Wellington Cowboys players Keelie Blackhall, 20, Fallon Ah See, 36, and Monique Peachey, 23, with first grade player and coach Aidan Ryan. Picture: David Swift
Wellington Cowboys players Keelie Blackhall, 20, Fallon Ah See, 36, and Monique Peachey, 23, with first grade player and coach Aidan Ryan. Picture: David Swift

Rugby league is saving NSW town from ice addiction

ICE was so rife in Wellington it was once dubbed "The South Pole" and "Little Antarctica".

And authorities knew their "dob in a dealer" campaign would not catch all suppliers as addicts would have to turn on their friends.

Elders in the town west of The Blue Mountains soon figured out the key was the local rugby league team: The Wellington Cowboys.

Once considered thugs on the field - elders realised if they could show the players were clean - the town folk cheering on in the stands would follow.

Enter Darren Ah See - the club's new president.

Wellington Cowboys Rugby League Football Club president and head of the Wellington Aboriginal Corporation Health Service Darren Ah See. Picture: David Swift
Wellington Cowboys Rugby League Football Club president and head of the Wellington Aboriginal Corporation Health Service Darren Ah See. Picture: David Swift

Mr Ah See - who is also head of the Wellington Aboriginal Corporation Health Service - said he drove home the message that the community's health and well being was just as important as getting results on the field.

"Some of the stuff that was happening on the field, the behaviour - they were sore losers," he told The Daily Telegraph.

"If things didn't go their way their behaviour would change towards the opposition and the refs. I think even some of the crowd behaviour wasn't satisfactory, so when I came on board last year our focus from day dot was trying to get some results on the field but that wasn't the priority," he said.

"The other aspect of it, and I've said this all along, is that it's not only about football. It's about our community and particularly what we can do to support the health and well being of our community."

After taking the club reigns, Mr Ah See ensured the health service had a presence at home games on weekend.

As the Cowboys starting drawing bigger crowds, workers encouraged fans to seek medical help for their addictions and go for regular check ups.

 

Cowboys player and coach Aidan Ryan, 28, said rugby league helped keep his players clean.

"It gives them a mindset, we're training two to three times a week, and then you're playing footy so it gets their mind focused and gets them away from the bad vibes in town," Mr Ryan said.

"If you're around football four days a week and you're around people that work in health and focusing on health it gives them a positive aspect for life and they know there's more to life than worrying about drugs.

"Everyone gets behind Wello and I think we get the biggest crowds out of the whole rugby league community out this way, everyone's really passionate and loves seeing us succeed.

But nobody in Wellington will tell you they have beaten ice completely.

Wellington’s Aboriginal Corporation Health Service’s doctor Bijay Pandey and practice manager Anita Dwyer. Picture: David Swift
Wellington’s Aboriginal Corporation Health Service’s doctor Bijay Pandey and practice manager Anita Dwyer. Picture: David Swift

At the Aboriginal Health service only a few blocks away from the Cowboys' home ground, the effects of ice is seen every day.

But local doctors can now detect problems early and intervene medically before conditions worsen - including five spinal abscess infections linked to intravenous drug use in the past year alone.

"The good thing is we have drug and alcohol counsellors coming from Dubbo once a week," local doctor Bijay Pandey told The Daily Telegraph.

"Research shows 90 per cent of people who use illicit substances want to give it up, we just have to keep going, and ask 'are you ready today, are you ready today?' One day they will be ready."

Darren Ah See with first grade co-coach Aiden Ryan at the Wellington Cowboys club home at Kennard Park. Picture: David Swift
Darren Ah See with first grade co-coach Aiden Ryan at the Wellington Cowboys club home at Kennard Park. Picture: David Swift

Mr Ah See said the Corporation's presence on game day that helped residents seek help if they needed to.

"It's trying to create an avenue where you get people thinking about their health and wellbeing," he said.

"Indirectly hopefully that has impacts on people who have been impacted by ice. Not only people who use ice but also family.

"Ice is a choice and unfortunately people that are affected by ice it's hard to actually kick the habit and acknowledge that they have a problem"