THEY were more than 3500 kilometres from home.
The gusty, cool weather was unfamiliar, as were countless lush paddocks they passed on their travels.
But for 17 year 12 boys from the Northern Territory braving the windswept south-west, there was one connection with their homeland — football.
The Tyrendarra district has this week played host to the indigenous students from Darwin’s Kormilda College on a personal development trip to Victoria.
The participants are part of Kormilda’s Clontarf academy, a nationwide program which aims to keep indigenous boys in school and develop self-esteem and life skills.
Academies use football, among other activities, as a means of engagement.
Should they meet attendance, academic and behavioural requirements they earn the right to take part in football carnivals or interstate trips.
In the case of the Kormilda students, an eye-opening three days in the south-west, staying at Tyrendarra Recreation Reserve, was their end-of-year adventure.
The boys met participants in the Warrnambool Clontarf academy and stayed at Warrnambool College to broaden their understanding of the national program.
They visited protected indigenous land, milked at a dairy farm, took part in sheep shearing and met pupils at Narrawong and District Primary School.
And, of course, they picked up a Sherrin.
A scratch match against a rusty Tyrendarra team on Wednesday was one of the highlights of the trip, which continues in Melbourne until tomorrow.
The south-west leg was the brainchild of Chris Baksh, a former Tyrendarra coach who runs Kormilda’s Clontarf academy.
Baksh remembered his time at Tyrendarra with fondness and was keen to share the experience.
Many are from remote communities hundreds of kilometres from Darwin. The contrasts between their homes and the south-west was stark.
“We caught the flight on Monday. You can imagine a lot of kids haven’t been on a big plane before,” Baksh said. “Then we caught the train and the majority haven’t been on trains before.
“We went to a dairy farm. The boys got to watch that, which was good. At the end they had a drink of milk out of the vat. We did shearing today. Some of the boys had a go shearing sheep. That was amazing.”
Clontarf has more than 40 academies across Australia engaging about 2500 students, with the figures set to grow in coming years.
Kormilda’s academy started in 2011 and four indigenous students passed year 12. “This year we had 14, that’s a big impact,” Baksh said.
“We use sport to do it. We have a footy side, a rugby side, even a basketball side. Indigenous boys love their footy.
“At school, a lot of the different areas used to fight with each other.
“We use sport to bring them in as one team. The school says Clontarf has made a big impact.
“We hope to mentor them in life skills — being eating healthy, looking after people and mixing with other communities.”
Baksh said the group soaked up its days in the south-west, despite the cultural differences.
The visit was productive for Tyrendarra locals too, particularly the footballers and schoolchildren.
“As a footy club and a community we really embraced the visitors,” Tyrendarra stalwart Selwyn Jones said.
As for the football, Jones correctly predicted the young Territorians would “run rings around the Tyrendarra guys”, who had barely touched a football since September.