Long shot pays off
TAKE four young indigenous men from remote communities. Get them to speak on camera for the first time. Ask them to reveal their most private moments, their family secrets, their emotions.
Introduce them to one of Australia’s sporting heroes. Put them on a plane for the first time. Push them through extraordinary physical and mental pain for a year. Then fly them to New York and ask them to run a marathon.
When New- Zealand- born documentary maker Matt Long came up with the idea to film the journey of four young Aboriginal runners from the Outback to the New York Marathon, he knew it would be a difficult task.
He didn’t have any athletes, any money or a coach. But Long had one very important name: Robert de Castella. Out of the blue, he approached the marathon champion and former director of the Australian Institute of Sport to ask if he would be interested in being part of the project.
‘‘ Once we had the idea, all arrows pointed to Rob de Castella,’’ Long says on the eve of the television debut of his documentary, Running To America.
‘‘ If Deeks hadn’t come on board, the whole thing would have died. But I drove down to Canberra and met him, and he immediately said: ‘ Yep, I’m in’.’’
The documentary follows de Castella’s quest: first, finding the runners from farflung communities, and then the slow realisation of the task’s magnitude.
For Long and de Castella, it was a journey into the heat of indigenous culture. The runners, Charlie Maher, Juan Darwin, Caleb Hart and Joseph Davies, kept using the phrase ‘‘ shame job’’ to describe something particularly Aboriginal – the cultural and social difficulty of setting oneself apart from family and community.
‘‘ All the boys referred to it as a shame job, which just means doing anything different to anyone else.
‘‘ If you’re a guy in jogging shoes running around the community in the boiling heat . . . you really stand out,’’ Long says.
‘‘ These guys did overcome that, they overcame that shame- job factor and they realised that actually, if they wanted to achieve, they were going to have to suffer a bit of shame job, standing out from everyone. ‘‘ It was a real eye- opener into the psyche of these young guys.’’
The boys all completed the marathon, with times ranging from 3: 32 to 5: 01, and all are still running today.
The Marathon Project has also become de Castella’s passion. Earlier this month, he took a further 20 indigenous runners to New York and again, they all completed the race.
De Castella now has a bigger goal: to find an indigenous runner talented enough to compete in the Olympic marathon in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Running To America, ABC1, Thursday, 8.30pm