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Our unknown zone: Newcastle Waters

I hope they’ve got big cars.

This was the thought of Maria Raymond on Monday morning as she looked out at the only road connecting the town of Newcastle Waters to the Sturt Highway.

Raymond has lived in the local Marlinja Community her entire life. No AFL team had ever visited until today.

Standing in between Collingwood’s travelling party and the 30-strong population was 150 metres of flood water.

The kids were waiting. And they were excited.

As Raymond explains “this was the first time any people from an AFL team have come through our school”.

On the other side of the water, five four-wheel drives cautiously approached the unknown terrain.

Mason Cox, Sam McLarty, Flynn Appleby, Brody Mihocek and assistant coach Brad Gotch had never seen anything like this before.

After 18 years of living on a dairy farm, Appleby was the first to dip his toes into the water. It was about 40 centimetres deep. Walkable, he reckons.

A few others took their shoes off and followed.


Heads whipped round in shock, only to find Wayne Green grinning. As the local member leading the travelling party, the Regional Development Manager of AFL Barkly has probably fooled many naïve visitors with this one before.

The thought of wildlife was enough to get everyone back in the cars however. As Appleby continued his trek, the convey slowly edged closer to the Newcastle Waters school.

It was a success.

“You guys were lucky today,” Raymond explained.

“Before you came across the water was much higher, so we were ready to use the boat.”

Yes, in Newcastle Waters there’s even a tin boat on standby for when the floods roll in during the wet season of October through to February.

Emily Hubbert is the teacher at Newcastle Waters.

Like the Magpies on Monday, she received a rude shock when she arrived in town for the first time 18 months ago.

“They didn’t tell me about the water when I got the job here,” she said.

“All they told me was that the school is three kilometres from the highway and there’s not much dirt.

“I got here all happy and excited and then last year I was flooded in for 10 weeks.”

With Maria Raymond as her assistant and Janie Dixon taking care of five pre-schoolers who are enrolled, Hubbert now leads a highly engaged group of 15 students.

In a region where school attendance is worrying low, here there’s often a high percentage of kids who show up for class. On this occasion, 100 per cent of students were present.

Almost all of them had footballs in their hands on Monday, too. Gotch was teaching one of the older kids how to master the art of a banana. McLarty was a human spekky-bag, while Appleby spent the morning in hot pursuit of a three-year-old speedster wearing an Adelaide Crows jumper.

“It’s good to see the impact us just showing up can have on the school,” Appleby said later.

“It’s so remote, so if we can have a positive influence and help further the education of these kids, that’s amazing.”

Newcastle Waters is as almost as north as Collingwood’s Next Gen Academy zone goes. The purpose of Monday’s visit was to re-engage a group of kids who are often forgotten when AFL clubs come to visit.

“It’s hard,” Hubbert says.

“We try taking the kids into Elliott for football clinics, but they’re too shy in the bigger groups.

“They’re loving it today though. They’ve even got their own footballs to take home now as well.”

Excitement levels were definitely high as 15 kids proudly donned Collingwood caps and ran around with posters to be signed by their new heroes.

The visit was only a short one, but the significance is clear.

Football is well and truly alive in Newcastle Waters again.

This last photo was taken by Caeser, a student at Newcastle Waters School.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs