Port Wyndham Crocs forfeits East Kimberley Football League games due to travel safety concerns in WA

The Port Wyndham Crocs Football Club is taking a stand after years of perilous rides home from games.

Travel is a constant problem for country football in Australia, but it is especially a challenge for the East Kimberley Football League in WA’s far north.

The teams are spread across 55,000 square miles, with games played in Wyndham, Kununurra — 85 miles east of Wyndham — and Halls Creek, another 350 miles to the south.

Scott Timms, president of Port Wyndham Crocs, said the 700km round trip to play at Halls Creek had simply become unsafe.

“We know how long the journey takes and how tired drivers go home with livestock on unpaved roads in the dark. [and] horses,” said Mr Timms.

A wall sign on an orange brick wall says: "Welcome to the Crocs Farm"
Timms says losing the match will negatively affect his club up the ladder.ABC Kimberley: Ted O’Connor

The Wirramanu Tigers will make an even longer round trip of 1,300km for games in Wyndham and Kununurra.

“I don’t know how that’s sustainable,” Timms said.

The Crocs lose the two games they would play at Halls Creek in the 12-round competition, making the announcement on the eve of round two.

“That will negatively affect us up the ladder, but we are willing to deal with that [to ensure] our team, the players and the support team are safe,” said Timms.

A green road sign points to Fitzroy Crossing on the left and Kununurra on the right
The Port Wyndham Crocs will no longer travel the Great Northern Highway for games at Halls Creek.ABC Kimberley: Hannah Barry

Halls Creek Hawks president Zainel Bin Busu said the issues needed to be addressed but questioned the timing of the Crocs announcement.

‘Pump some money’

Outgoing AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan visited the Kimberley to discuss investments and talent development in 2019.

The WA and AFL governments announced a jointly funded program for football in the region in 2020, pledging $1 million per year for five years.

With the East Kimberley League producing a growing number of AFL players, Mr Bin Busu wants the WAFL and AFL to “pump in some money”.

“If you build in a small hub, [Warmun]”People could stay in the morning and move on safely,” he said.

“If it’s too unsafe to travel from any city after the game because of the long distances, [accommodation] must be provided.”

A red barn surrounded by grass and trees under a blue sky.
Mr Bin Busu wants to see funding to improve facilities and security in the East Kimberley Football League.ABC Kimberley: Ted O’Connor

Timms has also pointed to the opportunity to play games in Warmun, about halfway between Halls Creek and Wyndham, once the COVID restrictions end and facilities are upgraded.

He said the East Kimberley League had previously funded overnight stays for referees and some women’s teams, but the cost would be “excessively expensive” for men’s teams.

His short-term suggestion was to split the competition in two, an idea that also emerged after last year’s grand final.

A bigger picture

Regardless of the outcome, Mr Bin Busu said football plays a vital role in the region.

“We have guys from different backgrounds and social problems,” he said.

“One thing they like in life is playing footy.

The East Kimberley Football League has been contacted for comment.

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