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The Walert House Redbacks

Res. It’s an abbreviation that refers to students who live on campus, one curiously widespread across Australian universities. RMIT Bundoora is no different. The nine Redbacks who call Walert House home will attest to that.

Lily Marwood, Sara Riseley, Meg Bryant (osteopathy students), Kylie de Bruyn, Lydia Davis, Shayla Gamble, Lillie Jago (chiropractic), Courtney Yelds and Alannah Robinson-Hore (sports and exercise science) met after packing their bags and travelling from quite literally hours away – the coast, the high-country, New South Wales, South Australia – to bond over life at Walert House. The uncertainty of long-distance education, the deep-breath of trying to fit in with strangers, the stress of study and exams, the cathartic parties, the mutual reoccurring shortage of money… c’est la vie when you’re res.

“During exam time, you spend a lot of time studying with your friends and your roommates,” says Alannah. “There’s a lot of down time because you can message your friends and we’ll be down in two seconds.”

The Academy added another layer to their life at RMIT.

Of the nine, only Shayla and Kylie (both of whom played at Diamond Creek under Redbacks’ senior coach Mitch Lower) had previously played Australian Rules. When asked as to how they discovered the Academy, fingers either point to Shayla or to the University’s Open Day (“I just wanted the free hoodie,” cracks Lily).
Whatever the origin story, come autumn the Walert House mates could be seen trooping off to Bundoora Oval to make friends, try a new sport, break up their study week or just gain some fitness.

Shayla, who went on to become part of the Redbacks’ leadership group, reflects on her initial surprise at “how personalised it is. There’s a person for everything at this team.”

“I moved from seven hours away with no friends following,” says Courtney. “I wanted to make new friends and get into a sport community.”

“I didn’t expect to have the amount of resources that we have and the amount of coaches,” she says of her first night at training. “I expected one coach, one team- and then we turn up and get a whole kit of 2XU personalised tights and 4X uniforms. I’d never played footy in my life so it was like… what have I gotten myself into?”

Walert House is the next stop from the indoor sports centre along McKimmies Road. The centre and Bundoora Oval are within arm’s reach for the res Redbacks – and considering just how much of their lives revolves around class time, study, making ends meet with part-time jobs or just getting some precious shut-eye, that’s a good thing.

“You can study for a few hours, you know that you’ve got a two-hour break when training’s on, Saturday is your day off when you’ve got footy so you can do the rest on Sunday. It’s a good way to schedule your week because you know you’ve got set times when you can have a break,” says Meg.

“It’s a good break away from studying,” agrees Lydia.

“Also, I think on res because we’re all in the same building together it’s a good social outing to be able to bond with people who are outside of the res life and bring new and interesting things.”

Lydia and Lillie are Walert House advisors, the student representatives and coordinators for the building. Understanding the needs and potential challenges that go with being res is part of the position, and they say that the walls can start closing in if you don’t find the sort of outlet that the Academy provides.

“There’s a real social aspect of being in a team and meeting different girls that might not live on res. Obviously, you have your friends who live on res but then you can expand that outside of your course or outside of the Uni,” says Lydia.

The build and release of exam period is palpable around Walert House. More time is spent holed up in your room. The common room empties, the study centre fills. Laughter has that uneasy edge.

And then… it’s over. Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore.

Training is done for another Tuesday. The nine Walert House Redbacks sit back in the common room over a bag of McNuggets and just chat. Tomorrow is the final day of the exam period and – following the end-of-exams blowout, of course – they will return home for a couple of weeks.

The more they talk about the Academy, the more readily apparent it becomes that social value is its most valuable gift to their week-to-week lives. Upon request, they all consider and contribute their favourite aspect of joining the club.

“It makes exercising fun – which is not always fun,” says Lillie. “And then going places with everyone, the car trips to games. Sometimes you win, even when you lose, we’re just there for each other.”

Yeah, the competing and the improving is great but Lily makes a special not of “actually being acknowledged that I’m improving. If someone does something well on the weekend, the coaches acknowledge it.”

“My favourite part is when we run out onto the ground and the ressies will all line up and get around us and vice versa if they’re running out after half time, we’ll get around them and pump them up,” says Sara.

“During and after the game. We just laugh. All the time,” says Alannah.

To Kylie, the Academy has become an extension of Walert House’s social atmosphere: “I love going out on game day each time with all my friends.”

And it’s Courtney who closes.

“My favourite part is how it’s like you have a little family… obviously I came down not knowing anyone and then joining the club made me feel like I had some sort of… belonging here. When you play, you can always hear the support from the team and staff on the fence.”

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