How Council and Community Helped Sharks Acquire the Site

The Sharks "650 proposal" of two years ago - the selling of half of the playing-field area - prompted questions:
  • How did the Sharks' Club acquire such extensive fields in the 1960s?
  • Why has no other Shire sports club been so lucky since?
In the 1960s the popularity of League as a winter sport was rising and inclined Shire councillors to favour the Sharks Club in the search for suitable fields. Sites were considered at Caringbah and Sutherland. However, with the population of the Shire less than half of what it is today, the search soon focused on an extensive unoccupied area at Woolooware, where Captain Cook Drive (only opened in the 1950s) passes close to Woolooware Bay.

For many years that area had been the Shire's dump for rubbish of all sorts, largely builders' waste but also putrescible garbage, hazardous chemicals, heavy metals, and asbestos. Like other Sydney dumps up to 1970, it lacked supervision and kept no record of what was deposited. The area had only been thought suitable as a site for location of industry.

Lengthy negotiations followed. Council considered a 1965 proposal from the Sharks to occupy part of the tip site and locate upon it a first grade Rugby League field. In 1966 Council contributed $40,000 to develop what was suggested should be called "Endeavour Field". Through 1966 and 1967 a discussion continued on how much the Sharks Club would contribute.

When the Sharks proposed about $100,000, the offer was rejected as far too little by Council's Finance Committee. But politics came to the rescue. Shire President (mayor) Arthur Gietzelt (1966-71) and other councillors intervened to support the Sharks' bid and to offer easy stages of repayment. A triumph. The jubilant Club in April 1968 managed to pay the $100,000 in full.

A later report by a Council officer estimated that the agreed site - 10 hectares of the larger dump area, generously providing for a home ground, two junior grounds, two carparks and club premises - would have brought between $600,000 and $650,000 if it had then been sold to industry.

Clearly, Council had bailed out the young Club.

Not surprisingly, sports other than Rugby League had taken a keen interest throughout the period of negotiation, in particular Sutherland Shire Soccer Club. But soccer was then not nearly as strong as it is today. It could not match the Sharks' tender.

There was also talk at the time of treating the entire area as a multi-sports centre; but organised backing for such a far-sighted proposal did not crystallise. The Sharks Club had gained a playing-fields advantage which has remained the envy of all other codes.
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Interview with Shire Mayor who made the present playing fields available to the Sharks in 1968

Shire President Arthur Gietzelt in his first year of office "I was Shire President [now Mayor] nine times in the 1961-71 era," says Arthur Gietzelt, who later became a Senator and Minister for Veterans Affairs in the Federal Government and who now lives in Caringbah. He was awarded the Order of Australia for services to local government.

The young Sharks Club urged Council in 1965 to give it a 10-year tenure of Caringbah Oval for its home and training centre (near the Kingsway-President Avenue junction). I rejected this as certain to cause traffic chaos for a popular spectator sport.
Instead, I thought of the Council-owned tip land near Woolooware Bay. My Shire Engineer Bill Wood assured me he could compact 20-odd acres safely for playing fields. So I recommended to Council that we forego any profit and capital-gain and sell to the Club a site worth at least half a million dollars for - if I remember rightly - only ninety thousand dollars.

So the Club got a marvellous site, for a nominal sum, and it was zoned 'Private Open Space', which I believe it remains to this day. I sold it in good faith, and doubt if there has ever been a Council more sympathetic to sport than that one I had the pleasure to lead. A 'gentleman's agreement' like that should not be broken because time and leaders have changed. It is a breach of faith to use the area for high rise development and super profits.

I signed a contract together with Shire Clerk Athol Hill that incorporated Council's decision that the junior fields would be kept in operation. It doesn't say much for Council's competence that they cannot find that contract signed back in 1968.

I appeal to the Club's leaders to reconsider... After all, the Club knew the zoning was restrictive. The contractual arrangements should be respected."

[Interviews: 1 September 2001, 7 February 2003]

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