Local Footy: Brunswick changes give grounds for thought

It was a beautiful place to watch the footy at Brunswick’s Gillon Oval on Saturday, basking in the sun in front of the Glenn Stand while Amateur clubs North Old Boys-St Pat’s and Williamstown CYMS went at each other in their Division 1 match.

But it was a strange sight if you looked across the ground. The Gillon Oval, the home of the old Brunswick VFA club, has always been delightfully hemmed in, with back fences nudging the eastern goal-line. Countless footies have been lost in nearby residents’ persimmon trees.

Late last week the fence that ran along the reserve’s northern flank was ripped down. So was the strip of fence beside the grandstand on the southern side. If you looked across the ground, it looked just so … open. The houses across the road seemed shameless as they ogled at the battle of footballers in purple, white and blue.

In a city where battles for parklands are beginning to heat up, the Gillon Oval development is probably a good compromise. Sportsmen and women can continue to test their wills as they have on Brunswick’s main oval for a century, while dog-walkers enjoy easy access to the open area surrounding the ground.

The losers, at least financially, are the Victorian Amateur Football Association and the tenant club, NOBs-St Pat’s. For years the Amateurs have held finals at the Gillon Oval because the surrounding fence has enabled an entrance fee to be charged. NOBs have benefited by reaping the canteen and bar takings from finals. To host further finals at the Gillon Oval, the Amateurs would have to put up temporary fencing like they do at the Central Reserve in Waverley. The cost is yet to be worked out.

The main challenge for footy authorities, and all sports authorities, seeking grounds in Melbourne is the rising population, which brings more competition for space. Then there’s the effect of climate change. In recent times, councils have responded to lesser water allowances by re-sewing their ovals with dry-weather grasses. These grasses deteriorate with use in winter.

Most councils are reluctant to allow their ovals to be used for more than 20 hours a week. On the eve of the season, four Amateur clubs had to abandon plans to enter new teams in lower divisions because they were unable to gain ground access.

Soccer authorities have found a solution to wear and tear by installing artificial pitches than can withstand 80 hours of use a week. An artificial footy oval has been planned for Point Cook.

At the Gillon Oval on Saturday, NOBs-St Pat’s seemed perfectly in tune with their more open, relaxed surrounds when they went to sleep in the last quarter. Their three-quarter-time lead of six goals was whittled down to a few points before key forward and captain Simon Harwood took two big grabs to arrest the decline.

The home team got up by 11 points. Dogs trotted along in the background as the players walked from the field.


  1. Ian Syson says

    Daff, I don’t see how the VAFA loses. They will make that money at some other ground. True enough NOBS misses out on a couple of canteen bonanzas but having seen the changes taking place I must say that I’m delighted. One person’s “delightfully hemmed in” is another’s “isolated in secrecy”. The changes open the ground up to the community the same way that Fitzroy Cricket Ground is opened up to community use. The growth of FFC is very much a product of that kind of openness.

    I suspect that both BCC and BJFC will benefit greatly from these changes.

  2. Rocket Rod Gillett says

    This scenario has been present in Sydney for a number of years.

    Trumper Park in Paddington hosted some of Sydney football’s most notorious grand finals and was the home-ground for East Sydney for most of last century. A postage-stamp sized ground it had a capacity of over 10,000 with an enormous slope on the Edgecliff side providing space to sit on the grass. Then in the mid-90s the council pulled down the fence and opened up the space for recreation. Easts merged with UNSW and moved to the Village Green on the campus in the late 90s.

    The University of Technology, Sydney club that play in second division are now based at the ground along with the East Sydney Junior Football Club that is one of the biggest in Sydney.

    Plenty of poodles in Paddo so dog-walking is a highly popular outdoor activity.

  3. Daff,
    The more important question here is that of grounds for sporting clubs and, like Ian, i don’t see how this redesign matters…”old boys” from a defunct school/country College Catholic private combo somehow retain a great oval in the inner ‘burbs. The greater danger with some of the council changes is that “open space” can overtake sporting activity. I live near Debney’s Park which has been a monumental disaster for years. Apparently “passive space” excludes “organised sports” and we end up with nothing at all. I always thought that the little ground off Church St (Victory?)and, I think, behind Richmond Town Hall, managed to blend an inviting atmosphere, passive recreation and a site for local involvement. That, incredibly, is not very common. Many were the times that I’d be umpiring junior sport at Holland Park and have dog-walkers march across the ground, strident that this was “public space”!

  4. pauldaffey says


    Fair enough. The Amateurs are only slightly put out in that they have to find another fenced-off ground in which to play finals. That’s not a big deal in the larger scheme of things.

    The larger scheme is the rising battle between sports people and “passive recreationalists” (local government-speak) for public parklands. The battle was played out at the Gillon Oval (I should have mentioned this in the article) when the passive etc people fought hard to stop the new cricket nets being put in. The sports people won after what I was told was a fairly pitched battle.

