The people of Hughenden didn’t know what to make of it. And to be fair, the Battlefields to Footy Fields (B2F) team didn’t really know what to expect either.
B2F is an NRL program, through a partnership with Veteran Sport Australia, enabling veterans to integrate into their local communities through rugby league officiating.
A referee education
The ‘Go West’ camp is the first of its kind, with the National Rugby League (NRL) and Queensland Rugby League (QRL) coming together to deliver a referee education course that incorporated both theory and practical elements, including refereeing community LeagueTag gala events in five different towns.
The team who went on the camp was made up of veterans from the B2F program, with support from NRL and QRL officiating personnel.
The group consisting of six army, one air force and two civilians began the camp with what was later described as a “sceptical” expectation of the outcomes.
However, they all had the same personal goal for the camp; to learn and improve their knowledge of officiating, while becoming involved, and gaining confidence to work with the local community.
“Knowing from the start that we were not going to be judged on how we were as officiators certainly took away most of the hesitation quickly, while also knowing that we had two experienced referee development officers there on hand to coach, mentor and generally help us ensured that I was comfortable with the camp from the get-go” said Iain Taylor, a B2F program participant.
Fitness, camaraderie and social connection
The Go West camp offered so much of what makes sport a powerful tool for veterans to get back into the community following service – fitness, camaraderie and social connection, self-confidence – the B2F team were experiencing it all, along with the passionate communities of Hughenden, Richmond, Julia Creek, Cloncurry and Mount Isa.
“Engaging with the community was fantastic, seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces was very rewarding.”
Following the camp, B2F participant, Jason spoke in glowing terms of what had been achieved. “The coaches and mentors were fantastic at identifying individual needs and accommodated each individual well.
The wellbeing aspect has given me tools to view situations in a different light. All these things combined have given me the confidence and knowledge to go out and officiate games more effectively” Jason said.
“Engaging with the community was fantastic, seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces was very rewarding along with the locals who obviously are passionate about providing and assisting these opportunities to the local children, also to engage with RSL staff at some locations was fantastic from a veterans perspective and also the NRL and QRL staff, they made the tour happen and delivered it very well.”
Develop your own journey
When asked about what he felt this camp and the B2F program meant for veterans getting back into civilian life, Jason said “not only can you develop your own journey, you can join in the journey of many across the whole of game. Being here has given me skills to become an officiator, but also grow back into the community.”
When fellow participant, Iain was asked if he would endorse the program for fellow ADF members to join, he said “the NRL support for this program has impacted on me positively and has also given me a purpose that was not there for a long period of time. This program enables veterans to become a part of the community and give back to my local association. I actively encourage former members to look at the program and become involved.”
The team hope this is the first of many similar camps, giving them a chance to bond with each other, as well as the passionate local rugby league communities across Australia.
“I actively encourage former members to look at the program and become involved.”
Get involved in rugby league
Expressions of interest are open for both current serving and veterans to get involved in the B2F program. Even if you don’t want to become a referee but would like to find out other ways you can engage with the rugby league community, get in touch now.