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‘Not just any game’: Every week, the Daly River Buffaloes travel eight hours for footy. This weekend they played on their own soil

In the vast outback of the Northern Territory, the tyranny of distance takes on new meaning – but when it comes to footy, nowhere is too far.

It was a twist of fate and a last minute phone call that led the Daly River Buffaloes to take on the Big Rivers Football League challenge – a big step forward for the local soccer team.

“One of the other senior teams in the Big Rivers Football League in Katherine withdrew,” said team president John Bonson.

“We got a call saying if you’re interested you can get sponsors, bet every weekend and possibly stay in the league for the next 10 years?

“We just seized the opportunity.”

Getting from the small remote community of Nauiyu, located on the banks of the Daly River, to Katherine was not easy.

It was the first time family and friends had seen the team play in the Big Rivers Football League.ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald

Each weekend, at the crack of dawn, the team boards a bus for the eight-hour round trip, navigating winding roads, flat tires and wild buffalo big enough to hold up a car.

But on Saturday, the team played its only real game on home soil. And hundreds of people came to watch.

‘They can scream’

dr.  Miriam-Rose smiles in a close-up photo.
2021 Senior Australian of the Year Dr. Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM wanted an event to boost the community.Delivered: Salty Dingo

The goals came in a blistering game, with the Buffalos keeping the pressure on as she took on the Katherine Camels.

Spectators came from hundreds of miles, shouting their support from the sidelines.

It was the first time the community has welcomed large numbers of visitors since the start of the pandemic, and emotions were high.

“We were locked up for almost two and a half years and it was scary,” said community leader Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM.

“When I heard the boys were playing a home game, I spoke to the arts center and I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we combine with the boys?’

The idea sparked the community’s first Art and Footy day, and it was heartwarming for Dr. Ungunmerr Baumann to see her team for the first time.

A woman with her arms up screaming excitedly from the sidelines of a soccer game.
The home game between the Daly River Buffaloes and the Katherine Camels caused frantic spectators.ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald

She said she hoped the weekend’s event would be the first of many.

Making the home game a mainstay on the NT calendar was a sentiment shared by Labor member for Daly, Dheran Young.

“Something I’ve always imagined is this [event] to be even bigger and better than the Tiwi Islands Grand Final,” he said.

“I don’t want to speak too soon, but Daly River is only a two-hour drive from Darwin.”

Looking for the win

A footy team huddles together.
The Buffalos kept up the pressure, making it a tough game for the Camels.ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald

In the second round of the Big Rivers Football League, the Buffaloes lost by two points to the Katherine Camels in a close game.

But this week they were looking for the win.

“We’ve got skill, we’ve got pace… some really formidable footballers, but it’s more than just football,” Bonson said.

“Football and sport in the community is a great vehicle, it’s not just about the game and it’s not just about getting to the top. It’s the journey along the way.

After a tough game, in which the Katherine Camels held the upper hand until the last quarter, the Katherine team took a victory by winning 16 goals to 10.

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