The following is a report of the highly successful Tigers adventure to the Solomon Islands as part of the Clubs Community Activity Program
Queanbeyan Tigers Conduct AFL Exchange in the Solomon Islands (for more photo’s please go to the Queanbeyan Tigers FB page)
Report compiled by Club Chaplain and Committee-person Scott Minchin who organised the adventure for a diverse group of Tiger Associates including players of both genders, committee and volunteers.
About 4am on the 23rd of October, across Canberra, Queanbeyan and Royalla, alarm clocks sounded waking up a special team of Queanbeyan Tigers players and volunteers who headed out on an end of season trip with a difference.
Club Chaplain Scott Minchin along with Club Chairman Ron ‘Chook’ Fowlie, and the tireless encouragement and organisation from Chrissie Craven and Ryan Quade – led a group of sleepy volunteers into the Qantas terminal at Canberra airport on their way to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.
The group consisted of Hayden Kelly, Hannah Dunn, Ella Ross, Ryan Quade, Lindsey Anders, Ashleigh Dand, Chrissie Craven, Carly Res and the ‘El Chapo’ Scott Minchin (soon to be joined by Dan Lucas and Brett ‘Wombat’ Ormston).
They boarded flights on a trip that is both special and unique – and underlines the Tigers Spirit and the calibre of people that make up the Queanbeyan Tigers.
The Club already had a connection with the Solomon Islands. In 2016 ‘El Chapo’ Scott Minchin deployed to the Solomon Islands in his role as a Civil Military Coordination Officer., Scott took with him clothes, equipment and sports gear (which had been donated by players from the Tigers Club) which went to some of the poorest communities in the Solomon Island region.
In 2017 – the Queanbeyan Tigers went one better. The Chaplain, Scott Minchin suggested to the Clubs Chairman about organising a group of associates from the Tigers Club to travel to the Solomon Islands as a Group Community Activity.
Volunteer Chrissy Craven placed a notice in the Clubrooms suggesting that players and volunteers might want to go on a different type of end of season trip – swapping races for roofing, mendin
g fences instead of music festivals and helping people who will never be able to repay the generous efforts of the volunteers.
In partnership with the Rotary Club of Honiara who are an amazing group of people who work tirelessly for the Solomon Islands – the Tigers team headed into the great unknown – to complete projects that would provide fresh water, rain catchment, fencing repairs, bedding and clothing to orphanages, refuges and schools.
Landing in Honiara later in the afternoon of the 23rd the trip had an interesting start – with Sydney Swans star player – Isaac Heeney travelling on the same day – and being a fan – he asked Hannah Dunn, Ella Ross and Ashleigh Dand if he could have a photo with them.
Chatting with Isaac Heeney at Honiara Airport he said what an awesome idea the trip was by the Queanbeyan Tigers footy club – and that he would like to hear more about the trip next year.
Met by a group of Rotarians – including Jess Bradford from the Rotary Club of Honiara – who was an amazing help in organising the trip and coordinating activities in the Solomon Islands – any fears about homestays quickly diminished when groups arrived at their host locations with company, hospitality, swimming pools and warm friendships immediately on offer.
Tuesday the 24th work started at the Christian Care Centre or CCC– just west of Alligator Creek where some of the Guadalcanal battles occurred. The CCC is a refuge managed and run by the Dominican Sisters providing crisis care and long term stays for families affected by fear and violence. During the trip up to 15 families were housed there with up to 25 waiting for accommodation support including bedding and freshwater supplies. On the way to CCC the team were treated to a road block near Hells Point, the explosive ordnance disposal area for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force – to wait for a detonation that was almost as loud as the cheer when Hayden Kelly made his return to the playing field this year.
