FOR THE LOCALS of Santa Teresa, a grassed oval was all but a fantasy.

Their red dirt ground, which sat in the centre of town, was a meeting point for the community, albeit one that provided considerable obstacles to sport participation.  

It was a hard and unstable surface, while the dust was an ongoing issue for those with breathing difficulties.

For years, the locals longed for change, initially sharing their dream of a lush, green oval with the Melbourne Football Club back in 2017.

Their ambitions were high, and the feasibility of such project had to be considered.

But fast forward to 2020, and that dream has now become a reality.

In the heart of Santa Teresa, located 80km out of Alice Springs, now sits a grassed ground, known as the ‘MCG of the Desert’.

“In 2019, this was just a dirt oval,” CEO of Atyenhenge Atherre Aboriginal Corporation (AAAC), Susie Low told Melbourne Media.

“Just being able to see this massive expanse of green in the middle of Santa Teresa is amazing.

“The pride in our community has grown exponentially in the past few years and the community are so excited about the oval.”

After the project’s announcement back in May last year, initial groundworks soon began, with irrigation installation and grading completed to give the oval the best chance of surviving.

In January, the first of three grass sowing phases took place. And then, the first sight of growth.

The project hasn’t been immune to the current climate though, with COVID-19 causing some delay to its completion.

But despite a later opening date – the oval was initially scheduled to be ready in May but is now set for October – the excitement hasn’t wavered.

“We’re not the only ones looking forward to this – all of Central Australia is keeping an eye on it,” Low said.

“One of the highlights of the lockdown is we also got the lights up around the oval, that the traditional owners paid for.

“One night, we just put them on, so people could see the oval, see the lights – there wasn’t a soul in the community who was home that night.

“They all came just to sit, look at the oval, handball to each other in the grandstands and just soak up the fact that this was going to be theirs soon.

“It’s the only grassed oval in the area, so it’s going to be massive.”

The project has received significant support since its inception, including a Major Partnership from the MCC Foundation.

This four-year commitment, in conjunction with financial contributions from generous donors, has set the project up for success, while warming the hearts of those closest to it.

“The interest and investment that’s been shown by the MCC and the MFC (Melbourne Football Club) has just had an amazing impact on this community,” Low said.

“The fact that such big entities have shown an interest in our small community is something that’s kind of hard to believe.”

The emotion hasn’t just been felt by those who call Santa Teresa home.

With the Demons regularly visiting the Red Centre, the project is one CEO Gary Pert hopes all Melbourne people take pride in.

“The Santa Teresa community has embraced us over the years,” he told Melbourne Media.

“Hopefully our staff, our supporters and our players are proud of the work we’re doing in the broader region of Alice Springs.”

What was once a dream, the Santa Teresa Oval Project has come to life.

A bright field of green now exists, for the locals to gather at and enjoy.

A bright field of green now exists, for men, women, boys and girls to play sport on, without health risk.

A bright field of green now exists, for the rest of Central Australia to visit and appreciate.

And it’s a bright field of green that no one will ever take for granted.

Find out more about supporting the Santa Teresa Oval project here