Sometimes the best stories aren’t about the biggest names. For me, anyway.

I can find just as much satisfaction in finding a cracking little story about a traditional country competition as I can when interviewing a high profile international star. Sometimes more. There is often a purity, innocence, and sheer joy in grass roots and community stories and I love trying to convey those qualities in a creative way.

So it was with a great deal of excitement that I threw my clothes in a suitcase (I am the worst of the last-minute packers) and headed up to Alice Springs for my second Imparja Cup, the annual Australian Indigenous cricket carnival. Last year I was only there for four days, shooting enough material for a couple of stories to run on Fox Sports News, but this year I stayed for eight.

In a way I was operating as a kind of stringer – talking to newsrooms around Australia and seeing if they’d be interested in stories on teams or players from their areas. Then it was a frantic rush around with Chris – an Alice Springs cameraman whose local knowledge, dry humour, and patience were invaluable – to film as many stories as we could fit into a daily half hour feed. I have to say we couldn’t have managed it without the help of Cricket Australia’s Sebastian Kipman, who took every problem we tossed at him in his stride, and Laura Macintosh, who spent much of the week trying to master a tricky piece of equipment known as the reflector (or ‘fleccy’, for those in the biz).

And there were great stories everywhere you turned. Like the Maranoa Murries from Queensland. Two years ago they won their division in the Cup but last summer the dreadful floods that devastated the region prevented them from defending their title. There are only four men in the side who play cricket regularly, but this tournament is a highlight of their year. “We always said it’d take a natural disaster to stop us coming,” one of them told me. “And it did.”

But not this year. The Murries piled into a mini-bus and drove 2700km across the Queensland and Northern Territory outback to compete last week. They made it to the final but went down to the Darwin side, before trekking the 2700km home. Bloody good effort that.

Then there are the Tiwi Islanders. I first met them last year, when they brought a team to the Imparja Cup for the first time. With the help of their coach – Sport and Recreation Officer and cricket nut Mick Rees – player numbers have tripled in 12 months and a local competition established.

“This year is the first year we’ve actually had a representative side picked from a structured competition,” Rees explained. “So we had our first Tiwi Islands Cricket Association season in 2012, which was highly successful. We had three clubs, one from each community. We played on a plastic flexi pitch we got from Melbourne and we just rolled that out on the oval and it was very entertaining, very enjoyable, and the guys absolutely loved it.”

The most striking aspect of the Tiwi Islands cricket team is their art. The players wear colourful shirts designed by artists back home and before each game they carefully plant two painted stumps by the boundary. One represents the women and girls of their community, while the other represents the men and boys – they can’t be physically present, so the stumps become the supporting onlookers. Three bats are lined up, covered in spectacular black, ochre and white depictions of a turtle, a bush fowl, and a lizard, symbols of the three major communities on Bathurst and Melville Islands. Wherever possible the batsmen take the blade from their own dreaming out in the middle.

“It creates cultural awareness, it’s significantly important for our side because it represents who we are, said Rees. “The bats are the players’ dreaming, it’s their family, it’s their culture. The stumps are our communities – they represent that we are from the islands, this is us.”

The Tiwi Islanders were one side to feature in a feature story I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald while I was in Alice. TV and print are such different beasts and keeping my head around so many different stories, not to mention the mediums, was a challenge. It meant I had to interview some people twice, to keep the content totally separate, and have a clear idea in my head of the different way all the stories would be constructed.

http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/hunt-for-aboriginal-talent-starts-at-the-top-end-20130222-2ewxa.html?skin=text-only

http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/cup-overflowing-with-promise-20130222-2ewx8.html?skin=text-only

Traeger Park, Alice Springs

Traeger Park, Alice Springs

Greg Chappell watches two state teams compete.

Greg Chappell watches two state teams compete.

The beautiful Tiwi Island bats

The beautiful Tiwi Island bats

Chris and I had to cut the stories in our heads as we shot, as there was no time to edit before feeding. We had to work out what would be relevant to viewers in Albany, Tasmania, Canberra and Parkes. And then there were the mechanics of the feed itself, which sometimes took half the morning to set up.

All of which meant I had to keep walking past the hotel pool, instead of diving into it for a relaxing kick back. The worst was the night I sat up working till 3am while some funsters held the best damn pool party of all time. At least, that’s how it sounded to me. I can’t stand missing out on fun.

One thing I didn’t miss out on was a long chat with Greg Chappell. The National Talent Manager was there to see how some of the players in the high performance pathways were progressing. It was fascinating to hear Chappell talk about the development of young indigenous cricketers. In fact, I loved just listening to all of his insights. Like this, for example:

“Learning to deal with failure is an important part of being successful in cricket. Donald Bradman batted 80 times in test cricket and only made 29 hundreds, so effectively he’s failed 51 times. If he’s failed that many times in his career you can imagine what the rest of us have done. It’s a game that requires patience, it requires a lot of diligence, it requires courage, it requires intelligence, all of those things and I think once people get to see below the surface of the game they do really love it, so we’ve got to get more of them attracted to it from all backgrounds.”

But possibly my favourite oratory came from a bloke called Digger, who also featured in the Herald article. One of the players in the original Imparja Cup 20 years ago, Digger’s enthusiastic innings was the moment I really felt the spirit of this tournament, when I really understood that cricket is about community. So I wrote about it.

When Digger showed up on the final day I showed him the paper. His face lit up with a grin Imagethat showed through his bushy beard and he asked me if he could take the paper over to his mates, who were all watching from a temporary stand. We walked over, arm in arm, and with all the theatrical aplomb of a Shakespearean actor, Digger opened the paper and read the article aloud. There were hand gestures, dramatic pauses, and the appreciative audience laughed and cheered throughout. It was a wonderful moment, and despite the fact that the Herald costs $7.20 in Alice Springs, I couldn’t really take the paper back.

I arrived back in Sydney exhausted (could be that last night of letting the hair down and sampling the Alice night life until the wee small hours played a part) but also invigorated.

Hopefully I’ll be back there next year.