Sunrise around Uluru and Kata Tjuta is always a breathtaking event.
The sun’s early morning rays play with the desert in half-light before creeping out across the landscape, bathing the iconic rocks and turning them glowing red orange.
It’s an incredible beginning to each new day, and one that the Anangu people have been a part of for 60-thousand years.
And this year, a group of young Gomeroi people from Tamworth will be there too, to run across warm red sand, as part of the Australian Outback Marathon, held annually in July.
The group’s name is Banaga-y Biruu, which means ‘Run long way’ in Gomeroi.
Banaga-y Biruu formed in 2019 under the guidance of Charlie Abra from the Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council’s Opportunity Hub, to encourage younger generations to connect to their country and increase their fitness and happiness by running together.
That first team trained intensely to prepare for the 2020 event, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But although they couldn’t make it to Uluru, the team ran an 11-kilometre race from Attunga to Tamworth instead.
A year later, COVID-19 is still impacting Australia and the world, but the Outback Marathon is on, and Banaga-y Biruu will be there.
“Running challenges us but also connects us,” Charlie Abra says. “We run to bring us closer to country, and to connect with ourselves on a deeper level. We tune in to our breath and to nature. We work through pain and distractions and become happier and stronger because of it.”
Charlie says that the marathon training has also helped the young team to understand more about the NAIDOC 2021 ‘Heal Country!’
“I really believe that to heal Country, we also need to heal ourselves. We always have something to offer Country, and Country always has so much to give us. Running or walking, taking positive action for ourselves, helps us to improve our relationship with Country. “
Training for a marathon or half marathon is no small feat, and the team is now at the final stages of their training.
The Banaga-y Biruu team will run the 21-kilometre half marathon on a flat course which is a mixture of sealed and unsealed surfaces, bushfire trails and red sand.
The 2021 team is Joash Boney, Latrell Allan, Izzy Kesby and Shauna Haines.
Joash and Latrell ran at Attunga last year and committed to five-day-a-week training for the last 19 weeks, to also be ready for the Uluru run this year.
Joash says he’s continued running to stay fit and to show younger generations the benefit of consistent exercise. For Latrell, there’s nothing quite like the freedom and clarity he feels when he runs. Izzy says she’s motivated by the process of change that she’s seeing within herself.
It’s those qualities of consistency and understanding the value of hard work that Fiona Snape, CEO of the Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council, is focused on.
“Tamworth LALC’s Opportunity Hub is about all growing resilience and aspirations and utilising pathways to assist young people confidently step into their life journey.
We coordinate local opportunities including mentoring, scholarships, internships, employment, and volunteering. Events like this marathon play vital roles in uplifting and empowering our young people,” she said.
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council Councillor for the Northern Region, Charles Lynch supported Banaga-y Biruu’s Attunga run in 2020 and wishes the team the very best for Uluru and Kata Tjuta in 2021.
“Regular exercise is powerful medicine for our people, and I commend Banaga-y Biruu for their ongoing commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and the example they’re setting for younger – and older – generations.
These young people continue to show discipline and leadership, and I look forward to seeing them make that run and honour their families and community,” he said.
The Australian Outback Marathon will take place on Saturday July 31, 2021.
That spectacular sunrise is at around 7:30am, where the runners will already be gathered for the race start, Banaga-y Biruu among them, watched over by the glowing red domes of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
Banaga-y Biruu is proudly supported by the Tamworth Local Aboriginal Land Council, Tamworth City Toyota, Bronnie Taylor MLC, Mizuno Australia, Emily Braidwood Podiatry and the University of Newcastle.
Australian Outback Marathon organisers say that the 2021 event will go ahead, and they’re staying in touch with NT health authorities about current COVID-19 restrictions.
The title image is of some members of Banaga-y Biruu with Tamworth LALC staff and Physiotherapy students from the University of Newcastle