24th June, 2021 — Road safety

Old Bar Beach Pirates drive to survive

The Old Bar Beach Pirates Rugby League Football Club prides itself on its road safety initiatives. The 500-strong NSW club is seeing locals re-engage post COVID. They have one of the fastest growing junior sides in NSW.

The club has their eyes on the prize of continuing to grow, but there are other important priorities too - including road safety.

In 2019, the Old Bar Pirates organised a series of events with a safe transport focus. The aim was to raise awareness of the dangers of drink driving, and educate players, members and families about the importance of driving safely. The amazing work this club does was spurred on by a personal tragedy.

Honouring a friend lost

Abbey Stephen was 19 years old and the youngest of four girls. She played netball with the Old Bar Netball Club, League Tag, and was a rep player for the Manning Valley Netball Association.

In 2018, Abbey’s car was hit while driving home from her League Tag training with the Taree City Bulls. The driver was under the influence, with a high blood alcohol level and drugs also detected.

The Old Bar community was shattered by the loss of Abbey. They vowed to do as much as they could to help prevent this from ever happening again. The Old Bar community honoured their friend, family member and teammate by holding a series of ‘Drive to Survive’ events.

“We’re just trying to get the message out there. It was a sombre year, but we tried to get momentum through the campaign to show that [drink driving] is an issue,” said Sam Atkinson, former club Vice President and brother-in-law to Abbey.

“Navigating such an emotional issue - you can never do justice to it, but the event was important. Even people who didn’t know Abbey connected emotionally with the campaign and the safe driving message.”

“[A tragedy like this] really galvanises the community. It’s about harnessing everyone’s energy and emotions and trying to put it into something positive,” he said.

Old Bar Beach Pirates RLFC drive to survive

The club held three ‘Drive to Survive’ major awareness days at the football ground. They partnered with the Road Safety Officer Chris Dimarco from Mid Coast Council, as well as local police.

“This campaign was something the club had never done before. We had a tent set up where the players run out to show it’s really important. Making the connection is important,” said Sam.

The season launch event was a big one, with a special guest visit. Premiership winning Newcastle Knights Captain, TV personality and Rugby League legend Paul Harragon did an interview and a talk. That went a long way to helping sell out the event and raise awareness.

At the games, a marquee was set up where designated drivers were given a sausage sandwich and non-alcoholic drink vouchers. There were breathalyser units, posters up and “Old Bar Drives to Survive” signs around the football ground. Merch was organised with drink bottles, hats and stubbies.

Club ambassadors wore bright red T-shirts with the ‘Drive to Survive’ messaging printed on them. They gave their players taxi vouchers to get to and from home from Taree if they were travelling there for a night out.

The club also partnered with the local police. The highway patrol set up a random breath testing (RBT) station on the way out of Old Bar.

The club acknowledges that while they can’t control everyone on the roads, they can at least do something to know their community is safer. Changing behaviour of players and families to reduce the risk of drink driving can really make a difference.

“It’s about doing your bit to make sure that it doesn’t happen on your end,” said Sam. “The culture change is the most important thing. We tried to push the message as much as we could.”

Youngsters picking up the message

Sam explains how it was the younger age groups, from 16 to 18, who seemed the most engaged with the road safety messaging.

“They were really interactive! That surprised me that they were the most receptive,” said Sam.

He views this as a huge success. It’s this age group who is just learning how to drive, and perhaps beginning to drink. It’s important that safe transport messaging really gets through to them.

At the events, the ambassadors in the red slogan t-shirts were from each age group across the girls and boys teams. The designated driver program was also one of the highlights of the event.

“It’s empowering people within the teams to spread the message. That way it’s more relatable to the club members,” explains Sam.

“The deso drivers got two free soft drinks and free food. I reckon we had 12 to 15 people sign up a game, out of 45 guests. It was the most successful part of the campaign. It could be done long term.”

Staying connected with Good Sports

For the club, being a part of Good Sports has many advantages.

“It’s about accountability, getting the knowledge base [from Good Sports] and having the foundation of what we needed to do and going from there,” said Sam.

“The best thing was that Marc and Gail (Good Sports team members) were very receptive on how we wanted to do things. They handled it sensitively and they supported us on every step. Marc travelled down to our club and was really helpful. He really went out of his way for us.”

Sam explains that at that time, the club had a big change in management. There was lots of movement at the club, making it a challenging period. The Good Sports team was able to assist with the ‘Drive to Survive’ campaign, even helping the club link in to the local council and get funding through the Local Drug Action Team program.

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