By Lewis Donaldson

Gunnedah PCYC is sending 24 local 15-16 year olds to Sydney to play in the statewide competition, Nations of Origin.

Two teams made up of indigenous and non-indigenous young people will compete across five sports: rugby, netball, basketball, gymnastics and soccer.

Nations of Origin is a program designed to bring together indigenous and non-indigenous young people and encompasses four key components of reconciliation, education, cultural identity and sport. Teams will also represent their Aboriginal nation, Gamilaraay, in the sporting tournament.

Last year, more than 1000 young people participated. There were 131 teams, 45 PCYC clubs involved and 25 Aboriginal nations represented across five sports.

Between July 14-18, the students will play against others in their age group. During that time, the Gunnedah teens will also take part in a cultural bridge climb of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

To get the kids to Sydney, the costs are proving a challenge. Fortunately, generous local businesses have contributed money and equipment to help allow for the two teams to go. The sponsorship helps cover the costs of uniforms, transport, food and accommodation.

Jessica Blair, club manager of Gunnedah PCYC and sector manager presiding over Moree, Armidale and Tamworth clubs, spoke regarding the generous support.

“[As of June 24] we’ve raised about $12,000 so far and the goal is to get to $26,000,” Ms Blair said.

“It’s a real challenge, coming from a regional community, four nights of accommodation and taking this many kids to Sydney… it’s very expensive.”

Among some of the sponsors are Carter’s Chemist who have contributed money and donated mouth guards to all 24 kids. Whitehaven has also donated $3000 which covers the costs for at least three Gunnedah teens to go to Sydney.

But a larger reason exists for the Nations of Origin sports tournament and Gunnedah’s involvement in it.

Linda Newell, a psychologist who has predominantly worked in child and adolescent mental health said this is a form of early intervention.

“There’s an issue of a lot of crime at the moment associated with young people,” Ms Newell said.

“This is early intervention at its finest.

“A lot of the kids connected to crime have struggled connecting to the community… it’s hard for them when they don’t have the right support networks around them at home.

“Kids trying to deal with their own trauma often leads to substance abuse… unfortunately it’s like self-medication.”

But in participating, the 24 young people will engage in sport, forge stronger connections with one another and have access to mentors along the way.

“PCYC provides a safe space for kids who may not have a safe space at home… where there’s violence, drug abuse or mental health issues… they get to see another option,” Ms Newell said.

“When kids get a sense of connection or belonging to their community, they won’t harm or hurt it.”

For Riley Price, he will be attending the Nations of Origin for the second year in a row, but helping out as a ballboy. He is most looking forward to “watching the boys play football together”.

“This will be another great experience… helping out other people too,” Riley said.

“It was great to represent my culture and Gunnedah.”

Jessica Blair also spoke on the benefits last year’s teams gained from participating in Nations of Origin.

“The kids were so grateful… they were able to do things that they never imagined themselves experiencing,” she said.

“A lot of these kids actually haven’t been out of Gunnedah … last year when we went, there were probably six kids that had never been out of Gunnedah and we took them to the State of Origin.

“Seeing the change [in the kids]… it’s a phenomenal experience and it’s very moving.”

Among the key objectives of the tournament are to promote reconciliation throughout NSW and provide an opportunity for young people to learn more about Aboriginal culture and history.

Nations of Origin also seeks to actively engage indigenous and non-indigenous young people in a healthy lifestyle and to help build and strengthen relationships between PCYC clubs and their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

To be able to participate, the teenagers must first meet the criteria which includes having at least 80 per cent attendance at school and good interactions with police.

“We’ve found that’s been a really big motivator… kids want to go to school because they want to come to Nations of Origin,” Ms Blair said.

“It’s about showing kids positive experiences and trying to connect them to mentors and leaders in their communities so that they can make good choices in their lives.”

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