The Sandfire Bulls, an all-Indigenous football club from Kalkadoon country in Mount Isa, have grown accustomed to doing a lot with very little.
The Bulls were established in 2014 and currently field four junior sides, a senior men’s team and a senior women’s team in Mount Isa’s local competitions.
According to club founder Donna Ah-One, “98 percent” of the players are Indigenous. They train at Sunset Park, a multi-purpose community field on the edge of town.
“We don’t have any training facilities or a marked field or any soccer goals, for that matter,” said Ah-One.
“We have a great big field down the park and a handful of committed parents, some of who’ve only recently been introduced to soccer through their child’s participation.
“We put a lot of time and effort into supporting our kids, whether it’s supplying equipment or arranging lifts to training and games.”
Despite limited resources, Sandfire Bulls have fast become one of the strongest clubs in North West Queensland.
Last season, the senior men’s team went 17 games undefeated to win both the A-Grade premiership and Grand Final.
Bulls players also took out Player of the Season awards in the under 6, under 8, under 13-15 and senior men’s age groups.
In 2018, the Bulls had two players selected for the Indigenous national teams that played against Maori national teams from Aotearoa/New Zealand.
One of those players was Jayden Dempsey, a 24-year-old midfielder who has close family links to the late Aboriginal footballer and civil rights activist, Dr Charles Kumantjay Perkins.
Dempsey (pictured) is carrying on Perkins’s great football legacy.
For most of the Sandfire Bulls community, football is a relatively new sport. Ah-One, 47, was introduced to the world game 20 years ago and has been hooked ever since.
“Soccer wasn’t that big out here then, but I took my kids and my niece and nephews and got them involved. They all just fell in love with the game,” she explained.
“Over the years, I’ve been involved in a lot of women’s teams, but it was never my club, you know?”
With some assistance from the Bulls’ naming sponsor, Sandfire Resources, Ah-One built the club from the ground up.
The latest figures from Football Queensland show that more than 3500 registered participants throughout the state identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – a 14 percent increase since 2019.
But Sandfire Bulls are unique because the club was established by and for Indigenous people.
“We want to provide opportunities for our mob to play at a higher level. Everyone is welcome here. I always say, soccer is for everybody,” said Ah-One.
“I’m very boisterous, I’m very passionate and I’m the main voice for the Bulls, but I don’t do this all on my own. My mum, Pearl, is a community Elder and a big supporter of the Bulls.
“I appreciate the support of my family and all the volunteers that help me. Sandfire Bulls would fail without them.”
Ah-One, who is connected to the Kalkadoon and Mitakoodi tribes of North West Queensland, is forever encouraging her community to have a go at football.
Players from surrounding towns Dajarra and Camooweal and even as far as Mornington Island have proudly worn the orange and grey of Sandfire Bulls.
Whether it be fundraising for the club or organising team trips to Indigenous tournaments down south, Ah-One is determined to let her community know “where soccer can take them”.
As a health worker in the local Aboriginal Medical Service, she uses football to encourage all Bulls players to get a 715 health check.
Already, she is starting to see positive results for a community which has historically been involved in rugby league.
“They had a carnival here late last year called Legends of League,” said Ah-One.
“I went down there to watch it with my husband. The amount of kids I seen running around with Sandfire Bulls shirts on made me so proud.
“It was a rugby league event, but all the kids running around had soccer shirts on.”
Although Ah-One concedes that “it’s a challenge just to do the simple things”, she has big plans for Sandfire Bulls.
“We’re going to continue to build our foundations to make sure our little grassroots club remains strong,” she said.
“For our mob, our dream is to get our own patch – our own field for our juniors to develop. And also, a little clubhouse where they can have a sense of ownership and something to connect to.”