Bourke is an iconic country town on the banks of the Darling River. It’s also one of the most isolated, remote and socio-economically disadvantaged communities in NSW. It’s got a terrific history of rugby league and this sport has always been a very significant part of the social fabric of these Barwon Darling River towns. People living in these remote communities have a number of very significant social and economic challenges, particularly for Aboriginal populations, and rugby league at all levels is playing a very important role in improving the resilience and capacity of this remote town.
I’m no expert at rugby league but I come from a family of fanatics, my kids now have the bug pretty bad, so it was inevitable I guess that I ended up getting involved in rugby league. Working as a teacher at the Bourke Primary School is synonymous with being around kids who live, breath and eat rugby league. The idea of the Outback Challenge was really all about our local children – using a sport they all love as a vehicle to motivate, encourage and support higher skill development, rewarding team behaviours and taking their playing to another level.
I never dreamt it develop and be supported to the extent it has. The dedication of all the supporting schools to travel out to Back O’ Bourke is just amazing. It’s created a unique opportunity for kids to compete with their primary school contemporaries across outback and regional NSW, meet some recognisable characters of the NRL and everyone gets to take something away from the event – not just the winning team.
Incorporating a competition for primary school girls was a natural progression for the Outback Challenge and it’s clear the girls have the same passion and talent as the boys which has added value to the whole occasion. Our young girls have a tremendous interest and ability in rugby league – to a point where I think they can show the boys a few moves or two!
From an organising perspective I think it has been an advantage to be a woman – we can be very persuasive, of course! The Outback Challenge has gone from strength to strength and I am privileged to have the support of lots of mums and other interested women who always put in the big effort to help coordinate the day’s activities.
We have also fostered strong relationships with other women working in rugby league in the NRL. These girls have really got behind the event and in many ways are the secret ingredients to its success. Although based in the city, they really get the concept of how the sport is contributing to youth engagement and networking, social inclusion and better behaviours through the game of rugby league, and I frankly couldn’t do it without their help; it makes a world of difference.
At the end of the day the Outback Challenge is an event that celebrates the immense talent that resides in our contemporary country communities; a cross-cultural celebration of our Aboriginal children who play with such wonderful skill and desire; and it brings communities into contact with a variety of rugby league identities who are doing a great job promoting the sport in the bush.
It is a lot of hard work but it’s worth it when you see how much the kids take away from the event. And it’s true that behind every successful Outback Challenge there are some great women, often with that same prodigious passion that is exhibited by those who take the field.
Margret Gordan organises the Outback Challenge in Bourke.