By LIAM DURKIN
READERS of a certain vintage will surely be surprised to learn around 15 years ago a proposal was put forward that would have changed the face of the Trafalgar Recreation Reserve forever.
With countless footballers, netballers, cricketers, boxers and soccer players gracing the recreation reserve yearly, another sport was to be added to the list as Greyhound Racing Victoria planned to build a racing complex in Trafalgar.
For one reason or another the complex never came to fruition, leaving it resigned to probably the greatest ‘what if?’ in Trafalgar’s history.
Trafalgar resident Mick Bourke was president of the Trafalgar Community Development Association at the time, and was part of discussions with the GRV around the proposal.
Taking up the story, Bourke said the GRV proposal carried on plans to further develop the recreation reserve in the early to mid 2000s.
“Back in 2005, based on a recreation precinct strategic plan developed the previous year by the Trafalgar community under the leadership of Peter Williams (then president of Trafalgar Recreation Reserve) and myself we convinced Baw Baw Shire Council to purchase the Turra family farm adjacent to the recreation reserve,” he told The Express.
“Greyhound Racing Victoria approached Baw Baw Shire Council in early March 2007 proposing the concept of a new greyhound racing facility in Trafalgar.
“The then shire chief executive officer, Glenn Patterson, met me so council could ‘get a feel’ of how the community would react – I was positive.
“GRV’s racing, integrity and infrastructure manager subsequently met with council officers and me in mid-March 2007 to discuss the proposal. The precinct steering committee then gave its ‘in principle’ support to the concept.”
At its simplest, the proposal was that GRV wished to purchase approximately 10 hectares of the new recreation precinct area to build a racecourse.
It was attracted to Trafalgar due to the location of the recreation reserve, which runs virtually alongside the Princes Highway as drivers enter the town from Warragul.
The plan was to build a racecourse with the same design as the track in Shepparton, and as Bourke said, the flow on effects would have been far reaching.
“The precinct steering committee was strongly supportive of the GRV concept as it saw many benefits to the Trafalgar community, and in general to the broader Baw Baw community,” he said.
“There would have been employment for local tradesmen in building the facility, and ongoing employment by people involved in the industry and in hospitality services.
“Personally I think it would have provided a great financial boost to the community, jobs would have been created in the facility itself, most of which I believe would have been filled by local residents.
“I think it would have provided additional employment and revenue to other local businesses both directly related, and ancillary, to the greyhounds.
“Of course, Trafalgar would have been publicised whenever a race meeting was held.”
It can be reasonably assumed every sporting club in the town would have held functions there, while the inside of the track may have also lent itself to a second football oval or even a turf wicket – something the Trafalgar Cricket Club is still fighting for to this day.
Locals knocking off work on a Friday would have more than likely went down to the greyhounds, while those in the older category may have enjoyed something such as a bingo night arranged by the club.
However, as time moved on discussions did not, and the proposal ultimately became something that was perhaps too good to be true.
“We had some issues with the actual shape of the land GRV wanted to buy, and there was a discrepancy between land valuations, GRV and council plus some other more minor issues,” Bourke said.
When asked if it every really got close to happening, Bourke said there was still an element of the unknown.
“It looked like it was going very well up until October 2007,” he said.
“The proposals were confidential. I suspect Traralgon and Warragul became aware of the negotiations between GRV and us and pressure was applied to GRV to keep the status quo.”
While Trafalgar might not have a greyhound track, the recreation reserve is currently being expanded, with construction of a new multi-use pavilion on the way.
Having been involved behind the scenes for many years, Bourke said it was great to see things moving.
“Our original community recreation precinct strategic plan, developed in 2004, and which has largely been ratified by at least two subsequent council-based plans, still holds up well,” Mr Bourke said.
“I always knew not all within the original plan would get through, however, it appears most of the major ones will.
“What is missing from the early plans are two significant parts, which I would like to see reinserted.
“First is the wetlands area. This has been discarded as not being able to provide sufficient irrigation to the various arenas – that was never its purpose.
“It was to be primarily a wetlands area to attract appropriate flora and fauna.
“Secondary use was irrigation if sufficient water was available. Unfortunately the secondary purpose somehow became the main purpose.
“The second feature missing is the adventure playground.
“It was originally proposed that there be a large playground on about 2.5 hectares that would have flying foxes and such other adventurous activities. That has dropped off the radar.
“Certainly nothing could have happened if the Turra family hadn’t sold the land to council.”