Grand opening of sport and cultural complex
The official opening last Friday of the $17 million state-of-the-art Byron Regional Sport and Cultural Complex was a day of proud community celebration, with several hundred guests and locals joining officials in the opening ceremony and a tour through the facility.
The complex, after two years of construction, is now open for use by sporting and cultural groups, not just from Byron but throughout the region. It was described by Mayor Jan Barham as the outcome of a united community which made ‘a dream come true’.
‘This is what $17 million looks like and it’s money well spent and deserved. It gives me great faith in the community and local government and shows the determined spirit of this community, which is set to shine brightly,’ a chuffed Cr Barham told the gathering.
The facility on 16 hectares provides top-class playing fields for athletics, netball, soccer, rugby, hockey, cricket, softball and more. The building includes a multi-purpose hall that can accommodate up to 2,000 people and which also doubles as a basketball stadium complete with electronic scoreboard. There is also a canteen, meeting and function rooms, a dance studio and offices.
The complex will be expanded in future as more government funding becomes available, and it is expected to host national and international sporting and cultural events and activities.
After a welcome to country and local Aboriginal performance by the Baigal Nali Jagun dancers, Cr Barham began with effusive praise for all those involved in making the complex a reality.
These included the federal government which funded more than half the cost with a $9.5 million regional-infrastructure grant, the state government, council staff, councillors and community members on the project committee, Byron Bay Community Sports Association (BBCSA), contractors and volunteers.
Cr Barham also praised former Byron resident and Australian Olympic athletics legend Herb Elliott and well-known and respected Byron Bay couple John and Delvene Cornell, who were special guests.
Both Mr Elliott and the Cornell family were honoured with the main sports fields named after them in recognition of their contribution to the community, and the fields were unveiled during an inspection tour around the facility.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot read out a letter from prime minister Julia Gillard saying she trusted the complex would enrich and serve the Shire well for years to come.
Mrs Elliot said that when Cr Barham and the community sport association’s Paul Irwin, this year’s Byron Shire citizen of the year, first approached her about funding and support for the project in 2006, she was inspired by their enthusiasm and commitment to make it a reality.
She said it was ‘great community victory for Byron Shire to enjoy’ having such a facility and it would greatly benefit local kids and boost tourism to the area in a big way with its ability to host large conferences and events.
‘It will also be a great meeting place for the community; it has so many uses for them, and everyone should be very proud.’
Mr Irwin said the day marked the end of a 30-year chapter in which several sports organisations had sought to have a much-needed sports and cultural facility built for everyone to use in the Shire.
He said the hardworking, passionate sports community ensured plenty of volunteers were on hand to make it happen, and the landscaping of the complex was mostly done by them.
‘We would have settled for a cow paddock for sporting fields, but what we have here today is what this community deserves, and we’ve been rewarded for our efforts,’ he said.
Council’s director of community infrastructure Phil Holloway said that when he first came to Byron a few years ago, he was told ‘have we got a project for you’, but when he first looked at the site, on a wetland, he asked himself ‘how on earth will we deliver on this project?’.
Mr Holloway said more than 250 contractors were employed on site for over two years but ‘we’re planning for future growth and there’s still work to do, with more stages planned as funding comes forward’.
During the unveiling of the sports fields, Cr Barham paid tribute to Herb Elliott, who had been a member of Council’s sports committee planning the project, as his Olympic committee experience had been ‘invaluable’.
‘To name a field in his name hopefully will be an inspiration for young people of the Shire who may think that one day, they too could be an Olympic champion,’ she said.
Cr Barham said the Shire also was lucky to have the Cornell family as people who truly wanted to be part of the community.
‘Some say the Cornell family put Byron on the map with their development of the Beach Hotel, which is true in a way, but they also, very quietly and without fanfare, donated over $2 million to community groups, and for this they are being honoured to ensure their contribution lives on,’ she said.
Mr Elliott said he was ‘a bit embarrassed’ at being honoured in such a way, but felt it had been an absolute privilege to be associated with the Byron sports committee.
Delvene Cornell said it was ‘quite an honour to have sports fields named after our family’, saying that as a boy, her husband John had been a boxer, ran marathons, played cricket and rode bikes ‘much like any other Aussie kid’.
She said he helped create the World Series Cricket series, and even though these days he was more a ‘champion at watching cricket’, his ‘love of sport is still strong’.
Delvene said sport promoted many positive traits in young people, improved their stamina, taught them skills and cunning, about ‘playing fairly and losing gracefully’, and revealed their true character, ‘so they too could become good sports’.
Mr Cornell proudly told The Echo afterwards that when he first came to Byron 30 years ago, he ‘dug deep’ and supported the local dragon-boat racing crew which then competed in Europe and won a world title.
He said many of that first crew were still involved in local sports, including Paul Irwin, and he was quite pleased with that.