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A family and a team - Badu Island rugby league outfit playing for more than pride and trophies

Tom Zaunmayr -

Badu Island may be a speck on the Australian landscape, but at the Mackay Indigenous Rugby League Carnival, a Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait Islands) family network has a major presence.

Badugal women arrive from island alongside relatives and descendants travelling from across Queensland.

So important is family to newcomers Badu Kulpiyam that the team snubbed the Cape York-based Dan Ropeyarn Cup the same weekend for the more central state location.

"This Mackay trip was very special because it was our first-ever women's Kulpiyam team put in," assistant coach Rothana Baira said.

"I feel it was extra special that something my uncle created 22 years ago that the boys (team) were extending that out to include us women in this family to participate and to share that culture and connection together."

Uncle Jack AhMat founded Badu Kulpiyam to expose his sons and nephews to a place "for all the family to come together" away from an island home to just 516 inhabitants back then.

That tradition continued for the women representing Badu Kulpiyam for the first time.

"The majority of our team was either a niece, a cousin or a sister, so that was a great opportunity to have that family connection there," Baira said.

She counts from the 25 members of the squad that "at least 20 players were related".

First Nations rugby league carnivals have become a place where Indigenous families and communities all come together and unite.

"That (carnival) is more than playing football â€" that is the bonus, just so we are able to come together but to also play some football," Baira said.

"For us, this was about sharing each other's culture and reconnecting.

"A lot of the family members, both the men's and the women's teams, live urban now on the mainland so this is important."

Not that the group of players landed in Mackay for loving hugs and talking old yarns.

The squad included former Australian Jillaroos forward Libby Cook while a handful of them are QRLW players from Wynnum-Manly, Townsville Blackhawks, Northern Pride and Mackay Cutters.

The combinations did not quite gel on their way to reaching the quarter-finals, but Badu Kulpiyam is committed to be there next year.

"We've never ever gone anywhere to participate in anything until now," Baira said.

That may include carnivals in Gordonvale, Townsville or even the illustrious Murri carnival in Brisbane.

They may have liked to debut on Waiben (Thursday Island) a month earlier, but for once since the pandemic the Torres Straits did not host a carnival.

"Things just happened up in the Torres Strait," Baira said.

Story by Andrew Mathieson

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