How Footy Brought a Struggling SA Town Back to Life

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Jul 18, 2017

It was the town no-one had heard of – until Mundulla’s footy team started kicking goals, writes Neil McMahon.

Mundulla has been many things over the past 167 years: a stopover for police transporting riches from the goldfields in the 1850s; a thriving wheat-farming centre at the time of the town’s proclamation in 1873; and the home of one of South Australia’s best-loved agricultural shows for more than a century.

But about 14 years ago, Mundulla – 280 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, in the Tatiara region near the Victorian border – was feeling its age.

As Vida Maney, who’s lived there for nearly 60 years, puts it: “The town had started a bit of a backward slide. We had a community group called Mundulla on the Move but it wasn’t really going anywhere. Even the show was struggling. It had been going for [decades] and people were starting to talk about the 100th one and would say, ‘If we get to 100…’”

It was unthinkable that the town’s annual pride and joy was in trouble. Mundulla had always been a great place to live but outsiders had barely heard of it. Did the key to a revival lie in raising the town’s profile? The inspiration came from an unlikely source: the Aussie Rules football team, a contender in the Kowree Naracoorte Tatiara Football League.

“In a small town, the club belongs to all of us – not just the players and officials,” says Vida. And it was the on-field spirit and off-field community engagement that showed the way. The team was on a remarkable winning streak: starting in 1994, it had rampaged into the 21st century with a run of seven premierships on the trot and nine flags in 11 years.

“Until that happened, virtually nobody had heard of Mundulla – and if they had, it was easy to forget,” she says. “But then, instead of being the great little town nobody had ever heard of, there was a growing recognition that it was a jolly good little town. The club had a very strong family orientation and people from outside our area started bringing their youngsters to play in our junior teams.”

As the wins continued, other moves were afoot to renew the community. Vida’s daughter, Liz Goossens, and her partner, Georg Tschaban, bought an old pub – there since 1884, it hadn’t operated as a bar for years – and they turned it into a dining destination. And that sluggish Mundulla on the Move group was revived by a dynamic new chair, Marg Rowett.

The results have been striking. Mundulla has won multiple honours at the Keep Australia Beautiful awards, including being named overall winner and Best Small Town at SA’s 2015 Sustainable Communities Awards. Among Mundulla’s winning moves: making the most of its natural attractions, such as the ecological wonders of the Moot Yang Gunya Swamp.

And what of the jewel in the crown? The agricultural show thrives today – after its 100-show landmark almost a decade ago – and it’s become part of the three-day Moot Yang Gunya Festival (held in March).

“We’re now credited with being the best one-day show in SA,” says Vida. “Tatiara is an Aboriginal word for ‘the good country’ but if you’re in Mundulla you say, ‘Tatiara is good country but Mundulla is the best country.’”