FFN Opinion: Emus, Yabbies and COVID

Future Farmers Network directors regularly give their opinion on the latest news, events and issues in agriculture for an article for Australian Community Media. Here’s the most recent yarn from FFN Director Tom Rookyard.

Last Sunday saw me, as many others did, catching up with friends to watch Wallabies try to win the Bledisloe back from the All Blacks. Throughout the afternoon the conversation turned to how great and lucky we were able to complete our rugby season, running out for the mighty Orange Emu’s competing in the Central West rugby competition. This conversation led me to start thinking about the importance of community sport in 2020 and silver linings from COVID.

Obviously 2020 is a year like no other due to COVID, but after all the craziness and the country settled down, we begun to understand what the new ‘norm’ would be. Wearing face masks at Woolies, no Bunnings snags, signing in to go to a restaurant or pub and hand sanitizer everywhere!; And then we saw Peter V’landys put his bold plan in place for a National ‘Rugby League’ season, and then slowly the rest of the country followed suit and so did community sport. The Central West Rugby Union followed suit and formed a makeshift competition albeit a few changes, but community sport were able to go ahead, after a grueling seven-month pre-season.

Throughout the season, the importance of playing local sport and its effect on the community became obviously apparent. Playing with the Orange Emu’s meant that we would travel to towns Forbes, Bathurst, and Dubbo. This gave us the opportunity to catch up with friends, family and co-workers in social sense after months of restrictions. Speaking with many, most people were less concerned about the result but more eager just get out kick a footy and see people they normally would be able to, but currently couldn’t, see. In a work sense I was able to catch up with wool brokers, commission buyers, livestock agents all in a social setting. At a junior level I saw friends and family were just keen to get on a sideline and cheer on their son or daughter. Even the golden oldies who don’t play anymore, it was an opportunity to catch up with old friends and watch their old club. Being in bush setting conversations were undoubtedly going to turn to the price of wool, lamb, beef or the how the canola is looking. The more I saw this I realized the importance of social interaction. The connection between mental health and physical activity is inherently linked, couple this with social (distancing) gathering and you have a recipe for positive impact on a community.

The other aspect from the 2020 season I noticed was silver linings of COVID. You don’t have to look far to find examples of this, as many people have been forced to work from home. Only look a short way down the road from Orange to the Cherry capital of Australia, Young, NSW, home of the mighty Young Yabbies (nip nip). Young saw an influx of many people due to COVID, home from university, now working from home or just getting out of Sydney. For a community of around 7,000 people this was a huge boost to the local economy, with young men and women back home spending their money in the town they grew up in. On a rugby front it meant an injection of youth for the team and saw the first-grade side in the grand final for the first time in over 40 years. Driving down the main street on grand final week the town was painted in green. As if written for a Hollywood script, the Yabbies were set to play rivals and local powerhouse the Harden Red Devils, just 30 minutes down the road. In the end the Yabbies went down to Harden but the impact that this year has had on to the Young community cannot be understated.

Closer to home the Central West first grade grand final was between Orange Emus and cross-town rivals Orange City. City who hadn’t won a game for two years came into this season with a boost of new and old faces to the club. Ultimately the fairy tale didn’t come off as the Orange Emus were triumphant but again the impact that this year had on the Orange City club and community was enormous.

There have been 100 different articles about 2020 and COVID, I thought I would share my experience and learnings about the importance of community sport and positives I took away from this year.