Story by Tony Webeck/NRL.com – Images by Sergio Montenegro/Darkside Studio
Paco Antonio Godinez was on his way to his first day of school in 1985 when the truck his father was driving was hijacked amidst El Salvador’s period of civil war.
He was instructed to drive around the corner where young Paco thought he would be witness to his father being killed, his father eventually able to bargain for he and his seven-year-old son’s lives.
Carlos Astorga Gonzalez’s father was accused by Augusto Pinochet’s Chilean dictatorship of blowing up half a military base and was captured, tortured and threatened with execution.
The Godinez family fled to Mexico before being granted refugee status to move to Australia and the Gonzalez family were split up throughout Chile before they too were able to seek asylum and be reunited in Australia.
When they arrived they not only discovered a land of freedom but a sport called rugby league.
Four years after the formation of the Latin Heat team two South American nations will compete in a 13-a-side match played under international rules for the very first time at Henson Park in Sydney on June 11 as a pre-cursor to the Intrust Super Premiership NSW game between Newtown and Wentworthville.
Players from Chile and El Salvador have dominated the playing roster of the Latin Heat since its formation and have now recruited enough players to be able to form two teams of their very own.
Gonzalez is hopeful that Chile itself will soon have a domestic competition and that they will be able to seek World Cup qualification in the not too distant future and said rugby league played an integral role in starting a new life in Australia.
“Dad was accused of blowing up half a military base – to this day we don’t know whether he did it or not. He was captured, they tortured him and they wanted to execute him,” Gonzalez said.
“We all lived separately and never really had the opportunity to live together as a family until we had the opportunity to flee Chile and come to Australia.
“It wasn’t until I went to high school and moved to Mascot that I discovered rugby league and I just fell in love with it.
“Being Latino and growing up in an area where if you’re not white you’re kind of looked down upon; as soon as I started playing rugby league it made me a part of something and it made me fit in.”
For Godinez, the outlet of rugby league also enabled him to gain acceptance in a strange land.
“Coming to Australia, I wasn’t that good at school, I was only good at sport so I took up rugby league,” he said.
“I played soccer too but I loved playing rugby league because that’s what the teachers liked at the time. Being good at rugby league they used to high-five you, give you merits and that’s what I loved.
“This is a great opportunity for me and my family – my nephews – to actually play this game, rugby league, together, as a family again.
“I feel so proud that they can play alongside me.”
June 11 Match Day Schedule, Henson Park, Newtown:
11.15am Colombia v Ecuador (Game 1 – Sevens)
11.35am Peru v Uruguay (Game 1 – Nines)
12noon Colombia v Ecuador (Game 2 – Sevens)
12:20pm Peru v Uruguay (Game 2 – Nines)
12:50 Chile v El Salvador (Full sides)
3pm Newtown v Wentworthville.
The efforts of the 100% volunteer-run Latin Heat Rugby League are supported by Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taquerias, S.H.I.E.L.D Security, Tattoo Tears, OneBigSwitch.com.au, Jani-King Cleaning, SeriousAboutRL.com, Rugby League Team Manager 2015 computer game, Retrocom Digital TV Specialists, Colombianos en Brisbane, Link Australia Student Services, Raw Juicery, SEMCAR Mechanics, Lichtnauer and Associates Accountants, Cabramatta Ink, Majestic Property Maintenance, and Darkside Studio Photography.