About 300 Kimberley school students have gathered on the hard sand at Cable Beach to take part in games of football.
The local police were there too — not to enforce the law, but to umpire the games and coach the students as they played.
The Kimberley 9s AFL schools carnival was held over two days and seeks to create a stronger bond between school students and their local police officers as a means of curbing youth crime in the Kimberley.
The free event was the first of its kind and is geared to promote school attendance and reduce youth crime while fostering positive relationships between the students and their local police force.
Emma Pass, the operations manager for the Purple Hands Foundation, the charitable arm of the Fremantle Football club, is aware of the task at hand — and the possibilities.
“The Kimberley is a beautiful region … however there are some challenges and barriers and that includes school attendance and youth crime rates,” she said.
“We’re here, specifically in the Kimberleys, for all the schools all over the region to come here for a reward for great school attendance and positive choices and behaviours in terms of crime,” she said.
All the students who participated received a purple event singlet which they proudly wore, coating the sand of Cable Beach in a sea of purple.
Tia Bellotti and Syanna Balacky from St Mary’s college participated in the round robin games.
“It was a nice presence to have the police there, and see them get involved,” said Ms Bellotti.
“I think they should have this every year,” said Ms Dalacky.
Local AFL connection
Fremantle Dockers midfielder Bailey Banfield was at the beach to offer support and expert advice to students from 12 different schools from places like Broome, Fitzroy Crossing, Roebuck and Looma.
“I’ve always loved footy since I was really young and started playing Auskick when I was in year 1,” the Docker said.
Banfield is a Broome local and enjoyed the chance to spend time with his family.
“I come up every year; still got lots of family up here and lots of connections,” he said.
“It’s definitely tough …. AFL footy is a very demanding sport. To be away from your community, your land is tough and some boys struggle.”
Strengthening community ties
Dampier Peninsula Police’s Senior Sergeant Andy Henshaw was seen racing alongside kids in a sprinting competition along the beach.
“I’ve seen a lot of these kids grow up … it’s been fantastic,” Senior Sergeant Henshaw said.
He hoped some of the students would take an interest in pursuing a career in the police force.
“If we can get the younger police officers and indigenous police officers as well, it bodes well for the future and bringing positive role models to the Kimberley,” he said.
While some members of the police force could be seen sweating in their long pants and starchy shirts, they still diligently refereed and coached the students.
“For some of us who work in remote policing facilities, it’s all about building relations and being seen in a different light,” Senior Sergeant Henshaw said.
During the two days, AFL midfielder Banfield was constantly surrounded by energetic kids and even participated alongside the younger players in a few games.
He encouraged them to follow their football goals.
“Don’t think it’s not possible because you’re from up north and you’re not from the metropolitan cities … that’s what I felt when I was younger; it never really seemed possible,” he said.
“There’s plenty of blokes who’ve done it. If you’re good enough there is a pathway there.”
The students ended both days with a barbecue lunch.
“It’s been such a great event to be involved in, looking forward to next year,” said Senior Sergeant Henshaw
It was a sentiment echoed by the students.