Friday night, with the grey sky roiling and rumbling overhead like an upset stomach, was one of those evenings nobody wanted to leave the house.
As the rain began, Darren Finn sat checking his phone, waiting for the doors of the Tingha Town Hall to open and get started. His back seat was heavy with boxes of wrist tape, boxing gloves, and focus mitts and pads.
At least 47 kids signed up for his new Tingha boxing, fitness and mixed martial arts program to boost youth self-esteem.
Understanding between kids and cops was a second aim for the program, brainstormed by Tingha police.
It is funded by the NSW Police Force Aboriginal Strategic Direction grant and supported by Armajun Aboriginal Health Service and Anaiwan Local Aboriginal Land Council, just over the road.
The goals match Darren’s own philosophy of using the physical contact sports to train body and mind.
“It’s not just a physical game, it’s a mental game, and with a lot of struggles I’ve had, the best thing about that is, showing these kids that you’re always going to have struggles in life,” he said.
“And if you can mentally build yourself to get around them, you’re going to go better in life.”
When the cloud broke Friday night, the rain was relentless, and in the absence of any younger takers, NSW Police Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer Matt Cutmore picked up a focus pad and caught some punches from Tingha Sergeant Stephen Caldwell with Darren’s coaching.
Matt crafted the final program idea, and reached out to childhood friend Darren, an obvious choice.
Darren runs Sapphire Mixed Martial Arts in Inverell, and holds several world titles, but his work in the gym with youth at risk, and dedication to building up young lives was a bonus.
He said boxing used to be popular in Tingha, but people left town, and interest in the sport faded.
“So when they asked me about coming back out, and doing a bit of boxing, the first thing (I thought) was, “Yeah, you ripper,” Darren said.
Matt’s colleague, Liaison Officer Will Green, gave perspective on the program’s role building bridges between the local youth and coppers.
“It’s important that these kids get to to know the police on a personal level, rather than on an official level, and it does make things a lot easier, particularly when guys are coming into the command,” Will said.
Anaiwan LALC chief executive Greg Livermore said he was glad there was something for the kids during the holidays, and agreed humanising the police was important in their community when the arrival of police, in a child’s eyes, is often negative.
“They turn up at the door and that’s always, in my mind, about a lot of our interaction with cops is, through that situation,” Greg said.
“I think a lot of this community policing stuff is good, because you get to see the coppers in a different sort of way than they would in uniform.”
After a long wait, the storm cleared, gear packed away for two weeks, a local man and two barefoot little boys walked up the driveway, the boys grinning shyly.
“Sorry mate, we had to call it tonight, but come back January 6,” one of the policemen told the boys.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be here.”