Bombers take the Top End

If Spain played the ‘beautiful game’ with the round ball to win the World Cup, the Tiwi Bombers played it last Saturday night with the oval ball to win the Northern Territory Football League premiership for the first time.

Not that it was perfect footy. The Bomber defence took nearly half the game to get going, conceding early goals with loose men running free and marking unopposed. Even when the Tiwi team got on top, they kicked point after point to somehow remain behind at the last change, despite having had all the play for over half an hour.

In terms of guts and flair, though, this was a game of high class. Both the Nightcliff Tigers and the Tiwi Bombers went in hard and played on fast. It was great to watch. The difference between the two teams? When the Bombers ran, they were unstoppable.

Every time they got hold of the ball, anticipation was high as the next sleight of hand or foot was not far away. It was a humid evening in Darwin with plenty of dew about, but some of the moves defied the slippery conditions.

Audacious, highly skilled, and running in waves, this was a team rich in talent and well drilled under new coach Leigh Crossman. And after five consecutive years of finals footy since the club’s inception, this time they believed.

When the Tigers pressed and pressed again, a spread of Bomber big blokes, typified by the work of Bongetti in the ruck and up forward, absorbed the physicality of the Tigers, then handed it back. They created the space for their speedsters in Munkara, Pupangamirri, Heenan, Puautjimi, the Kelly brothers, and a host of others.

Paul Scanlon was a tower of strength for the whole game, keeping the team in it in the first half, and fittingly awarded the Chaney Medal for best on ground. Ross Tungatalum was the spark. With silken skill, lightning speed, and sublime shepherding from his teammates, he repeatedly weaved his way through the lines. Though he too was spraying them in front of goal.

You could argue that with the christening of the Maurice Rioli Stand, and the presence of other Tiwi Islands legends like Michael Long at the ground, the deck was stacked. How could anything have stopped the Bombers that night?

Sure enough, once they tightened up down back, the last two and half quarters were theirs. It was only wayward kicking that would tempt a heartbreaking fate.

Amongst the Bomber midfield was Austin Wonaeamirri. A little heavier than when he set the MCG alight in his early days with Melbourne, he is said to have endured a tough time since the death of his father last year. On this night, however, he was to be part of something special. The first Aboriginal team in a major Australian Rules football league won its first flag.

In many ways, this was a significant national event, so it was fitting that the ABC streamed the game live on the Internet. It also seemed fitting that they did so with such typically understated skill.

We are a nation grappling with a range of worsening ‘lifestyle diseases’, far from limited to Indigenous communities. On this occasion, folk from all over the country who love footy and a great story, got to watch a game that mattered to so many people, without having to bear a commercial circus of betting agencies, car companies, fast food outlets or brewing conglomerates.

There was no ‘mega-wall’ (what will they call it this year to make it even bigger?), over-zealous ground announcers or commentators seeking to hype up a game that is inherently action packed. And when there were breaks in the play and nothing was happening, well, nothing was happening!

It was as senior sports writer with The Age, Greg Baum, wrote recently. We were free to reflect on the game, share thoughts with those around us, take in the atmosphere and the occasion, and think about how it might unfold.

As an Essendon Bombers fan, at each home game last year I endured the pain of the ‘energy metre’. Promoting a sponsor, it lit up on the scoreboard to tell the crowd when to make noise. At a game of footy?

In correspondence about this, Baum suggested I not despair as he senses a backlash to such condescension. I hope he is right. Meanwhile, the local leagues offer plenty for the fan of footy. And so does the ABC’s coverage.

The Nightcliff Tigers had beaten the Tiwi men both times during the regular season, only to inexplicably lose by more than 100 points in the Semi-Final. That wasn’t about to happen on Saturday night, but once the Bombers started to run and deftly share the ball around, they seemed destined to win, and to know it.

If they continue playing the beautiful game with this intensity and belief, they’ll be in the hunt next year too. And they will have a growing legion of fans from across the country tuning in to watch them.

AJ is a writer, musician and sustainability educator living in Melbourne. His sustainability analysis has appeared in The Age, Green Times, Earthsong Journal and Arena Magazine. He is currently recording a debut single with Rivers in the Streets, and teaches at Swinburne University’s National Centre for Sustainability. But he just recently remembered he wanted to be a sports writer.

Photo from, credited to Daniel Hartley-Allen

About Anthony James

AJ is a 5th gen Australian living with his family by the ocean in the city of Perth, on traditional Noongar lands. He is host of The RegenNarration podcast, teaches and talks on regenerative development, plays music and writes a bit. His writing has found its way into The Conversation, World Economic Forum and elsewhere. But when he saw the Almanac, he remembered he wanted to be a sports writer.


  1. John Harms says

    Terrific piece AJ.

  2. The feed was patchy but the pattern of the game very clear…Tiwi Bombers had too many legs. Nightcliff’s outstanding season finished a couple of weeks early.

  3. Tony Robb says

    Anthony I hope see a replay but thanks for the summary and insights

  4. Anthony James says

    Thanks John. Nice to hear from you, and good to be on board the Almanac train (finally)! And you know, i’ve been surprised that no one (else) in the south seems to have written about this (that i’ve noticed anyway).
    Yeah, Crio, i suspect you’re right.
    And thanks Tony, definitely worth catching a replay if you can!
    Hope to make next month’s lunch in Melbourne to meet some of you folk.

  5. John Harms says

    AJ, the two issues dominating media here (until the sadness of Jim Stynes’s passing) have been Liam Jurrah and Matt Rendell. There is an honours thesis in the coverage of the two issues in their social and historical context for some enterprising student.

  6. Anthony James says

    Yeah, the beautiful, sad, perplexing and absurd in those stories. You’re right about the thesis on offer. Perhaps i’ll offer a pointer to a student or two in that direction!
    Did you catch Martin Flanagan’s article immediately after Jurrah was arrested? Moving stuff.

  7. Myree Morsi says

    Splendid and vibrant commentary AJ, it left me grinning and savouring the spectacle of such action… and remembering being an awed fan in the Territory.
    And thank goodness for moments of nothing much happening, an endangered species in public life.
    Onya! I look forward to your next posting.
    Myree Morsi

  8. Jackson Clark says

    I play in the NTFL and was also at this game. Without taking anything away from Nightcliff, Tiwi has produced a lot better football during the season, especially on dry days. They are a fantastic side to watch and I am happy to see the side win its first flag.

  9. Anthony James says

    Here’s to that Jackson. Great to hear from a player’s perspective!
    And thanks Myree. Insightful comment on the ‘endangered species’. I agree. Arguably the literal endangered species in the world stem from this one. Glad to have rekindled a sense of the top end for you!

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