Netball prescribed as best medicine for Gunbalanya

DSCN3717When Melbourne Doctor Katie Macartney, pictured left, took up a three-month posting in a remote Northern Territory community, she never imagined becoming netball coordinator would be part of a daily routine.

But over the past few weeks she’s been running netball clinics for young girls in Gunbalanya, located in west Arnhem Land, after being approached by women from the local Aboriginal community keen to get them involved in sport.

With the help of funding through the Federal Government’s Indigenous Sport and Active Recreation Program, Netball Australia has been able to support the running of ANZ NetSetGO programs in the community, as well as resourcing and coaching support through Netball Northern Territory’s Development Manager Stephanie Anderson.

Macartney said she was able to start the programs with the help of Sharna Cropley, who manages the community youth centre, Catherine Waithe from `Team Health’, a program focusing on the mental health of young Aboriginals, and Anderson.

“When I arrived in Gunbalanya I wanted to get involved in one aspect of the community other than as a doctor at the clinic,” Macartney said.

DSCN3720“I approached the school and youth centre to see if there were any programs I could get involved with and found there was a paucity of sport and recreational activities in the town.

“I offered to coach netball and, although it took a few weeks to get off the ground many women in the community became enthused by the idea and helped to make it happen.

“The elder women saw the value of playing sport in terms of health, well-being and strengthening of the community. They were positive about the setting up of the program but it took a number of people to make it happen.”

Macartney has been involved with netball for most of her life. Her mother is Julie Fitzgerald, a former Australian Diamonds assistant coach who has also been in charge of teams in the former Australian national league and now the ANZ Championship.

She said the introductory clinics were a lot of fun.

“I’ve seen a lot of enjoyment and happiness when the girls are playing,” she said.

DSCN3661“I’ve seen a sense of hope and excitement as the girls talked about upcoming sessions. They have named the team `Daughters of Ingana’ and are making plans to embroider the name onto their bibs.

“I have seen girls develop more confidence on and off the court and I have seen certain older girls lead the group interpreting the rules of games into language and organising the players on the court.

“The children on the whole were very quick to understand the rules, had fantastic hand-eye co-ordination and were naturally good sports people.

“I have gained a lot from netball – as well as other sports – and place value in the development of teamwork, leadership skills, health and fitness. Seeing the locals gain some of these benefits as well as having a really fun time was very rewarding.”

Macartney has now returned to Melbourne so Netball NT will continue to assist the local community in running future ANZ NetSetGo programs.

DSCN3916Anderson said it was a wonderful experience watching “something as simple as a game of netball put a huge smile on a girl’s face” during her visit.

“Their enthusiasm and excitement for the sport is contagious,” Anderson said.

“The mothers of the community coaching their children from the sidelines were thrilled to see their daughters playing the sport they had once loved. The teenage girls took pride in mentoring the younger girls, a relationship which will ensure netball is sustainable within the community.

“The community doctor was also full of praise for Katie, Netball NT and the sport of netball, saying he had never seen such positive health promotion.

“He also said that he had never heard so much laughter and joy from the girls of the community.”