It’s been said a few times lately that there are only about 2000 people in Crookwell, and it seemed like every one of them plus a lot of their out-of-town friends and family lined the streets of the Upper Lachlan town on Friday.
The entire town shut down at 2pm on Friday so everyone could welcome home golden girls Emily Smith and Kellie White. It was described by many as the biggest crowd ever seen in Crookwell, and they were all there to greet hockey's all-conquering Crookwell Connection.
The Hockeyroo duo, who featured prominently in the side that ran runners-up in the recent World Cup and then finished with Commonwealth Games Gold in Glasgow, routinely declared their Crookwell pride to the world and have been overcome by the town’s reaction towards them.
“The town’s been incredible,” Kellie White said.
“All through the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games we’d see their support on social media and it caught on pretty quick throughout the Hockeyroos that we had the whole town behind us. “
"We can't say just how much it meant to us."
It’s quite a story.
Two girls, both of them from families steeped in hockey representative honours, play junior hockey together throughout their school years. They are both marked for higher honours from a young age and play junior reps together. When they get picked for the top team in the land, they find themselves still living together, now relocated to Perth, and when selected for the World Cup and Commonwealth Games, both play prominent roles.
Electricity bills in the Upper Lachlan recorded a massive spike this year due to late nights and early mornings in front of televisions, heaters blasting as frost and snow settled outside as most of Crookwell watched every match, every goal of both tournaments. And on those nights, the loudest voice in each of those lounge rooms was that of Gordon Bray – the voice of hockey. It seemed only fitting that he was on hand to help Crookwell honour the pair.
Bray, renowned as one of the most thorough researchers in sports commentary, was armed with fun facts and tidbits about all of the players so when Kellie and Emily put the first three goals into the net in one game, Australia got to find out a lot more about the town.
They learned about Emily and Kellie, about their family backgrounds in the game, about the top pub, the middle pub, the bottom pub and even the bottom, bottom pub – an honest to goodness pub with no beer. As Mayor John Shaw has said, it was advertising Crookwell could neither have scripted nor paid for.
Viewers may not have realised that some of Bray’s knowledge came first hand as a semi-regular visitor to the area. So with a genuine fondness for both the Hockeyroos and Crookwell, he was only too happy to join in the Crookwell celebrations. Needless to say, he is now an adopted son of the town.
But it was Crookwell’s favourite daughters who were the stars of the show. It didn’t matter that there was just one car in the parade… if there’d been any others no-one would have paid them any attention anyway.
As the car made its way down the street, the townsfolk pulled in behind it as if following the pied piper through Hamelin on their way to Memorial Park.
At the park, district schools made presentations to the girls, Bray and Upper Lachlan mayor John Shaw reiterated the magnitude of their accomplishments and what great ambassadors they were to both the sport and the town.
Emily and Kellie both thanked the crowd, their families and the many people who’d contributed to their success and then stayed back to speak to anyone in the crowd who wanted to say g’day.
John Shaw said it seems likely that, as great as their accomplishments so far have been, they have a lot more achievements still to come. And who could argue. Two friendlier elite sports stars you’d struggle to meet, both still genuinely humbled and excited by their successes and public acclaim. And, by all appearances, celebrating with their home town meant more to them than any of it.
Hockeyroo fans have dubbed Crookwell the home of the Roovolution… the term used to support the Hockeyroos throughout their various campaigns. Emily Smith and Kellie White, then, are at the heart of the Roovolution.
The Roovolution is in good hands.