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It was happy days for all those who attended the club’s opening. Image: Goeff Helisma.

A place to call home

Geoff Helisma|

President of the Lower Clarence Magpies Rugby League Club, John Elisaia, described the opening of their new clubhouse on Friday March 20 as a “momentous occasion”.

“Without dreamers among us, we will never see change; without change, we will never see progress; and without progress, we have no future,” he said to the politicians and three tiers of government that stumped up the money, to the dreamers who started their campaign in 2003, to the Yaegl people and the land upon which the clubhouse sits, to the club members and stalwarts, to the builders and, most importantly, to the future of a club with a century-long history.

When Kevin Hogan made his speech, he boldly declared he had “lapped up” the attention brought upon him by the media, which, he said, routinely used a picture from February 2019 when he and then Nationals deputy leader and sports minister Bridgette McKenzie announced the club had won a $500,000 Community Sports Infrastructure grant.

At the time, the still unresolved sports rorts saga was almost a year away from being exposed by the Australian Auditor-General.

Meanwhile, the NSW Government stumped up a $355,000 Stronger Country Communities grant and Clarence Valley Council contributed $505,502.

Scandals aside, it was a new beginning for the Magpies club, which now has a place of its own to call home – rather than sharing the Maclean showground.

The dreamers – Trish Douglas (deceased), Deborah Novak, Ashley Lindsay, Jimmy Baird and Gary Anderson –, Mr Elisaia said, had provided the initial “vision, motivation and fortitude” to work towards having a standalone clubhouse.

“Without their vision … we may not [have been] here today,” he said.

Mr Elisaia retold how the club had worked towards its goal over the past 17 years.

He spoke about the hard times when the club was barely surviving and thanked the “many people who played a role in this project”, the “long-time supporters of our senior and junior clubs” and the volunteers.

He made special mention of Deborah Novak, “who has been involved from the very beginning to the completion of this dream” and former president Bruce Howard, “who was the ‘second wind’ in our journey”.

“For our players, supporters and volunteers in 2020 and beyond, the completion of this project does not just represent a building or a clubhouse,” Mr Elisaia said, “it goes a long way to finally giving us a sense of ownership, a sense of pride and, most of all … it gives us a home.”

President of the junior Magpies, Yaegl man Trevor Kapeen, said the new clubhouse will provide a venue and opportunity to continue “working together” towards reconciliation objectives that will benefit the wider community.

He said under his leadership that junior players will have a “voice” and the clubhouse would provide them with a greater “sense of being part of the club”.

He praised the work Chris Douglas (Trish Douglas’s husband) has done for the club and encouraged him to “turn up on game days” in the future.

“A lot of blackfellas and non indigenous people respect you,” Mr Kapeen said.

Yaegl Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Billy Walker, who played for Canberra in the ARL, also singled out Mr Douglas.

“You went out of your way for our mob … and they played the best they could,” Mr Walker said.

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, CVC’s general manager Ashley Lindsay, Ms Novak, and Birrigan Gargle Land Council chairperson Amanda Laurie also made speeches at the launch.

Aunty Lillian Williams conducted the Welcome to Country.

Looking towards the club’s future and representing federal, state and local governments respectively, Mr Hogan, Mr Gulaptis and CVC mayor, Jim Simmons, said in a media release that the ground was now able to “attract large scale regional events, carnivals, coaching clinics and training academies”, that “the NRL have expressed interest in coordinating junior training activities here”, the “facility is a real boon for the future of both junior and senior rugby league [male and female]” and that it provides “physical and social infrastructure of the future” for the Lower Clarence.

Yaegl elder Aunty Lillian Williams officially opens the new Lower Clarence Magpies clubhouse. Clarence Valley’s mayor, Jim Simmons (left), Page MP Kevin Hogan, (rear) and Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis represented the three tiers of government that provided funding for the project. Image: Geoff Helisma.