Friday, September 28, 2012

AFL and loving country footy

In 2010 as we entered our second year in Barham, Sam announced he’d like to have a go at playing AFL for the Koondrook Barham River Raiders Under 11s. Apart from a few Friday night Auskick sessions in Hay when he was small, Sam hadn’t much experience with football.

Previously the only football I’d ever taken any interest in was rugby union… possibly a genetic thing as my mother is a New Zealander. Up at Hay we enjoyed the Saturday afternoon rugby union and followed local club, the Hay Cutters.

I encouraged Sam to attend the training on a Wednesday night in Barham but I am slightly embarrassed to say that I was not so secretly hoping he wouldn’t want to play on a Saturday… I didn’t think weekend sport commitments would be my “thing” so to speak. Nevertheless after a mere two training nights Sam had me handing over his registration money, friends had given him some hand-me-down boots and I was headed to C and Gs for the obligatory footy shorts and socks.

Not long after this was “Jumper Presentation Night” where the players were presented with their team jumpers. I heard, “Sam Barr, number twenty eight.”

“Twenty eight?!” I thought, “Poor kid, he must be on the bench.”

In rugby union the number on the back of the jumper corresponds with a position on the field, ie: number one is loosehead prop in the front row and number fifteen is fullback. I had wrongly assumed it would be the same in AFL so I was quite happy when a fellow parent later informed me that the numbers just identified the player and were irrelevant with regard to their position on the field.

Before long I was loving Saturday morning football as much as the boys, even though I had no idea of the rules and used to come home and “Google” every position Sam played, hoping to have a better idea by the following week. By the end of Sam’s first season with the Raiders Under 11s he’d won the Most Improved trophy and I was missing our Saturday morning outings and wished there’d been another month of games to watch.

These days I have both Sam and Henry strapping on their boots for the Raiders and Max is easing into the idea by training with the Under 15s on a Wednesday night.

Last Saturday was the first day of the September school holidays. With Max and his fellow cattle enthusiasts from Barham High down at the Melbourne Show; Sam, Henry and I decided to head over to Swan Hill and watch both the Raiders Under 17s and Under 15s in their respective grand finals.

Driving over on our own, I hoped we wouldn’t have any trouble locating where to go once we got to the oval… I needn’t have worried. All we could see upon arrival was a massive crowd in front of the grandstand in the Raiders colours of blue, red and gold, waving huge Raiders flags. It seemed to me that over half the population of our little towns of Barham and Koondrook had made the eighty odd kilometre trip to support the boys. The atmosphere was incredible and it was a very impressive example of the Barham Koondrook community spirit at work.

For two hours we yelled “GO RAIDERS!” and watched the likes of Wazza Lolicato (the human equivalent of an M4 Sherman Tank) demolish the Kerang opposition in the Under 17s grand final. The hard fought and exciting game ended with the Raiders victorious taking home the flag and back to back wins, having won the grand final against Lake Boga in 2011.

We then shifted to the next oval to cheer on the Under 15s. Despite having a minimum sized team all year and only one extra player for the bench, they still made it to the grand final. The younger Raiders put in a mighty effort but went down to a much larger Cohuna team who enjoyed the luxury of an additional seven players on their bench. Regardless of the end result, it was still a great experience for the boys to play in a grand final.

Country footy, you’ve got to love it – GO RAIDERS!

Friday, September 21, 2012

R U OK Day and suicide

“A conversation could change a life.” – R U OK? Day

Last Thursday (13th September) was the fourth annual R U OK? Day. Launched in 2009, the day aims to reduce social isolation and the incidence of suicide in our society. Held nationally on the second Thursday in September, R U OK? Day was the brainchild of the late marketing executive Gavin Larkin (1968-2011) who sadly died of cancer only two short years after launching R U OK? Day and television producer Janina Nearn.

In 1995 Gavin’s father committed suicide; it had a devastating effect on his family and everyone who knew him. A highly intelligent, successful businessman, Barry had a wife and three sons and everything to live for.

