Yarrabah – An Aussie Rules “Paradise by the Sea”

Yarrabah Aboriginal Community is located southeast of Cairns in North Queensland and it is known as a “Paradise by the Sea”. It is hard to argue against this title. The 45 kilometre drive by road from Cairns is lovely, but reaches a climax as it climbs the Murray Prior Range. Shortly after passing beneath the summit of Mount Yarrabah, and its collection of communication towers, the descent begins. Then, at Angel Bend, one of the finest views in the region is witnessed as you look down, seemingly vertically, on the township of Yarrabah adjacent to the glistening waters of Mission Bay.

A spokesperson for the Yarrabah Shire Council stated, “Located in the dead centre of the Yarrabah Township is a sports field that was developed between 2000 and 2001 for the purpose of encouraging Yarrabah kids to take up athletics. It is said that Aboriginal children have natural skills. A new footy oval in Yarrabah would give those kids a chance to show their skills in a variety of other sports like Australian Rules football and not just Rugby League and athletics.”

“There were a number of families from Yarrabah participating in athletics, in nearby Gordonvale, 25 kilometres away [across the range]. The goal at that time was to bring some of the athletic carnivals to Yarrabah and encourage other community members to be part of this, but it did not eventuate.”

“Since then there has been a suggestion to bring cricket back to the community on the site with the sustained development of a Yarrabah club. From time to time other ideas have been floated but unfortunately it [the development of the oval] never progressed due to lack of ideas and funds to move forward.”

“But in saying this there is an opportunity for any sporting codes such as the AFL which can possibly secure funds to upgrade the field to a standard where it can be used to its full potential. Once upgraded it will be a bonus to the people of Yarrabah. The Pyramid Power club of Gordonvale have shown great interest and commitment to the community of Yarrabah for a number of years and believe that this can lead our community to greater success in the future with AFL and other sporting codes.”

The move towards an Australian Rules football oval based in the town even has the support, in theory, of the highest office in town. Yarrabah Mayor, Councillor Errol Neal, sees enormous potential for the project. “[The idea would have] our full support for a whole range of uses. There would be Aussie Rules, rugby league, cricket and maybe bring back athletics and volleyball.” Not only would the idea open up sporting opportunities, but Cr Neal also sees the potential in areas like employment, youth options and links to local business. Additionally, the development of sporting bodies in town and the development of a sporting club would add further direct benefits to the community.

Yarrabah already has its own rugby league team, the Yarrabah Seahawks, based at the town’s existing sporting ground, Jilara Oval. The prospect of another team based in the town, albeit from a different code, would add to the opportunities for local youth. The new football ground, if built, would complement Jilara Oval and the facilities at the adjacent Yarrabah PCYC complex which has multi-use indoor courts to accommodate basketball and other court games. Yarrabah Councillor, Malcom Canendo also sees the possibility of a new complex as adding to an existing framework of facilities and “allowing more opportunities for the kids in town.”

There has long been a rivalry between Australian Rules football and Rugby League in Queensland, and particularly North Queensland. Yarrabah is not immune to this and has a very strong historical association with Rugby League. Kids in the town have always aspired to be the next big thing, and their heroes are Matty Bowen, Jonathon Thurston or Sam Thaiday among a host of other indigenous role models or heroes. But Yarrabah community boasts in excess of 2000 young people according to some conservative estimates. Possibly more.

Simple mathematics says that not all kids can fit into the one sporting code, so more opportunities for youth would be welcome. Councillors in Yarrabah believe there is a place for the code of Australian Football. “It’s all about the sports complimenting each other. The more opportunities exist for our kids, the better.”

The decision makers in town seem to agree that there would be a place for Australian Rules football, and the benefits for the town go beyond the sport itself, but to the core needs of community. The development of the Yarrabah Cricket Ground would bring employment, income and opportunity, as well as providing more engagement for local youth. The question remaining is whether there will be sufficient interest outside of town to drive the idea.

As pointed out by the mayor, Cr Neal, “If the [Cairns] AFL can get funding to develop the game here, we can look at other funding to make it [happen].” A unified effort on behalf of sporting bodies, government departments and committed individuals could certainly see a new footy ground in the heart of Yarrabah.

And what a place to watch a game of Australian Rules football as the game expands further into this “Paradise by the Sea”.


Yarrabah footballers, with the author third from the left in his Hawthorn guernsey. (Pic courtesy of Brett Kennerley)


This article first appeared at World Footy News


About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.

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