Pitch perfect

THE Gippsland Regional Sports Complex will expand to include a synthetic surface pitch as part of stage 2A, with funding announced on Wednesday.

The $3 million project will provide a new pitch for hockey and soccer players, as well as a pavilion, lighting and electronic scoreboard on the western side of the complex.

Wellington Shire Council agreed to put forward $1.35 million, while local benefactor John Leslie gave $1 million.

Mr Leslie said he recognised a need for the facilities, after reading in the Gippsland Times hockey clubs were pushing for it.

“Bairnsdale apparently had applied and been given permission to proceed, but the East Gippsland Shire couldn’t afford it,” he said.

“I said I’d give a million dollars if the other supporters like Hockey Victoria and the shire were all prepared to support it.”

Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing also announced the state government would provide $650,000 for the project through its Community Sports Infrastructure Fund.

“It will allow people who practice and compete at a regional and subregional level, and also at a state level, to have access to the best facilities,” she said.

Ms Shing’s sentiments were echoed by representatives from local hockey clubs, who usually have to travel to Churchill for the closest professional pitch.

Wellington Hockey Club president Richard Hill said parents were also looking forward to seeing the new pitch.

“At the moment our kids that play in zone development have got to travel hours on the road before they can get to a pitch,” he said.

“This development will make it easier on the kids and the parents.”

Wellington’s all-abilities program will also be improved, with more people able to access the facilities without worrying about uneven turf or hard floors.

Maffra Hockey Club representative Jo O’Doherty said the new facility would help attract recruits.

“It’s going to be great for local hockey, and hopefully it’ll develop our junior hockey further,” she said.

“I’d love to see more junior girls stay and play in our competition.”

Wellington Shire deputy mayor Bob Wenger said he was looking forward to seeing other sports flourish, including American football.

“(The Shire) identified hockey and athletics as two sports with the most inadequate facilities, and strong growth potential in the area,” he said.

“It will also provide alternative training facilities for soccer and football clubs, and create new sporting competitions for touch and gridiron.”

For Liz McKenzie, this has been a long time coming. She began playing hockey for Sale in 1960, and has seen all her daughters play.

“When I started playing, we played in Brennan Park with a pitch across the middle, then we played at McMillan Park,” she said.

“The prisoners used to mark that out, from the old gaol, every Saturday morning.”

Ms McKenzie said while she wouldn’t be running out on the pitch, she was excited to see what it would mean for hockey in the area.

“It’s so wonderful it’s happened, it’s wonderful for here,” she said.