    The nets mean that it’s difficult if not impossible to walk around the north-west part of the oval. This is unfortunate, but I reckon it was right to uphold the wishes of the cricket club. Sport is the major component of the oval’s heritage. It’s why the oval exists. The cricket club, if it’s well-run and serves a role as a community hub, deserves some favours.

    In 1982 the Brunswick Street Oval became the first of the old VFL/VFA grounds to have its fence taken down. It was subsequently renamed the W.T. Peterson Oval in honour of the City of Fitzroy councillor who had the most influence in opening up the ground.

    I have no beef with the ground being opened up, but I do object to its renaming after a councillor. It should be named after a Fitzroy sports icon like Haydn Bunton or Chicken Smallhorn or the Harvey brothers (I think five played district cricket for the Roys). A concerted effort by the Fitzroy Football Club to have the oval renamed after a sportsman has fallen on deaf ears.

    Alec Gillon was a prominent councillor with the City of Brunswick as well as the VFA president for more than 30 years. At least the Gillon Oval has been named after someone with a sporting link.

  5. Ian Syson says


    I was part of that battle. And one of the problems was that locals were alienated from what went on behind the mounds. They didn’t know and were worried about their loss of amenity. I think they were surprised when the nets didn’t affect that and indeed improved it in some ways — by opening up the mound so you could see the ground from the street. I’m not sure what you mean about the nets making it difficult. Walkers can stick to the fence line when the nets aren’t being used or they can go around when they are.

    When it came down to it there was only one full-on objector, this hateful and shrill American who loathed the idea that sport was played on the ground at all. He caused this bizarre ‘compromise’ in which the planned four nets were reduced to three. No amount of arguing could show him how that would make not one iota of difference to his amenity. I tried to make the point that with three nets it would mean that training simply had to last a little longer than it would otherwise.

    I agree with you about Brunswick St. It should revert to its traditional name, Fitzroy Cricket Ground!!

    If Gillon Oval ever had to be renamed I’d entertain the idea of the John Curtin Oval — he played for BFC, BCC and was a councillor befoire he headed west.

  6. Stuff the dog walkers. Keep the ground a sporting precinct. It has been for a hundred years and it should continue as such. There are too many bloody dogs and cats in the suburbs anyway. If I were a dictatorial leader I’d have most of them shot.

    Is it just me or is the sight of a perfectly rational person of seeming sound mind picking up a pooh that’s just been excreted from a dog somehow absurd (no rhyming slang intended) in the extreme? What would Oscar Wilde make of that I wander?

    And stuff the “passive recreationalists” too – compromise is way over rated.

  7. Derryn, sorry, Dips,
    Its better than those who leave the droppings behind! Always do a cursory ground inspection pre-match. Again, that in itself is better than glass and needles which have been issues elsewhere.

  8. Ian Syson says

    Dips, I share your attitude towards pooch poo but it’s a fight we sporty types would lose if the the line in the sand were drawn.

    One of the benefits of the ground being opened up is that kids can’t hide on the oval at night without being seen. It was a space for drinking and vandalism etc. Maybe that will change. Sometimes the wicket would be damaged. Someone once drove a stolen car onto the field without being seen and did a fair bit of damage to the centre square.

  9. People need to be more careful with stolen cars – that’s irresponsible!
    I’m sure Dips will have a terminal penalty.

  10. Rob Clarkson says

    Very interesting discussion.

    To have a bob each way, I love going for a walk or a cycle and stumbling across some organised sport. I’m more than happy if it’s footy or cricket of course, but, sometimes, even more so if it’s a game I’ve rarely seen in the flesh.

    I’ve never paid to watch rugby union or baseball, and doubt I ever will, but I’ve enjoyed observing them for ten minutes as part of my ‘passive recreation’. And I’m sure the players don’t begrudge another spectator.

  11. Marius Smith says


    I really enjoyed your article. I’m a local resident and a long time Ammos player/supporter (but not for Nobs). I think the Gillon Oval redevelopment is a triumph and the “passive use” locals are delighted with the progress – we certainly never wanted the sporting clubs out. We acknowledge that Nobs will lose some revenue for finals, but in the scheme of things it’s a fair trade off (that fence, by the way, was rusted chain link and barbed wire). A couple of points:

    – From Hope Street (on the northern boundary), the mounds always made the place look like a small reservoir. Being able to see right through the park has already made a huge difference in the number of people using the park, and it’s currently all mud! The open park will, in the coming years, undoubtedly bring more people not only to the park, but also to the sporting clubs.
    – Re the cricket nets, the old nets were in the car park. They could have stayed there and opened up onto the second oval which abuts Victoria Street. The way it’s been done, the sporting clubs have managed to take the nets out of the carpark, thererby making the carpark bigger, and put the nets into the “passive use” area, thereby making it smaller. But what’s done is done. We’re just very happy that the park is finally getting some attention.

