Cobar Camels- Rugby In The Desert

Cobar is a tiny town in far north-western New South Wales. As the crow flies, it is more than 700 kilometres from Sydney.

The locals like to think that their town is part of rugby’s heartland, grassroots style – but there is barely a blade of green to be seen anywhere in Cobar.

Barren wasteland and desert is more like it. And in the middle of that barren wasteland, stretching almost as far as the eye can see, is the huge, underground Endeavor mine.

It’s the zinc, lead and silver that the mine produces that sustains the town of roughly 3,800. However, on winter weekends, 99.9 per cent of the town’s inhabitants can be found supporting their local heroes, the Cobar Camels rugby team.

In fact, one of the few places where you can find patches of green (with a lot of brown trampled through) is at the Ailsa Fitzsimmons Memorial Oval, the Camels’ home field and training ground.

The Cobar Camels, who play in the Western Plains zone, would have to be the most unique rugby club in Australia, if not the world.

Firstly, there is the team itself. As you would expect, it is comprised entirely of miners. The coaches have no choice but to juggle their team selection around the mine’s work roster: Seven days on, seven days off.

Then there is the travel required just to play an eighty-minute match.

Cobar is geographically challenged, and that is an understatement. The nearest away ground is 130 kilometres by road. The farthest is 480.

A Camels player might finish his shift at seven on a Saturday morning, jump in a bus, travel three or four hours on the road, play two halves of rugby, and then travel another four hours back to Cobar. Dedication is the only way to describe it.

And with mine work being a transitory profession, the Camels get creative in recruiting new players.

In 2008, the club was facing a major crisis as they struggled to find enough players to field a team. Thankfully for the Camels, fate intervened when a former Fijian international rugby player, Netava Tagi, answered the call. A job was found for Tagi at the mine and he took up the roles of player and coach with the team.

The crisis passed and the club soon began taking on members from different sporting codes, with players from rugby league, AFL and soccer beginning to turn out for the Camels. At one point they even recruited a former Canadian Ice hockey player as a prop forward.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the Camels are doing their best to embrace the modern way of playing the game. There is a new head coach, John ‘The Outlaw’ Barnes, suitably named for a town in the state’s ‘wild’ west. An experienced sportsman, Barnes also doubles as the team’s strength and conditioning coach.

The Outlaw originates from a strong rugby pedigree, having spent 30 years playing the game in South Africa. More than half those years were in first grade, and five years  playing provincial rugby. He moved to Australia to become strength and conditioning coach for the Western Force in Perth, who won the international Super Rugby competition in 2014.

Barnes also has a Master’s degree in personal training. He was a trainer for the South African Army’s special forces and, at one time, wrestled professionally under the name his Camels would come to know him by: ‘Outlaw’. They like to do things a little differently in Cobar.

The Camels only had one win last season. They’ve only ever won two first grade premierships in their history, in 1976 and 1996. The Outlaw is determined turn this record around, and this year could be the year.

If you’re sceptical, just ask anyone from Cobar and they’ll put you right.

But even if the Camels don’t end up being the best side in the competition, they are certainly going to be the fittest with the ‘Outlaw’ laying down the law.

You might think that travelling vast distances just to play a game would become a bit of an ordeal for a team, but it doesn’t seem to worry the Camels one little bit. The travel isn’t a problem but the cost of doing so is. At one point, the club was spending close to $20,000 a year just to play games of rugby.

The Camels needed a cost effective solution so they did what any other club might do in their situation. They bought themselves a bus. It’s not the fastest or flashiest piece of machinery but it gets the job done, and the club does its best to make each away trip a special event.

How do you go about entertaining a group of hard nut rugby players for four hours? No worries, the Camels have that sorted: You get everyone to sing songs. Plenty of songs. You sing them loud and out of tune, but it won’t bother anyone. When you’re with your mates and doing something you love no one’s going to be bothered if you don’t get the tune quite right.

The team is named after an animal that is a ship of the desert, built for endurance and the long haul. There really is no better way to sum up this bush rugby club.

Good Men And Women Must Stop Doing Nothing

Humanity isn’t a word used much these days. We should be ashamed at that.

It’s a word I love because it has so much meaning. It’s a way of describing all of us. It’s a way of describing the good in all of us. Our commonality. We all live on this planet earth. We may speak a different language, but we are all still human beings. We breathe air, we have DNA, we walk on two legs, we have intelligence and we know right from wrong. We are all in this together whether we like it or not.

Humanity also means compassion, understanding and respect for our fellow human beings. A moral compass that we use, or are supposed to use, to guide us to act in a way that will benefit others for no expectation or benefit in return. We do it because it is the right thing to do.

Humanity is not a word in use in Aleppo, Syria these days. It hasn’t been used in that place in quite some time. All of us, and I do mean all of us,have forgotten, or don’t want to remember, or be reminded of humanity and our obligation to it when it comes to Aleppo, especially when every day we see video of the systematic destruction of a city brick by bloody brick.

