Ngurra Kujungka Western Desert League Round 2, 2014 – Nullagine Festival
– Report by Callan Hatchman
The 2014 Western Desert League season continued in July with participants, friends and families descending on Nullagine to continue their football and softball rivalries. The Ngurra Kujungka sports team of Dan Barnes, Callan Hatchman and Ebony Humble headed to Nullagine on Friday 4 July to begin the Festival set-up and finalise preparations for a Monday kick-off.
In the football, Warralong were out to defend their Round One crown while, in the softball, the question was whether Kiwirrkurra could secure back-to-back Festival winning titles. With support from major sponsor Newcrest Mining Limited, the Department of Sport and Recreation, Healthway, Andy Tulloch and Murray Hornby (bus drivers/medical), teams from Punmu, Kiwirrkurra, Warralong, Parnngurr, Parnpajinya and Jigalong all made the journey to Nullagine and the competition was set to be hotly contested.
The Nullagine team and community had done a fantastic job in preparing the community for the Festival, and special thanks are due to Ngurra Kujungka Recreation Officers Annabelle Landy and Shaun Patterson, who put in a mountain of work before the Festival.
Thanks are also due to the Shire of East Pilbara, Millennium Minerals and Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation, who assisted in grading and preparing the fields. Sunday afternoon saw a gathering of all communities to discuss Festival rules, fixtures and the plan for the coming days and, with all communities keen to warm up for the Festival, a football scratch match was played.
In addition to the sport played throughout the Festival, Nullagine grooved away to the always-very-impressive Smarter Than Smoking Desert Feet Concert. With Damien Thornber and his well-travelled band leading the way for the Community Bands to take over later in the evening, the gathered crowds danced away to some impressive beats.
With 25 games to be played over four days of football, the Nullagine Festival kicked off with a Round One Grand Final replay between Nullagine and Warralong. With the home team trailing Warralong throughout the game, the final quarter saw both teams kick several goals, with the epic battle finishing all square.
This first fixture of the Nullagine Festival set the tone for what would be an exciting and competitive round.
The first day of competition saw Punmu and Kiwirrkurra secure two wins each while Warralong and Nullagine also recorded victories after their epic first game encounter. Parnngurr competed at their first festival for the year and, with a small squad, played valiantly in their two games. Both the Jigalong Eagles and Jigalong Suns pushed their rivals but just couldn’t get over the line.
Day two saw the Nullagine Dockers kick the day off with a big win over the ever-determined Jigalong Eagles, reflecting the current predicament of their AFL namesakes. In an exciting clash, Warralong scraped past Punmu by just four points to continue their winning streak.
This exciting tussle led nicely into the second day’s highlight – the Jigalong Derby, between the Suns and Eagles. With both teams yet to record a victory, the winner would still be in contention for the finals and, perhaps more importantly, bragging rights were up for grabs.
With the Eagles in control of the game at three quarter time, the young Suns side dug deep in the final term to fight back. Unfortunately their push was too late, and the Jigalong Eagles ran out 15-point victors.
Nullagine and Kiwirrkurra played a high-scoring game, with Nullagine keeping pace with Warralong on the ladder and scraping home with a four-point win against a strong Kiwirrkurra side. The final two matches saw Warralong and Kiwirrkurra record strong wins against Parnngurr and Punmu respectively.
The final league fixtures where played on day three and, while all teams were showing signs of wear and tear, the finals spots were up for grabs and all teams dug deep to put on a great show.
The Jigalong Suns got on the board with a win over Parnngurr to begin proceedings on the day. Punmu pulled off an upset with a hard fought four-point victory (a popular score this festival) against the host team Nullagine.
Kiwirrkurra and Warralong continued on their winnings ways with the final four beginning to take shape. Punmu, who were finding form when it counted ran away with a 23-point win over Parnngurr.
The last two round qualifying games for the Festival saw Warralong play Kiwirrkurra and Nullagine take on the suns. Both matches would determine who gained the valuable double-chance by finishing in the top two, and both games where highly competitive. Ultimately, Warralong remained undefeated through the round games with a 9-point win over Kiwirrkurra, while Nullagine secured a 6-point win over a determined Jigalong Suns team.
The finals on day four of the Festival saw Warralong challenge Nullagine for direct passage through to the Grand Final, and Punmu play Kiwirrkurra in elimination final.
