The footy season is yet to kick off, but our local Magpies, Bellingen’s much-lauded Rugby League team, have already dusted off their kit and are back out on the paddock training hard for the annual Sgt. Matthew Locke MG Charity Match. This annual event is now in its 12th year, pitting the Magpies against the National Australian Army Rugby League team. And this is a clash not to be missed.
Bellingen local hero Sgt. Matthew Locke, or ‘Grub’ as he was known to his mates, died during combat in Afghanistan on 25th October 2007. Matthew’s mate and Bellingen Shire local Sgt. Nick Mathews brought the idea of a memorial footy clash to the Locke family soon after. What was to be a one-off event however, has now become a successful annual charity event, with significant and far-reaching benefits.
Debbie Locke (pictured at top) manages the family charity ‘Grub Club’ in honour of Matthew. “I wanted to use funds raised to do something positive in Matthew’s name. Something that would appeal to Matt,” says Debbie.
The ‘Grub Club’ is an educational fund, providing opportunities for villagers in a small region of Timor Leste called Hatu-Udu. “Timor held a special significance for Matt. He was stationed there in 1999-2000, at the time East Timor achieved independence from Indonesia. To date we have worked with the local community to build three kindergartens and a 4-room schoolhouse that can serve as both a primary and secondary school,” says Debbie.
Chatting with Debbie, one quickly realises this is someone who ‘gets the job done’. She has been a teacher at Dorrigo High since 2014, thus the passion for learning and education. She describes the Bellingen Shire as her “spiritual home” but she certainly has a second home in Timor, that she visits annually. The close connections she has forged there has given her the surety she needs when dealing with donated funds.
In a nutshell, the charity provides the funds, but it is the villagers who make the final design decisions. With local knowledge the villagers source all the materials and build the structures, ultimately taking ownership of the buildings. Kindergarten teachers were trained through the charity. A private donation was used to set up a chicken and fish farm, the profits from which pay the teachers’ wages.
Debbie has also ensured the kindergartens are fully stocked with books and toys. “We have held several toy and book drives across the Bellingen Shire. Through a network of kind truck drivers, the goods are transported to Darwin, then my army contacts complete the journey into Dili. All for free,” she says.
It really does seem no obstacle is too great for Debbie and the Grub Club. And quite remarkably, this charity also supports local initiatives and organisations. “We like to spread the love,” says Debbie. Each year some money is given to ‘Soldier On’, Australia’s only national fully integrated and holistic support services provider for our Defence personnel, contemporary veterans, and their families. A local organisation is also chosen each year to be a beneficiary. This year money raised will be donated to the Tyringham RFS.
Despite the success of this annual charity event, Debbie knows first hand that nothing is forever. “Matt’s death has taught me that you can’t predict the future.” With this in mind, Debbie is now working to ensure the Timorese project can become fully self-sustainable. “It’s no good if it falls down when we step out of the story.”
To this end Debbie will spend a good chunk of her current long service leave setting up an adult education centre in the village of Bei Cala in the Hatu-Udu region, Timor Leste. “Local wages in Timor are low. My aim is to build the entrepreneurial skills of the locals so they can start small businesses themselves. We have already seen that providing locals with better wages has meant they start to think in entrepreneurial ways, looking at ways to supplement their incomes or business options for themselves,” says Debbie.
Enough computers have already been donated to start computer courses. The plan is to train the trainers, so that eventually the Timorese will own and operate the centre, creating better opportunities for the locals and greater wages going back into the community.
Debbie and the Locke family have certainly ensured that Sgt. Matthew Locke’s legacy will continue to be felt into the future. I’m curious about how a teacher finds enough hours in the day to achieve so much. “I’m as busy as some, not as busy as others,” says Debbie. Me-thinks humble too!
The Sgt. Matthew Locke MG Charity Match is the main event in a whole weekend of activities:
4 man ambrose event. 8.15am breakfast for 9am shotgun start. $160 per team.
For more details CLICK