On Saturday, 7 February 2009, Australia experienced its worst ever bushfires. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described what has since become known as Black Saturday, as being “on a scale that takes your breath away”. At least 210 lives were lost (30 more people are still unaccounted for), in excess of 2,000 homes were destroyed, 4,500square kilometers were burnt out, 78 individual townships were affected by the fires and 7,500 people were made homeless.
When the United States of America suffered its 9/11 tragedy, as a mark of respect to the victims, it cancelled sporting events. In the wake of Black Saturday, Australia adopted a different approach. As a mark of respect to the victims, all sporting events proceeded. The thinking was that sport brings the community together and gives people the opportunity to deal with their grief. In fact, many of these sporting events were used as occasions to raise funds.
Last weekend, seven weeks after Black Saturday, the traveled to Saigon to play the Vietnam Swans in a footy match.
Together, the Vietnam Swans and the Bali Geckos decided to use the weekend as a vehicle to raise money and to dedicate the match to the bushfire victims and survivors.
On Friday, 27 March, a fundraiser was held at Café Latin in Saigon. Great prizes were offered in the raffle thanks to the very generous support of sponsors such as , the , , , , , and the . In addition, auctions were held for a Sydney Swans footy jumper, signed by the entire 2009 team and two jumpers from the , signed by ex AFLers Damian Monkhorst and Ben Haynes (the YVMDFNL covers the worst of the firestorm-torn communities).
In total, approximately USD3,000 was raised (the final amount will be confirmed in the next couple of days).
This money will be donated jointly by the Vietnam Swans and Bali Geckos to the YVMDFNL. It seemed fitting for Asian Footy to give directly to the footy league that had been most affected by the bushfires. In Australia, it is usually the sporting clubs that are the lifeblood of local communities.
The following day, Saturday 28 March, the two teams played the Bushfire Match at (RMIT University donated the ground hire fees to the YVMDFNL Bushfire Fund). A match day banner hung from the soccer goals with an image of a fire scarred landscape. However, the burnt trees were arranged in a manner that symbolized footy goal posts. Looking more closely, one could see new, green shoots of life sprouting from the blackened posts. The tag line was simply: Asian Footy – Supporters of courageous communities.
This footy match had a two-fold purpose – to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and to symbolically celebrate/ support/ encourage those who have commenced the process of rebuilding their lives.
The President of RMIT University, James Baker, welcomed everyone to the ground. Jacko, from the Bali Geckos, then invited the two teams, who had formed a guard of honour in front of the match day banner, to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the Australian bushfires – and for the 78 Indonesian victims who had lost their lives that morning when a dam wall burst its banks in a residential area just south of Jakarta.
The Australian Vice Consul, Chantelle Woodford, then tossed the coin. Vietnam won and elected to kick “to the right of screen”. Game on.
It was a tough and competitive encounter, played in a spirit befitting the occasion. The Bali Geckos triumphed over the Vietnam Swans with a score of 17.06.108 to 13.11. 89.
In the after match presentations, the National President of the Vietnam Swans, Phil Johns, invited the Indonesian acting Consul General, Mr Sunarmin Sunggono to present the trophy to the winning team. Indonesia had responded quickly to the Australian bushfire crisis. Indonesia had expressed its solidarity with Australia by donating money to rebuild destroyed schools and by sending a team of forensic specialists to assist in the formal identification of burnt victims.
Far away from Australia, a game of footy had brought people together from two other countries in support of the firestorm-torn communities that have already begun the process of sprouting new, green, shoots of life.
More to follow including a transcript of the Indonesian Consul General’s speech, feedback from the YVMDFL, a match report and the confirmed donation amount. For photos, please check the .
Photos courtesy of and Bill Crang.
AusCham’s Big Day Out in Saigon happens this Saturday, 4 April at the Van Thanh Park. For full details, click .