By Ian Rogers
March 13th 2014
A remarkable tour of Australia passed almost unnoticed earlier this month.
Three Amerindian children from French Guyana – the eldest aged 11 – arrived in Australia from the Amazonian forest with two adult chaperones a fortnight ago with the ambition of playing chess with other indigenous children at Uluru.
The plan seemed outrageous when it was first proposed in October; just to reach a city from the childrens’ village of 150 people required a one hour canoe trip and then three hours by car.
The children belonged to the Cavaliers des Trois Paletuviers club, which was started in their village with the aim of using chess to promote academic and social success in the village. The club has been a success in its aims, with the bonus that one girl from the village has earned the Women’s FIDE Master title.
Overcoming numerous organisational difficulties, including disinterest from the federal indigenous affairs department, Fahcsia, and the lack of organised chess in the Northern Territory, the club’s founder Daniel Baur nonetheless managed to turn the crazy dream into a reality.
So, by the end of February three French Guyanan youngsters – Varela Jean-Jacques and Ricky and Ricardo Martin – found themselves seated in Alice Springs competing against (significantly older) students from St Philips College, winning seven out of eight games. To reach Alice Springs the trip had taken more than 60 hours traversing four continents – canoe, car and flights via Paris, Seoul and Sydney.
One part of the dream seemed destined to remain unfulfilled; despite a visit to Yipirinya school in Alice Springs, the group had been unable to arrange indigenous opponents.
Then, after travelling the 400km from Alice Springs to Uluru, providence intervened.
As the group from the Amazon waited in their van at a petrol station near Uluru, a bus-load of aboriginal children pulled up. The eldest of the Guyanan kids decided to test out his newly acquired language skills, venturing “Do you want to play chess with me?” and an impromptu match began beside the road. The backdrop was the bush rather than Uluru but “that’s just how we play at home” said one of the Guyanans.
Next stop was Uluru and the Australian leg of the expedition concluded with a visit to Sydney’s biggest chess club, St George. Then began the long trip home for the Three Horsemen of the Mangroves.