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Once dusty football oval turned into lush green oasis

Friday 18, Sep 2020

Three weeks ago, the AFL made their way to Traegar Park with Melbourne defeating St Kilda in round 14.  

But 80 kilometres down the road in the remote community of Santa Teresa, a remarkable project is nearing completion.

With the support of the Melbourne Football Club, the Melbourne Cricket Club and the MCG, Santa Teresa residents are transforming their once dusty football oval into a lush, green paddock.

The green oasis in the middle of the desert is a sight to behold, but it wasn't always this way.

It used to be rocky and dusty.

Local players say when you hit the ground it was pretty hard, but now it will be much safer on the grass.

Atyenhenge-Atherre Aboriginal Corporation CEO Susie Low said the whole town was invested in getting the job done in time for next football season.

"Putting the irrigation in, people were watching from all over the community," she said.

"You'd think it would be quite boring but they'd just come and watch it. And then seeding was something people got very excited about."

Complex irrigation

Matthew Cavanagh is the groundskeeper in charge of the project.

He oversees a complex irrigation system that uses heavily filtered local bore water.

He also makes sure the local brumbies that roam the desert stay off the fresh green grass.

Melbourne Football Club has been visiting Central Australia for more than a decade, and has formed a close bond with the town of Santa Teresa.

CEO Gary Pert said the idea to green the oval came from conversations with people in the community.

"About five years ago we were talking to the community leaders and we said, 'How can we help?', and right across the board they said we've got an oval that's clay and gravel, and we have 200 kids playing on it in bare feet.

"They said if we could grass that oval, it would change this community."

What followed was consultation with the Northern Territory Government, widespread fundraising and lots of planning.

Now the oval is 80 per cent grassed, and teams are set to start playing on it next year.

"It was a dream, and now we've got it, and we're starting to see this grassed oval where the kids with their bare feet can run and jump on the oval and play the game."

Bright future
But greening the grass is not where this revamp ends.

Traditional owners and Santa Teresa residents have used their money to install lights as well.

The four brand new light posts illuminate the entire ground.

Donovan Mulladad, who plays centre for local club Ltyentye Apurte, said that's making playing at night a whole lot easier.

"Late games — we used to have cars all around, and just put high beams on and play games. It was crazy back then," he laughed.

Ms Low said the mission would be complete when a large delivery from Melbourne arrived with some key infrastructure for the oval.

"The MCG are giving us their goalposts, so we we'll have the Melbourne goalposts here at the Santa," she said.

"We think it's going to be bigger than Melbourne. Watch this space."

This article was originally published by Oliver Gordon from ABC.