Tumut and its sporting organisations have a long and proud tradition for giving guys from all over the world the unique opportunity to experience a different way of life from what they may be used to; to indeed sample a country life, with our blazing summers, chilly winters and greenery.
Many have taken this option with both hands and loved the experience, some in fact have enriched our town while doing so, and some, well they even decide to stay.
This story begins, like you’d expect any sporting story worth it’s weight to, in a pub.
Welshman, Dai Hooper recalls ‘drinking with a mate in a pub back home and he said, ‘let’s see the world.’ Of course, we had had about ten pints and he had just split with his missus, but I was intrigued. Especially when he mentioned Australia.”
The Dulais Valley in Wales is about as far a place from Australia as one can imagine with its coal mining pits and dreary weather.
“I thought he was talking rubbish and it was all talk, but he started saving money and so did I, and before you knew it, we had enough to set off. We headed for South East Asia.”
Dai even sold his car.
(A Ford Fiesta for 5000 pounds for those of you wondering.)
“After a time touring Asia, we were ready for Australia, but our budget pretty much dictated we take the cheapest flight possible and that just so happened to be to Perth.”
When Dai stepped off the plane at Perth airport “the weather was 46 degrees, and my mate is a ginger, so he was like a dog on New Years Eve.”
“The weather was a killer so, naturally, we got smashed on the first day and then fell asleep on the beach and woke up in 40 degree heat with nearly third degree burns. Welcome to Australia.”
Dai started working in a bar and, after so much travel, admittedly started piling on the weight.
In the time-honoured Welsh tradition of weight loss, the answer was playing Rugby Union.
“We have names for guys who don’t play rugby back home in Wales, but you probably can’t print them in the paper. Let’s just say, we all play Rugby.”
He just so happened to know another Welshmen in Australia who happened to be playing rugby at the time; for the Tumut Bulls.
“Yeah, I got in touch with my mate and he gave me Chappy’s (Mat Chapman) number and so I rang him. He was the most Australian bloke I’ve ever spoken to. It was like talking to Paul Hogan. Neither of us could really understand the other but we worked out an arrangement where I’d come and play for the Bulls and he would put me up at the pub for six months and help me find work.”
Keeping the stereotype for Welshmen alive, the club found him work with the Grahams, doing sheep and cattle work.
“Must have been no coal mines near by” mused Dai.
The first two people Dai remembers meeting were Jason Cole and Joe Eccleston.
“I thought, where the hell have I come to, but funnily enough both have become part of my Tumut family, especially Joey who is like a brother to me now.”
Dai wishes he made a better impression in his first year with the club, “I hadn’t realised how fat I got”, but made a much better impression, upon returning to the club, with a local girl, Grace Hargreaves.
“At first the farm work helped me out with my visa, and I was happy to return and have another season with the lads, but it was when I met Grace at a presentation night that I sort of realised the town may offer more for me than just rugby. It may offer a future.”
So he slowly started moving everything he had into her house.
“I slowly moved my way out of room 6 at the Royal Hotel into Grace’s house. Not bad for a Welsh boy.”
In time, as their relationship developed, with no small amount of advice from Joey, Dai and Grace, wonderfully committed, decided to apply for a de-facto visa.
“A bloody nightmare” Dai admits.
In the time since, Grace and Dai have journeyed back to his home in Wales, and Dai’s family has visited him on two occasions here in Tumut.
“They love it and couldn’t be happier for me.”
Dai will tell you the village he came from is a third the size of Tumut, so he feels right at home.
“Country people are just so nice. I’m very happy here in Tumut and think it’s a great spot. The opportunities are better as well. Both work wise and pay.”
Gaining a visa that would allow him to stay wasn’t an easy process.
“I was working with ‘Kell and Denson’ (and indeed still is) and didn’t want to put any pressure on them to be honest, so Grace and I naturally looked into a de facto visa which we both thought made perfect sense.”
The stipulations meant they needed to prove their love and commitment to the Australian Government.
“We couldn’t just send them a photo of us kissing on the Star dance floor, it had be more detailed than that. They needed to see we had been living together for a year and that was just the start.
“It was so much work, we had to show everything from bank statements, holiday photos, written letters from both our parents and testaments from friends, photos with the family, boarding passes, receipts and invitations with both our names on it.”
Not to mention health checks, police checks and “a hell of a lot of money.”
Love apparently costs upwards of $10,000, Dai admits.
“The process goes for over a year and a half and causes a lot of stress.”
Dai, like most blokes, isn’t very good at checking his emails “so Grace checks them for me”, and last Monday found out he had been accepted for the visa.
“I was stoked. So happy.”
Dai can apply for permanent residency in October and plans on it.
Then he can really enjoy ‘footy, fishing and a few beers up the dam’ as well as his future with Grace.
If you see him, say g’day, for he is a whole lot better at understanding our Aussie way of speaking than when he arrived a few years back.
He’ll even say g’day back.