Sports

Tiny WA community makes mark with AFL stars

It is a region known for producing dual Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe, but the small community of Lake Grace-Pingrup has produced six AFL players from a combined population of fewer than 1,000 people.

Lake-Grace Pingrup Football Club is  known as the Bombers in the Ongerup Football Association – one of WA’s smallest leagues with just four senior sides.

The club marks 100 years on Saturday, a feat not many country football clubs have managed as an exodus of players and people leave many in decline.

But in Western Australia’s Great Southern grain belt, the club remains the heart of the community.

Nat Fyfe credits Lake Grace -Pingrup Football Club for moulding him to succeed in the AFL.(AAP Image: Richard Wainwright)

Fremantle Dockers captain Fyfe, one of this century’s most decorated AFL players, still visits the club he says was integral to his development as a player and person, when he returns home.

“You never forget where you come from,” he told ABC Great Southern.

“It’s unbelievable for the town, there’s some real history there … to get to 100 years and hopefully 100 ahead of us, is a great milestone for the community.”

The club was where Fyfe learnt the football nous that has led to more than 200 AFL games and winning the league’s most prestigious medal twice.

Among the AFL players to come from Lake Grace-Pingrup are Richmond premiership player Liam Baker, Geelong legend Mark Bairstow and the three Moreton brothers, Cale, Jarryd and Mitch.

An AFL player pumps his fist in celebration while running ahead of a teammate
Richmond’s Liam Baker, left, hails from Lake Grace-Pingrup.(AAP: Sam Wundke)

Fyfe said he started playing for the club around year 4, when the club’s D-grade side won four premierships in a row.

“That was my grounding roots in footy … we went out, played and won,” he said.

“We had families like the Bairstows, Moretons and Slarkes; they were teaching us how to train, play and win games of footy and get together and enjoy afterwards as a team and community.

“That was my introduction to men’s footy and that taught me a lot of the craft to then go on and play AFL.”

Just 11 years after Lake Grace was settled by European pioneers a football club was established.

A man
Lake Grace-Pingrup football club historian Bill Trevenen.(ABC Great Southern: Olivia Di Iorio)

Self-proclaimed football historian Bill Trevenen specialises in Lake Grace-Pingrup football and spent half his life in the library going through newspaper records of the club dating back to 1922.

“I profiled all the players [over the years] and it’s about 800 of them,” he said.

Mr Trevenen said regional football is extremely important to small communities across Australia.

“I think it’s the reason people get together on the weekend,” he said.

“In towns where football clubs have disbanded, those communities do struggle because there isn’t something that everyone comes to.”

A man on an oval
Shane Carruthers says volunteers are the lifeblood of the club.(ABC Great Southern: Olivia Di Iorio)

Club president Shane Carruthers said the club continues to flourish.

“Sporting clubs are the very social fabric of country towns — it gives people an outlet on sport days to catch up with people they haven’t seen for a little while or a long while and it’s extremely important,” he said.

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