IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN follows the fortunes of the first all-Aboriginal Australian Rules football team to enter a mainstream AFL-affiliated competition, through their first bone-jarring season. After 30 years of running their own competition on a remote island community north of Darwin, the Tiwi Bombers have finally been accepted into the AFLNT to compete in the Big League.
When they ran out onto the oval for the first time they were representing their fathers and grandfathers who had paved the way for Tiwi dominance in football in the Top End. Ever since David Kantilla took the field for South Adelaide in 1961 kicking 6 goals against Glenelg in his first game, the Tiwi Islands have been supplying uniquely skilled players to AFL clubs around the country. Maurice Rioli, Michael Long, Dean Rioli and now Cyril Rioli Jnr and Austin Wonaemirri have made it to the top from this tiny Northern Territory community.
Football is effectively a religion on the Tiwi Islands. Regardless of age or sex, almost every Tiwi Islander can kick with either foot before they can talk. Football is incorporated into traditional dance and song, and is ingrained in every aspect of the Tiwi way of life. In the course of the series, we learn much about the history of the islands including the role of the mission home for children taken from their Aboriginal families on the mainland and brought up as orphans by the Catholic Church. Many members of this "stolen generation" have gone on to become some of the greatest players that Australian football has ever seen.
This highly entertaining and dramatic series goes right to the heart of what makes Tiwi football great. The fast intuitive style of play gets the new team through the season on top of the ladder, but when it comes to the crunch, do the boys from the bush have the discipline and stamina to make it through their first finals campaign? Early in the series, we find out that drugs and alcohol are considered the major threat to the team. The pre-season pep talks include an all-day workshop on drug and alcohol management, and at the end of the day, the players pledge themselves to abstinence from drugs and strict limits on their drinking. The pledge is severely tested as the season develops and the pressure mounts.
The Tiwi Islands have previously had one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. One of the team's co-captains, Thomas Simon, gives a harrowing account of having to deal with three suicide deaths in a single night. As he and the team rake over the causes of depression and hopelessness among Tiwi youths, they also point to a way forward, through the sharing of emotions with families and friends, and the building of support groups. Thomas is also a musician who writes songs to inspire younger members of the community and encourages them to build on the heritage of their ancestors.
The tension at the end of the series is intense. The drama of the coach's box and the dressing rooms provide an emotional roller coaster ride for the audience. This series, directed by award winning Darwin filmmaker Steven McGregor, takes the art of making Indigenous documentaries to a new level. This is not all doom and gloom; this is really about action and adventure. "Bad things happen in Aboriginal communities, just like everywhere else," said McGregor. "Let's start talking about the great things that happen there as well. Kids need something to feel good about, something that inspires them," he said.
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