Day, one was building a new generator stand, commencing the preparation for water tower stands and mixing cement and digging in 33 degree heat with 80 percent humidity – what off season. Hayden Haydos Kelly quickly established himself as the MVP – leading the projects with local assistants Jacob and John Lee – and quickly the group established friendship and rapport with the residents. Tuesday night the team was hosted by the Rotary Club of Honiara – where ‘El Chapo’ was asked to speak about the cub, the trip and our volunteer efforts – the appreciation shown by the Rotarians was humbling – which wouldn’t be the last humbling experience of this trip.
Wednesday saw the team back at CCC – with two more water tank stands built – digging through rocky ground – and in the case of Ella and Hannah – unearthing some war relics. One job is never enough for the Tigers – so while cement was setting a trampoline was built – and the laughter and smiles of a group of children who have almost nothing in life continued the humbling moments of the trip. Chrissie Craven and ‘El Chapo’ conducted a side visit to Bright Star Primary School – a Rotary Club sponsored school that caters to one of the poorest communities. All staff receive potato payments – the villages are so poor that the payments are in goods only. The school has 4 hand built classrooms catering for 600 students – and the Queanbeyan Tigers donated books clothes toys and a generous cash donation thanks to our volunteers and donors such as Chrissie Craven and Lauren Flakelar, which the Principal (who also lives in a classroom at the school with his family of 4) gratefully thanked us for the donations.
The school will ask Rotary for a Queanbeyan Tigers work team in 2018.
As the CC work continued roof plumbing and water tanks, the Tigers took the opportunity to make more friends. Babies got cuddled, children were loaded into wheelbarrows for races, books were read to children, toys were give out and hair was braided; and impromptu soccer and volleyball games broke out – with varying levels of competitiveness – from one hand one bounce volleyball to recently retired players blasting shots at teammates during soccer games. Carly and Ella had a swing race, Chrissie gave a rub down to a future Tigers player, Ash and Haydos and Carly led wheelbarrow races – and Hannah was almost run down in a game of ‘chasey’ by Monica – a girl with a club foot whose happiness and speed belied her life and circumstances. During a juggling display coordinated by Lindsey and Ryan, Sister Agnes, CCC coordinator remarked that she had not heard the laughter and squeals of joy at the CCC like this before.
On the Wednesday night the group ventured out to watch an amazing sunset and share a group dinner, which doubled as a celebration of sorts, as ‘El Chapo’ received notification earlier that day of his recognition as a Global Rotary Peace Fellow, an overseas scholarship that recognises community, and volunteer service, and achievement in the workplace.
Thursday at CCC work continued the tanks and towers, with construction of beds to house more residents that need care and assistance (in the week after leaving- another 15 families have found care, refuge and shelter at the CCC).
On a sad day for the Queanbeyan Tigers the Solomon Islands team ventured to the beach outside the Christian Care Centre at 1100 where ‘El Chapo’ conducted a memorial service for a great mate and forever family Razor Ray Daniel – sending love to Ray, sharing our memories and thoughts looking towards a far horizon was a special moment to reflect on a great man – at place where people are helped – a place for those who have the least – think Razor Ray would be proud.
Our afternoon concluded with the first of a series of donations to the CCC thanks to Megan Godfrey – many of these families leave their homes with nothing – some walk more than 20 miles to seek refuge – the graciousness and gratefulness of Sister Agnes on behalf of the CCC was humbling.
Friday saw us head out to St Nicholas school – a school that supports secondary education in the Solomon Islands – and specifically engages boys and girls in community activity to develop them as community leaders and students.
Led by Haydos-Quade constructions, our team build two water tank stands that will provide fresh water enabling students from outer islands to come to the school, gain skills and return to their provinces and make positive community contributions. Each student is mentored and sponsored by Rotarians, helping to develop future leaders, and closing the education gap.
Our work will enable expansion of the program, as well as health and water aid outcomes. One of our biggest donors – Queanbeyan West Rotary Club – would be proud. The school students worked eagerly with us, with Haydos earning more than a few admirers, and the ethics, teamwork and values that make the Queanbeyan Tigers, was on display. When not working on constructing water towers the team made food donations to nearby villagers and rebuilt a road.
