NRL Volunteer of the Year Bevan Owens has revived rugby league in Queensland's remote Gulf Country and helped bond Indigenous communities.
When the Normanton Stingers left the Mt Isa competition after the 2017 season due to an exhausting 10-hour round trip to play each week, club president Owens resolved to keep the sport alive in the Gulf region by forming a local league.
The Gulf Community Rugby League Cluster was born in 2018. Normanton's senior team was joined by Burketown, Doomadgee, Kowanyama and Mornington Island - some of which hadn't played in a QRL-sanctioned competition for years.
Given the cultural sensitivities, costs and the multiple-hour distance between communities - Mornington Island need to catch a plane for games on the mainland - it was a significant feat.
"Bevan has united those five communities. Indigenous communities don't always get along; there's a lot of history between them," QRL northern division manager Scott Nosworthy told NRL.com.
"But in the two years they've played footy up there, not a punch has been thrown on the field. It's a showpiece for our game ... A classic example of everything that's been done right.
"Without Bevan's leadership, it would never have happened."
The first one to arrive and the last one to leave on game days, Owens is the heart and soul of the Stingers. His title may say president but his role encompasses almost everything.
"Normanton run a very successful little club - they've got good sponsors, they go and get grants, they employ a bookkeeper ... They do everything right," said Nosworthy.
"Bevan loves the sport but he also has that passion for his community."
On the back of Owens's hard work - which includes driving a mini-bus to take teams to games - women's football is also flourishing in the Gulf.
ClubsNSW, who sponsored the NRL Volunteer of the Year award, expressed their admiration for Owens.
"The club industry is enormously proud of its long and close association with the game of rugby league - especially at the grassroots level," said chairman Dr George Peponis OAM.
"Just like rugby league, clubs have been built on the backs of volunteers, so we know just how important it is to recognise those who have gone over and above.
"Bevan is a worthy winner of the ClubsNSW NRL Volunteer of the Year Award and we congratulate him and all the other selfless volunteers who help to make junior rugby league what it is."
NRL legend Preston Campbell recently made a special visit to Normanton, with Owens believing he would only be receiving the QRL Volunteer of the Year award.
So it came as a huge surprise to Owens when Campbell presented him the national gong as well.
"The first thing he said was that it wasn't his award - it was a community award that belonged to everyone," said Nosworthy.
"He was probably embarrassed by winning it, to be honest.
"Word got around that he was getting the award and about 150 people turned up in a small community just to see him get the award, which is a five-minute thing.
"I think that showcases the respect that he has, not just from Indigenous people but all communities."
This article was originally published on Nine.com
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