Years later, Gavin found himself heading into the darkness that is depression. Outwardly successful with family, friends and a thriving career, he was confused as to why he felt so empty inside. At a friend’s suggestion he attended a self-improvement communications course and found it very beneficial. Part of the course was to develop a project that inspired him and also benefited his community. Gavin chose suicide prevention.

A great many people are directly affected by suicide through the death of a family member, friend or acquaintance. They are left shattered, bewildered and wondering what went wrong and what they could have done to help that person. You cannot step into someone else’s mind and see what is going on but you can reach out and ask them how they are going? Are they okay?

Most people don’t openly share their feelings, particularly if they’re struggling. A friend or acquaintance asking a well-timed question such as “Are you okay?” can make all the difference.
Life is constantly changing; it is filled with emotional ups and downs. These ups and downs are a normal part of everyone’s life no matter what age we are or who we are. We rile against the down times and can sometimes feel as though we are not normal, that we are the only person who isn’t coping and that these dark feelings and thoughts will go on forever. They don’t.

When life or circumstances seem overwhelming it can be helpful to remind yourself that any challenge no matter how big or difficult it may seem, can be broken into tiny manageable sections and tackled one step at a time or even one hour at a time.

R U OK? Day is a brilliant marketing campaign and an excellent way to raise the public’s awareness for suicide prevention and reducing social isolation but don’t just wait for that 2nd Thursday in September. By regularly reaching out to one another and having open and honest conversations, we can all help build a more connected community and reduce our country’s suicide rate.

Suicide is an uncomfortable and difficult topic and one that I feel strongly about. I really struggled to write about it and somewhat ironically I found myself in a ball of anxiety, wondering if my “R U OK? Day” column was in fact, okay?

The best thing we can all do, is regularly talk to the people we care about - regardless of whether they are at risk - because connection is good for us all. For people who are struggling with their emotions and feel unable or unwilling to talk with their family or friends, sometimes talking with a stranger such as a trained counselor can be very beneficial.

For help or information for young people aged between 5 and 25 visit or call Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800. For adults check out or call Lifeline on 131 114.

Friday, September 14, 2012

140th Annual Hay Show

Last weekend with our junior football commitments over (sadly) for another year, the boys and I travelled the two short hours north to my hometown of Hay for the 140th Annual Hay Show. A few months had past since my last trip and it was great to be back in the town where I was born and the district I grew up in.

Having missed last year’s Hay Show as well as the Hay Races in November, it had been quite some time since I had enjoyed a good catch up with my Hay friends. Like many rural areas in Australia, there are often only a handful of events throughout a year where the majority of people all come together for a catch up and there is nothing quite like a district’s annual agricultural show to draw an entire local community together.

As a child growing up on my parent’s sheep station 55km out of town during the 1970s and ‘80s, social outings were few and far between with the annual agricultural show at Hay being the highlight of our social calendar. Like all good parents, Father Bill and Mother made good use of emotional blackmail in the days and weeks leading up to the show each year. Our bedrooms were cleaned, chores were completed, all vegetables were eaten and good manners were in abundance lest the highly anticipated outing be cancelled.

There were several occasions over the years when excited anticipation turned to despair as rain began either the day before or in the early hours of show day morning. The Red Hill Station homestead is thirteen kilometres off the Sturt Highway and our family chariot back then was a 1972 Datsun 240c, which unfortunately was no match against the heavy black clay driveway once the rain came down.

This year we arrived at the show just before lunchtime on Saturday. The boys quickly vanishing down Sideshow Alley in search of “Dagwood Dogs”, fairy floss and dodgem cars with their cousins Kate and Will. Henry used a good portion of his “show money” on a plastic sub-machine gun that was almost bigger than he was and looked as though it would need a car battery to power it.

I paired up with Sam for a ride in a dodgem car; we pitted ourselves against Henry and Cousin Kate and their questionable driving skills… by the time the music had stopped I almost felt as though I needed chiropractic adjustment.