With a home crowd behind them, Nullagine stormed to victory over the previously undefeated Warralong 6.4 (40) to 3.1 (19) to book a place in the Grand Final. Having finished third and fourth respectively, Punmu and Kiwirrkurra battled it out for a place in the preliminary final against Warralong to gain passage to the Grand Final. Punmu recorded a 9-point victory over a Kiwirrkurra team that looked strong all festival.
Warralong and Punmu fought for the final spot in the Grand Final and what a battle it was. Both teams were locked at 13 a piece at half-time and then, in an incredible second-half, both teams traded goal-less quarters before Punmu scored when it mattered most to seize a single-point victory 3.2 (20) to 3.3 (21).
Nullagine went into the Grand Final as favourites. However, a Punmu team that has built its Round Two campaign slowly to be winning games at the pointy end of the Festival, were looking for an upset.
The Grand Final showcased the closeness of the competition with good, strong, hard football played across the field.
As the whistle was blown for half-time, Punmu led by 3 points.
Soon after the third quarter began, Punmu kicked two early goals. However, it was soon discovered that Punmu had unfortunately miscalculated their substitutes and had an extra player on the field.
As per the Ngurra Kujungka Festival rules developed by the communities, Punmu unfortunately forfeited the Grand Final, handing Nullagine the victory.
All credit must go to the both teams and their supporters for accepting the result and rules with grace and dignity.
Round Two of the Western Desert League Softball competition turned up a notch, with seven teams travelling to Nullagine to compete. Kiwirrkurra Lions, Warralong Bombers, Jigalong Eagles, Jigalong Suns, Parnngurr Tigers, Parnpajinya Hawks and, of course, the home team Nullagine Dockers, were ready to play from day 1 of the Festival.
With some new equipment including a back net, batting helmets and catching gear, the women were excited to showcase their talent.
The Nullagine Festival saw some milestones for the Western Desert Softball League: Newly-developed rules by the Ngurra Kujungka Council relating to softball safety equipment were very well received and policed by all teams. The girls warmed to the idea of wearing batting helmets and catching gear, rules that had previously been overlooked.
Additionally for the first time, Martu women took part in officiating the softball games by base umpiring with a Softball WA or Ngurra Kujungka representative.
This was a big step forward in achieving a community-driven league.
Another step forward was the milestone of a first-ever Martu plate umpire. Bernice Fred (Samson?), from the Jigalong Eagles, accepted the challenge of controlling a softball game as a plate umpiring.
“Bernice is a great role model for other women and children watching or playing softball,” Indigenous Sport Development Officer, Ebony Humble said. “She put into practise her newly-acquired skills from the recent Telfer-based softball training course and did a great job” Ebony said.
The Festival saw many close games of softball with Kiwirrkurra, Warralong, Nullagine, Parnngurr and Jigalong Suns competing for a top 4 position.
Unfortunately the Jigalong Suns just missed out on a finals chance on percentage, which saw Parnngurr sneak in to fourth place.
The finals were exciting, with many balls smashed over the home-run fence; desperate running for bases with a few slides and collisions; and some impressive pitching.
However, Kiwirrkurra were too good to beat, and secured back-to-back Festival wins.
“The training that the Kiwirrkurra softball team have been doing is really paying off,” Ebony said. “The girls are a step above other teams when it comes to skills and they work really well together as a team.”
Special thanks must go to the Nullagine Police and their support officers from Jigalong and Marble Bar; the Shire of East Pilbara; the Nullagine Medical Centre; Nullagine Hotel and Shop; and all other supporters of the Nullagine Festival and Ngurra Kujungka.
The Ngurra Kujungka Council displayed its professionalism again by facilitating an exciting and well-organised Festival.
Chairman Bruce Booth, with the support of Annabell Landy, Daniel Toby, Darryl Jones, Roderick Samson, Shaun Peterson, Matthew West, Milton Chapman, Clifton Girgirbra and Lindsay Hardcase, must be congratulated for their assistance throughout the festival.
With the next Ngurra Kujungka Western Desert League Round Three being held in Kiwirrkurra from 29 September to 2 October, communities will be looking forward to not only taking out Round Three honours, but also competing for the chance to be crowned 2014 Western Desert League Champions.