Quambatook footy seniors captain Ricky Wild knew just what to say.
As the first bounce approached yesterday in his side’s home game against Hay, their first since the football and netball clubs announced they were folding soon, he spelled out the Saints’ mission.
“This year is about the standards we set for each other,” he said.
The team answered his call with an 86-point win in front of a crowd of all ages, hundreds strong.
Like the team that bears its name, Quambatook, a hamlet of 200 on north-west Victoria’s Avoca River, will spend the year finding ways to preserve its social fabric.
Why it had to happen
After five premierships — the most recent in 1997 — and 111 years playing in various local leagues, the Saints announced in a statement on Friday they would dissolve after the 2022 Golden Rivers Football Netball League (GRFNL) season.
Rhys Carmichael is in his first year as club president and said many locals would not be surprised this was happening.
“The club has been struggling for years with juniors and getting volunteers and community members. It does take a lot to run a club nowadays,” he said.
“The community is ageing, there are less and less people, it’s just hard to get people to do things. [The pandemic] definitely didn’t help, but it is what it is.”
He said they planned to keep the social side of the football club alive.
“We are looking at running a ball – Barley Banquet style – into the future, just to try and keep the community together at least once a year, because it is the people in Quambatook that makes the place so great.
As well as its tractor pull, the town has developed a niche screening drive-in films on its silo twice a year.
The league’s next steps
Ross Stanton, who chairs the Central Rivers football netball board which oversees the GRFNL, says the league will continue as a seven-team competition from 2023.
“We hope we don’t see others, but the league will still be competitive with [three matches each weekend] and a bye.”
Quambatook’s departure will be the first for the Golden Rivers league since Wakool, NSW, folded in late 2018.
Nullawill, a successful side, also tried to leave last year out of a desire to play against stronger opposition.
Mr Stanton says the board wants Nullawill to stay in the GRFNL and is hopeful the number of teams won’t drop below seven.
“Moulamein had a short discussion a couple of years ago about whether to amalgamate with Swan Hill, but they decided that wasn’t going to be the case, and they have come back probably stronger than they have ever been as a club.
Is this the end for the town?
This is not the first big loss Quambatook the town has experienced recently, and it may not be the last.
Laura O’Dwyer, president of the Community Development Association, has lived there for 15 years and seen the tennis club, the school and (temporarily) the pub close down.
“We have always got the bowls club, so maybe we will all become mad bowlers or golfers,” she said.
“The ongoing impact of this is we won’t have footballers anymore to volunteer for other things around town.
“Since the tractor pull has been running, the football club has been the security and the gate entrance traffic controllers, so it’s going to be another struggle to find people to fill those gaps as well.
The town has also been resisting a proposal by the local council to defund its swimming pool, and Ms O’Dwyer says the end of the Saints will make keeping that facility open even more crucial.
But there are green shoots of promise for Quamby.
Last year, the state government gave Gannawarra Shire Council more than $2 million to build a weir pool on the river through town to attract tourists and jobs.
“As part of that we are doing 5km and 2.5km walking tracks around the weir, so maybe we will bring in something like a weekly parkrun,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
Ms O’Dwyer, also a former match-day secretary for the Saints, says any former residents or players are welcome to come back and play for the rest of 2022.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC