Bright and colourful sporting team banners adorn the streets of Greenwich every four years.

But the banners aren’t for the Olympics.

They’re supporting a local tradition that is based on a fundraising activity used to make ski instructing more fun in Scotland.

The brains behind the games is Tom Lawson, who migrated to Australia in 1972.

“I got conned into being the race convener and the organiser of the ski races for the Scottish Ski Club. But we’re also raising money for junior skiers,” Mr Lawson said.

“[Ski instructing] was a pretty serious affair.

“I tried to spice it up and make it more cheerful.”

Two men in bright red shirts and hats
Greenwich Village Games founder Tom Lawson (left) with John Saleh.(Supplied: Erin Cini)

Mr Lawson organised what he called the highland decathlon, which pitted people from different parts of Scotland against each other in games including canoe and bicycle racing.

Years later, Mr Lawson moved to Australia and in 1988 was asked to organise an event for the bicentenary.

He had the perfect idea.

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Greenwich Village Games chairperson spoke to ABC Radio Sydney Afternoons ahead of the event

Bringing the community together

More than a thousand people participate in the Greenwich Village Games, a four-year event that has continued in Sydney’s lower North Shore ever since.

Eight teams based on their professions wear different colours and put banners on the street in the lead-up.

Dozens of people in red, orange and blue shirts play with a ball while standing in circles
Circle ball is among more than 30 games played.(Supplied: Tom Lawson)

Some of the teams include the Anarchists, who work as artists, the Engineers, and the Tribe, who are teachers. They include not just working-aged people but their kids and older relatives.

Mr Lawson still participates at 80 years old.

“It often isn’t based around your profession, but maybe your father’s or your mother’s profession, when you first started competing in the games,” games chairperson John Tindall told ABC Radio Sydney.

A woman launches a tall wooden pole at a park among a row of spectators
Caber toss provides a link to the games’ Scottish roots.(Supplied: Greenwich Village Games)

Mr Tindall says the event will have 1,700 participants and hundreds more in spectators.

The teams, which feature people taking part in more than 30 events including gumboot throwing, a three-legged race, canoe racing, a quiz, and a cabaret performance.

There is also a nod to its Scottish roots in the caber toss, where contestants have to throw a tall wooden pole.

Welcoming newcomers

John Saleh and Erin Cini moved into the area in 2011 from south-west Sydney, not knowing anyone in the area.

Early in 2012, they found a flyer in their letterbox inviting them to take part in the games.

Mr Saleh saw there was an Engineers’ team and contacted the team captain to join the team.

Since then, they’ve taken part in the games twice and feel they are very much a part of the community.

A man and a woman with a child on each of their shoulders
John Saleh and Erin Cini’s children are also able to get involved in the games.(Supplied: Erin Cini)

“I think the games is just an incredible event that just shows that community spirit still does exist,” Mr Saleh said.

Jenny Allen moved to Sydney in 2012 coming from Ohio. After a co-worker spotted her husband in the street, they were brought into the Tribe team, which introduced them to many people in the neighbourhood.

This year, Ms Allen will captain the Tribe team at the games.

“It is a really amazing way to get to know lots of people,” Ms Allen said.

“Different age groups, people who you wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise.”

The games also give participants the opportunity to welcome new people into the area and get them involved in the games. Mr Saleh says he has four neighbours who he’s recruited to join his Engineers team this year.

“Once you leave the games, you will be seeing people that you can smile at in the street,” he said.

“They might have been in your team or you competed against them throwing eggs.”