Off Topic and on the record as South Australian identities talk about whatever they want… except their day job. Sport is an important part of country living; it unites communities and provides the backbone for many social gatherings, as Richard Gunner, farmer, butcher and owner of Richard Gunner’s Fine Meats and Feast! Fine Foods, explains.
“When I was living down on the farm, Tuesday was footy or cricket training, Wednesday was social basketball night, Thursday was training and then there was Saturday,” Gunner, who spent his late teenage years in Meningie, explains. “After an away game of footy you’d end up back at the club. While at a home game everyone was there to watch. It was where everyone mixed. Meningie is an interesting place; there are not many country towns that have a mix like Meningie, because there’s a strong Aboriginal population down there; fishermen, dairy farmers, there are croppers and beef farmers. It’s where the district hospital and school is, so you’ve got schoolteachers, doctors and nurses, a real mix of people and you all got together. Sport is what brought everyone together.” A self-described “angry medium pacer” Gunner showed flair as a cricketer, one of many sports the 2013 delicious Most Outstanding Providore recipient played as a youngster. Like many country kids, Gunner tried his hand at whatever game came his way including basketball, tennis, soccer, football, hockey and bowls. But cricket was his passion. “I played for the school team and Meningie in the Murray Towns Association. We played as far north as Karoonda. There were a couple of teams at Murray Bridge as well, so there were some pretty big road trips to play your sport. I was a bowler. I used to bat down the order, so some of those weekends you’d drive all that way, and as a number 11 batsman, you’d sometimes do nothing for the whole day. You’d just sit around and chat, but that’s cricket.” Gunner, who now lives in the Adelaide Hills, stopped playing after he injured his medial ligament 14 years ago, the year before he started his meat business. “My only competitive sporting outlet is golf these days. I now have my youngsters who I battle in the backyard. I’ve got two boys, who are eight and 10, so they’re just up to the stage where I’m starting to get worried about when our paths of skills are going to cross.” Is he still an angry medium pacer in the backyard? “I’m not quite as angry with a tennis ball,” he laughs. Gunner’s best bowling figures are an impressive 8 wickets for 11 runs. “That day the other team made 70-odd. I think I bowled 12 overs. I opened the bowling and from the other end the team got two for 60. I was quite angry that day. I got a hat trick once, which was a real highlight. I was never much of a batsman; I scored a couple of half centuries, but that was about it. I never got close to making a hundred but to take a hat trick, that’s like scoring a double ton. “I was invited to try out for the state under-16 team. I never got beyond that first call out. I was pretty excited to go to the Adelaide Oval’s indoor nets. There were some kids that were bloody amazing. I played a bit for West Torrens in under-age district cricket.” Gunner says he wasn’t much of a footy player but it is the sport his youngest child plays competitively while his eldest has taken up tennis. For Gunner, participating in sport instills valuable life lessons. “It’s great to win but it’s not everything. There are so many other things that are as rewarding if not more – the mateship and understanding the differences between people. There’s more to life than becoming solely focused on one tiny thing and being amazing at it. I admire people’s single-minded focus but I always wonder, ‘What are you missing to do that?’” While Gunner admits there are challenges for country sport, the ongoing rivalries show how important sport is to rural communities. “We allegedly hate so-and-so but when it comes down to it, we’d rather be with them because we sit down and drink with them after a game anyway, because we have that sport for our kids, our community and our area. We supposedly don’ t like the town down the road but look at how often they merge and create ongoing successful clubs. It shows you what country footy and sport is about – the rivalry is real but it’s only for 120 minutes out on the field. When it comes down to it everybody understands there’s a broader purpose.” feastfinefoods.com.au