Mar 13, 2018

Community v drugs in south-western Queensland

Community v drugs in south-western Queensland Getting on top of social problems. St George’s pride The Saints Rugby League team is leading the town's anti-drug campaign. They beat the Mungindi Grasshoppers 20–16 in last weekend’s preliminary season match. Forward Gary Popp led the defensive charge. Photo courtesy Karen Beardmore.

The results of a community movement to address drug concerns in the Balonne Shire in south-west Queensland are starting to be counted.

Local community hub Care Balonne has trained 21 accredited drug and alcohol testers over the last two years with another course being offered in 2018.

They’ve been put to work in rugby league, rugby union and other sporting clubs as well as private enterprise and the local council.

There were tangible signs of drug-related stress in the community which prompted the introduction of the courses, Care Balonne chair Robyn Fuhrmeister said.

“There were a couple of workplace accidents and then sponsors fronted the local rugby league club with concerns about player behaviour,” Ms Fuhrmeister said.

“The club insurance stipulated that officials would be liable if they were allowing people to play under the influence.

“The community hub applied and got government funding for a drug and alcohol testing course which is offered free-of-charge to non-profit organisations.”

The Balonne Shire Council followed suit 12 months ago, introducing regular testing on staff and councillors.

The movement started more than three years ago when the local rugby league team, the Saints, was facing its nadir.

When the pre-season clarion call for players went up in 2015, only seven players signed on for the open team, said local businessman and Men of League Queensland representative Neale O’Brien.

The following year more than 70 players registered.

The difference in that time was a regime of drug testing sponsored by the Roma District Rugby League.

The initiative, implemented by the Saints Rugby League President at the time Gavin Taylor, was an immediate hit, Mr O’Brien said.

“The whole town got behind it,” he said. “The police, the medical fraternity and the council were all involved.

“If a player was identified as being drug affected, they would first be banned from playing. They would then be offered support to rehabilitate.

“I can safety say that in 2018, the drugs problems in our area is miniscule compared to 2015.”

A new-found self-respect and clean-playing reputation is also credited by Mr Neale for winning the right to host a Queensland Intrust Super Cup game last year between the Burleigh Bears and the Sunshine Coast Falcons.

A modest Gavin Taylor credited the turn around as a community effort but admitted The Saints RLFC was a good vehicle for the anti-drug message.

“At the time, I noticed that drugs were a problem in the team,” Mr Neale said.

“There is nothing more scary than the thought of a young player stepping up (into the adult grades) and getting hurt because of drugs.

“It was a more widespread problem. I was one of the people who led the effort. One thing it has done is get some of the businesses to introduce drug testing as well.

“It’s a start.”

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