Stawell Gift: Why it’s madness to even consider shifting the Gift

By Damian O’Donnell

The Victorian Premier, John Brumby, has finally come out and guaranteed that the Stawell Gift will stay in Stawell. Why it was the Premier who made this announcement is puzzling. I would have thought that the Sports Minister, James Merlino, would have been responsible.
But this is just one puzzling thing in many surrounding this whole saga.
For example, how can Mr Brumby guarantee that it will not be shifted? It is not his decision; it is the decision of the Stawell Athletic Club.
Why has the public found out only now that a decision on whether to shift the Stawell Gift to Ballarat needs to be made urgently? Shouldn’t alarm bells have been ringing two years ago if the financial position is so desperate?
Why is the idea of shifting the Stawell Gift seen as a rescue package? Why not rectify the problems in Stawell and maintain the 130-year-old race there? I simply do not believe that this is not possible.
Where is the Victorian Tourism Authority in all this? Is it happy to see such an iconic event lost to the Stawell area?
Why isn’t the local council in Ballarat investing money into its own Ballarat Gift, which has struggled for years?
Why is Dave Culbert, of Athletics Australia, rationalising the move of the Stawell Gift to Ballarat? Is it because his marketing company, Jump Media (which manages the marketing of the race), will make more money if it is run in Ballarat?
At the very least we need answers to these questions so we know what we are dealing with.
The fact that the idea of shifting the Gift has even been considered is bewildering. We’ve heard all the comparisons; it would be like running the Melbourne Cup at Randwick, it would be like playing Wimbledon in Portugal, and so on, and while these may be an exaggeration, they encapsulate the spirit of the argument. Quite simply, running the Stawell Gift anywhere but Stawell would rob it of its identity and thereby destroy its historical significance. It would become a different race.
I’ve heard the argument that if it is good enough for the South Melbourne Football Club to move to Sydney, why not the Stawell Gift to Ballarat. The shifting of the South Melbourne Football Club to Sydney resulted in the destruction of its identity. South Melbourne no longer competes in the AFL. I don’t regard this as a good result.
As to the argument that it could be run in Ballarat for five years then returned to Stawell, this is a total nonsense. Assuming it was run well in Ballarat and became a financial success, would the Ballarat traders and local government simply give it up again? I think not. In addition, if it failed in Ballarat what then? There would be absolutely nothing left to return to Stawell. It would be beyond redemption.
Those who are suggesting that the Stawell Gift could successfully be run elsewhere must have a complete ignorance of the race’s history, culture and economic significance to the local area. It cannot be picked up and put down at will. Like all things that get old it is fragile. It needs to be handled with sensitivity and respect.

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sorpranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Well said Dips, here’s to common sense prevailing:

    I smell a rat at Ballarat
    The Stawell Gift they want to kidnap
    Steal it from it’s Wimmera home
    Pretend to help it? RUN YOUR OWN!

    Take that crazy idea back
    Put it firmly in your sack
    “Take your marks” at Central Park
    Where history’s etched into the grass.

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