The main pavilion held a visual feast of cookery, garden produce, Merino fleeces, artwork, needlework, the primary school’s handwriting competition and an impressive photographic display by the “Hay Shutterbugs” local photography club. The CWA ladies did a roaring trade with their freshly baked scones with jam and cream and the Hay War Memorial High School’s Cook-Off drew a crowd of people to watch the finalists battle it out for gastronomic supremacy.

The rest of our day was filled in with catching up with friends while watching the equestrian events, working dog display and Sheepdog High Jump. That evening Hay’s own pyrotechnics guru “Slats” put on a spectacular and lengthy fireworks display that we all felt rivalled Sydney’s New Year’s Eve efforts.

The whole weekend reminded me once again of the importance of rural communities and that sense of belonging that we all crave. It also reminded me that there is now only five weeks to go until our own Barham Show – starting Friday night 19th and all day Saturday 20th October.

It’s time for all of us in the Barham – Koondrook district to study the Show Schedule, dust off cookery books, hunt for garden produce and long gum leaves, print photographs and tap into our own community spirit.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Koondrook Barham Farmers Market one year on

Next weekend (September 15th – 16th) our enthusiastic and progressive foodies of the Red Gum Food Group will be celebrating the first anniversary of the increasingly popular Koondrook Barham Farmers Market (KBFM). Just over our historic 1904 lift span bridge on the Victorian side of the Murray River, sits the picturesque James Park in Koondrook; home to the local farmers market on the third Sunday of every month.

What began as an idea a little over a year ago between Katrina Myers (Barham Avocados) and Lauren Mathers (Bundarra Berkshires), has grown into a thriving market that enables local producers to promote and sell their products directly to the public.

Importantly for our future, these farmers and stallholders are raising the profile of the Barham/Koondrook district as an area that produces high quality food products and puts our region squarely on the food map as a destination. This in turn, boosts our local economy through ever-increasing visitor numbers as well as promoting local industries such as rice and citrus, to the wider world.

In the past twelve months the KBFM has grown from an initial group of less than ten local producers and interested locals to a stallholder base of thirty-three and growing. It’s great to see our local schools involved with both Koondrook and Barham Primary Schools manning their school garden produce stalls every month and Barham High School students setting up an impressive (and hard to resist) cupcake stall at regular intervals throughout the year.

A number of individual producers have won awards in the past twelve months for their products. Ones that I am aware of include:

Pacdon Park – Gold Medal for their Haggis at the 2011 ABC Delicious Awards.

Restdown Wines – Bronze Medal for their 2011 Semillon at the NSW Small Winemakers Wine Show.

Barham Avocados – Medallist at the 2012 ABC Delicious Produce Awards “From the Earth” section.

Bundarra Berkshires – Gold Medal for their pork schnitzel in the “Quick and Easy” pork section at the 2012 Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards and a finalist at the 2012 ABC Delicious Produce Awards.

Star attraction at next weekend’s KBFM anniversary celebrations is Yorkshire born, now Melbourne based celebrity chef and patron of Victorian Farmers Market Association (VFMA), Matt Wilkinson. Matt has worked in a number of award-winning restaurants in Australia, made guest appearances on TV’s MasterChef, written a fabulous cookbook titled “Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables” and is the co-owner/chef at the Pope Joan cafĂ© in Melbourne’s East Brunswick.

An extremely strong advocate of farmers markets, local and seasonal produce and dealing directly with farmers, Matt will be conducting an adult’s seasonal food shopping class in addition to hosting this month’s children’s cooking class at the market. Aiming to highlight how we can shop more efficiently with seasonal produce and at the same time minimise the amount of food we waste on a weekly basis… (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has discovered new and interesting life forms in the refrigerator and then lamented the waste of good food gone bad?)

Establishing and growing an event like our local farmers market is similar to getting a profitable business up and running. Keeping passionate and staying committed during the early formative years can be a hard road to travel but those people and communities who stay the course will reap the rewards in the long term.