Behind every rural sporting team are volunteers who donate their time for the benefit of the community.

Story and photo Martin Auldist

The oval is still cloaked in fog and the car parks are deserted when Meredith Anderson and Leyoan Scott-Smith first arrive at the Ellinbank Football and Netball Club. It is 7am on a winter’s morning and the first Australian Rules football match, the under 16s, isn’t due to start until 9am. But these dedicated women have work to do. They are the supervisors of the all-important canteen at this small rural sports club south of Warragul, in West Gippsland, Vic.

There is much to do before players and supporters start to arrive. Egg and bacon rolls will be in demand early in the day, along with tea and coffee, so they are organised first. Then there are chips to cook, dim sims to steam, and pies and sausage rolls to heat. Having been made fresh that morning at a local bakery, nearly 100 meat pies will pass through the service hatch before the day is through. “Lots of people are tending towards fruit these days, so we sell plenty of that,” Meredith says. “We also make up a batch of salad rolls before the matches start.” 

Throughout the day, at every home game, the canteen will be manned by up to 18 volunteers, serving for an hour at a time according to a roster circulated at the start of the season. This includes the footballers and netballers themselves or, for the junior grades, their parents. Pretty much anyone with an interest in the club will end up taking their turn serving in the canteen. As supervisors, however, Meredith and Leyoan are the first there and the last to leave after the senior football match concludes at 5pm – a day of nearly 10 hours. “It takes us a while to put everything away, clean up, assess the remaining stock and count the days’ takings,” says Meredith, who is also the club’s treasurer.

The two supervisors both have food safety qualifications, as required by law. They must also keep a close eye on their rostered volunteers, to keep them safe as well. “The kitchen is full of sharp knives as well as hot oil and ovens – the last thing we need is an injury,” Meredith says.

The obvious question to ask is, “Why do they do it”? Meredith is clear about the answer. “Because you put back in to the community what you take out,” she says. “My parents did the same at Neerim South, when I played netball out there. The local football club is so important to the community in country areas. Plus, I do enjoy it.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #113

Outback Magazine: June/July 2017