That's the Spirit: Janell Yeomans - Walgett NSW
Janell Yeomans is used to running teams. From the Walgett hospital where she works as a registered nurse to the myriad sporting arenas and community committee rooms where she spends so much of her free time. But the energetic mum of five says her greatest satisfaction comes from coaching the home team where the most important lesson is the lifelong skill of commitment.
Janell: I’m a registered nurse at Walgett hospital – I’ve been here 21 years this stint, but I actually started there in 1989 with a little stint at the old hospital.
I’m originally a Cudal girl, so I’m from a small community originally.
Jen: Apart from the weather, moving to Walgett wasn’t that much of a shock, then?
Janell: Oh, it was a shock – but a nice shock (laughs)! No, the shock was leaving all my family in Orange and Cudal and to move to a place where I didn’t have any family of my own, but my husband Guy’s family were here, so that was the compromise.
Jen: You obviously adapted, though, because over the years you’ve become so much a part of the town, particularly through sport. Can you tell me about that?
Janell: When I first moved here, we had really young children and there wasn’t too much going on for adults, which was a shame. So a group of us used to get together, pop the kids in their prams or on their bikes or whatever and walk around the town. It wasn’t until the kids went to primary school that we started getting into their sports.
We did swimming lessons when they were younger, but once they started team sports that’s when we really got into it.
We were lucky that there were a number of kids the same age as our boys, and we got right into the soccer in the winter, as well as a little bit of junior rugby. But we travelled a lot for the soccer because there wasn’t much of a competition here at the time.
There was a core group of us and we threw ourselves into all the sports – soccer, junior rugby, swimming, horse sports, little athletics. You name it, we were all involved in it, and we had to all get involved and participate so we could keep the clubs going. It was a great thing for the kids, but it was actually also really good for the adults because we were all doing things together.
It was great for Guy and me in that it built a network and it was a social thing for us as well as a family thing. We couldn’t wait for the weekends!
Janell Yeomans, Walgett NSW
Jen: How did your involvement in those clubs back then help to develop sporting opportunities for youngsters in Walgett?
Janell: Once our kids were involved with sports, we threw ourselves into getting and keeping the various clubs going. With swimming, for instance, there were a few of us parents who went off and did the coaching course so that the kids would have proper training. We really sank our teeth into it and we were able then to draw in kids from all kinds of backgrounds.
Indigenous kids, who are so talented in sport, sometimes don’t have the confidence to come and participate where there are lots of people because they’re often quite shy. Because I was involved with the school and at the hospital, and also through my role as a child and family health nurse, I knew a lot of the families and the kids, so we encouraged and assisted the kids to come along.
We ended up with great numbers and everyone was so keen. We trained two or three nights a week and we had club nights on Friday nights which included a sausage sizzle.
That all made it much easier for all the families to feel they could come along and get involved, it was great.
Jen: There have been some great little swimmers to have come out of Walgett.
Janell: We’ve actually had some great sportspeople come out of Walgett full stop – across all kinds of sports. Part of that is getting families involved. It’s so important for kids to do things as part of a group and having their families involved makes it so much easier to encourage them.
Jen: You work in child and infant health – how important is sport in a small community?
Janell: So important. So, so important. It’s important for physical and mental health, and you see clearly the positive impact of sport on that. We’ve actually seen recently, with Covid-19, the impact it has when you can’t play sport – it’s been really difficult. People were feeling tired and depressed because they couldn’t get out and participate and go to their usual sporting outings. It’s not just about playing, it’s about catching up and connecting.
The importance of sport for the social fabric of a small community can’t be overstated.
For instance, our first game of rugby (union) back after the initial lock-down brought an absolute hive of excitement to the town – we had to abide by social distancing and other measures, of course, but it was just such a great hype. Everyone was so happy. It had given everyone something to look forward to and hope for.
Janell Yeomans, Walgett NSW
Jen: Why is it important for people to step up and contribute to sports and other activities in a small community?
Janell: You can’t necessarily leave it to others. Hopefully, if we hadn’t stepped up for the swimming, for instance, someone else would have, but it’s not fair to sit back and just assume other people will do it. I’m happy to do it because I just enjoy it, and I know how important sport is for our overall wellbeing. I’ve made it very much a part of everyday life in our family.
Sport also teaches you commitment, and commitment is a lifelong skill. Commitment to your community is the same. That’s where it starts – you join a team, you commit to the team, you step up. Out here, you have to commit because, for instance, if there’s not enough players to put on the field, everyone misses out. So you have to honour your commitment or you’re letting everyone down. It’s the same with any community activity.
Commitment is a huge thing out here. That’s why I think the kids actually grow up to find what they’re really good at because they get to do so many different things – they have to do everything and take part in everything that’s going if the little towns are going to survive.
Jen: You were setting up an aqua-aerobics group last time we spoke. How did that go?
Janell: Really well! We did classes here and we also went out to Carinda. There’s another lady at the Aboriginal Medical Service who does the same thing – our title is community fitness leaders. We do aqua in the summer and exercise groups in the winter. It’s free to come along, and it’s just great to see everyone of all ages doing these fitness things together. Our “boot camp” in the afternoons has people of all different shapes and sizes, there’s kids, there’s grannies, there’s all kinds of people.
It’s a social thing as much as the fitness. It’s about getting out and being part of something as well as physical activity.
It’s something for people to get involved with, and I love it. I love chatting to them all as well, and it’s so fun when you put on a song they know and they all sing along and have a great time. Then afterwards, we all go and have a coffee together.
Jen: You’re also involved with the Walgett Show committee – tell me about why you’re part of that.
Janell: That’s another thing that everyone needs to be a part of if it’s going to continue to run, and shows are really important to small towns.
A number of my friends were on the committee and they encouraged me to get involved. I discovered it was actually really fun. I started off as a steward with the ladies’ auxiliary and then became the president of that for five years. We’d work behind the bar at night – in a town this size, if you have an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) you’ll find yourself behind the bar at most things at some point during the event!
I also do the show jumping and organise the pony-club stuff and all our kids ride, so it’s a really hectic time. We also usually try to put flowers in, when we have them, and cooking and a bit of artwork.
I figure if everyone in town puts something in, then you have such a good show.
It’s another community event where you get your kids involved and they get used to stepping up because they’ve seen you contribute, they’ve grown up watching you help out.
Our son, for example, he’s living back here now and he’s already on the show committee, he’s on the executive committee of the races, he’s on the rodeo committee, he’s captain of the rugby and he’s the vice president of the aero club and he’s only 25. It wasn’t even as if we said to him, “Hey, you need to do this or that…”, he just stepped up because that’s just what you do.
The thing is, it’s never been a chore. We all enjoy getting together.
The other thing we do is have a hospital ball every second year, mostly to raise money to buy things the patients need. We wanted to buy things like televisions, for example, so we thought, “Let’s have a ball!” It’s really well supported.
Jen: What do you love about Walgett?
Janell: The sense of community, the sense of commitment to each other. We’re tough out here – drought, flood, Covid-19…
I love the multicultural place it is. We are very fortunate for our kids to grow up in an Aboriginal community and learn about that culture.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Janell Yeomans, Walgett NSW