As they kicked a footy round in the sun at the Blackall Woolscour, scattering the few sheep watching on, or joked at each other’s whip-cracking efforts, it was hard to imagine anything other than a carefree afternoon out with mates.
But for National Rugby League legends Preston Campbell and Clinton Toopi, their visit to the western community had a serious undertone.
“While I was playing, I saw men struggling. I’d been through some tough times and I knew what to do to get them through,” Preston said. “You get a lot done for you in the rugby league world, but there’s nothing more empowering than being in control of your life.”
Getting the people of western Queensland through their own tough times, and their feelings of powerlessness through the jobs and money lost as a consequence of drought is his latest quest.
The Preston Campbell Foundation teamed up with Wesley Lifeforce, Queensland Health’s mental health unit and regional councils to tour the west recently – Longreach, Barcaldine, Winton, Windorah, Ilfracombe, Blackall and finishing up at the Bedourie 9s rugby league competition – sharing a message of direction.
Just like fellow NRL legend Johnathan Thurston and his message for the kids of Arukun, the pair want to be there for blokes in need.
“People need to remember, they don’t have to do everything on their own – it’s OK to ask for a hand,” Preston said. “There are services out there – my job is to let people know about them.”
The bush is a great place for making connections, Preston reckoned, more than people realised.
“Through their hard work, I see a real common bond there,” he said.
People need to remember - they don't have to do everything on their own.
Dave Kerrigan said that with their NRL recognition – Preston is a Dally M Player of the Year and instigator of the Indigenous Allstars concept, while Clinton made a name with the New Zealand Warriors – the message they had was very well received.
“The message is, we’re always thinking about others – we need to spend a bit of time on ourselves, fishing, gardening or playing sport.”
Dave has worked in both health and rugby league fields in the west for many years and said there were real problems in western towns at the moment, as numbers shrank at schools, reducing teacher numbers and the availability of services offered by staff.
“We encourage people to get in touch with their local hospital or ambulance, or any service that can connect them with expert help.”
For the record, Preston played for the Channel Country and Toopi ran out for the Barcoo Bandits at the Bedourie 9s. The latter team went down to the Boulia Bulls with a 6-8 scoreline.