New multi-purpose sports court at Punmu

Court support drawn from afar

The kids and young adults living in the remote Aboriginal community of Punmu now play on the newest and funkiest multi-purpose sports court in Australia, thanks in large measure to the efforts of a small group of older, mainly retired gents who seemingly live in another world, thousands of kilometres south in a region best known for its production of quality wines.
The Margaret River Rotary Club was a driving force behind the project, taking on the project management role.

The project won support from many sources, including a Punmu community cash contribution of $170,000 and supply of volunteer labour; the local RAWA Community School; funding from the Department of Sport and Recreation; the East Pilbara Shire; and donated resources and support from Newcrest Mining. It was heartening that these organisations and individuals were able to pool their resources and energy to bring the project to fruition, said Sport and Recreation Minister Terry Waldron at the official opening of the courts on December 7.

“I hope the community gets a lot of enjoyment and healthy physical activity playing on this court,” he said. The Punmu Aboriginal community has about 250 residents and is located some 640km east of Port Hedland in the Western Desert. Telfer is about 130km by road to the west of Punmu. The new court built alongside Punmu’s RAWA school caters for tennis, volleyball, netball, badminton and basketball. It is covered – giving vital shade during Punmu’s high summer temperatures – and has permanent seating and a stage area.

Rotarians take on the project

The Margaret River Rotary Club became involved in the project in June 2006 when member Rod Pether queried the Club’s on-going assistance to overseas projects, when there were communities within Australia that were crying out for help. Rod was referring specifically to Aboriginal communities. The question was asked: how could they deliver assistance, in what form, and to whom?  Rod undertook to find a community that the Club could assist in a practical way. Through a friend, a professor of anthropology at UWA, Rod identified a health research project being conducted at Punmu. The researcher, James Back, had become Principal of the Punmu RAWA Community school.
In discussions, James indicated to Rod that it would be helpful if the Margaret River Rotary Club could act as a mentor to the school. The Club agreed to accept the role, recognising a long-term effort would be required. Part of James’s research activity utilised an open-air basketball court adjacent to the school to encourage the local children to play basketball early in the mornings.
If they played basketball, they were provided with breakfast at the school canteen. The result was an increase in the number of children attending school, and better educational outcomes as the pupils had sufficient energy to last till lunchtime.

50C in the shade

In summer, the temperature at Punmu can reach 500C in the shade and reach that temperature quite early in the morning. There was no cover over the court. Nor was there any lighting. The court cement itself had been poorly laid – it was uneven, and had some of the iron rebars showing through. The kids generally play in bare feet, so you can imagine some of the injuries…..

The Margaret River Rotary Club formally applied for a Department of Sport and Recreation grant on behalf of the school. The application was successful, securing $340,000 in September 2009.
Foundation work commenced in June 2010, with Rotarians being on-site throughout the construction phases to completion in mid-September.
Members of the Punmu community assisted in many ways, with labour, and operating plant and machinery.
The project received considerable support from Telfer’s Community Relations team and other departments at the mine site.
Telfer was the “clearing depot” for materials being brought in, and for support with transportation, and flying the Rotarians into and out of Telfer and Perth.
The end result is a covered multi-purpose sports court with a stage and some simple seating, and is fitted with lights.
The RAWA school children now use the new facility for early morning basketball, and during the day in their play breaks. Members of the local community can now play in the cool of the evening under lights, and they have also held community meetings on it. Stage shows are planned.  And, there’s shelter from the rain, too – if it comes.

hoop shot
WA Minister for Sport and Recreation Terry Waldron and President of the Margaret River Rotary Club Julien Sanderson, test their basketball skills as they join the celebrations at the official opening of the multi-purpose sports court at Punmu on December 7 2010.
opening the new sports facility
Punmu residents, Rotarians, Newcrest Community Relations team members, and several people associated with the project celebrate the official opening of the facility with the Minister for Sport and Recreation, Terry Waldron.
The new courts at Punmu.
The new courts at Punmu.