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How Country Week helped footy return to Julia Creek

It was recently announced that six regional Queensland towns would host Get in the Game Country Week (presented by BHP) games this year and each can not only look forward to a great game, but also some long-lasting positive benefits for the community.

In 2017, the town of Julia Creek hosted the Tweed Seagulls and the Souths Logan Magpies at Kev Bannah Oval. The Magpies got the win that day and fans got to watch some quality football featuring some now NRL regulars including Brisbane Broncos Jamayne Isaako do their thing.

Julia Creek Combined Sporting Association president Calem Fegan praised the event, saying it helped reignite the town’s passion for the game.

“That game really brought that back … people want to come watch people they know play football, and support a local event,” Fegan said.

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With people from across the region visiting the town to witness the event, Fegan was happy he was able to use such a big-name event to help kick-start rugby league in the town.

“Yeah it was great,” he said. “There was a lot of hype around it.

“Obviously we hadn’t had anything like that before … so there was lots of talk about it and people planned their weekend around to come in for it and travelled a long way for it,” he said.

Since then, the town has been working to provide opportunities to play – with various matches and contest being organised – including a men’s 9s competition and women’s games.

In recent times, the area has been in the news for heartbreaking reason, with natural disasters hitting the region hard.

Having endured the full wrath of mother nature with their years-long drought being compounded by devastating flooding; no one would blame people if they thought about packing up and moving on to try and stake a claim in a place untouched by these memories.

However, for the Fegan family and the rugby league mad community of Julia Creek, moving away was simply not an option.

Janene Fegan, mother of Calem and operator of the Marwill Mongrel Shop, moved to the Julia Creek region nearly 25 years ago and has watched her the town go through plenty of tough times.

Mrs Fegan paid homage to the resilience of her beloved community, but admitted the latest natural disasters were a tough pill to swallow for residents who had already gone through so much.

“I think we as a community are pretty resilient, with the drought you could buy lick (a mineral block for cattle) and you could make a decision, but here, there was no decision for them,” Mrs Fegan said.

 “A lot of them said they would rather deal with the drought than a flood.”

The graziers and the townspeople watched as what was initially much needed rain for the drought-stricken land turned into a downpour that saw the region hit with 233 millimetres of rain in under 24 hours.

“Initially we were thinking ‘how good’, no one wanted to do anything, we just wanted to sit back and watch the rain cool everything off,” Mrs Fegan said.

“We were thinking it’s not a bad thing having all this rain and even a certain amount of flooding as that makes for a good wet season, but it then just didn’t stop.”

In such challenging times, the community has come together through events such as the Community Fun Day and a footy sign-on night to ensure spirits remain high in the town.

Mrs Fegan was hoping that sport, especially rugby league, could play a big part in bringing the community together during these tough times.

“They actually organised a sign on footy night … the Combined Sport Association had a ‘meet and greet’; because especially now, we have extra people in town, rather than just going to the pub, they can come down and have a game of touch,” she said.

Rugby league has always been a family affair for the Fegans, and Calem has proven to be a driving factor in reviving rugby league in the town, after the senior and junior clubs folded a decade ago.

Fegan readily acknowledges the work put in by original CSA senior rugby league representative David McNab (local police officer now residing in Longreach) and Adam Hartly (originally from England who worked as a plumber in the town for many years). 

These two men were the main organisors of the Town v Country concept and Mr McNab in particular also worked hard towards securing the Intrust Cup game.

Fegen inherited the event and as a young man enthusiastic about his new role as president of the CSA, was able to take things forward when they left town.

This year, the town’s annual Country v Town match is slated to take place on October 4, and he is hoping that rugby league can play a big part in forging a stronger and more resilient community in the future.

“It helps bring people together,” he said.

“It gives people an excuse to think about other things, so when times get rough and hard, it makes you get out and go watch the game.

“It gets them out and about off the property and have a run, or come watch it and ultimately come support the community.”

In light of the recent droughts and flooding, the never-say-die attitude of this community is a testament to their history and passion for the area.

As the community looks to rebuild, rugby league will continue to play its part as its residents rally together once more.