Almost 30 kids from Theodore travel a 200km round trip every week to play netball. (Supplied: Fleur Anderson)
It’s not unusual for people in the bush to drive an hour up the road for groceries … but many drive that distance and further, four times a week, so that local children can play sport.
In central Queensland, parents and volunteers are collaborating to come up with solutions, such as car pooling and hiring buses, so that their children can enjoy the same access to sport as kids in the city.
In Emerald, Shavarn O’Sullivan is the manager of a rugby union team; she runs the club with two other volunteer coaches.
“We all work full-time and we’ve all got families of our own. Our under 13s coach is also a farmer and a teacher,” she said.
Every Saturday, they drive the 600 kilometre round trip to Rockhampton so that the children can compete in the Capricornia Winter Rugby Union Tournament.
“We leave Emerald at 7:00am and we don’t generally get back until around 7:00pm … it’s usually [for] one game,” she said.
“There’s a lot more time [spent] in the car than there is actually on the field.”
“You do it for the love of the sport.”
Without Ms O’Sullivan and the other coaches, there would be no rugby union in Emerald. And that’s something she can’t bear to see.
“Those kids who want to play rugby, we want to give them whatever opportunity they can get to play,” she said.
“You don’t consider it as doing much when it’s volunteering for something that you believe in.”
Volunteer Shavarn O’Sullivan (centre) hires buses to take young players to games. (ABC Capricornia: Inga Stunzner)
Sharing the burden of travel
People in rural towns are coming up with unique ways to share the burden of travel.
In Emerald, the community is hiring a bus to get the rugby union teams to Rockhampton every weekend.
“We want to make it easier for parents, so we take a bus each week.
“[That way] parents don’t have to worry and don’t have to waste their Saturdays driving their kids,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
In the central Queensland town of Theodore, parents of children in a netball team share a rotating car pool roster.
Fleur Anderson, mum of one of the players, said the netball games are played more than 100 kilometres away in Biloela.
“There was 30 kids who wanted to play netball over in Biloela on a Tuesday night with different family backgrounds and with mums and dads working,” she said.
For Ms Anderson, and other parents on the team, driving that distance every week simply wasn’t feasible.
Fleur Anderson and other parents drive a two-hour round trip every week so kids from Theodore can play netball. (Supplied: Fleur Anderson)
Ms Anderson works full time and has two kids who do swimming, dancing, football, tennis and netball.
“That involves a lot of kilometres when none of those [recreational activities] are delivered in your town. We go 60km over and 60km back for swimming and dancing,” she said.
“We had to go through a few options to get these eager kids to play netball.”
“We tried to get a bus and that didn’t work … so we went to a car pool. There are about 10 or 12 of us who are on a rotating roster with driving and cooking dinner for the kids.”
Volunteers: The ‘lifeblood of rural communities’
You’ll meet volunteers like Shavarn O’Sullivan and Fleur Anderson in every town in regional Australia.
The work they do isn’t asked for or demanded, and it’s something that often goes unnoticed.
“A strong volunteering base and a strong community spirit … is what the difference is between a community that’s liveable and a community that’s not,” Ms Anderson said.
CQ University sport industry research fellow Danya Hodgetts said it was people like them who kept sport in rural communities alive.
“Sports in regional and rural areas have a lot more challenges than they do in the city,” she said.
“If you’re living in a small town and you want your children to be able to play … it’s not like you can just go to the suburb next door.
“Volunteers are really the lifeblood of the sport industry.”