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Sunday, February 7, 2021

FOOTBALL'S TWILIGHT ZONES: LORD HOWE ISLAND

Life on an island can be difficult, especially on those which are more isolated than most. They are hard places to get to and travel costs are often ridiculously high, as is the cost of living. Think of places such as Saint Helena, which has the most expensive internet service anywhere in the world, and Tristan da Cunha, the most remote permanently-inhabited island on Earth. Many of the world's most isolated islands host tiny populations. 

Another tiny island with an equally tiny population, but one which is rather less isolated, is Australia's Lord Howe Island, part of New South Wales and situated some 420 nautical miles north-east of Sydney. Using the data from the last Australian census, dated 2016, it is home to just 382 people. The island is tiny, just over five and a half square miles in area, but is renowned for its pristine beaches and having the world's most southerly barrier coral reef. It is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place with a varied landscape and one which is predominately covered in pristine forest. Small is indeed beautiful in Lord Howe Island's case.

The island was seemingly unknown to the inhabitants of Australasia, Aboriginal and Polynesians alike, before it was discovered in February 1788 by Henry Lidgbird Small, commander of the British vessel HMS Supply, who came across it whilst on the way to Norfolk Island with a cargo of prisoners to found a penal colony there. Lord Howe Island was finally permanently settled only in 1834 and became part of New South Wales in 1855.

Tourism is the principal industry on Lord Howe Island and in order to protect the island's environment, only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any one time. in spite of the island's size, there is plenty for them - and the locals - to see and do. Peter Adams, CEO of the Lord Howe Island Board, which governs the island at a local level, explained that even the small number of children domiciled on the island have plenty to keep themselves occupied sports-wise, both in the water, obviously, and on dry land.

"There is a Bowling Club and a Golf Club, which has a juniors programme, and they even play in the annual pro-am tournament here. The Bowling club has regular competitions. There is an annual week-long bowls competition, and some of the teenagers form teams and compete with local and visiting bowlers.

"Most young people [visitors included] surf, snorkel, dive (free and scuba), kayak and fish as well as go bushwalking, etc. [For the island's young swimmers,] there is a Nippers Club with a strong membership learning ocean swimming, safety and rescue skills. A couple of swimming coaches usually visit the island each year and run classes in the beautiful lagoon, which are very popular. There is [also] a fishing club, and young people often go game fishing as well and [enter fishing competitions]."

Lord Howe Island also has a tennis club, which hosts an annual clinic held by a visiting coach. A couple of the locals paraglide and kite-surf. Adams adds: "There is a sports field with combination soccer and Rugby League posts. [There is] an artificial cricket pitch within the field. An annual Discovery Day sports carnival takes place [every 17th of February] to celebrate the discovery of Lord Howe Island. It is typically held in the evening and is preceded by a traditional island fish-fry. A crane is set up to light up the sports field. [The sports carnival] runs late and is often held on a week-night. Running races, bike-balance competitions, sack-races, relays and barrel-rolling races are just some of the events which take place."

In spite of the range of activities on offer, team sports aren't really an option on the island, bowls excluded, perhaps, as Adams admits. "There is not a lot of organised sport on the island. There are very small numbers of children here, and therefore regular team sport is not feasible. There is no football or rugby league competition. There is a weekly touch [rugby] game that is informal rather than any scheduled competition."

Rugby has been played on Lord Howe Island for decades, and the island does have its own rugby league team, the Lord Howe Island Woodhens, which competes in tournaments abroad on an irregular basis. Meanwhile, football has scarcely made any sort of a mark on Lord Howe Island. Apart from the very occasional kickabout, football of sorts was played after school from time to time, involving most of the school-age children - plus those from the island's play school - and their parents, though even these after-school kickabouts seem to have fallen by the wayside over the past few years. 

The island's sports ground's dual-purpose goalposts, used for football or rugby matches, are where the influence of the round ball game on the island currently begins and ends. Lord Howe Island is a stunning location, by all accounts, with a lot to see and do, in - and on - the water and on dry land. You probably won't need to bring your football boots and shinpads with you, though.

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AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Many thanks to Peter Adams, CEO of the Lord Howe Island Board, for his assistance with the above article. Other information was obtained via the www.lordhoweisland.info website and Wikipedia.

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