Ingham Daily Press

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‘It’s just one disaster after another’: Flood-plagued athletics club to close

Going under: Herbert River Athletic Club's closure is a sad reflection of the times

TWO stalwarts who have dedicated almost 40 years between them to Herbert River Athletic Club have announced its closure.

Brenda Oats and Rina Zatta have been fighting for funding from the government to relocate the club’s ground, which has flooded time and again.

They were told after a final application this year that funding would be released, but that position changed when the global health pandemic hit.

The pair have been maintaining the club – but say they can no longer manage.

Brenda said: ‘It’s just one disaster after another. Where’s all the members of the club?

‘People don’t volunteer anymore. They want their children to do sports but don’t want to volunteer.

‘We are just two people. We can’t keep doing it.

‘A lot more clubs are going to fold.

‘Unless people start putting their hands up to help – there’s going to be no sport left in the town.’

‘Unless people start putting their hands up to help – there’s going to be no sport left in the town’ – Herbert River Athletic Club treasurer Brenda Oats.

The pair have spent a Christmas Day shifting equipment to higher ground during flooding and Brenda has had to drive home through dangerously high waters.

With the club being inaccessible during heavy wet seasons, grass grows taller than the bonnet of a tractor and Brenda and Rina have been left to sort it out by themselves.

‘I nearly flipped the tractor into the drain and rolled it [trying to cut the long grass],’ Brenda said.

‘Every year we are fixing things. Every year we have to start again.

‘I get heat rash that takes me a week to get over.

‘One year a freezer caught alight and nearly set fire to our toilet blocks.’

Club founder George Day (87) said the closure was a huge blow to the district.

He said:  ‘Covid buggered everything up. More people die of the flu.

‘It’s a big blow. Sixteen hundred children would use it over a year.

‘We used to have the kids training five days a week. You don’t get anywhere if you train less. We produced a few champions.

‘Nowadays they’re not allowed to do anything. When they go to primary school they’re not allowed to do a cartwheel.

‘The whole system is stupid.’

‘Nowadays they’re not even allowed to do a cartwheel at school – the whole system is stupid’ – club founder George Day.

Two applications for funding to change venue cost the club $4,000, which was non-refundable when they were turned down.

News of the closure has shocked the community, with people taking to social media to express their sadness.

Amber Jane Lazarroni said: ‘Oh my heart hurts. My fondest childhood memories. So sad my children can’t join the club when they are old enough now. Thanks for the wonderful memories.’

Kathryn Authurs said: ‘That is so sad to hear. This club and its members, coaches and committee members poured their heart and soul into this club when we were there. It was such a positive part of my life and allowed me to form many great friendships. A sad farewell to such a great club.’

Former committee member Andrea Leonelli said: ‘I am deeply saddened by this news. But as a previous committee member, coach and official who has been in the same position, I understand why you have made this tough decision.

‘My husband and I spent countless hours devoting our time to the club. I have always been proud of what we achieved in our time there.

‘It’s just so sad that future generations won’t get the same opportunity as our children.’

‘It’s just so sad that future generations won’t get the same opportunity as our children’ – former committee member Andrea Leonelli.

Ingham State High held their athletics carnival at George Day Oval to mark the last ever event at the historic ground.

Brenda first joined the club in 2002 and became a coach in 2006. She has been on the executive committee since 2009 – but the numbers of people helping has dropped to the point where just Brenda and Rina are responsible for much of the running of the club.

Herbert River Athletic Club was started by George Day to offer the students of Ingham and surrounding areas the opportunity to train and compete, and has been at its current grounds, The George Day Oval, since the early 70s.

During this time the club hosted two North Queensland Championships and has had members go on to compete for Australia in both the Commonwealth and the Olympic Games.

Announcing the closure, a club spokesperson said: ‘During the past several years we have applied for funding with the Department of Sport and Recreation to relocate our grounds to the flood free Ingham State High School – unfortunately our multiple applications have not been successful.

‘The decrease in volunteer numbers has seen the work load fall to two of the executive committee who hold multiple roles within the club.

‘The maintenance of the grounds and buildings, marking of the track, running of the canteen as well as coaching and committee duties have become too much.

‘The George Day Oval is such a lovely area during the athletic season and when filled with students it is a wonderful sight.

‘The continued battle with flooding and constant repairs due to the location is unmanageable.’

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