Dan Lucas and Brett Ormston arrived and they were a welcome addition. Both had stayed in Queanbeyan to attend the farewell service of Razor Ray Daniel. Friday night the team were all hosted to a celebration dinner by our Rotary sponsors and the students who had worked with us at St Nicholas presented us with gifts and souvenirs – a humbling and proud moment.
Saturday, Arthur and Keir, two of our hosts, took us on a tour of the Guadalcanal battlefield memorials – strategically significant – the battles in the Solomon Islands changed the course of war in the region – as featured in the series ‘The Pacific’ by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks. We visited the US Memorial, commissioned a month earlier for the 75th anniversary of the Guadalcanal battles. Our guide explained that his ancestors in Fiji and Papua New Guinea were waiting to defend the islands if Guadalcanal fell, and the Solomon Islands represents the first place that the Japanese Imperial Army suffered a land defeat in WWII. After the amazing US Memorial our guides took us to Bloody Ridge where the United States Marine Corps defended against a Japanese Infantry Brigade. The team walked the battle lines, saw foxholes, trenches and tunnels and the impacts of artillery rounds where the US Marine Corps defended Henderson Airfield. Bloody Ridge is hallowed ground. A group of boys from a local village joined us – and after speaking the universal language of smiles – they left in Queanbeyan Tigers shorts and with new shoes. Generosity and kindness doesn’t speak a language or know a nationality.
Saturday afternoon, despite 32 degrees and a (very) very high UV index the Queanbeyan Tigers met with AFL Solomon Islands for a clinic and training session and (an increasingly competitive) scratch match. Chrissie Craven’s medical skills were more than required, and Ash (Smash) Dand and Lindsey Anders showed future career options – Lindsey conducting the junior clinic for the children of the Australian High Commission staff, and Ash personally coaching the sole AFL Solomon Islands women’s player – who in her debut game kicked a goal with her first kick (spot in the coach’s box coming?).
The game was dubiously umpired, and the Queanbeyan Tigers players were outstanding in a mixed game – Quadey resolute in defence against 4 opponents with vertical leaps that wouldn’t be out of place in the NBA, Ella and Carly consistently breaking lines, Dan and Wombat showing no rust gaining possessions across half back – and Wombat adding to the game with legendary chat. Haydos gave Alba plenty to think about rucking against the Solomon Islands under twenties basketball representative player (yes Corcs – signed him) and Hannah Dunn showing why the academy is named after her, with some pin point passing to find a key forward just before time ran out, ensuring a draw. Footy was clearly the winner – with all involved noting the potential of a couple of players that would look good in the yellow and black next year. After the match, the players received Queanbeyan Tigers shorts, which were proudly worn immediately. The club looks forward to continuing a relationship with AFL Solomon Islands.
Saturday night the team were all hosted by a large section of the Solomon Islands ex-patriate community, who had heard about our projects and wanted to show appreciation – humbled again as Keir and Marilyn opened their home and community members thanked the team for their efforts and work. It was a goodbye of sorts too, with Chrissie departing on Sunday back to work – her efforts got the trip off the ground – and there were a few babies wondering where the hugging machine was on Monday at CCC.
Sunday our tasking was at San Isidro – a deaf and mute orphanage towards the north of the island. Started by Brother George it is the only refuge for deaf and mute adults and children across the islands. Wombat was put straight to work with electrical tasks, and the team built a fence line, discovered snakes and witchety grubs (our local liaison Jacob handled the snake), relocated a generator housing, and the ladies donated bras to a grateful group of girls. Friends from St Nicholas hosted a barbecue and the team took a dip in the sea looking towards Savo Island, just north of Iron Bottom sound, named for the number of ships sunk there. Clothes donations rounded out the work at San Isidro, the fence line surrounding the well that was dug by ‘El Chapo’ and his team in 2016.
