Quambatook will lose its football-netball clubs this year. This is how the city plans to survive

Quambatook senior football captain Ricky Wild knew exactly what to say.

As the first rebound approached yesterday in his team’s home game against Hay, the first since the soccer and netball clubs announced they would fold soon, he explained the Saints’ mission.

“This year is about the standards we set for each other,” he said.

The team answered his call with an 86-point win in front of an all-ages crowd, hundreds strong.

Like the team that bears its name, Quambatook, a village of 200 on the northwest Avoca River in Victoria, will spend the year looking for ways to preserve its social fabric.

Santos Quambatook
The club has needed to recruit players from as far away as Melbourne to field full teams.(ABC Wimmera: Alexander Darling)

because it had to happen

After five premierships, most recently in 1997, and 111 years playing in various local leagues, the Saints announced in a statement Friday that they would disband after the 2022 Golden Rivers Football Netball League (GRFNL) season.

Rhys Carmichael is in his first year as club president and said many locals would not be surprised if this happened.

“The club has been struggling for years with the youth and getting volunteers and community members. It takes a lot to run a club these days,” he said.

“The community is getting older, there are fewer people, it’s hard to get people to do things. [The pandemic] It definitely didn’t help, but it is what it is.”

He said that they planned to keep the social side of the football club alive.

“We’re thinking of running a ball, Barley Banquet style, into the future, just to try to keep the community together at least once a year, because it’s the people of Quambatook that make the place so great.

In addition to its tractor pull, the city has developed a niche showing drive-in movies at its silo twice a year.

Quambatook's main street, with the silos sometimes used for film screenings visible behind the pub.
The main street of Quambatook, with the silos used for film screenings behind the pub.(ABC Wimmera: Alexander Darling)

The next steps of the league

Ross Stanton, who chairs the Central Rivers soccer netball board that oversees the GRFNL, says the league will continue as a seven-team competition beginning in 2023.

“We hope not to see others, but the league will remain competitive with [three matches each weekend] and goodbye.”

Quambatook’s departure will be the first from the Golden Rivers league since Wakool, NSW, folded at the end of 2018.

Nullawill, a successful team, also tried to leave last year out of a desire to play against stronger opposition.

A netball match takes place on a partly cloudy day in the Victoria region
The Saints will disband after this year’s Golden Rivers Football Netball League season.(ABC Wimmera: Alexander Darling)

Stanton says the board wants Nullawill to stay in GRFNL and is hopeful the number of teams doesn’t drop below seven.

“Moulamein had a brief discussion a couple of years ago about whether to merge with Swan Hill, but they decided that would not be the case, and they probably came back stronger than ever as a club.

Is this the end of town?

This is not the first major loss Quambatook has recently experienced, and it may not be the last.

Laura O’Dwyer, president of the Community Development Association, has lived there for 15 years and has seen the tennis club, school and (temporarily) pub close.

A woman with curly red hair stands behind the counter of a canteen.  There are red, white and black streamers above her head.
Laura O’Dwyer has seen a lot of Quambatook up close in the 15 years she’s lived there.(ABC Wimmera: Alexander Darling)

“We’ve always had the bowling club, so maybe we’ll all go crazy for bowling or golfers,” he said.

“The ongoing impact of this is that we will no longer have footballers volunteering for other things in the city.

“Since the tractor pull has been running, the football club has been gate entry security and traffic controllers, so it will be another struggle to find people to fill those gaps as well.

The city has also resisted a local council proposal to defund its swimming pool, and Ms O’Dwyer says the end of Los Santos will make keeping that facility open even more crucial.

But there are promising green shoots for Quamby.

Last year, the state government awarded the Gannawarra Shire Council more than $2 million to build a dam pool on the river that runs through the city to attract tourists and jobs.

“As part of that, we’re doing 5km and 2.5km walking trails around the dam, so maybe we’ll bring something like a weekly walk through the park,” said Ms O’Dwyer.

Ms. O’Dwyer, also a former Saints game day secretary, says all former residents or players can come back and play for the rest of 2022.

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