To donate to the Bushfire Relief Fund, go here
It has been a summer unlike one I can ever remember. The bushfires started in November and madness, chaos and destruction soon followed. For over two months the country watched on, feeling helpless and scared to turn on the news or get updates as it seemed there was only more sadness and devastation to report. Rain would not come and there was little relief in sight. Homes were being destroyed, our wildlife was being killed in catastrophic numbers, our brave firefighters were waging a battle against nature that was seemingly too big to win and as they were trying to help others from losing all they had. Lives were being lost.
The solemnness felt around Sydney was palpable, the sky was grey and the air thick and heavy. The first wave of relief was not felt as rain, but in the form of a tweet from Australian tennis star, Nick Kyrgios. He offered to donate money to the bushfire appeal for every ace he served over the summer. That single tweet started an avalanche of kindness from fellow athletes all over the world. Soon enough, netball jumped on board, announcing a fundraising match between the Australian Diamonds and the Suncorp Super Netball All Stars.
Sport has the power to unite and to galvanize, to give people a sense of belonging, community and hope. These are the foundations that netball has been long built on and this star-studded game was one of the ways of showing how much we feel for those who have suffered and how grateful we are to the firefighters who risked their lives for months on end, keeping so many communities safe.
Sydney turned on a postcard perfect summer day for the 11,067 adoring fans who streamed through the gates of Qudos Bank Arena at Sydney Olympic Park. The atmosphere was electric and while there was a sea of gold Diamonds supporters throughout the crowd, it would matter little who won the game. Before the first whistle had been blown the winner today would be netball, shown in all its glory, its soul exposed for what it is: a close-knit community, ready to help.
The day before the game, people affected by the bushfires told their stories to both teams. All money raised from the event was directed to netball associations and clubs to help fund the rebuilding of facilities, community events, training clinics, equipment, uniforms and anything else required. Inherent to this is the recognition of the role that sport plays in bringing communities together and enriching lives. The crowd heard stories from families who had lost their homes in the bushfires to firefighters whose homes went down in flames while they helped others protect their properties.
The fires also affected elite netballers Jacqui Newton and Ash Brazill. Newton’s family lost their property in Wodonga on New Years Eve, a wind change saw fire sweep through. Brazill’s family are from Bargo, New South Wales where fire-initiated thunderstorms were reported. A fire came within 500 metres of their property and while they were lucky it didn’t come closer, Brazill spoke of how the huge losses to others affected the small community. Brazill, wo was anxiously awaiting the arrival of a baby at the time, also spoke of how the constant heat and smoke caused animals to die.
We were treated to a swagger of netball royalty: Liz Ellis, Sue Gaudion, Cath Cox, Sharelle McMahon, Kim Green, Susan Pettit and Maddy Proud were all on hand to keep the crowd engaged. Magpies netballer and songbird Kelsey Browne gave the crowd goosebumps as she sang ‘We are Australian’, while in the background the big screens showed haunting footage of the carnage that ripped through so many communities. You could have heard a pin drop in the stadium.
This game marked the last hurrah for Diamonds head coach, Lisa Alexander. At the helm for nine years with a win-loss record of 81% before the game, her players wanted to send her out on a high. Alexander looked relaxed on the sideline flanked by her support team. She was presented with flowers at the end of the game and given a rousing applause from the crowd as thanks for her service to the national team and the legacy she leaves behind.
The court was littered with superstars and from a spectator viewpoint, the game did not disappoint. The last five minutes of every quarter added excitement as it signalled the start of the Suncorp Super Shot, where any goal scored from a designated zone within the circle meant two points and $20 donated. Energy rose from the crowd in those five minutes and fans rode every shot taken. We were all trying to keep up with rolling subs (which will also be a feature in SSN this year) and fresh legs were keeping the game at a very high tempo.
Caitlin Thwaites was back for her final game as a Diamond (for the second time!) and each time she was subbed on the crowd gave her an almighty cheer. Gretel Tippett looked like she has added an extra dimension to her game post season 2019 and was comfortably taking long bombs, much to the delight of fans. Paige Hadley was at full speed and created the play of the day, with a great tip resulting in a spectacular goal for the Diamonds.
In the end, the Diamonds were too strong and were 13 goal winners over the All Stars, but the crowd did not care. All 11,067 of us were there to celebrate what it means to be part of this netball community and as I looked around the stands I was filled with a wonderful sense of pride. There was no agenda on the day we were all on the same team and netball was the beautiful link between us all.
Moments like this remind me why I keep turning up for netball, why I keep buying memberships and why I am so passionate about this sport and its continued success in the future.
The Netball Bushfire Appeal organized by Netball Australia with the help of the Suncorp Super Netball raised over $50,000, proving that the ‘here if you need’ attitude is alive and well in the netball community.
It isn’t too late to continue to raise funds for the bushfire recover efforts. Donations are still being collected here.