In this time of terrible strife for many members of the Indigenous community at Fitzroy Crossing, it was clear the Garnduwa Festival was a shining light amidst a pall of widespread social despair.
A recently-imposed ban on the sale of take-away full-strength beer, and a pending visit by the State Coroner to investigate 22 suicides in the community in the recent past were clear testament to the fact that much was not right in the Fitzroy Valley.
But, there were signs too, that some things were near-perfect, and they were clearly symbolised by he magnificent glow of the bright spotlights shining on the sports oval.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff going on, but there’s also a lot of good stuff happening,” said Geoff Davis, a highly-respected member of the community, who has been a leading light associated with the Garnduwa Festival since its inception in 1992.
“This community is trying to stand up for itself, and heal itself,” Geoff said. “A group of older members of our community, the ‘red-shirts’, are having an impact and starting to be effective in restoring authority and respect for the Elders.”
The Garnduwa Festival, which Newcrest co-sponsors, is indeed another shining light. It draws about 14 football teams, and almost as many girls’ basketball teams. They play a series of round-robin games, through the day (when ambient temperatures typically approach the mid-40C mark), and into the night.
And, they play determinedly, and fairly, in front of hundreds of family, friends, and sports-lovers.
But, there was more: A formal “smoking ceremony” to welcome participants and visitors; a festival of bands played a range of music, all of which would appeal to some; Andy the Clown, who enthralled the kids until he could stand on his stilts no longer, and who even managed to visit the hospital.
All this fun, with not a single can of grog in sight. Sport brings hope…