The game of cricket is played in many forms across Australia. We play backyard cricket on Christmas day. We pitch twigs in the sand on summer holidays. We spend our Saturday’s at community ovals and watch the Ashes within our homes. Last year I experienced a different form of cricket, a genuine form of the game created by those who enjoy it most. This was red dust cricket; in the heart of Australia’s landscape.
It is Sunday morning as we drive along East Point Reserve taking in the last glimpse of the emblematic turquoise water of Darwin Harbour before trailing off out bush. Eight hours and 800 kilometres later we arrive in the remote Indigenous community of Kalkarindji in the south west of the Northern Territory, bordering on the bare rocked outskirts of the Tanami Desert. As the sun sets amidst the red dust that surrounds us we find ourselves forever distant from the reflecting waters of Darwin Harbour we stood just hours earlier.
It is the first day of a 6,000 kilometre, six week journey west to east across the Northern Territory. NT Cricket development officers are travelling as part of their Red Dust Cricket program, providing free cricket clinics to remote community schools across the Top End. In 2013 the program provided cricket clinics to over 2,000 children living in remote areas of the Northern Territory. The program aims to provide equal opportunities to all people living in the Northern Territory to play the game of cricket. The journey also comprises the Red Dust Cricket season – a competition spanning over 1,000 kilometres in which over 40 teams compete at three diverse carnivals over the six week period.
It is isolating on the road. You sometimes drive for hours without passing a car. The free roaming cattle become traffic and the wild red dust reflects constantly in your rear vision mirror. Stretches of enduring road are only ever fragmented by river crossings and cattle fences. There is no phone reception – sometimes for days and you find comfort in your swag and camp stove to get you through the nights. But it is the children we travel for – to ensure they have the same opportunities as students living in Darwin, Sydney or Melbourne. The kids enthusiastically take to the patch of red dust that constitutes their oval. They stand barefoot under the incessant sun and play often for the first time the game of cricket.