There are certain elements that everyone expects of a country town: a pub, a general store, a sporting club, and perhaps a bakery, if you’re lucky.
For many of these towns the sporting club is the heartbeat, the catalyst that brings generations of families together.
The tiny town of Lucindale, South Australia, is no different. Sustaining its population of 555 people, the local football and netball club epitomises the very best qualities of community sport.
“If you don’t have your sporting clubs, especially your football and netball clubs, well you don’t really have a town,” says Lucindale Football Club President and born-and-bred local Aaron Smart.
“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into running a football club. There’s a lot of hours sacrificed from volunteers, a lot of hours sacrificed from players.”
The town’s commitment to sport is rarely paralleled. In Lucindale, more than 50 per cent of its adult population volunteer for an organisation or group.
The national average? 19 per cent.
This level of involvement in a rural’s sporting organisations is unfortunately near-necessary in the current climate.
Across Australia, country footy is in a spot of bother. The continuing pressures of urbanisation and an aging regional population are a drain for clubs in a sport that usually requires 36 players on the field at any time. Mergers between clubs – and in some cases, leagues – are no longer seen as uncommon.
With a median age nearly a decade older than the national average, not even Lucindale has escaped the trends of Australian society.
But one such family who bucked that trend were the Fogarty’s. Having moved to the area 18 years ago, Jackie Fogarty immediately felt at home in the township.
“One of the advantages is we played sport, if you play sport you automatically make friends,” she says.
“It’s really easy to fit into the community if you’re involved in the sporting part of it, which most people in town are.”
The mother of Adelaide Crows rising star Darcy Fogarty and a handy netballer herself, it didn’t take long for the family to become a part of the town’s sporting identity.
“When you’re at the football, doesn’t matter whose kid’s there, you’re always looking out for everyone’s children and not just in the sporting aspect of things,” says Jackie.
“If a little kid is hurt or crying, they don’t get scared if you walk up and talk to them, because they know who you are. Everyone wants everyone to do well and have fun.”
“There’s just that community feel,” adds Smart.
“A real good family atmosphere, kids running, we all know each other, everyone gets behind each other, cars around the oval, it’s a different atmosphere to the city.
“There’s a special vibe to it.”
Perhaps this is why Lucindale – and the southwest of South Australia/northwest of Victoria region – yields such a choice selection of footballing talent.
The Kowree-Naracoorte-Tatiara region has produced the likes of elite midfielder Lachie Neale, 2018 AFL premiership player Jack Redden, 300-gamer Roger Merrett and one of the fathers of modern football, Alastair Clarkson.
In Lucindale alone, the likes of Carlton premiership player Andrew McKay, legendary caller Sandy Roberts and Glenelg and Essendon champion Stephen Copping were all raised in the town, amongst others.
Now its Darcy Fogarty’s turn to establish himself as one of the game’s greats, but he’ll soon have a local mate in the AFL alongside him in Will Gould.
The current captain of the South Australian U18s has featured in back-to-back All-Australian sides in the U18s National Championships and is being touted as the 15th pick in this year’s draft.
Growing up in the country, Fogarty had the benefit of being noticed at a young age due to the smaller pool of players.
“He was playing U14s when he was 11,” his mother says.
“He was always a decent size, so he wasn’t going to get hurt or anything. He did well even then.”
Playing against more mature bodies can often make or break a player, and for the Crows’ forward it was the former.
“Darcy was 15 when he was playing A-Grade, filling in for the A-Grade. He had to look after himself because they don’t care if you’re a kid, they just want to get the ball, they just want to win.”
Interestingly, Aaron Smart was one of Fogarty’s major influences. Smart was a key support, allowing him to train with the seniors while he was still young, even playing and coaching alongside the then-teenager in a handful of matches.
The current president was in attendance at the KNTFL Grand Final on Saturday, where the Roos faced off against Bordertown-based side Mundulla.
Played in the nearby town of Penola, the match clashed with Triple J’s One Night Stand event on Lucindale’s footy oval, their clubrooms transformed into a live recording studio for Triple J to broadcast internationally from.
Despite their netball team taking out their KNTNA Grand Final while the footy was unfolding, it wasn’t to be for the Roos, dropping a three-goal lead at quarter time to fall by 32 points.
Irrespective of the result, the ground was teeming with culture. The sinking of tins past the point of recollection, the discoloured off-brand hot chips, toilets cleaned once a year; the KNTFL Grand Final had everything to expect from a footy ground, city or country.
The uniqueness lied in the interactions that took place. Old and young, everyone knew everyone, hanging around for longer than eight seconds to listen to what the other person had to say. This space was important and treasured to those that were present in a tangible way, one far less present in suburbia.
“That’s the beauty of footy, you go out there to win, you play hard and you play fair but afterwards the most important thing is to have a beer, have a beer with the opposition and enjoy what we’re allowed to do,” says Smart.
Although the Roos fell short on the day, they walked off the ground still the heartbeat of their small town.
Lucindale is often highlighted in this respect due to the calibre of AFL-quality players it produces, but that pales in comparison to its impact on its surrounding community.
A countless number of rural clubs that compete across Australia deserve similar recognition – and consequent financial support – for their efforts in sustaining towns and their tight-knit communities.
Otherwise, the uniquely Australian culture they carry could be lost to the wilderness.
Image by Rachael Sharman