Boomerangs Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion

The Monthly (Australia) - - FRONT PAGE - by Paul Con­nolly

Dozens of cars are nosed around the perime­ter fence of the Burt Jo­vanovich Oval in Moree, north­ern New South Wales. On the field, the Moree Boomerangs re­serve grade men’s team has just scored a sec­ond try against the Nar­wan Eels in the Group 19 Coun­try Rugby League (CRL) com­pe­ti­tion. Car horns, honk­ing like ex­citable geese, greet the four-poin­ter. Many of the ve­hi­cles have their doors thrown open on this sunny Satur­day, and from within spill not only con­ver­sa­tion and laugh­ter but also the sound of a ra­dio in­ter­view between two chil­dren: “What’s your name?” “Emma.” “What do you like about school?”

“Play­ing in the play­ground.” “Do you go for Moree Boomerangs?” “Yeh.” “Who’s your favourite player?” “Um … my un­cle.” Soon af­ter, the in­ter­viewer winds things up with a sta­tion ID: “You’re lis’nin’ to the BBC!” Not the Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, to be sure. No plummy tones here – or in­deed any slick pro­fes­sion­al­ism. This BBC is the tongue-in-cheek acro­nym for the Boomerangs Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, a free­wheel­ing pop-up FM ra­dio sta­tion that the Boomerangs, a pre­dom­i­nantly In­dige­nous club, op­er­ate live-to-air at ev­ery home game. The in­ter­viewer for this seg­ment is Ciara, a sassy 12-year-old who is one of a group of kids gath­ered around a small mix­ing desk in front of the Boomerangs’ con­crete dress­ing shed. As the kids tee up a song – “Cloud 9” by In­dige­nous hip-hop artist Baker Boy – the rum­ble and growl of the men’s first grade side, pre­par­ing for their com­ing match, em­anates from the shed. Op­er­at­ing for the past 18 months, the BBC is part of the “First on the Lad­der” arts project, a three-year col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Moree Boomerangs, Mel­bourne’s Poly­glot Theatre, and re­gional NSW com­mu­nity arts or­gan­i­sa­tion Beyond Em­pa­thy. (The project is also run­ning at the Rum­balara Foot­ball Net­ball Club in Shep­par­ton, Vic­to­ria.) In­tended to cel­e­brate cul­tural pride and com­mu­nity con­nec­tions, First on the Lad­der seeks to en­gage chil­dren in the week lead­ing up to home games and on match days them­selves. Long-term goals are more am­bi­tious. Un­der the guid­ance of Poly­glot staff, lo­cal project of­fi­cers and var­i­ous artists flown to Moree for their ex­per­tise, the chil­dren have made hand-coloured life­size sten­cils of Boomerangs play­ers and pasted them up around town. (Moree has a pop­u­la­tion of 9300, 21.5 per cent of whom are Abo­rig­i­nal and/or Tor­res Strait Is­lander.) They have also cre­ated zines and an­i­ma­tions, and writ­ten, com­posed and recorded songs. Three of these make their de­but on BBC this match day, in­clud­ing an en­gag­ing rap called “Lit­tle Kids”: “This is for the lit­tle kids / They’re tryin’ to keep us off the grid / We’re stuck in the mid­dle kids / Shout out to the lit­tle kids.” To­day, on a patch of grass be­hind a small bleacher, half a dozen chil­dren sit cross-legged. They’re paint­ing pic­tures and mak­ing dolls out of news­pa­per un­der the guid­ance of two re­spected com­mu­nity elders and artists, Aunty Val­mai Pitt and Aunty Paula Dun­can. Look­ing on, First on the Lad­der’s Moree-based project of­fi­cer Jemma Craigie says game day ac­tiv­i­ties such as these are the envy of ri­val clubs. “They say, ‘We wish we had this for our kids.’” First on the Lad­der project man­ager Ian Pidd says that dur­ing the discussion phase of the pro­gram’s adop­tion the Moree Boomerangs asked Poly­glot to help es­tab­lish some­thing that would tell the story of the club to the com­mu­nity, and to give their kids some skills. “Some­thing to help them imag­ine a fu­ture that has broader pos­si­bil­i­ties,” he says. One of the kids who has thrived dur­ing the project is 15-year-old Dekquitah. She’s be­come a main­stay of the BBC and has been de­vel­op­ing her singing. With the help of vis­it­ing hip-hop artists Ja­cob “Jay­tee” Turier and Naomi Weni­tong, Dekquitah has recorded a song of her own called “Real Feels”. She has also pro­vided a melodic cho­rus to a Boomerangs an­them – “Quicker than light­ning / Come out fight­ing / You’re go­ing to get your­self a hid­ing” – that’s now pump­ing through the speak­ers as play­ers en­ter the field via a cor­ri­dor of kids wav­ing flags they’ve de­signed for the oc­ca­sion. Foot­ball song lyrics don’t al­ways re­flect cur­rent re­al­i­ties (as the Carl­ton Foot­ball Club’s “we’re the team that never lets you down” re­minds us). On this oc­ca­sion, how­ever, they are al­most un­der­stated: with an­ti­cli­mac­tic ease the ’Rangs give Nar­wan a 64–0 thrash­ing. It’s a re­sult that keeps the team on top of the lad­der with the fi­nals ap­proach­ing. Club pres­i­dent Mitchell John­son says that the Boomerangs are en­joy­ing one of the best pe­ri­ods in their 93 years – a che­quered his­tory noted for devil-may-care foot­ball, con­sid­er­able suc­cess and fa­mous alumni (such as for­mer Can­ter­bury Bull­dogs star Ewan McGrady), but also for on-field brawls and al­co­hol-fu­elled vi­o­lence on the side­lines. The club paid dearly for the lat­ter, more dearly than it felt was mer­ited: banned from the com­pe­ti­tion for 12 sea­sons between 1998 and 2009.

In the past seven years, he says, the Boomerangs have sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced player and spec­ta­tor mis­be­haviour, and have also par­tic­i­pated in dozens of well­be­ing pro­grams ad­dress­ing fam­ily vi­o­lence, sex­ual health, nu­tri­tion and par­ent­ing.

Since re­in­state­ment in 2010 the club has es­tab­lished a team for the CRL Women’s Nines “tag” com­pe­ti­tion while the men’s first grade team won back-to-back se­nior pre­mier­ships in 2013 and 2014. “We got T-shirts printed af­ter that,” says John­son, who is also Moree Plains Shire Coun­cil’s di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate ser­vices. “They read ‘Boomerangs don’t just come back, they go back to back.’” Adding to the good vibe is the prom­ise of com­ing in­fra­struc­ture. Ad­ja­cent to the paddock-like Burt Jo­vanovich Oval – lo­cated on the south­ern side of the Mehi River, which seems to sep­a­rate Moree’s white and black com­mu­ni­ties – is a smart new footy field equipped with flood­lights. As part of a $1.8 mil­lion gov­ern­ment grant it will be com­ple­mented with a new club­house and dress­ing sheds for the Boomerangs’ 100 or so reg­is­tered play­ers. It’s un­dreamed-of lux­ury for a bush club like the

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