On the way back to accommodations, the team dived at Bonegi, on the wreck of the Kinugawa Maru, a Japanese Imperial Navy transport. Amazing opportunity to see another piece of WWII history. While the team were diving, a group of Japanese Self Defense Force members conducted a ceremony blessing the ship – one of the ladies in the group was visiting the site as her grandfather had died on the ship. A moving and sombre moment.
On Monday the team returned to CCC – the addition of Dan and Wombat meant that we were on target – and the amazing work ethic continued – beds were repaired, fences mended and clothes, school supplies and soccer balls donated. Sister Agnes noting that for some of the children this was the first change of clothes that they had at the refuge. The finishing touches were placed on the Razor Ray Daniel water tower – which will stand as a tribute at a place where people who have the least receive help – a testimony to a man who gave with no thought of reward or recompense – like the ten volunteers from the Queanbeyan Tigers who travelled to the Solomon Islands. In a moving tribute, Sister Mary, Sister Agnes and Sister Phyllis blessed the water tower, and said a prayer for our friend Razor Ray, and the volunteers from the Queanbeyan Tigers – Sister Agnes noting ‘you are a very special group of mean and women and we will always bless you’. Humbling praise from a lady whose life is about serving others recognising the special qualities that are the Queanbeyan Tigers. Driving away from the CCC the smiles, thank yous and waves from the children and residents was moving – and a memory that will stay with the team for a long time.
At a farewell dinner on the Monday night the team were joined by Rotarian’s and Solomon Islands friends – one of the guests – US Consul General to the Solomon Islands Lady Keithie Saunders – who was the architect of the US Memorial spoke openly of her respect for the Queanbeyan Tigers. She extended her thanks to the team and offered to accommodate future volunteers – additionally she talked about the powerful messages that the team had imparted – teamwork, family and working together – women and men, older and younger with no obvious hierarchy other than a common bond – that are resonant messages for the goals of empowering women and showing respect for culture, diversity and gender.
The team were introduced to the concept of Wontok while in the Solomon Islands – a word that means family – but encompasses more than blood ties. Jacob, who worked tirelessly across he week with the team said that the Queanbeyan Tigers became Wontok because of the common bond of helping people within the Solomon Islands; the students from St Nicholas said that they wanted to join the Queanbeyan Tigers Wontok, and Sister Phyllis noted that the team ‘Wontok belong me’ (My family). Perhaps the last word on the volunteer efforts belongs to one of the hosts who said ‘I had never heard of Queanbeyan before this week – but I am a Queanbeyan Tigers fan now’.
Tuesday morning the 31st saw the team gather for one last breakfast, before a trip to the museum, where the RAMSI display may or may not include a picture of ‘El Chapo’. Some last-minute souvenirs before the flights home – with the Program Director of the International Women’s Development Agency personally thanking the team for their efforts and their work ‘What you did will change generations’. Arriving back in Canberra proud, tired and safe – were reminded of our Tigers Spirit – with a welcome home from a Tigers fan.
#CultureMatters is easy as a slogan – its more challenging to live – and culture is not just on the football field – as our guest speakers have said – it’s the values we live (Dan Fortune), its about character (Stan Longindis) and its impacting 10000 lives (Elka Whalan), a group of Queanbeyan Tigers volunteers, supported by an amazing club, and amazing families and sponsors lived that. Great acts – no matter how fleeting – stay with a person forever.
GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO
The Rotary Club of Honiara
Queanbeyan West Rotary Club
Maria Slater Travel
Ron Chook Fowlie, Lauren Flakelar, Megan Godfrey
iD Sports Network
Queanbeyan Tigers AFC
Paul Willo Williams
Aston Home Loans
Alan McDonald, Ruby McDonald, Michael Gois Goiser
The Woods Family
Queanbeyan Tigers Licensed Club
Countless Families and Friends
Our generous hosts in the Solomon Islands