Dragons snubbed by council

Bell Park netballers show their disappointment at council's decision. (Ivan Kemp) 392148_04

The City of Greater Geelong has backflipped on its plan to help fund the Bell Park Football/Netball Club’s Hamlyn Park changeroom facilities and instead awarded the money to another club.

During council’s meeting at Norlane’s Northern Aquatic Centre & Community Hub on Tuesday February 27, councillor Peter Murrihy presented a surprise motion to withdraw funding for female-friendly changerooms at Hamlyn Park, home of Bell Park Panthers, and reallocate it, plus an extra $550,000, to Newtown & Chilwell’s Elderslie Reserve.

The move has left Dragons members shellshocked and questioning the fairness of council’s allocation process.

The Regional Community Sports Infrastructure Fund (RCSIF) is a Victorian government competitive investment program, open to local government authorities in regional Victoria, to deliver new and upgraded community sports infrastructure.

After reviewing the eligibility and assessment criteria of the grant guidelines, City officers recommended council award grants to Kardinia Aquatic Centre, Aldershot Reserve, Wallington Recreation Reserve and Hamlyn Park.

Bell Park was to receive $700,000 of council money to improve its Hamlyn Park changeroom facilities for its 312 footy, cricket, netball and all-abilities female participants, but Elderslie Reserve would now receive the upgrades with the City increasing the funding to $1.25 million.

It means council has resolved to apply for Victorian government funding and has pre-committed funding in its upcoming budget for the four projects, leaving Hamlyn Park unfunded and in limbo.

Mr Murrihy, who coached Newtown & Chilwell’s senior men’s football side in 1998 and 1999, said Elderslie Reserve “was in dire need of work” and that the changerooms required “urgent attention”.

“The project missed funding in a number of budgets,” he said at the meeting.

“(female Australian Rules football) Numbers have dropped away because of the current facilities.”

Councillor Melissa Cadwell said female footballers “were not even showering” after games because of “significant concerns about their privacy and safety”.

However, deputy mayor Anthony Aitken said “we are witnessing something that is extremely dangerous” and that it would be a “cause of division in our community”.

“It will turn Newtown against Bell Park and Bell Park against Newtown,” he said.

Mayor Trent Sullivan, Mr Aitken and Ron Nelson voted against the move while Mr Murrihy, Ms Cadwell, Jim Mason, Elise Wilkinson, Bruce Harwood and Sarah Hathway supported it. Councillors Eddy Kontelj and Belinda Moloney were absent.

Bell Park Dragons members, who attended the meeting in their team’s colours of green and white to celebrate the announcement that their clubrooms would finally get a makeover, were left shocked and angry.

“Bell Park Sport and Recreation Club is deeply concerned about the lack of transparency and apparent unfairness in the council’s decision-making process,” club president Jeff Jarvis said.

“However, we remain committed to maintaining a constructive relationship with the council. We will seek further dialogue to better understand the rationale behind their decision, ensuring that the needs of our female athletes and the broader community are adequately addressed.

“Furthermore, we are open to discussions with Cr Peter Murrihy and other council members to explore the decision-making process and find a way forward that supports the growth and inclusivity of local sports.

“Our club stands at the forefront of advocating for the rights and needs of our athletes, particularly our female and all-ability players who deserve a safe, accessible, and equitable facilities. We call upon the council and the community to work collaboratively towards fulfilling these essential requirements, ensuring that all athletes, regardless of gender, have the support and infrastructure they need to excel.”

Newtown & Chilwell Football/Netball Club was contacted for comment.