Groote Eylandt Diary – Part 4

By Jeff Neumann

Life Changing Journey

AFL Queensland Development Coordinator Jeff Neumann is currently on secondment as the Regional Development Manager in the Northern Territory, on the remote island of Groote Eylandt.

Check out the previous two parts here;
Part 1 – Welcome to the Eylandt
Part 2 – Welcome is over, time to get down and work
Part 3 – The Power of Australian Rules

Well, what a journey it has been, though not overly a long trip but glad I was given the opportunity for the secondment here on Groote Eylandt.

My fourth and final week went as per routine with the different schools program, along with the numerous Auskick and breakfast programs. It has taken right up until my final week but a lot of the students have started to yell out “Jeff” or “Afro Jeffro” when they see me, something I take as a little accomplishment.

I’ve faced some challenges along the way from digging out a sand-bogged vehicle and walking for what felt like hours in temperature that I swear was well above 40degrees to find help, to taking programs where the participants didn’t understand a word I was saying.

At times it has been frustrating and moments that had me thinking, “Why am I here” but what I believe is it is those small challenges which have made this secondment worthwhile.

I mentioned in Part 1 of the Angurugu School which has the worse attendance in Australia with over 400 enrolled and a good day at the school is if 30-40 show up. It again continues to be an issue and will be for years to come, but a positive with the 30-40 is that a large majority of these students are aged 5 to 8years, the next generation. These students are now in a habit of coming to school, without been told, many of their parents sleeping in and not knowing where they are going. They get themselves up, dressed and head to school, many without breakfast but impressively they are turning up to school. That is where I come in and help promote the breakfast program which runs at the school, every student has to go through there at some stage, basically ‘check in’.

After they have breakfast, it is time to get active. Most of the girls play basketball and all the boys head to the playground area along with a few girls to kick the footy with me. If they got to choose, I would be there all day and night kicking. The students come along trying to take “speccies” and kick snap/dribble goals ( the goals are two old gum trees next to the slippery dip).

One contest got a little bit too contested and I had thought I caused a young student to be knocked out.

All the students were yelling “kick high, kick high as (the) trees”, I thought one won’t be so bad and so I did. Up above the height of the gum tree’s complete silence before they all let out a group “aawww” and then all of a sudden the rush was on to mark the footy. A big pack started to accumulate underneath the footy, as this was happening one of the youngest students, I still believe was no taller than 3ft was running back with the flight of the footy (similar to a Jonathan Brown). It all seemed to happen in slow motion, as this young boy jumped and leaped at the footy, fearlessly.

As he leaped, he was at full pace and as he did, his forehead collided on the elbow of one of the older boys in the pack and he fell straight to the ground not moving at all. My first thought was that he was knocked out, I rushed over to see how he was.

As I told the other boys to move back a little bit, the young boy jumped to his feet, laughing and yelling “gotyaa”, with the other boys falling over laughing as well. He definitely got me.

I made sure I followed up the incident with the teacher to make sure there were definitely no delayed injuries etc. He had let me know that the young student ‘Daniel’ is a regular prankster, at just 5, he is a practical joker and regularly ask teachers “why so serious?”

I had met Daniel during my first week and he was a regular at school but this was the first ‘prank’ he had pulled on me, something I asked Turtle about and was told he only does it around people when he is comfortable. A moment that, I won’t lie brought a smile to my face.

That was the last thing I was scheduled to do for my secondment, the Thursday Breakfast program and I can guarantee it will stay with me for a while.

The whole trip to Groote Eylandt will stay with me for life; it has been an opportunity that I will be forever thankful I said yes to. It has proven to be a life changing chapter, a chapter that isn’t overly long in time but one that I believe will make me a better person not only professionally but personally as well.

I can’t say enough the fantastic job that the AFL are doing here and in particular the Northern Territory staff, it is a challenging place to work and live but what I see is that they are making a positive difference, every day.

That is the end of my four-part diary series, with any luck it has been entertaining, insightful and hopefully it urges you at some point to experience the unknown. I just want to say that every opportunity you are offered or given, take it with both hands, you just never know how big of a chapter in your life it will be.

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