Dragon’s fuming over 11th-hour council backflip

A last-minute alternative recommendation for Victorian Government regional community funding has enraged a section of Geelong’s sporting community.

Bell Park netballer Bridgette Thomas is disappointed by the recent council decision. Photo: Cooper Watkins

In what was expected to be a run-of-the-mill City of Greater Geelong council meeting, a sudden change of events led to Hamlyn Park’s removal from the council’s list of submissions for funding and replaced with Elderslie Reserve. 

Originally the council had earmarked Hamlyn Park, home of the Bell Park Dragons, for a grant application that would supply the club with female-friendly change rooms. The works would have also supplied adequate facilities for the club’s all-abilities football team, which has been a pioneer for all-abilities sport in the region. 

During the meeting, which took place on the February 27, Cr Peter Murrihy put forth an alternative recommendation which would see Hamlyn Park replaced on the funding list by Elderslie Reserve, home of the Newtown and Chilwell Eagles. 

“It’s not about comparing the two clubs. I say we fix what we have first. You can’t ignore them (in favour) of funding new projects,” Cr Murrihy said. 

Cr Murrihy, who is a former coach of Newtown and Chilwell, suggested Elderslie Reserve needed refurbishments and had consistently been put on the backburner by council. 

“They were in need of urgent attention … the project missed funding in a number of budgets,” he said.

Cr Murrihy’s recommendation also provided Elderslie Reserve with an extra $550,000 of grant money on top of the original promise of $750,000 to Hamlyn Park. The alternative recommendation was seconded by Cr Melissa Cadwell, who similarly felt Elderslie Reserve needed upgrades for female-friendly change rooms. 

Deputy Mayor Anthony Aitken followed Councillors Murrihy and Cadwell’s statements with a plea to the council suggesting that this type of process could “cause conflict” in the community and would “concern nearly every person … about how council makes decisions about funding applications”. 

After the alternative recommendation was made, Elderslie Reserve receive the required number of votes from councillors to replace Hamlyn Park. The decision left many at Bell Park stunned. 

As a player in Bell Park’s netball program, Bridgette Thomas shared her disappointment in the council’s decision to ignore a “very clear” facility development at Hamlyn Park. The decision came as a complete shock to Thomas and other members of the club, who expected the council meeting outcome to be a celebration after years of waiting. 

“The week before they were like … ‘we are getting the grant’, as many as we can come along, we are going to celebrate afterward,” she said. 

The current makeshift facilities for female Bell Park athletes as well as all-abilities athletes are in the storeroom which has only two shared toilets. As a result, netballers who compete and then referee are forced to change out in the open. 

“Even the girls needing to umpire, they need to completely get changed and they are doing it on the sidelines in front of everyone watching,” Thomas said. 

Paul DenDryver, vice president of Bell Park Sport and Recreation Club reiterated the remarks of Deputy Mayor Aitken that this decision could impact other fund allocations stemming from the council in the future. 

“This is a broader issue about how sporting clubs or even any club for that matter that gets allocated funding. The transparency is not there,” DenDryver said.

Further avenues have been sought out by Bell Park to appeal the process, however DenDryver suggested they have been to no avail.    

“There is an ability to do that (appeal) through council where they can rescind an amendment (the alternate recommendation) and (Deputy Mayor) Aitken advised us they even sought legal advice on that, and ‘no’ was the answer,” he said.

Bell Park continues to seek advice and potential solutions to this issue, with many at the club determined to fight for the facilities they believe should have been granted to them long ago.  



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