Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 October 2015



7:49 pm

Photo of Nova PerisNova Peris (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about the amazing sporting achievements of Australians in recent weeks, as well as the superb efforts of some Aboriginal athletes who have achieved at the highest level across sporting codes. Territorians are proving themselves to be excellent athletes who punch well and truly above their weight. September and October are always busy with grand finals and sporting awards nights, but this year was just spectacular.

Firstly, I am extremely proud of the Northern Territory Thunder for their grand final win in the North East Australian Football League—commonly known as NEAFL—beating the Queensland team from Aspley by one point in the decider. This was their second NEAFL premiership and their first grand final win in Darwin at TIO Stadium. I was at the game along with a stadium filled to capacity with Territorians who, of course, all got behind the NT boys. It was a thrilling game of football. At one point the Territory Thunder led the Aspley Hornets by 30 points in the last quarter. With the Thunder up by two points and only a few seconds to go, Aspley had a shot at goal, which they fortunately missed, and the mighty Territory Thunder got up by one point.

The Thunder were founded in 2008 and have competed in the NEAFL Cup ever since. They have continued to go from strength to strength and have shown that Territorian athletes are fierce competitors. The Thunder have consistently performed against the AFL reserves teams in the NEAFL. This year, the Territory Thunder beat the Sydney Swans, the Brisbane Lions, the GWS Giants and the Gold Coast Suns reserves teams. Each of those teams included several AFL players who were not playing in the top teams that week. This shows the high level of performance being reached by the NT Thunder players and the calibre of our organisation.

Former St Kilda player and Aboriginal Territorian Xavier Clarke is now coaching a mix of young players and some more experienced players who show up every week to represent the Territory with pride. He is doing a fantastic job and should be commended for this year's premiership win. The captain, Cameron Ilett, leads a team that includes former AFL stars Richard Tambling and Liam Patrick and young guns like Neil Vea Vea and Ben Rioli. I should also make mention of my younger cousin, Jono Peris, who played in the grand final and throughout the whole season for the Territory Thunder, running out at half-back. Well done, boyo! Unfortunately, the grand final trophy was lost after the game as the team's celebrations went into 'Mad Monday'. Two days later the trophy appeared at the TIO Stadium, which was fantastic. Congratulations, once again, to the NT Thunder on their second premiership.

Another Territorian who is making Territorians extra proud is, of course, young Cyril Rioli, commonly known to us Territorians as 'Junior Boy'. Cyril's home town is Pirlangimpi, also known as Garden Point, and it is home to almost 400 people. In the AFL Grand Final, Cyril showed true Territory class and ability. He kicked two goals in the first quarter and helped set up the great victory for the mighty Hawks. Cyril is the perfect example of Tiwi football showmanship. He creates goals out of nothing, finds space where there is none and shows the AFL what Territorians can do. He is a champion and role model for all Tiwis, Territorians and Australians.

My son Jack is an avid supporter of Hawthorn and an even bigger supporter of Cyril, his hero. I am thankful that he has someone like Cyril to look up to. Cyril, of course, won the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground in the grand final. He was without a doubt the stand-out player in the Grand Final.

I want to read a short extract from former Sydney Swans star Michael McLoughlin's column in the Koori Mail: 'Rioli's performance maintained a proud family history that is almost beyond comprehension. He was the third family member from a remote and small community to win the highest individual honour on the day.'

Cyril repeats the feat of two of his uncles: the late and great Maurice Rioli, who won the Norm Smith Medal for Richmond in the 1980 grand final—and, by the way, the grandstand at Marrara Oval in Darwin is called the Maurice Rioli Stand—and then of course the great Michael Long, who had won the award in 1993 playing for Essendon. Funnily enough, Cyril was quoted in the column, stating that he knew his Uncle Mick had a Brownlow but he did not know until recent years that his Uncle Maurice had one.

Regardless, the Long and Rioli dynasties from the Tiwi Islands produce outstanding footballers. I also should add that my mother, Joan Peris, grew up with the Rioli and Long families at the Garden Point mission, so perhaps there was something in the water at the Garden Point mission that helped develop sporting champions!

On top of that, how good was it to see former Adelaide Crows star, Darwin export and Territorian Andrew McLeod, who has won two Norm Smith Medals himself, present Cyril Rioli with his medal? All Territorians are extremely proud of this historic moment. Again Territorians are punching way above their weight in the sporting arena, but this is a moment that the whole AFL community and all Australians can be proud of: one Aboriginal man from the NT giving the Norm Smith Medal to another Aboriginal man. It just goes to show how mature and modern the game is and shows the AFL is truly a national game with truly a national following. Over three million people watched the AFL grand final, and it was once again a premier sporting event and exciting spectacle. Congratulations to the AFL.

The day after the AFL, of course, was the NRL grand final. The North Queensland Cowboys came from behind in the last minute of the game to crush the Brisbane Broncos in golden point extra time. Again it was an excellent sporting spectacle, which turned out to be a brilliant and close game of Rugby League. I, like millions of others, watched at home and watched in awe of the great Johnathon Thurston, affectionately called JT, who after his fourth Daily M Medal played a brilliant game and won the Clive Churchill Medal for the best on ground. He is an absolute legend and gentleman of the game. His play was fearless and determined. He was also able to lift so quickly after missing a conversion after the final whistle and then kicked the winning field goal. It was a phenomenal effort.

This was also the first time an NRL grand final had two teams that were captained by Aboriginal men: JT for the Cowboys and Justin Hodges for Broncos, both warriors and strong, experienced campaigners in their chosen field. The NRL should be extremely proud of this unique achievement. Rugby League has fostered a relationship with its communities and with players from multicultural backgrounds.

I know Territorians love their Rugby League. My son and grandson love playing for the mighty Brothers back home in Darwin. Once again over three million people tuned in to watch what would be a historic NRL grand final. Thousands of young lads no doubt drank big that day for what might be their dream: to be just like JT.

Finally, I want to make special mention of retiring Sydney Swans star and friend Adam Goodes, who called time on his career this year after a stellar 372 AFL games, including two premierships and two Brownlow Medals with the Sydney Swans. He gave his entire adult life to playing AFL, the game he loved. Whilst it was unfortunate that Adam Goodes did not participate in the retiring players parade around the MCG before the grand final kick-off, he left the game with his head up and with dignity. His achievements far outweigh the small minded bigotry directed towards him in the last weeks of his stellar career.

As a football star and former Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes's leadership and advocacy is nothing but first class. Adam Goodes deserves his moment in the sun just as he deserves to retire on his own terms. I congratulate Adam Goodes for being a truly great Australian and wish him well on the next part of his journey.