Picture this; a bright blue sky, mist rising from the ocean on a calm February day and the Warrnambool locals out in force and wearing red, white and blue. This is the setting of the Western Bulldogs Pre-Season Camp in the south-west coast of Victoria.
The central theme of this camp was about embracing Indigenous culture and its heritage, with its two young Indigenous stars; Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and new draftee Arthur Jones, and development coach Travis Varcoe leading the group. Over the course of three days, the entire squad and staff would learn more about the history and the background of these two youngsters and what better place to do it then the hometown of Ugle-Hagan.
Greeting the camp group at the picturesque Stingray Bay Beach was a number of the local Indigenous community, eagerly awaiting to perform a Welcome to Country, Smoking Ceremony and Indigenous dance. These special moments were encapsulated by two unique performers, the younger brothers of Jamarra. The two loved every minute of performing in front of their idol brother and his teammates. Softly spoken, the pair introduced themselves to the playing group to a raft of applause.
For the final dance of the afternoon, both Arthur and Jamarra joined in, allowing the pair to express themselves in a traditional setting. Jamarra later revealed how special it was for Jones to dance with his family.
The genuine pride of the town was on display with a flurry of Warrnambool locals lapping up their time with the players. Phones were regularly out and Bailey Smith, Marcus Bontempelli and Aaron Naughton were just a few to be popular with lens in hand.
Following the performance, it was off to Yambuk to set up camp for the night. Located on traditional land, the travelling party rolled their swags, tents or in Cody Weightman’s case, a car rooftop tent across the acreage of land. It looked as if the camping store ‘Anaconda’ had a field day, with plenty of swags being rolled out straight from the packet. The coach wasn’t far from being the first to be sorted, while in fading darkness, many found a way to have their tent pitched.
The night was filled with plenty of stories and laughter, but the mosquito spray was out in force. Not many had blood to give by the end of the night, but the balmy conditions made for a peaceful setting for all.
Meeting the Framlingham mob.
Waking up on day two the major question lingered; did the accommodation remain standing. Tick.
233km south-west of the Melbourne CBD sits a rural township by the Hopkins River, Framlingham. The town lies within the traditional lands of KeerrayWoorroong PeekWoorroong people and is home to key forward Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.
The Indigenous community population sits at around 200, meaning everybody knows everybody.
Majority of the day was spent touring the sights of Framlingham and the history behind the culture within the town.
First up, a game of Marngrook on the local basketball court. Marngrook' is a word from the language of Gunditjmara people and means ‘game ball.’ Largely similar to Aussie Rules, the game is played with a footy made of possum skin. The local children joined in the anticipated fixture, receiving handballs from their heroes, and scoring goals at will. This epitomised what the camp was all about – to see the smiling faces of youngsters and the joy this visit was bringing the town.
Up next, a boomerang throwing lesson. This was nothing short of organised chaos. A quick demo from a local and one-by-one players attempted to throw and return catch the traditional Indigenous tool. They went everywhere, into trees, the carpark and at times, straight for the group. Safe to say there was no catches made. The challenging skill made for a lot of fun with the wind playing havoc. A few diving efforts from the likes of Zaine Cordy and Arthur Jones created excitement, while the locals made it look easy with several completing catches.
The rest of the Framlingham tour consisted of delving into the history of the Indigenous people, learning different ideas behind their culture and exploring the beautiful surrounds of the town. Outside of the main road is filled with green hills and fresh creeks, which the boys enjoyed discovering.
The afternoon compromised off a makeshift cricket match, a bat, ball and camping chair for wickets. Cars were regularly struck, and laughs were had as the group wound down from a large day of education.
In the evening, Indigenous human rights lawyer Jidah Clark arrived at camp to have a yarn around the campfire, delving into issues of social equality with the group. Topics like belonging, family, love for each other and identity were all covered. Many of the topics resonated with the close-knit group of players with Jidah speaking of the continual battle that the indigenous community face. A pizza van served dinner, but the side dish is what caught everyone’s eye. Earlier that day a number of locals captured a pair of eels and cooked them over the fire. The lasting words of “tastes like chicken” rang out as players tucked into the local delicacy.
The Amazing Race
A large majority of the past two days had centred around culture and learning. For the final few hours of the camp, it was down to business. Once the swags had been rolled up and cold beach swims had acted as showers, players were split into teams.
The Amazing Race style teams challenge consisted of an 11km course around Warrnambool, tackling hills and the blustery conditions. Along the way, teams were required to solve word challenges that ultimately led them to a final phrase at the finish.
The stunning views across golf courses, beaches and hilly terrain was the perfect setting for competition. Many locals looked on stunned as their heroes jogged through the town, decked out in red, white and blue.
The winners… a group containing Crozier, Wallis, Sweet, Hunter, Roarke Smith, Khamis and Mitch Hannan.
That rounded out the camping experience, filled with culture, togetherness, and fun amongst the group. Many walked away having learnt about Indigenous culture and bringing some of the lessons into everyday life and the 2022 season.
A special thank you must go to the locals of Framlingham, Warrnambool and Yambuk for their hospitality and guidance throughout the two-day experience. Our Bulldogs team will benefit no end ahead of another season and it’s a journey our players won’t forget any time soon.