RAY COLLINS: A Trip of a Lifetime

A couple of months ago I read an article in The Sunday Telegraph’s sports pages about a NSW Rugby League initiative to take an Indigenous under-16's team to England, France and Italy at the end of the season.

The story focused on four boys from Bourke, and included an appeal to help all players raise the funds required to make the trip. There were certain criteria the players had to meet to be selected for the tour, including proof that their attendance at school was at the level expected of all students.

Two well-known former players from Western Division were featured in the story, namely Ron Gibbs and Steve Hall. Ron grew up in Bourke and went on to play First Grade with Manly as part of their premiership winning team of 1987, and later with Eastern Suburbs and Gold Coast. Steve played for the Dubbo Macquarie club and represented Western Division and NSW Country. I taught Ron at Bourke Public School and refereed Steve in many Rugby League games in the Western Division.

Both Ron and Steve are proud of their Aboriginal heritage, and they do great work in promoting the values of sport with students of all backgrounds across NSW through their employment in Rugby League.

Being a former Bourke Rugby League player myself, I was keen to support this tour and after making contact with Steve I received an outline of the nature of this tour, a tour which I believe to be something very special.

The French part of the tour will have a big emphasis on the Somme Battlefields of the Western Front. As Rugby League is not played in the north of France, the boys will play the first game of Rugby League in the Somme (with the possible exception of games played by the soldiers of WW1) and the French Rugby League is sending a team from the south of France to play against them.

Throughout the tour the team will wear Rugby League jerseys specially designed by Steve’s son (also named Steven) to depict the souls of the dead soldiers rising and being reconnected with the land.  They will also take with them soil collected from several communities across NSW to place on the graves of Indigenous soldiers who are buried there. The history of Indigenous soldiers serving Australia in World War I and later wars has been poorly told over the years.

On Remembrance Day, 11 November, they will be involved in the wreath laying ceremony at the Australian War Memorial at Villers Bretonneux.

Another team will travel to France in 2018 as the guests of the Mayor of Villers Bretonneux for the 100th anniversary of the victory at Villers Betonneux.

As you can imagine this will be the trip of a lifetime for these young men, given that many of the dead lying in the cemeteries that dot the landscape of the Somme were only a few years older than them when they made the ultimate sacrifice for their respective countries after enduring extraordinary hardship

Given that the trip has been formulated in an attempt to encourage young indigenous males to commit to regular and serious participation in their school education, to provide an opportunity to instil in these boys the values that team sport can teach, and to foster cultural pride that will be aroused by the knowledge of the sacrifices made by their Indigenous ancestors, it will be a very special tour.

I wish them well and I particularly thank Steve and Ron and all who encourage our young Indigenous students to achieve high levels of excellence in their education and sport.

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Ray Collins Image
Ray Collins

Ray Collins is the Director of Schools within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He is an authority on education issues.

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