The 20km strip of sand along Broome’s Cable Beach is normally associated with holidaymakers lapping up luxury.
But this week, that golden shoreline was potentially changing lives.
And at the heart of it was a Broome boy who has gone full circle.
Aiden Albert recently graduated from the WA Police Academy, and returned home this week as a role model to join the Fremantle Dockers and WA Police at the Kimberley 9s Carnival — a project using footy to encourage positive social behaviour in young kids.
The Kimberley 9s Carnival this week welcomed 300 primary and secondary students from local and remote schools across the region to the sandy shores of Cable Beach.
But it had nothing to do with sun-baking. It was all about the Sherrin and playing friendly footy matches alongside WA Police and representatives from the Fremantle Dockers.
Const. Albert was born and bred on Yawuru country in Broome and has strong cultural ties to the Kimberley, with his mother’s family Nyul-Nyul people from the Beagle Bay area and his father a Bardi man from the One Arm Point area.
Football was a way of life for young Aiden Albert, who began playing at the Cable Beach Football Club junior side and hasn’t missed a season since, currently stepping out for the Osborne Park Saints in Perth.
While working at his previous job, he felt he could contribute more and made the decision to join the WA Police Academy. He graduated in March after six months of training.
Ironically, the young probationary constable admits he used to fear police. “I was nervous around police and didn’t want to do the wrong thing because it was law enforcement, but now I’ve joined, I’ve changed that view,” he said.
“I think it is really important the kids get this kind of interaction with officers to encourage positive relationships and the same thinking.”
Const. Albert said the academy challenged him, forcing him to test himself, but it was a welcome change.
“I originally got all the way to a re-qualification fitness test and I failed,” he said. “I missed out by a few levels on the beep test, but I went back and they passed me the next time.”
Now based at the Perth police station, Const. Albert is in charge of patrols and inquiries after spending four months as part of the COVID-19 response team. But it was at the training academy where his journey back to Broome began.
It was there the Fremantle Dockers’ head of community engagement, Simon Eastaugh, and WA Police acting deputy commissioner, Darryl Gaunt, discussed the Kimberley 9s Carnival as an upcoming social engagement project.
Soon after, Const. Albert’s father, Garnduwa Aboriginal Corporation’s Mick Albert, asked him to create a design for the singlets which would be worn by the kids taking part in the carnival. Inspired by his upbringing in the Kimberley, the capable cop created an intricate design, which told the story of the different tribal groups of the region and their respective journeys to converge on Cable Beach in Broome to play in the Kimberley 9s.
“The six circles represent the meeting place, with the colours of white and purple to represent the Freo Dockers and the nine black markings representing the players,” Const. Albert said.
“It also has the different colours of the Kimberley. So, there’s greens for the growth around the rivers in areas like Kununurra, then the desert colours so the browns of places like Fitzroy and Halls Creek, then pink and purple for the wild-flowers. The blue represents the saltwater people of the land and the creeks, rivers and beaches.”
Always smiling, Const. Albert said he loved talking to people and was eager to share his story. “I say hello to strangers on the street and I do that on and off duty,” he said. “To the kids, if you have a goal just go towards it, sometimes it might not work out but as long as you find the right support you’ll get there.”
The brightly coloured singlets could be seen for kilometres down the beach and laughter filled the air, as the children, police officers, and professional athletes took to the sand to play together.
The carnival is a project initiated by Fremantle’s recently established Purple Hands Foundation, and was only offered to boys and girls who had shown strong school attendance, displayed positive social behaviours and committed to the four-week training program provided by the Fremantle Dockers’ Next Generation Academy.
Eastaugh said the event was a collaborative initiative to support social impact in the region.
“The three-pillared program is . . . to reduce crime in the regions, to keep kids involved in attending school, and to keep them involved in football and organised sport,” Eastaugh said.
“WA Police are on board to ensure we’ve got people on the ground here in the Kimberley that have gone through coaching accreditations who are getting involved with the schools and footy clubs in the region.
“We are using this as a joint collaborative approach to achieve those three pillars over a long-term sustainable process.”
WA Police has backed the program for two years, in the hope of building genuine relationships with the kids as a strategy to reduce crime and violence in the Kimberley. It’s also seen as a way to inspire young people to consider the police force as a career path.
To encourage this engagement, the Fremantle Dockers and the WA Football Commission provided training to police to acquire their Foundation Level AFL coaching accreditation.
Mr Gaunt said 17 police officers had been trained up in the Kimberley. “The whole idea is to link police with those kids in a more positive environment,” he said. “It is no secret the Kimberley has a lot of juvenile-related crime, we get it all the time and most of it involves bored youths.
“What we get out of it is relationship building, we get to know those kids and organised sport provides organised lives, structure, and a team environment.”
Mr Gaunt said WA Police hoped to encourage young kids to consider a career in the force.
“We want to promote that so the kids can see what they can aspire to,” he said. “Because in a lot of these places there is not a lot of hope or aspiration as to what they do when they become adults. They are having a ball, I’ve seen nothing other than smiling faces and a few sweaty police officers.”
One particularly enthusiastic cop was Andy Henshaw, the officer-in-charge at Lombadina in the Dampier Peninsula, whose recognisable blue shirt could be seen saturated in sweat after chopping between umpiring and playing on both days of the carnival.
Sen. Sgt Henshaw said the kids completely embraced the program. “It’s great to be out here running around with them. It’s all about building that trust with the kids and the community and breaking down barriers,” he said.
The kids were especially excited to meet Fremantle Docker — and Broome boy — Bailey Banfield, who filled in for the Yakanarra Community team who were short on numbers.
Banfield said the event was nostalgic for him, having attended Broome Primary School as a young lad, playing Auskick and for the Broome Bulls Football Club before moving to Perth to board.
“I’m just putting myself back a couple of years, missing school for a day, running around playing footy on Cable Beach, this would’ve been the best day ever,” he said.
Police Minister Paul Papalia, said the program successfully encouraged good behaviour.
“It provides a thing which everyone loves as an enticement to good behaviour and attendance in school, so you are using football as the vehicle and the mechanism to get kids to desire to participate and attend,” he said.
In the future, Const. Albert said he would like to be a role model for younger generations.
“I was talking to a youth police officer when I came back to Broome and they said it was a good job, so that is what I’m kind of leaning towards, and helping the kids,” he said.
“I didn’t change who I am going through the academy and I want to show the kids they can be themselves and achieve their goals.”
Const. Albert said the carnival created an atmosphere that fostered open communication.
“Being in a casual setting you can pass on messages easier, you’re not trying to teach them a lesson because they’ve done something wrong. Instead, you can have a chat and if they mention something about breaking the law you can just have a word to them,” he said.
“There’s no shame, usually we are the first to come in contact with any youth that are offending because we are first on scene, so I think that is where we can get through to them hopefully.”