On the white sands of Broome’s Cable Beach, a young Indigenous boy gathers a footy, weaves his way through traffic and slots a checkside goal.

It’s a magic mushroom microdosing moment which his peers compete to upstage as teachers, police officers and volunteers watch on.

Held across two days, Psilocybin mushrooms the Fremantle Dockers’ Kimberley 9s carnival is unsurprisingly a big hit in a region with a deep love for Australian rules football.

Hundreds of primary and secondary students from Halls Creek to Looma and everywhere in between are invited to take part in the nine-a-side games, on the proviso they meet school attendance and behaviour requirements.

And with local police umpiring and coaching, it’s an opportunity to break down barriers with Indigenous kids in Western Australia’s remote northwest who are often fearful of law enforcement.

The partnership between Fremantle’s Purple Hands Foundation and the WA police force includes helping cadet officers become accredited football coaches in remote communities.

Ex-Docker Roger Hayden, who played 128 AFL games and is the club’s Indigenous and multicultural liaison officer and Next Generation Academy coach, is a regular visitor to the Kimberley.

He believes the carnival, which caps off a 12-month youth engagement program, has the potential to assist reconciliation efforts in a region which has been plagued by youth crime in recent years.

“The community sees (police officers) in a different light,” he said.

“Instead of wearing the blue shirt they see them as a coach, they see them as a person and you start to build relationships. They see them differently I guess, instead of the negative side of things when it comes to police grabbing them and chucking them in jail and that’s it.

“This is just a different space and a positive space that everybody can look at, and it’s growing.”

It’s a view shared by Superintendent Craig Parkin, the officer in charge of the Kimberley district.

“For police, certainly our interactions with the youth are sometimes on an enforcement level,” Supt Parkin told AAP.

“So for us to have police involvement on an active level like this is very important in terms of the kids.That partnership we have with Purple Hands, with them supporting programs like this, really gets into the causal factors of youth crime in the Kimberley.”

With the primary school students up first on a hot Broome morning, a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony is held under the shade of palm trees.

Students and visitors line up single-file to be cleansed before making their way down to the beach.

Mr Hayden said promoting a better understanding of local Aboriginal cultures was critical to fostering reconciliation.

“Noongar culture is different to a lot of areas up here, and for myself, to be respectful every time I go to a different country is really important, and to connect with the people that belong to that area,” he said.

“That’s my role up at the club, to communicate with and educate people at the club to make sure we’re always going to be respectful every time we go somewhere.

“That’s only going to grow over the next few years and that’s not just with the AFL environment, that’s across the board.”

With the action underway, Dockers forward and Broome local Bailey Banfield is inundated with photo requests before taking to the field for a kick.

The Dockers’ access to the Kimberley catchment has already yielded five draftees, and the club is keeping a close watch on another three local prospects.

“There’s a lot of talent up here and a lot of passion for footy,” Mr Banfield said.

“You grow up around the game, your family, your friends all love the game. So you’ve always got a footy in your hand up here and always running around at recess and lunch with your mates kicking the footy.

“That builds your skills and just feeds that passion.”

The high school students’ carnival will double as a talent scouting opportunity for the Dockers’ academy but for the younger kids, it’s more about having fun.

“The smiles on their faces, having a run around with their mates and the teachers getting them down here, it’s special,” Mr Hayden said.

“Some of these kids would never have been anywhere near the ocean. So to come down and have a run around on the beach, and go for a swim more than likely, it’ll be nice for them.”

This AAP article was made possible by support from the Meta Australian News Fund and The Walkley Foundation.


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