Two games into their formal football history, the Tiwi Bombers women’s team is already displaying the dazzling skill, speed and talent the island communities are renowned for.
- The Tiwi women’s team is playing six exhibition matches before the end of the 2020/21 season
- The Tiwi captain says she is hopeful the team will be permitted into the NTFL for the start of next season
- AFL Northern Territory has not yet committed to granting the Tiwi women’s team a licence for season 2021/22
The team has won both their games, which are part of a six-match “exhibition” series that could be a precursor to the club’s entering the Northern Territory Football League.
Thrown into the fray in the middle of the league season, the Tiwi women immediately proved too good for the competition placed in front of them by the league’s administrators, AFLNT, defeating the division two side Nightcliff 46-6 on February 5.
Their next match was harder, but still Tiwi comprehensively outplayed division two’s runaway top-of-the-ladder side Pint, winning by a comfortable 23 points.
The Tiwi side is made up of women from the Tiwi Island communities of Wurrumiyanga, Parliangimpi and Milikapiti, many of whom have never played football in the Northern Territory Football League.
Football, as the saying goes, is like a religion on the Tiwi Islands, which has a mostly Indigenous population of fewer than 2,500 people.
The islands represent arguably the most fertile ground for Australian Football League talent in the country, having produced a raft of stars including Maurice Rioli, Cyril Rioli, Dean Rioli, Daniel Rioli, Michael Long, Malcolm Lynch, Austin Wonaeamirri and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
Following their encouraging victories, Tiwi captain Laelia Dunn said the players were filled with pride, having demonstrated they belonged in top-flight Territory football.
“It was a good experience. There was a lot of stuff really going through most of the girls’ heads. The main one would be pride — just proud to have the first women’s team in the competition,” she said.
The Tiwi women’s push for an official team licence in the Northern Territory Football League comes 15 years after the Tiwi men first joined the league in 2006 as the Tiwi Bombers.
Dunn, who plays at centre half-forward, said the time was right for the women of Tiwi to have a league team to call their own.
“Behind the scenes, preparing, it has been a long time coming,” she said.
“Due to funding and other stuff, it took a while for us to get the team together.
“For me, I feel like it’s the perfect time for us to get this women’s team finally going.
“The women here, they are all pretty flexible and keen.
“I think everyone just wants to play footy and they are just happy that they finally get that chance.
“We want to just show our skills and our talents for not only the Tiwi people but the Tiwi women.”
That enthusiasm extends to the wider Tiwi community and across the Northern Territory as well, Dunne said.
“We’ve been getting heaps of messages and calls and everyone wanting to be involved and a part of it and volunteer their time to come and support the girls,” she said.
“And the communities are very proud that we have finally got a women’s team playing.”
Although the push for a women’s football team comes more than a decade after one for the men, Dunne says Tiwi women’s passion for football is nothing new.
“Everyone that lives on the islands pretty much grows up with a football in their hand,” she said. “The men and the women are no different.
“It’s been like that on the islands as long as I can remember.”
Dunn said the way the Tiwi women played was similar to the distinctive style of the men, who had long captivated crowds and tormented opponents with their fast-paced ball movement and superior skill.
It bodes well for footy fans and has already put some league teams on notice.
“We’re just keen to give everyone a shock, I guess,” Dunne said.
A spot in the Northern Territory Football League for next season is not yet, however, assured.
Dunne said the team and community were hoping the Tiwi women would be granted a licence as soon as next season, 2021/22, which would begin in October.
“The aim is to try and get these exhibition games done, win as many games as we can, and put forward [a case] for a licence so we can get a full season in the [competition],” she said.
The decision to admit the Tiwi women into the Northern Territory Football League will be up to AFLNT, which has not yet outlined any timeline for a potential league berth for Tiwi.
“I’m not sure if we’re going to get in, but I’d say we’ve got a fair chance,” Dunn said.
If the league’s administration decides to grant the Tiwi women a team licence, the Bombers will play either in division two or in the league’s top level, the NTFL Premier League.
Dunn said with the team already having proven a force to be reckoned with, she hoped the Bombers would have earned their place at the top level in the eyes of AFLNT.
“I think with the two games we have played we have done a pretty good job to convince them to try and get us into the Premier League,” she said.
“That will be something special for the whole of Tiwi Islands.”
AFL Northern Territory was contacted for comment.