Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Launch of the documentary – In a League of Their Own

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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First I want to acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri people on whose land we are gathered. As the footy season gets underway, the roller-coaster ride begins for fans everywhere. I should know; I’m a dyed in the wool Cats supporter.

But whatever your allegiances, it’s the highs and lows – the great ups and the terrible downs that make every season an epic journey.

Tonight we are about to see the epic journey made by the Tiwi Bombers last year as they became the first all Aboriginal Australian Rules football team to enter a mainstream AFL-affiliated competition. This ABC television series follows the Tiwi Bombers through 2007 and 2008 – their first season in the Northern Territory Football League. It’s also being used as the foundation for a wider health and nutrition campaign using Aboriginal voices, including the Bombers, to promote healthy living. Along with the documentary, schools and health clinics will receive another DVD aimed at sending a healthy message to young Aboriginal fans.

In a League of Their Own is an inspiring story told through the eyes of the Tiwi Bombers themselves. After the 30 year struggle to be in the Darwin competition, the Bombers are riding high as they win game after game. Can they pull off the dream of making it to the Grand Final in their first year of competition? I’m not going to give that away. You’ll have to watch the series to find out.

Being a Tiwi Bomber has some quite unusual challenges not faced by metropolitan teams. When your team lives in three communities on two islands just getting to training can be a feat in itself – with roads turned to mud after rain; sometimes needing to catch a plane or go by boat. It means training is limited to once a week. And, integral to the team’s journey, confronting the problems of alcohol and drugs. But all the way, drawing strength from their culture, their heritage and the loyal support of their people. Because footy is as much a part of Indigenous Australia as it is in Geelong.

In fact, Indigenous players now account for more than 11 per cent of all listed Australian Rules players.

A pretty amazing number when you think that Indigenous Australians account for about two and a half per cent of the national population.

Tiwi Islanders are passionate about the game and their team. No wonder the Tiwis have produced players of the calibre of Maurice Rioli [Tiwi assistant coach], Dean Rioli and Michael Long – to name a few.

And more potential football heroes coming through the ranks. A new generation of Tiwi greats who can now aspire to play before a sell-out crowd on the re-developed oval at Nguiu on Bathurst Island. With funding from the Commonwealth Government, new lighting, special purpose grass, an automatic irrigations system and new equipment has been installed. All in time for the Tiwi Island AFL grand final this Sunday.

The first match played on the re-vamped oval was against the Darwin Buffalos.

It was a very satisfactory result for the home side. The Bombers rising to the occasion to win 24.21.165 to 10.14.74.

Five goals in the first, six in the second, six in the third and seven last quarter goals had the 1000 plus crowd cheering. I’m told “The Mullet” Samson Mungatopi was brilliant in the midfield winning Best on the Ground Medal while Gerard Cunningham (five goals) and Roy “Killer” Kantilla were on fire up forward and Michaelis “Chisholm” Tipungwuti , Edward Darcy and Angelo Orsto controlled the backline.

A great result for the Bombers. Just the first of many, I’m sure.

I’d now like you all to share the story of the Bombers. An honest, inspiring story which proves beyond any doubt that the Tiwi Bombers are indeed in a ‘league of their own.”