Cricket enriches community

April 16, 2018

Shepparton's Marcus Maher has recently returned from Tennant Creek where he helped to establish a cricket association.

The Imparja Cup winning team from Tennant Creek: Back: Tim Hardingham, Marcus Maher, Joshua Southwell, Andy Burton, Troy Gillett, Travis Bahr-Kelly, Justin Hooker, Antonio Riley, Rossy Williams (custodian of the Imparja Cup). Front: Lucas Fry (front left), Andrew Baker, Kris Redman, Dylan Kerrin, Taki Shioji and Tommy Gillett.

For 20 years, the largely indigenous community in Tennant Creek had no regular seasoned cricket competition.

But when Shepparton’s Marcus Maher moved to the Northern Territory township in early 2014 with his young family, that was about to change.

The former Euroa man said he had lived in remote communities beforehand, spending time in the Kimberley’s working as a recreation manager in Derby.

‘‘I enjoyed the remoteness but it’s not like being here where everything is already up and running,’’ he said.

Mr Maher had been employed by the local indigenous health co-operative Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation and on arrival he discovered AFL was the only structured sport in the town.

He worked hard establishing interest in sports like touch rugby, basketball and volleyball.

‘‘We focused a lot on womens sports as well to get them active and engaged,’’ he said.

‘‘And on the side we got cricket up and going.’’

With an AFL oval in town fitted with lights, Mr Maher knew there was the perfect venue available, but he needed a cricket pitch.

‘‘We got a flexi-wicket mounted and started playing 7-a-side, 7-over cricket which is much shorter than T20,’’ he said.

And behind the scenes, Mr Maher was filling in paperwork, trying to secure funding for a permanent cricket pitch.

‘‘We had to get the football club on board,’’ he said.

With between 80-100 people attending their mini-sessions, Mr Maher knew there was enough interest in Tennant Creek to establish a permanent association and seasoned competition.

He soon became connected with Rossy Williams, the chairperson and founder of the Imparja Cup in Alice Springs an annual weekend-long cricket competition for indigenous people.

‘‘There was a team of us working on it; it wasn’t just me,’’ he said.

‘‘The Northern Territory Cricket Association was awesome, too.’’

Whilst still waiting to receive funding for a pitch, they ran a competition on the local tennis courts where six teams competed.

When the money came through, the pieces had almost fallen into place.

‘‘We set up the roll-out pitch and played a T20 comp of five teams with 11 on each side,’’ Mr Maher said.

‘‘That went really well and we knew the five teams would be consistent so we set up our own cricket association.’’

The revival of the sport in the town began as pastime for summer, just as football is in winter, but became much more than that, acting as a way to promote a positive social atmosphere for the community.

‘‘People were calling out for it,’’ Mr Maher said.

With over 50 per cent of Tennant Creek’s population identifying as indigenous, Mr Maher said the new association and competition also assisted with social cohesion and connections.

The first season was held during the summer of 2016/17 and the players renewed skills saw them more ready than ever to tackle the Imparja Cup in Alice Springs, 500km from Tennant Creek.

‘‘I always say you’ve got to look in the rear vision mirror to look forward,’’ Mr Maher said.

What had previously been a weekend for the Tennant Creek men to party in Alice Springs had become a serious cricket competition.

Tennant Creek took out the Imparja Cup that year which was an indication the new cricket association had far wider reaching benefit than first anticipated.

Since leaving the Northern Territory, Mr Maher has returned to Shepparton, playing cricket for St Brendan’s Central Park in the most recently held season.

‘‘I was amazed at the level of volunteers and support here…it was a great year and that’s a credit to the volunteers,’’ he said.

Although he will soon settle into a property at Echuca, bunkering down in the Goulburn Valley for some time, Mr Maher said he knew the Tennant Creek Cricket Assocation would continue to flourish under the guidance or Rossy Williams and committee member Wayne Green.

‘‘I would recommend for anyone to go to a remote area and help out in any way they can,’’ he said.

‘‘It was a great experience.’’

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