PEOPLE might want to think again when they claim “Traralgon gets everything”.

More than three years on from the devastating floods that left the Traralgon Recreation Reserve a muddied mess, the biggest town in the Latrobe Valley is still waiting for an upgraded facility to help deliver some of the most popular sports in the region.

The waiting game looks set to continue, as the project currently carries a budget of $6.5 million.

“We’ve only got $6.5 million to deal with, so until we know how much it’s going to cost to build, we won’t know whether it’s going to proceed or not,” Traralgon Football-Netball Club president, Kevin Foley told the Express.

The project is for a multi-use pavilion at the recreation reserve that will be built above flood levels, with facilities to primarily accommodate Traralgon FNC, Ex Students Cricket Club and Traralgon Boxing Club.

It is understood design plans will see more changerooms fitted into the same amount of floor space of both the current home and visitors changerooms, and will do away with the current second storey above the existing Traralgon FNC changerooms.

The facility is expected to be raised 1.5 metres, around the same height as ‘the Deck’ (social rooms) situated along the forward flank of the oval.

A project reference group, taking in representatives from the abovementioned clubs, as well as Sport and Recreation Victoria, Latrobe City Council Officers and two Latrobe City Councillors have been working behind the scenes.

However, some members of the reference group have been vocal in their opposition to a number of items.

The Traralgon FNC canteen, which has operated out of a food truck and was located in a separate building pre-flood, will take up space in the new changeroom facility.

Storage has also decreased, while the practicality of trying to cram multiple football and netball teams under one roof has been called into question.

Unfortunately for Traralgon, the situation is looming as a case of ‘take it or leave it’, as Mr Foley explained.

“We’ve been able to come to some arrangements to include some extra space that we would require, certainly not enough storage and probably not enough public toilets, but we’re at a stage where we think we’ve got to accept that or lose it,” he said.

Mr Foley did however acknowledge there were some positives in the proposal.

“The one that we think is a good one is that the netball and footy rooms are side-by-side and (there is an) interconnected trainer’s room, so women don’t need to go through the men’s changeroom to go to the changeroom, for home and away, so we think that will be a winner,” he said.

Traralgon’s netballers have been operating out of a virtual tin shed for the past three decades, and according to the club’s president, have “well and truly earnt the need for better facilities”.

On the football side, the Maroons’ home changerooms are still operating well below standard, while visiting teams are into the third season of using portable rooms.

New normal: Visiting teams have been operating out of portable rooms for the last three seasons. Photograph: Liam Durkin

Despite some exceptional on-field results (Traralgon has still managed to play finals and win premierships across the grades in the past two years), Mr Foley said battle fatigue had well and truly set in.

“Some of our long-time supporters and workers are getting pretty sick of it now,” he said, looking visibly exhausted.

“June 2021 is when we had the floods, we certainly need some action.”

The on field success may have inadvertently caused a delay in getting the rooms dealt with quicker.

“No one has complained, even the away teams don’t complain about the portables, so it has been pretty good,” Traralgon Football-Netball Club president, Kevin Foley said.

“Which is maybe a reason why it’s taken so long – we’ve made it work too well.”

Compounding the issue has been an ever-changing timeline.

The Maroons were expected to be out of their old changerooms in May, but are now looking at late September before the wrecking ball comes in.

“If everything goes to plan, by Gippsland League Grand Final it will get demolished, and then go straight into fixing some Gippsland Water stuff and then build,” Foley said.

This however could yet be pushed back if no tender is out in time for Latrobe City Council’s August meeting. Some bad timing by way of upcoming council elections means that if no tender is out, council is placed into recess for the campaign period.

Ever optimistic, Foley said Traralgon was hopeful of playing games at its home venue next year, but admitted “it’s going to be pretty tough”.

A bureaucratic technicality also seems to be at the centre of delays.

Somewhat bizarrely, Traralgon Recreation Reserve is only considered a ‘local’ facility by the powers at be, this coming despite the venue hosting AFL preseason games and Big Bash League cricket matches in the past.

Such a tag was labelled “an absolute joke”.

“Local is an absolute joke for the amount of teams we’ve got,” he said.

“Youth Girls, Masters (over 35s) and the four teams (under 16s to senior football), we are looking like getting a women’s side… to think we are going to fit into a junior footy venue is a joke.

“Into the future we are going to do it pretty tough. Moe is the Centre of Excellence for cricket, Morwell is the Centre of Excellence for footy, so this will be the third wheel that won’t get much.

“We’ve got some good things (in Traralgon) in terms of the swimming pool, basketball court and theatre, but it shouldn’t hurt the footy/netball club.”

Member for Morwell, Martin Cameron has joined calls for an adequate facility to be constructed.

“For three years the facilities at the Traralgon Recreation Reserve have stood frozen in time while its user groups have been left with sub-par facilities that are not fit for use,” he said.

“The sporting clubs and user groups that call the reserve home cater to thousands of people in our community, and so long as these facilities are flood-ravaged we are doing our community a great disservice.

“It’s high time this project gets off the ground.”

Paint markings around the existing facility have already been made at Traralgon Recreation Reserve, providing some illustration as to what might take place.

State opposition leader John Pesutto, himself a Traralgon boy, visited the reserve last year to see first-hand a facility that had received no significant upgrade since the 1980s.

See for yourself: Traralgon FNC President Kevin Foley (centre) shows state Opposition leader John Pesutto (right) and Member for Morwell, Martin Cameron the extent of the damage last year. Photograph: Liam Durkin

The Liberals/Nationals committed to fully flood proof Traralgon Recreation Reserve at the last state election, and Pesutto said the party hadn’t deviated.

“This is a facility that needs to be upgraded and we will continue to advocate for that, we had a commitment going into the last election that would support the rebuilding of this,” he said.

“I’d love to see a clubroom that allows clubs and the broader community around to make use of the facility, that’s what other communities get around the state, this (area) is constantly overwhelmed by floodwaters and it needs to get addressed, it needed to happen yesterday.

“Clearly there is a need to rebuild this facility, this is an iconic ground for our local community, I still call it our local community because I will always be a Traralgon boy.

“It’s a problem the community has had to deal with for generations, really this is an iconic asset this ground, and it deserves clubrooms that are fitting, and the community deserves it.”

Sketch: Markings have appeared around the existing facility. Photograph: Liam Durkin

The state government committed $4.75m to provide flood-proof facilities at the reserve as part of the 2022/23 state budget, while council chipped in $2m for the project, carrying a $10 million funding allocation.

In 2022, council said it was “committed to delivering the $10 million Traralgon Flood Recovery project in its entirety and is calling on the federal government to contribute to the project”.

The federal government however has been largely M.I.A as far as Traralgon is concerned, possibly due to the region holding one of the safest federal seats in Australia (The Nationals/Country Party have held the Gippsland electorate continuously since 1922).

While admittedly there has been a change in government at the top level since the 2021 floods, there is some irony in the fact Anthony Albanese is no stranger to Latrobe Valley’s recreational needs, having announced $3.15m to redevelop Ted Summerton Reserve, Moe during his time as Minister for Infrastructure as recently as 2009.

Latrobe City Council provided background information to this story, but did not provide comment.