Bush bootcamps combatting sports club closures

Rural Minds presenter Andrew Dean
7 Sep 20
by Andy

Bush bootcamps combatting sports club closures

Some country sporting clubs, in temporary recess due to COVID-19, are weighing up whether to resurrect their teams for 2021 and beyond.

With its season postponed, the Campania football club in Tasmania is one organisation asking itself if the time might be right to exit permanently.

Club stalwart and former president Peter Parker said an over-reliance of ring-in players, coupled with rising council and upkeep costs, meant the COVID-19 pandemic might provide a convenient chance for the club to go quietly.

“It’s just so hard now to raise a few bucks and keep clubs together,” Mr Parker said.

“I just really can’t see where the silver lining is. It’s just so much hard work for anyone.

“Unless we have eight or 10 local kids pop up, and we wait until they’re old enough, then we’re fine. But for now, it’s hard work.”

Others believe the footy team is a crucial part of the town’s fabric.

Campania is located about 40 minutes north of Hobart, and is likely to be gobbled up in the coming years by Hobart’s expanding urban fringe.

Club president Steve Denny said keeping the football team alive was crucial not only for Campania’s identity, but for those locals who remain embedded in the town.

“We want to keep the club going because a lot of the locals, the older fellas, a lot of people in the community come to the club all the time,” he said.

“We need to try and keep it open so they have somewhere to come.

“You’d be surprised how many people come to home games, just to watch Campania play football.”

Ultimately, the club might not have a choice.

Campania plays in the Oatlands District Football Association, which earlier this year voted to go into a temporary recess due to COVID-19 uncertainty.

Its future is far from guaranteed with two teams — Oatlands and Swansea — already shutting their doors this year, leaving Campania as one of just five teams left.

It’s been on its knees before, but COVID-19 could be the final nail for the once-mighty bush league.

Deeper issues at play?

According to the Exercise and Sport Science Association of Australia, clubs are a crucial connector in rural communities, and their closure can lead to isolation, anxiety and depression amongst former patrons.

“What we see in rural and remote areas, is that social connectiveness is extra important,” says CEO Anita Hobson-Powell.

“Getting people off the farms, into town, sometimes for their only trip of the week — not doing that is going to lead to long term problems down the track.”

Statistics gathered by outreach service Rural Alive and Well reveal that in Tasmania’s midlands region, more people are being identified as at risk of suicide or self harm.

Long droughts and tough farming conditions are a large factor behind that data, but the number of people experiencing loneliness or isolation has also risen, and there are fears that could increase further due to COVID-19.

“There’s people I know that haven’t left their farms for six weeks, because that’s their work and that’s their environment,” said local mental health worker and farmer, Andrew Dean.

Deeper into rural Tasmania, Mr Dean witnessed first-hand what the loss of a footy club can do to a community when his beloved Woodsdale shut its doors in 2015.

For years, fewer employment opportunities in rural areas has led to player drain and the closure of clubs.

But for those left behind, the loss of a club hits hard.

“To have that close up was a tragic event. You lose engagement with people within the community, and sadly that’s what we’re seeing now. Country sports are closing down, and it’s keeping people isolated,” Mr Dean said.

“No doubt that can lead to anxiety and depression.

“Sometimes, the people they’d see at footy training might be the only people they see, potentially for a week.”

It’s hoped the recent appointment of a national rural health commissioner, and government consultation on rural health will lead to better outcomes for those in the bush.

Are bush bootcamps an answer?

The loss of sporting clubs in regional areas has begun to highlight the important role they play in isolated communities.

In the wake of the closure of the local netball, football and cricket teams in nearby Oatlands, Mr Dean combined his skills as a former PCYC leader, mental health worker and personal trainer to establish a weekly boot camp.

Farmers like Felicity McShane have relished the sessions in the absence of other organised sport in the community.

“We used to have a bit of yoga but that’s been taken from us. There’s no local football club anymore, there’s no netball club. There’s not a lot of opportunities,” she said.

Mr Dean believes the impact of the humble fitness sessions has been profound.

“I’ve seen the transformation on individuals. I’ve seen them grow and I’ve seen their confidence grow,” he said.

“They’ve gone on to do things they wouldn’t have been in a position to do.”

Further north, in the farming community of Cressy, the ‘Active Farmers’ fitness group has been established.

Trainer and physiotherapist Margie Heard says much like Oatlands and the Southern Midlands, the region was crying out for a winter outlet.

“It’s a way to bring the community together, to build some strength and resilience in the community, getting people off their farms and getting people out of the house,” she said.

For some, like farmer Tom Green, the post session beer at the Ringwood Hotel across the road has been just as important as the 45-minute sweat sessions.

“The exercise lets you forget what you’ve got on, so you can relax when you get over here (to the pub) and just talk about some different stuff for a change, rather than the farm or the shop,” he said.

“You can get locked into your own little world, especially being 25 minutes away from the nearest town.”

– Chris Rowbottom

 

Originally published by the ABC. Article and photo credit: Chris Rowbottom.

View the original article: As sporting clubs struggle, rural communities look for alternatives to keep body and mind healthy