That's the Spirit: Peter Hazelton - Gilgandra NSW
Friends describe him as “Mr Gilgandra”, but accolades don’t sit comfortably with Peter Hazelton. So why has the long-time president of the town’s rugby league club, the mighty Gil Panthers, done so much for the sport and his community over the years? Simple, he says: “I just do it because I love it.”
Peter: President of the Gilgandra Panthers Rugby League Club – we’re in the Castlereagh League competition, which comprises nine towns although the pandemic has knocked that around so there’s only six towns competing this year. In fact, we’re the only competition in regional NSW that’s actually going ahead for the 2020 season – we’re basically flying the flag for league in the bush. There were a number of hoops we had to jump through and Covid-safe measures we had to put in place, but we’ve managed, even with the reduced number of teams and for a shortened season.
Jen: Rugby League is so important in small regional towns, isn’t it?
Peter: Very much so. It’s particularly important for the younger kids. I’ve seen that locally throughout the time I’ve been involved in the game in Gilgandra, and that’s pretty much all my life.
I’ve been President of the Panthers since about 2005, but I started playing in the “four-stone-sevens”, when I was a kid right up through to the senior ranks. It’s been a pretty significant part of my life. I retired from the game in 1987.
My wife, Robyn, and I have three boys and a girl, and all the boys played league and our daughter played netball, so we were heavily involved in junior sports as well.
Peter Hazelton, Gilgandra NSW
Jen: What has rugby league given you over the years, and why do you stay involved?
Peter: Good question. I just do it because I love it. Sport has always given us something to do with our time, particularly at the weekends, and as a family – particularly the league.
Not that I wouldn’t hand it over if someone came along and wanted to take on the presidency (laughs) but we have a really, really good committee and we get things done together.
It’s an amateur competition, so there’s no payment involved so I think that means people are doing it for the love of the game. Blokes want to play alongside their mates, rather than for money. That makes us a club, and a competition, that is the envy of others. I think there are others that would like to be a bit more like us.
I get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from being involved with the game and the club.
Jen: How important is sport in a small community?
Peter: I saw it very clearly back in the 2000s, when we didn’t have a side here in town, a lot of the older people in town really missed it because of the interaction, and the fact that it gave them, and now again gives them, something to do at the weekends and a way of connecting.
It gives the community something to look forward to, and makes sure there’s a variety of activities to do.
There’s also a sense of pride – there’s nothing quite like cheering for your local team, and the players want to play for their town’s side, too.
Sport, and rugby league in particular, is important in a community because there are a lot of lonely people out there, aren’t there? It does bring people together, and it’s great for older people in particular – they really look forward to it, and whole families can get involved, whether they’re playing or not.
For some kids, their rugby league club is the best role modelling they have. We’re looking to expand our junior competition because I really would like to help with giving kids that direction that playing rugby league can give them.
Jen: So why do you do what you do?
Peter: All my sons played, so that was important. I think it’s really important to get involved when your own kids are playing – it’s very frustrating to see people not stepping up and helping out with their children’s sport. It’s always been something Robyn and I have done. If you want your kids to have the opportunity to play sport – and Robyn and I both did – then you have to step up.
I’m happy to try to give the youth of the town something to do and some direction. I’m not saying I’m a great leader or anything, and I’m sure if I wasn’t doing it, someone else would, but it’s important to me to contribute and I get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from doing it.
Jen: Why do you love Gilgandra?
Peter: I’m a local boy. I grew up on a farm at Balladoran, and I’ve never left the district. I always wanted to go back onto the farm, which was a soldier-settler’s block that my grandfather took up when he came back from WWI, but my father insisted I get a trade first, so I got an apprenticeship in building. Then, when he died, I was by that stage flat out building and trying to run the farm at the same time, and Mum was pretty lonely out there so the decision was made to sell the farm and move to town.
Anyway, Gilgandra is home. It’s where I belong.
It’s great to get away and see other places, but gee, it’s always good to come home, isn’t it?
Jen: It sure is. What are some of the misconceptions you think are out there about life in a small town?
Peter: I’ve heard it all over the years. “What are you doing in this place? There’s nothing to do!” That’s just not true. We go to every dogfight that’s on, but you have to want to get involved. You have to make an effort no matter where you are, or how much there is to do – it’s still up to you to get in and have a crack.
There’s a sense of satisfaction in helping keep your community going.
And you find, in a town like this, that people will move away for various reasons but they come back in their later years. It draws them back.
There seems to be an overall drift back to small towns.
We’ve lost population and some services over the years, but that doesn’t mean a loss of community spirit, and it irks me a bit when people run the town down.
It’s been a great place for us to bring up our kids and they’re all bringing up their families here too.
Everyone knows everyone. People here are friendly, we have great neighbours and it’s just a really happy place to be.
Everyone gets in and helps out.
We also have a great ex-pat community, with people from all over the world now calling Gilgandra home, and they love it.
People think small towns are really closed off, but in actual fact they’re very welcoming of new people.
Here in Gilgandra, we’ll take you as we find you. It doesn’t cost a cent to say g’day to people, does it?
There are a lot of lonely people in the world, and this place is no different, but if you’re going to be on your own, Gilgandra isn’t a bad place to be because there’ll always be someone around to help you out.
As soon as there’s a disaster, or there’s someone in need, people step up to the mark.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Peter Hazelton, Gilgandra NSW