RMIT University’s city campus sits on the corner of La Trobe Street and Swanston Street, just a step over the road from Melbourne Central Station – a bullseye on the heart of the CBD.
It’s a steady ride north on the 86 tram through suburbs like Northcote, Preston and Reservoir before Plenty Road brings the Bundoora campus into view. Situated parallel to Plenty Road, the Bundoora Oval welcomes with wide arms as the first greeting point for anyone arriving at the University.
For the City Campus Redbacks, the glow of the light towers and the sweeping green of the oval was a homecoming in 2019.
For Shepparton-born pair Chelsi Old and Emily Balaburov, the Academy hasn’t only brought a community of fun and friendship into their lives in a new city. It has also provided the familiar touch of playing footy back home in the country.
Chelsi moved to a share-house in Coburg and enrolled into a Bachelor of Environment and Society student in the city because it is the only campus where her course was offered. The nuggety midfielder was one of many players introduced to the Academy by a passing encounter with Mitch Lower when the senior coach was promoting the burgeoning women’s football program at a City Campus Sport Open Day late in 2018.
“Being in the city, it’s an hour drive to come to training, then you train for a couple of hours and throw in team dinner, it can be a challenge,” says Chelsi, “but it’s the best team I’ve ever been a part of. And that’s including all the country rep squads I played for.”
By the time Emily moved from her home in the state’s central north early in 2019, she had carved out a litany of achievements as a footballer. Her resumé includes three consecutive guernsey with the Murray Bushrangers squad in the junior representative competition then known as the TAC Cup (NAB has now taken the naming rights) between 2016 and 2018. Her relocation to her family’s Southbank apartment to facilitate her study in biomedical engineering threw her football plans upside down before a chance meeting with Mitch Lower brought her to the Academy.
“The vibe of the girls was really good,” she recalls of her first training with the Redbacks. “I’ve got a really good group of friends it’s also good knowledge to see what a VFL club would be like, having all the osteos, the different coaches, the strength & conditioning, the running coach, having access to the gym facilities. So, it’s been a really good change from local footy.”
Life is even more of a balancing act for key forward Izzy Symes, who lives in Brighton and is studying exercise and sports science with classes in the city and Bundoora.
“I have loved getting to know all the girls, learning a new sport and new skills from people who really know what they’re talking about,” says Izzy.
Unlike the Walert House residential students at the Bundoora campus, there is no unifying experience for the CBD Redbacks. Were it not for the Academy, they would have gone through their courses without ever meeting each other.