Each bomb dropped, each building destroyed has people inside. Yes people, as in men, women and children. Innocent people. We don’t want to know about that either. People whose only crime is to be the unfortunates to live in a city in the cross hairs of a pointless and destructive civil war.

Of course they are not the only ones suffering in Syria. But Aleppo has become the lightning rod, a metaphor for everything that has gone wrong in Syria and in us and everything that has gone wrong in the futile and insincere attempts to stop the violence. We should be ashamed. Everyone on this planet should be ashamed. People are being slaughtered and we do nothing. It reminds me of the words of Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing. We have become particularly good at doing nothing.

But collective shame doesn’t begin and end with Aleppo. It isn’t enough that we do nothing to help them. We then turn around and try and take away their hope. The people of Syria still have the will to survive in the midst of madness. The ‘lucky’ ones are trying to do something to help themselves when confronted with inhumanity and no one prepared to help them. They are doing what anyone else would do in their terrible situation. They are running away. They are taking to unseaworthy boats and making perilous crossings of the ocean to try and find a place that isn’t being bombed 24/7. It’s hardly surprising yet we, as in the nations of the world, are continually surprised. What is surprising to me is that we do nothing to help them yet we do everything in our power to dissuade them from running away. Dissuade them from boarding boats unfit to go to sea and paying people smugglers for the privilege.

We don’t have that right and they have no choice. We have no right to tell them they can’t board a boat especially if we are not going to help them.

If they stay they die, if they take to the sea they may still die but at least they have a 50/50 chance of survival. Fifty percent is better than nothing.

And to add insult to injury, those that do manage to make that perilous crossing and survive, are rewarded for their efforts by being forced to live as non-citizens, or forced to walk hundreds of kilometres in the hope that someone, somewhere will take pity on them. Worse still if they come to the country that I live in they will be put in prison in some third world Pacific island hell hole with no hope and no prospect of leaving. And our Government congratulates itself on the fact that this final solution has stopped the boats. Humanity isn’t a word used much in Australia either.

I am tired of humanity being hijacked by politicians and other selfish, soulless people. It doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to all of us and it’s time for human beings to reclaim it. If we don’t, we have no future and we certainly don’t have a world worth living in. We have to start being good men and women. We have to stop evil from triumphing. We have to tell politicians, we have to show them they don’t speak for us when they say they won’t help people in need. Because that is what good people do.

America. Grab Your Ankles

The last rites are being said over a political corpse. Decaying by the day. A political corpse called Donald Trump. He is politically dead in the water. He was probably dead, the minute he said he wanted to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and have the Mexicans pay for it.

There’ve been plenty of both feet in the mouth moments from him since. No reason to revisit them. It’s his latest piece of sexist misogyny, that has become his political death certificate. This is a man, who defies description. But if you were going to chance your arm and give it a go, try this: the single, biggest natural disaster in American political history.

Trump is officially unelectable. Despite what he says or what he thinks he will never/can never be President of the United States.

His demise is neither here nor there. It will hardly trouble history or those who record it.

No one will care or want to remember. However, there is a much bigger catastrophe being played out. A catastrophe much, much bigger than Donald Trump. It’s the death of the once proud and conservative Republican Party. A political party with an extraordinary history. A political party, which produced 18 past Presidents, who governed the United States for a total of 88 years. The first Republican President was Abraham Lincoln, the man who fought and won a civil war ending slavery in the United States. Their last will almost certainly be George Bush Jnr.

There can be no political comeback for the Republicans from this. They are stuck to Donald Trump like flies on honey. Even if they want to dump him they can’t. Not with the Presidential election a month away. All they can do, is reflect on their moment of reckless stupidity that allowed him to even stand as a candidate. It is too late to do anything. They will go to the Presidential elections with Trump. And when he loses disastrously, as he will, it will be followed by a witch-hunt among the Republicans, the likes of which has never been seen in American politics. I am thinking the equivalent of the Spanish inquisition. Senior party officials won’t survive. I suspect key financial backers of the Republicans, have already bailed. And when the dust has finally settled after the blood letting, the party will bear almost no resemblance to its traditional self.

But if you think I am about to give a ringing, glowing endorsement of his opponent, think again. Clinton is almost as bad as Trump. In some ways she is worse, in my opinion, if that is possible. I fear for my American friends. I fear for their future. I fear for ours as well. We have stood together in the past in many hours of adversity. Our collective hands stretching across the water, and all of that.

This is America’s worst nightmare. Americans are going to have to choose between two of the worst Presidential candidates in their political history. A good many of them, perhaps in record numbers, will simply refuse to choose. They won’t bother to vote. Why would you? It’s like changing deck chairs on the Titanic.

We share your nightmare. The whole world does. It’s inescapable. Neither Clinton nor Trump is going to make the world a safer place. They will only make it more dangerous. I fear we are witnessing a revolutionary change in the world order. And what we end up with is something no one wants. God help us all.