Fifty kilometres off the untouched east coast of Arnhem Land nestles the low-lying Groote Eylandt.
Home to the Warnindilyakwa people for thousands of years, the small island found itself a new, temporary resident in Nadia von Bertouch last August.
The South Australian Saint departed Victoria at the peak of the state’s COVID-19 crisis, but her one-month stay in the Top End was much more than an escape.
It was a gateway to see family she hadn’t seen in months – her sister, Abbie, lives on Groote Eylandt – and a chance to give back to the communities that welcomed her in.
Working with Bush Fit Mob alongside her sister, von Bertouch spent her time in one of the most remote corners of Australia running footy clinics for the students across the Groote Archipelago.
There are four schools in the region: Alyangula Area School, Angurugu School, Alyarrmandumanja Umbakumba School and Milyakburra School, which is an hour’s ferry ride from the main island.
All were thrilled – and surprised – to have an AFLW player in their midst.
“A lot of them didn’t believe it. They thought I was too skinny which is probably true, but I think they were all pretty excited and a lot were in disbelief,” von Bertouch told saints.com.au.
“Most of the time they have to go back onto the mainland or even to Darwin, and I think a lot of them were going to the Michael Long Centre as a way to get exposed to football, but I don’t think they’d come across many AFLW players at all, ever.”
In-between helping out with her sister’s art and music lessons – both in English and the local Anindilyakwa language – von Bertouch would run extra-curricular sessions during and after school hours for the footy-mad youngsters.
Even with the NT headed into its notorious wet season and the unrelenting humidity offering little reprieve, it didn’t stop the clinics, which saw as few as three or four and as many as 30 to 40 taking part.
“I guess I had forgotten about how much I love working with kids and footy clinics especially,” von Bertouch said.
“Being in lockdown, I hadn’t really felt like I was being super productive. I had a coaching job at Mentone Grammar that, because of COVID, had to stop.
“I know we love to be able to do stuff around our local area in Melbourne and to give back to the community through footy, but to go out and do that in such a remote community was really rewarding for me."
Groote Eylandt may be tucked away, but has had exposure to Auskick programs through the AFLNT, and even been visited by Brownlow medallist Patrick Dangerfield a few years ago.
Recently retired Collingwood forward Machaelia Roberts also became the first from Groote Eylandt to be drafted to an AFLW team.
But on the whole, the small part of Arnhem Land has been largely unvisited.
While von Bertouch’s journey to the NT may have started as a loosely floated idea in a FaceTime call some months ago with her sister, it ended with a renewed hunger to return to Groote Eylandt again.
“I only did it for a couple of weeks up there, but it would be something I would love to do again in the future,” von Bertouch said.
“Maybe when the (AFLW) season’s over, I’ll head up for a bit longer and get involved with a few more programs and help them kickstart more of a women’s footy team.
“It was really cool to ignite that, but I guess for me I’d like to finish that off and see it go further.
“The passion and the love for Aussie Rules up there is something pretty special, but even though they have that passion, they just don't have the opportunities that kids do down here in Melbourne for example.
“To see that passion is still just as strong, if not stronger there, that’s something I think we really need to delve into and have something come out of it.”