Field umpire Stewart McAllister provides an insight on the experience of the Tasmania exchange program
Met up with Shaun (Wiese) and Brendan (Moloney) at the Jetstar terminals...we were all very excited to see what the weekend would hold.
Arrived at Launceston Airport around 12…half an hour later than expected and were greeted by Courtney, who we were all staying with and who was the Social Secretary of the NWUA, and her grandfather (or ‘Pop’) who was a Tasmanian umpiring legend who still liked to get down to the games and observe the umpires.
We then had a long journey from Launceston to Burnie. It was broken up with a quick bite of lunch and interesting stories of Pop’s many guises in Tasmanian football as umpire, administrator & observer. Courtney acted as tour guide pointing out the history of the North-West region and the different industries that used to or currently occupy the area (a fun fact we learnt: most the berries and potatoes used by Birdseye/McCain come from the North West of Tassie).
Our first stop-off was at the Latrobe footy ground. Latrobe was one of the more successful teams in the North-West league and generally hosts their league grand final. We were greeted by a statue of Latrobe’s most famous export: Darrel Baldock (the Doc). One thing I noticed about the Latrobe ground, and many other grounds we visited that day, is that there are magnificent grandstands and viewing areas that really give it a real country feel, and you could tell that the grounds were well looked after and a real central point of the community. I also noticed some of the grounds had a velodrome track around them as well. We were also ushered off to Ulverstone’s footy ground, where we were to umpire the following day, just to get used to the size and prepare for what was ahead.
During our car ride, we also stopped off at the Gunn’s Plains Caves. When we arrived we were greeted by a 7-foot monolith ascending from the Cave entrance: it wasn't a stalagmite pillar but Chris Anstey, the famous basketballer from Australia, who had been in the previous tour of the caves. The caves entrance descended about 30 meters and the cave contained caverns, passageways, an underground river and many really, really old formations. Highly recommended.
We made one more stop in Burnie at the Maker’s Workshop a touristy information centre where you can buy local produce, souvenirs & learn about Burnie’s history. One thing I noticed about Burnie is that it is very, very hilly once you leave the main business district.
Upon arriving at Courtney’s house in Burnie, which is shared with her mother Susie and her siblings, we wound down after an eventful drive and prepared for a quiet dinner at the local pub. After dinner we just relaxed watching the footy back at the house (another Tigers win) and prepared for the following day.
The next day we awoke to a magnificent breakfast…a big fry up, which was just the perfect way to calm any nerves before the game. We then all jumped into the car for a half-hour drive back to the Ulverstone ground. The umpire change rooms were under the main grandstand…and were the biggest change rooms I have ever seen (yep, even bigger than Albanvale’s haha).
The game itself was of a high standard...equal to the high-mid tier Div 1 teams. The two teams, Ulverstone & Penguin (bitter rivals) were fighting to entrench themselves in the finals. The Fieldies & Boundaries umpired a 3-umpire system. A few things I noticed that their umpires do a little different to us is that the ball is delivered by the Boundaries to the Fieldies up the same side of the ground every goal scored, and that the far end-zone umpire would go the boundary line where there is a boundary throw-in up the other end of the ground, just to provide an extra set of eyes to the ruck contest.
The game was played in Arctic conditions (the ground is right on the shore line) and it was a bit of a slog. Ulverstone came away with the chocolates in the end by about 9 goals after an even first half.
Straight after the game, were taken back to the umpire’s clubrooms to change for their mid-season function. Their theme was ‘op-shop’ style and boy, there were flares, high collars, bad hairstyles, socks and shorts pulled up in places they normally should not go. I hadn't seen such bad dress sense since looking through my parents’ wedding photos. But it was great that everyone was a great sport and got into the theme…Shaun, Brendan and I judged the ‘best’ dressed, said a few words to the masses about our experiences that day and we settled in for a 2-course meal. The night was well-run and a few laughs over drinks were shared.
After the night finished we retired back to Courtney’s house where we stayed up with a few stragglers watching the cricket and playing some cards. After a very late night (got to bed around 4.30), it was a very early rise by about 8.30 as we had to unfortunately pack and make the long return back to Launceston airport to board a plane to Melbourne. Like the WRFLUA, the NWUA had a real community feel of everyone looking after and being proud of their league and umpire association. Everyone was very hospitable especially our hosts Courtney and Susie. I recommend anyone who is offered the experience to umpire down in Tassie to do so. Not only does it build up your umpiring resume but you get to experience the sights, sounds and how footy is played and umpired in an entirely different state…great for those who love to get out of their comfort zone.
Long live the Tassie exchange.