  12. Ian Syson says

    Marius, the change in orientation was never an option. It would have required run ups extending onto the wicket square of the second ground. It would also have required a 3-4 ft mound to be built for the 4 nets, which would have eaten well into the car park.

    But I share your view that it’s a triumph.

  13. Marius Smith says


    They managed to reduce the mound by 3m (10ft) to put the wickets where they are, so I find the 3-4ft mound argument quite weak. But I’m happy to let the argument rest there. It’s all good.



  14. Marius and Ian,

    The Fitzroy ground is one of my favourite spots in Melbourne. I’ve run around the perimeter many times (although not for a while) and watched many games there. On Saturday mornings, I sit in the grandstand with my two youngest and watch the oldest one beaver away at Auskick. The view from the grandstand across the Fitzroy oval towards the city is one of the best views from a sports ground in Australia. I sat there last week composing my top five footy-ground views (yet to be nailed, but Balwyn and Moyston are in there). Fitzroy is No.1.

    I’ve got to say I love Brunswick as well. It’s another one of my favourite grounds, for sentimental reasons and because I like the urban setting, with views across the rooftops to the north. I’ve got to agree now that it might just become one of the special grounds in Melbourne. That was unlikely to have happened before the fence came down.

    I still don’t want the mates of that shrill American to get too excited, though. These grounds were sports grounds originally and they should remain so. Their importance as sports venues will become more pronounced as space gets gobbled up by the rising population.

    The actives and the passives should be able to share.

  15. Marius Smith says


    Agreed. Let’s hope an upgrade of the grandstand and club rooms is next for the ground. All of the residents I’ve spoken to support that.



  16. Ian Syson says

    Marius there is a major engineering difference between excavating a hill (that was going to be pulled down anyway) and building up and compacting a new bed for a large concrete slab.

  17. Marius Smith says


    On a slightly different topic, are you able to tell us whether there are plans for upgrades to the pavilion and facilities in the near future?

  18. Ian Syson says

    Marius, I’m in the dark about this. I reckon the clubrooms need a major redevelopment — so they look more pleasant from the outside and so that they are more functional inside — especially in relation to shade and access.

  19. Ian, Marius, et al.

    I got this press release on Friday. Didn’t see anything about it in the papers over the weekend.

    Vic Park is very closed off at the moment. This would be good development, in keeping with Brunswick Street, Arden Street, Gillon Oval, etc, but I don’t see how they could continue to charge entry for VFL games.


    A $7.2 million upgrade of Victoria Park in Abbotsford – the former home of the Collingwood Football Club and the current home ground of the Magpies’ VFL team – will transform the iconic park into a community recreation space.

    Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese and Federal Member for Melbourne, Lindsay Tanner said the Rudd Government would provide $3.5 million for the redevelopment.

    Yarra City Council owns the site and will contribute the remainder of the funding for the redevelopment.

    Lindsay Tanner said: “This redevelopment will see Victoria Park transformed from what is currently a facility largely unfit for community use into a top class sporting facility for local clubs and a recreation space for the local community.

    “This will also be a significant project for the Collingwood Football Club and its fans, rejuvenating the ground that is part of their lifeblood and history.”

    “The iconic Victoria Park will again become a major asset for the inner-city residents in the local area and importantly, the redevelopment project will also support around 50 jobs during construction.”

    The project, which is being managed by the Yarra City Council is expected to include:

    · Refurbishment of the Sherrin, Ryder and Bob Rose Stands;

    · Upgrades to landscaping, paving, heritage areas, amenities, disabled access and oval floodlighting; and

    · Environmentally sustainable initiatives, such as connecting an irrigation system to water harvesting on all paved areas and buildings, native landscape designs, support for cycling and using local materials.

    Jane Garrett, Mayor of the City of Yarra thanked the Federal Government for its contribution and said she was looking forward to making the vision of Victoria Park into a reality.

    Cr Garrett said: “What was going to take a decade to achieve will now be completed by the end of next year. This is such a gift to the local community and shows what can be delivered with strong partnerships.”

    Eddie McGuire, President of the Collingwood Football Club said: “I would like to congratulate the Federal Government and City of Yarra for their foresight and support for the redevelopment of Victoria Park. The Collingwood Football Club is absolutely delighted to be a partner in the team reviving our traditional home and one of Australia’s most famous sporting stadiums. Collingwood has returned to play VFL games at Victoria Park and we are excited about the opportunity this affords us to give back to the local community and bring this iconic stadium back to life.”

    Anthony Albanese, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, Regional Development and Local Government said the Federal Government’s funding was part of the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program.

    Mr Albanese said: “Across Australia, we are building and modernising community facilities, including town halls, libraries, community centres and sports grounds.

    “The Rudd Government is partnering with local governments across Australia to support local economies while building community infrastructure for the future.”

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