Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (21:50): I rise to speak about the saints—not the saints in heaven, not the St Kilda Saints, in Melbourne, but the Inverell Saints Australian Rules Football Club.
Last Saturday night we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the club. There was a half-hearted attempt to get Australian Rules going in Inverell in the1980s. I actually played for the Inverell Tigers, along with my chief of staff, Greg Kachel. The dominant winter sports in that part of the world have always been Rugby League and Rugby Union.
As always happens, it takes someone new in town to get the ball rolling. A bloke by the name of Chris Howie and local radio announcer Gerry Taveira got together and called a meeting in the early 2000s, which led to the formation of the Inverell Saints Football Club. Gerry Taveira signed on as president and local farmer Dick Gleeson agreed to coach the team. A lot of fundraising was done to purchase goalposts and club gear but, two nights before their first game in April 2005, they almost pulled out through a lack of players and the fact that their jerseys had not even arrived.
I was there on the day of their first game in the Tamworth AFL competition in Inverell where they defeated the Narrabri Eagles. They were so excited, you would think they had won the premiership. In fact, more spectators were present than you would expect, because Inverell Sports Council volunteers were erecting the new Oval fence and they must have wondered how long this new sport in Inverell would last. The Inverell team that day comprised a handful of players who knew how to play AFL, and the rest were former and even current Rugby League and Rugby Union players who came along for the game and had little or no idea of how to play the sport.
In 2005 the club made the elimination final—a big effort out of the six teams that year. In 2006 there was a junior competition, and Inverell won that title. I am proud to say that my youngest son, Tom, played in that team and is now a prominent member of the Inverell Saints. One year later, the senior team, under Dick Gleeson, went through the season undefeated and, before a huge crowd at Varley Oval, defeated Tamworth to win the premiership. Inverell player Tony Halloran received the Graham Nuttall Medal for best on ground that day. The Saints again prevailed in the 2010 premiership, under captain Jason Gobert. They have been in the grand final seven times in their nine years, which is a pretty good effort for a new club. Peter Heath and Corey Wheeler have won the Gillies Medal for the best player in the Tamworth competition. It is great to see two locals taking out the association's best player award. In this year's competition, a team under the coaching of Nick Baird and captain Justin Pay is running second and is hopefully headed for its eighth grand final appearance at the end of this season.
But the club is more than just what you see on the field. Mums and dads man the canteen and ensure the club stays financially viable. It has been a huge supporter of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service. To raise money each year, the players gather one weekend and cut upwards of 40 tonnes of firewood to sell. The club does not charge admission to its games, which is a competition-wide rule. It is a real family club and, on a sunny and generally chilly Saturday afternoon, while the game is going on you will see youngsters kicking a football around and proudly wearing their miniature Saints jerseys. The club encourages the juniors. Youngsters in Inverell can now go to Auskick training each Friday night thanks to the great organisation of Jon Cox and Warwick Bedford, and then they get to play at halftime at Saints home games.
Last Saturday night, as I said, I was honoured to be invited to the Inverell Saints 10th anniversary dinner, and I saw Gerry Taveira, local breakfast announcer on 2NZ, and Dick Gleeson rewarded with the first life memberships of the Inverell Saints AFL club. It was a fitting tribute to two men who have put so much time and effort into the success of the club. As I said, it is a real family club. They are a close-knit team. They enjoy their friendship and their fellowship. A few years ago, my youngest son, Tom, did an ACL. He is a builder, and you cannot build much on one leg. The club got behind him financially to support him. That is the mateship and support that the Inverell Saints give to each other. The Inverell sporting community has embraced the Saints, and I would like to commend the Inverell Shire Council for the magnificent job it has done in upgrading their home ground, Varley Oval, to make it a real showpiece. It is probably one of the greatest country football fields in Australia. Congratulations, Inverell Saints, on your 10th anniversary. We did not think you would make it, but no doubt you will make another 10 years. And all the best for the premiership this year.