3 December 2021

Can more be done with Canberra's dryland ovals?

| Lottie Twyford
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Jo Clay and Greg Blood

ACT Greens MLA Jo Clay and Florey Community Action Group member Greg Blood want Canberra’s dryland ovals to be better used. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra’s 31 dryland ovals could soon be given a new lease of life, with the government promising to consult with local communities about what they want to see the spaces used for.

According to ACT Greens MLA Jo Clay, options could include using the space for a beginners BMX track, micro-forests, nature playgrounds, enclosed dog off-leash areas or community gardens.

Dryland ovals are open spaces that allow for informal activities like walking the dog, exercising or completing a fitness session, or just letting the kids run around. But because they aren’t irrigated, they cannot be used for organised sporting events, and during droughts or drier years can appear brown.

During these years, they can often be underused and appear unappealing to the public, Ms Clay said.

She moved a motion calling on the government to ask communities what they want to see done with these spaces. She told the ACT Legislative Assembly that many of these ovals were once irrigated, but this became unsustainable and too expensive during the Millennium Drought.

Despite the rain this year, Ms Clay said it’s important for Canberra to still be careful with its water use, and she’s not asking for them to be irrigated now.

“We need responsible long-term planning that preserves our local green spaces and gives the community a real voice in how they are used.”

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Ms Clay noted a wide variety of other activities they can be used for.

She pointed to the work of the Florey Community Action group, which has been working with the government for several years to develop a “brighter future” for their oval.

Group member Greg Blood described the Florey oval as a “wasted community asset”.

“It’s in the centre of the suburb and could be part of a community hub, but it’s not being used by the community,” Mr Blood said.

He said the community wants to use the space productively, but it’s just not possible in the condition it’s in.

Their plan is to turn one-third of the oval into a green space again and the other two thirds into something else.

Mr Blood said the oval could be used as a kind of “test case” for other dryland ovals around Canberra.

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Ms Clay’s motion passed with a small amendment from Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr.

“Local communities love their neighbourhoods, and they want to make them the best possible places to gather, exercise and play,” Ms Clay said.

The final motion called for better public consultation with local communities about their dryland ovals in the ACT Government’s upcoming urban open space Management Plan.

Ms Clay said she expected “enthusiastic participation” from the broader community.

The government will also promote the Adopt-a-Park program, which provides grants to support community-led initiatives on urban open space such as micro-forests.

Reports will be provided to the Assembly in 2023.

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Susan Willemse1:53 pm 10 Dec 21

Many of these ovals already have active use by groups, dog owners for example social their pups (a very important part of theirs lives for without this they can become reactive) alongside other users such as sports, it’s not great to run free in nature reserves- our only other open spaces. My only suggestion would be to fence a few so young pups and children from adjacent playgroups, who also enjoy the occasional run and rest there, do not accidently land up on adjacent roads. This would only work if gaining access was possible at all times or those adjacent roads will become the local meet and greet and exercise areas. A added bonus is that vehicles not cutting grass would then not be on the ovals, as local cars are using some parks as driveways in our suburb now, separating users from cars will lead to more safe usage. It is also essential to retain these for fire seasons.

It’s a struggle to find grounds for kids and adults sports and training. If we want to encourage better health in this city, ACT government needs to ensure Canberra sport isn’t just for the wealthy or private school kids.

Some of the ground hire charges are outrageous.

Florey oval used to be a great junior cricket oval, lovely grass surface – this is perhaps 23 years ago or so. Long jump pit, marked grass running lanes for school sport. Then then in the drought designated as dryland, unmaintained and allowed to deteriorate to the poor condition it is in now. Fix it!

Great work Jo. Some areas need to be mown and watered. However many others could be better used. Local suggestions for Belconnen oval include expanding the nearby habitat recreation, a wetland (it is part of the Belconnen town plan), dog area, community garden, performance space and a better sports area. The oval could become a centre of community activity, including a garden, trees would cool it and provide shade, the wetland would be great for wildlife, and would filter a lot of the water that currently goes under the oval, and the smaller area to be mown could be looked after much better at no extra expense. Nearby Gossan Hill is a great example of the beautiful local flora that could be part of the redevelopment of the oval.

In other words, the Greens would like to sell them off to developers for high density housing.

I recall asking for our local Theodore oval to be irrigated and was told there was no plan-use Calwell instead. Yet the kids have to traipse over there to do so. Anyone using these dry ovals could get some serious brain injury if used for sporting activities and is in part why they are not regularly used. Personally I would like to see the oval irrigated so that Theodore Primary can make use of it. But that is not going to happen whilst there is a fixation with the tram which is a big financial hole at the expense of municipal activities. I shall copy this to the school and ask the community for their thoughts also.

People talk as if the Tram is spending every single dollar of the budget and then some, like the price tag is being found all upfront immediately. It is not, and isn’t a reason for poorer outcomes elsewhere.

There are some dry ovals that I’m sure make sense to be irrigated, but equally there are others that they should find a better use for. So as long as the process is open to all options, then that is fair enough. Irrigated ovals are not cheap to maintain, and in many parts of the city there is sufficient supply of them. But in other areas as you suggest Aussie, there may be clear reason to make some of them irrigated.

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