BHP, West Coast take next generation under their wings

West Coast Eagles star Nic Naitanui. Image: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos.

The mining industry has long been a contributor to the lifeblood of Western Australia. For BHP, that commitment goes beyond the sector with its West Coast Eagles partnership

The powerful combination of a major mining company and an AFL club has proven to be a vehicle for social connection in Western Australia.

Dotted throughout the state’s landscape are countless young people living in remote areas who do not have access to the same benefits of children living in metropolitan Perth.

The West Coast Eagles endeavour to bridge that gap by visiting more than 150,000 youths located in regional WA every year.

BHP has been working with the West Coast Eagles for over 15 years to help deliver free community engagement programs for boys and girls of all ages.

With Australian Rules as its backbone, these programs help multicultural and Indigenous teenagers to meet new people, make friends and stay active.

On any afternoon, West Coast coaches could be taking more than 50 Indigenous and multicultural youths through the steps of how to play football.

The majority of them may have never crossed paths before the program started, but they now share a newfound bond by learning about one another.

Many of the boys and girls are so isolated that they rarely get a chance to make contact with wider social networks.

This football program is an example of the opportunities made possible for young people who are attempting to find their place in the world.

Eagles AFLW players Tarnee Tester.

West Coast Eagles general manager of community and game development Richard O’Connell is the person responsible for overseeing the club’s community engagement program, which helps young people connect and engage at a level not possible where many of them come from.

“The programs we run across Western Australia are all team based, promoting the importance of working together towards a shared goal. They may come from different walks of life but once the jumper is on we are all members of the same team – fostering a sense of belonging,” he says.

“At many of the sessions or the games we include organisations such as Mission Australia whose youth workers are available to the youth to strike up a conversation.

“We recognise that many of the issues these young people face are complex and thus it takes a team approach to make real change.”

Generosity from the club’s elite

West Coast aims to ensure young people in rural areas have the same access to the programs as those living in metropolitan areas, with the team behind the program travelling more than 110,000 kilometres each year.

“BHP and the West Coast Eagles commenced an innovative partnership in 2004 which focussed on incentivising students in the Pilbara to attend school,” BHP corporate affairs state manager Meath Hammond says.

“Since then we have worked closely to accelerate inclusion and diversity related social outcomes, by underwriting the cost of attending Naitanui (and Female Academy) programs to ensure access is available to all works of life, no matter what the economic situation the family faces.”

Eagles star Nic Naitanui is one of the figureheads for the club’s community programs. With the help of West Coast life member Kim Hannah, the 2012 All Australian ruckman founded the Naitanui Academy, which aims to engage aspiring multicultural footballers.

What started as an idea soon turned into a reality when Hannah – who is a former teacher that has worked in schools and football for over 40 years – supported Naitanui’s vision to develop community programs for multicultural and indigenous youths.

Naitanui was once one of the many kids who experienced the challenges of feeling like an outsider in a football-crazy state.

The proud Fijian moved from New South Wales to Bassendean, Western Australia, where he met and became friends with many Indigenous people.

“I recognise that I am able to leave a lifelong legacy by supporting young people to make good choices. It’s easier if you are surrounded by good people, they feel supported and there are people to turn to for advice – a team mate, a coach or a friend,” Naitanui says.

“It sounds pretty simple, but sadly too many young men and women don’t have this support. I’m grateful that BHP shares my passion for helping do good. Without their support we couldn’t make this a truly inclusive program.”

Eagles stories

The club is set to continue telling the unique individual stories that have impacted its community programs over the past year in a special content series called Eagles Stories It will also feature inspiring tales from several AFL players, AFLW athletes and dedicated West Coast Eagles fans.

This article also appears in the April edition of Australian Mining.

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