On the 11th July 1904 a meeting was held at the Amateur Sports Club in King Street, Perth with representatives from numerous codes in order to work out a plan for a new ground for a variety of sports. The Amateur Sports Club had called the meeting in order to develop more grounds throughout the metropolitan area for sport and to develop another gated ground within the inner city.
Delegates present at the first meeting were Messrs. Chambers and Blakely (League of Wheelman(cycling), Uhde (Australian Football), Peters and Mcnamara (British Association Football) Nairn (Lacrosse), Boxhorn (Amateur Sports Club), Keddie (Perth Mercantile Cricket Association) Scanlan (Wednesday Afternoon Sporting Association) and Keary (WA Amateur Cycling Club).
The meeting laid out plans of accessing an entitlement of land like the WACA had obtained. Australian Rules Football’s voice was that they were prepared to contribute money to a facility that they currently spend at the WACA, Association Football sought to develop buildings on Lord Street next to Lotons Park (now Perth Oval) to bring in revenue for the sports, which would incorporate a cycling track.
There was support from the world game, but no money. Peters reflected that they were unsure how much money they would be able to contribute to the project because of the lack of gate revenue. Other sports mentioned their ideas and a formal committee was established to further look into how they could develop a ground for all sports over the proceeding weeks.
The Amateur Sports Club warned the codes about the power of the WACA and that the debate had to not get bogged down in issues the other sports had with this venue.
The dire need of more sporting fields was encapsulated by the editorials in the West Australian.
“Sixty football teams belonging to the Australian and British Associations, requiring the use of half as many grounds again every week and most of them on Saturday. But this is far from being the entire demand. There are twelve lacrosse clubs, and there are already a number of hockey clubs, a game in the next year or two promises to double or triple its votaries. As for the tennis players, they have appropriated every rod of the ground available at the Zoological Gardens during the winter. When we come to the summer, the claims of cricket clubs again bring into view the lamentable paucity of available grounds” (The West Australian 13th July 1904)
The West would raise concerns that the ground shortages would get worse.
“At the rate at which we are developing, in five or six years time, the demands may be increased by 25%”
“In any event, it should be an essential part of the policy of this state to encourage outdoor physical activity”
So The West Australian had given its backing to more sporting facilities and grounds for sport in the city. The second meeting on the 18th July is reported the following day with a desire to get a general consensus with the sporting codes working on the principle of developing a venue to rid them of the high fees of the WACA Ground.
Australian Rules Football wanted a free hold grant at Kings Park, Lacrosse preferred the esplanade site, Mercantile Cricket and Association Football sought Loton’s Paddock (Perth Oval) as the most suitable venue. However Lacrosse pointed out that it would cost 5,800 pounds for 10 acres, the cycling track 1000 pounds and the preparing of the ground not less than 2,500 pounds.
The Amateur Sports Club, led by Broxham said that they may be able to ascertain private donations to help pay for the venue.
But it does seem that the regionalised aspect of Perth would have played a part in the lack of development of a major facility.
There is a limit on finances they can give all to the capital city Perth, when Fremantle is an essential revenue driver of sport. The Victoria Pavilion at Fremantle Oval gets built with a state government grant in 1897, which in context is highly unusual for the era. Football and other codes would have faced backlash if all their money was tied into a venue in the CBD at the consequence of Fremantle.
The political rivalry is further explained in Barker’s book on the history of Western Australian Football – Behind the Play. Influential business merchants on both sides sought major games to attract people to their respective towns and this became an ongoing tension between Fremantle and Perth Australian Rules football teams.
The West did another editorial post following the second meeting on the 19th July and in its final sentences said
“In any event, it is to be anxiously wished that the matter will not be abandoned” (The West Australian, July 19th 1904)
At the third meeting, the committee had asked for the granting of land on the esplanade to build the stadium, which had just been reclaimed to prevent health problem’s caused by sewerage entering into the river and washing up due to prevailing winds close to residence and business.
The Mayor of Perth opposed any plan for the foreshore to have a major sporting facility and questioned whether they would be able to pay rates. The media was on the council’s side and The West Australian backed it up with editorial suggesting that the esplanade should remain ‘free’ forever and that public land was not to be used for ‘revenue’.
At the final committee meeting on the 1st of August 1904 the sports bodies said they could not afford the payment to buy Loton’s Park and would look to develop a ground on the Esplanade, which would need Parliamentary approval.
Nairn, who represented Lacrosse on the committee puts a fiery letter condemning the Mayor of Perth Mr Brown and the WACA on the 6th August and implicates his opposition to his paid position as Secretary of the Association.
“The reason which has prevented the Association Ground from paying is precisely the reason which has promoted the agitation for a second oval. The autocratic and short-sighted policy of the management…every sport that has been connected with the Association Ground has fallen into decadence”
“Other sports are a secondary consideration to the interests of a body of cricketers which is so small and so exclusive that the whole is little more than a clique. What else I ask, is the explanation of refusal of the majority of young cricketers to go on and the subsequent decline of senior cricket?
“This exclusive coterie of cricketers – for whom I will show Mr Brown is the mouthpiece – aims at maintaining a monopoly of enclosed grounds in Perth”
“If in speaking as a Mayor, he had stated at the outset that he was the secretary of the Association Ground in receipt of a salary, I think 60 pounds a year…like other men, his judgement is likely to be influenced by his circumstances”.
There was a regional comparison between the ground issues in Perth and that of Fremantle, in Nairn’s letter to the editor.
“Fremantle with about half the population of Perth, possess two grounds, both of which are assets to their respective municipalities. Three senior football clubs in Perth can not be accommodated with an oval.”
The conflict of interest between politicians and the WACA shaped Perth’s sporting culture. The subsequent loss of four grounds at Stirling Park in 1902 leads to this showdown in 1904. With sporting codes seeking a grant much like the WACA, the development of a venue on the river could have been quite substantial and a major threat to the ongoing viability of the WACA.
A month later on September 12th 1904, Lotons Paddock is purchased by the city council under the terms dictated by the seller, to ensure it was zoned recreational. The pressure and public support that Nairn elicits in his passionate plea would have shifted the council and mayor, despite their conflict of interest they displayed in the debates. The WACA would face competition as a gated ground from Perth Oval.
The debates surrounding where the major stadium of Perth would be, was replicated one hundred years later. The WACA no longer has political prowess and as a result of its past now only hosts cricket.
What happened in 1904 when the ground shortages occurred happened in similar circumstances in December 2006. In an article I wrote for austadiums.com, I revealed that the FFA, ARL and Western Force had come together in a unitary bid to get a world class rectangular field to be incorporated into the recommendations of the Major Stadia Taskforce.
While many changes have occurred, the period of June – September 1904 shows that amid the code rivalries certain circumstances force codes to come together.
While they didn’t get the same advantages of the WACA, it did force the end to the monopoly of gated grounds within the city of Perth. The council’s first gated ground, would also deliver an economic tool they would utilise to gain revenue from sport. This would become an on-going issue between the respective sports and the council in the following decades.
By Chris Egan