“NEVER work with animals or children,” actor W. C. Fields famously said, and there was never any question about the result once a contingent of kids stormed the Cowes cultural centre on Wednesday afternoon.
Carrying their skateboards and home-made signs, the kids took up their positions on the floor for the final Bass Coast council meeting of the year. There was no mucking about or chattering.
They sat through the acknowledgment of country, the oath, the questions, the councillors’ reports …and the meeting hadn’t even really begun.
If they’d been any older the hard floor might have broken their resolve, but their limbs were young and flexible enough to sit there all day, if that’s what it took.
At one stage, with a very crowded agenda, it looked as though the real danger was that it would be past their bedtime before the all-important item H7 – a vote on whether to locate the Bass Coast regional skate park at Newhaven – until councillors rearranged the schedule to put it at the top.
For those who don’t know the skate park saga, here’s the short version: last year the council secured a $600,000 State Government grant to build a $1.2 million regional skate park. The condition was that the park had to be sizeable (over 1000 square metres) and it had to be central for all the shire’s skateboarders.
The preferred site was on the San Remo foreshore, until someone discovered it was a mass of underground services. Council officers proposed relocating to Grayden’s Reserve in Newhaven, a small park just over the bridge alongside the highway.
That’s when local residents got their backs up, citing concerns over the loss of public open space, noise, parking and unsavoury elements congregating at skate parks (clearly not the wholesome kids there on Wednesday).
Since then it’s become a numbers game: a petition of 236 against, mostly Newhaven residents. Then the island skateboarding community swung into action: 94 letters in support. The residents rallied: 15 letters against. Even Solomon might have been baffled on how to solve this one.
Cr Pamela Rothfield bravely took up the challenge. She argued that councillors should defer the matter until next year and think about some other options. “I would have loved it to be in San Remo. I think there is logic to it being in Newhaven or perhaps Cape Woolamai. We just need to be a little more courageous in looking at what is available.”
Her argument was loudly applauded by the contingent of Newhaven residents, but if any of Cr Rothfield’s fellow councillors were convinced, they only had to look across the floor at the resolute kids and their mums and dads to think better of it.
“Let’s get on with it,” Cr Clare Le Serve said. “I know some of the people in this room were the age of these kids when they first came to council and now they’re grown men.”
“Some of those people have grandkids here now,” Cr Stephen Fullarton pointed out. ”That’s how long our community’s been waiting.
“A skate park was mentioned back in 1985. I apologise to our community but local government wheels turn very, very slowly. “
Cr Fullarton said he would like to see the skatepark on the carnival site in Cowes, which the council is in the process of buying for recreation.
“I dispute the claim that the skateboard park has to be in the centre of the shires. In my opinion, it has to be in the centre of where the users are, which is Phillip Island, San Remo and Woolamai. That’s our surfing and skating community.”
Loud applause from the other side!
Cr Julian Brown was unimpressed with his colleague’s argument. It was a regional skate park, he pointed out, and that meant it had to be accessible to skaters from all parts of the shire.
Muted applause. Presumably no Wonthaggi or Inverloch skaters had made the trek to Cowes.
“Last night I was getting emails every 15 minutes from people in favour of the skate park,” Cr Geoff Ellis commented. “Three nights earlier it was from the people opposed. It’s not a reality TV show and we’re not going to make a decision based on the size of the applause.”
Point taken. Silence.
“Time to vote,” said Mayor Brett Tessari. “All in favour of the recommendation? … Carried!”
Loud cheering and a few whistles. Job done, the kids filed out and went home for tea. The Newhaven residents left quietly.