permanent cricket pitch.
‘‘We had to get the football club on board,’’ he said, and with between 80-100 people attending the short format games, Mr Maher knew there was enough interest in Tennant Creek to establish a permanent association and seasoned competition.
He soon became connected with Rossy Williams, the co-founder of the Imparja Cup, NT Cricket's premier Indigenous cricket competition held annually in Alice Springs.
With grants from NT Cricket and Cricket Australia’s National Community Facilities Funding Scheme, as well as community sponsorship and local donations, the funds were in place to install a new pitch at Purkiss Reserve in 2016.
Maher said ‘the best part, from my perspective is that it was not just a couple of people doing the work to get the pitch ready, but it was people coming in from everywhere to help out.
In 2016, with the new pitch in place, there was a big increase in the attendance at the Rossy Williams Shield, the annual seven-a-side carnival held in October each year. It attracts players from across the Barkly region, including the local talent of Tennant Creek.
Maher said “We had a huge increase in female participation, with 15-20 girls playing, which is great as two years ago there were no women playing”
Whilst still waiting to receive funding for a pitch, they ran a competition on the local tennis courts where six teams competed.
When the money came through, the pieces had almost fallen into place.
‘‘We set up the roll-out pitch and played a T20 comp of five teams with 11 on each side,’’ Mr Maher said.
‘‘That went really well and we knew the five teams would be consistent so we set up our own cricket association.’’
The revival of Cricket in the town began as the summer sport, complementing the winter football season, but it soon became much more than that, acting as a catalyst to bring the community together in a positive way.
With over 50 per cent of Tennant Creek’s population identifying as Indigenous, Mr Maher said the new Tennant Creek Cricket Association and Competition also assisted with social cohesion and connections.
The first season was held during the summer of 2016/17 and the players renewed their skills, giving them the confidence to enter a team to play in the Imparja Cup in Alice Springs, 500km from Tennant Creek.
‘‘I always say you’ve got to look in the rear vision mirror to look forward,’’ Mr Maher said.
What had previously been a weekend for the Tennant Creek men to party in Alice Springs had become a serious cricket competition.
Tennant Creek took out the Imparja Cup that year (above) which was an indication the new cricket association had far wider reaching benefit than first anticipated.
Since leaving the Northern Territory, Mr Maher has returned to Shepparton in Victoria and has left a legacy in the heart of the Northern Territory. “I know the Tennant Creek Cricket Association will continue to flourish under the guidance of Rossy Williams and Committee member Wayne Green. I’d recommend anyone to go to a remote area and help out in any way they can. It was a great experience” he said.
The 2018 Rossy Williams Shield will be playing in Tennant Creek in October and expects to draw both men’s and women’s teams to the weekend carnival. For more information about Remote Cricket Carnivals across the Northern Territory, contact NT Cricket's Game and Market Development Manager, Mitch Farnell via email or call (08) 8944 8900