As part of a new initiative, AFL footballers have pledged to donate $50 each from every match – up from $25 – towards charitable causes. Each club then gets a say in where those funds go through the AFL Players Care program. Read on to find out more.
Christmas Day 2015 was supposed to follow a relaxing and familiar rhythm for St Kilda’s Jack Steven.
A former Lorne Dolphins junior, he was expecting to tuck into lunch with a cheerful mob of relatives back at the family home on the Victorian Surf Coast.
But that all changed dramatically when searing winds fanned embers from a lightning strike earlier in December, causing fierce bushfires a few kilometres down the coast that would eventually destroy more than 100 homes at Wye River and Separation Creek.
“It was obviously a pretty stressful time,’’ Steven told aflplayers.com.au.
“IT WAS A PRETTY BIG SHOCK WHAT HAPPENED AT CHRISTMAS DOWN HERE AND IT AFFECTED A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO I KNEW.” – JACK STEVEN
“We were meant to be having Christmas at home and mum’s family is from Melbourne so they came down and pretty much had to go straight back to Melbourne.’’
The Lorne-based members of the family were not “quite sure what to do’’, so they ended up evacuating to Airey’s Inlet before spending the night in Geelong “just to be safe’’.
“Unfortunately (the fires) wreaked a bit of havoc down further south,’’ Steven said.
“It was a pretty big shock what happened at Christmas down here and it affected a lot of people who I knew personally and all around here.’’
There were mates from school and football living in the fire-affected communities, and a close mate’s girlfriend ”was putting in 18-hour days’’ as the towns dealt with the immediate aftermath of the blazes.
Like other Great Ocean Road locals, Steven felt deeply for those touched by the fires and wanted to help.
“Everyone’s pretty tight, all the towns around here are really close,’’ he said.
One practical way came through AFL Players Care, an initiative in which every footballer donates $50 of every match payment towards use for charitable causes. Half of those funds go to the players’ partner organisation, Ladder, which tackles youth homelessness. Another $180,000 is divided among the 18 clubs, where the playing groups can nominate their own preferred charity.
The St Kilda players opted to split their money between Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision and the Lorne-based Spirit Foundation, which Steven said was “doing all they can to raise some money and awareness’’ for people recovering from the Christmas bushfires.
“Everyone’s trying to help out where they can and that’s why the Spirit Foundation is such a good fund,’’ Steven said.
Spirit’s chairman, Clive Goldsworthy, said the foundation was set up in 2013, initially to help former Lorne junior Casey Tutungi, who seriously injured his spine while playing football in Geelong that season.
Since then the foundation has branched out to support Surf Coast locals and local needs. In the aftermath of the bushfires, that became Wye River/Sep Creek communities.
“They’re still very distraught … it will be a long time as a healing process,’’ Goldsworthy said.
“We have numerous fundraising events and an ongoing appeal, and then we’re working very closely with the communities to listen to what it is that they need for rebuilding.’’
While the news cycle had moved on, Goldsworthy said locals knew “it would most likely take 12 to 18 months for those communities to get back to normal’’, and was deeply appreciative of the St Kilda players’ contribution.
“I loved growing up around here and get back as much as I can,’’ he said. During a break in preseason training last month, he coaxed a few teammates to head further down the coast to camp at Cape Otway.
The enduring recollections from his youth were playing footy with Lorne in winter and mucking around on the beach near the swing bridge in summer. Later that was overtaken by a pursuit of waves “anywhere along this coast’’, but mainly between Airey’s Inlet and Wye River.
“Every time we get a couple of days off (from football) I normally come down here,’’ Steven said.
“I definitely think I’ll make my way back here eventually, for sure, it’s such a great place to live and a really good community. Everyone’s nice and relaxed and it’s just in a bit of a slower tempo.
“Except for summer.’’
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
You can contribute to the Wye River and Separation Creek community bushfire appeal via the Spirit Foundation.
100 per cent of all funds – which are tax deductible — will be distributed, as there are no management or administration fees.
The Bendigo Community Bank, account name Spirit Foundation No. 4, BSB 633000, account number 150164101.