Balance. In all sorts of realms, finding balance is a difficult thing. Balance in work and play. Balance in how you treat different employees and different children. Balance in the amount of sport on TV you watch compared to the amount of reality shows you watch.
From a local government perspective, true balance is the Holy Grail that we all chase; balance in terms of the most appropriate use of funds to be the most beneficial to the most people; balance in terms of being fair to all residents (in particular when you have situations where a single decision will be in favour of one resident and exactly the opposite of what another resident wants); and balance in terms of the short-term view versus the long-term benefits for the community.
One area where I believe many Councils struggle is in the area of building sporting facilities verse cultural facilities. Australia has a rich history in sport and we punch well above our weight (or our population to be more accurate) on the world stage. We love our sport and we have huge participation across all activities; therefore it would seem obvious that building sporting facilities would feature high on Councils' agendas. The balancing act is to make sure a community does not become so sport obsessed that other parts of society are excluded. I am sure you would remember at school that the captain of the footy team was a hero but the dux of the school was a nerd. Ten years after school if I was on the operating table I would certainly prefer to look up and see the dux with a scalpel in his hand rather than the captain of the footy team. But I digress.
I well remember Kieren Perkins being in Dubbo in December 2006 and I asked him how Australia, with such a small population, could be so successful on the world swimming stage. While we stood beside our Olympic pool, he pointed to it and said: “Every country town across Australia has one of these". And he is right. So many small places in Australia have 50m pools - although they may not technically be ‘Olympic standard’ pools. Comparatively, Australia has 47 pools that measure up to the rules as defined by FINA while England has just 15. With 800,000 pools across Australia and 20,000 more being added each year, we build more pools per capita than any other country.
Yet, when the idea of a pool for Dubbo was first discussed there were many who felt the money could be better spent on other projects. A referendum taken among Dubbo people to ascertain their feelings about the necessity for a pool resulted in a “No” vote and it took many years for the project to gain favour. The argument, apparently, was that we had a perfectly good river so why would Council waste £28,000 (about $14.3 million in present value) on a pool. Just swim in the river! The first pool committee formed in 1897. Plans were drawn up in 1908 and again in 1927 before it was finally built in 1935 (the same pool we have today). The story sounds remarkably similar to the history of our Theatre. Many people would be familiar with the struggle from the arts community over many years to have Council build a world-class theatre. The (quite valid) argument was that Dubbo had excellent sporting facilities but lacked cultural facilities. The time taken to finally build a pool and the processes involved seem remarkably similar as the process to build the $18 million Theatre. People had discussed the concept of the Theatre at various levels and Council formed a working party to start the formal investigations in 1994. With the Western Plains Cultural Centre opening in 2006 and the Dubbo Regional Theatre and Convention Centre (DRTCC) opening in 2010 – in addition to our Shoyoen Japanese and Sensory Gardens in 2002 and 2011 and several library refurbs – it might be seen that the sport/cultural balance has been somewhat rectified over the past 10 years.
As with every true sporting contest, there is always a comeback on the cards and the constant sporing/cultural balance will ebb and flow. The recent grant from the Federal and State Governments ($4.65 million towards a $5.22 million project) for the Barden Park facility is an excellent injection into the sporting landscape for Dubbo and will deliver a world-class sporing facility in much the same way that we have a world-class theatrical facility with our DRTCC.
In much the same way that our Theatre delivers people to Dubbo from a wide area (30 per cent of the patrons come from outside Dubbo) the new athletics facility will host carnivals that attract people from across the state. The process with this particular grant application was also an indication of the way grant applications will occur going forward. After missing out on a grant for the same facility in round one of the Regional Development Australia Fund, Council was told it needed more external supporting documentation for the ongoing sustainability for the facility. A report was commissioned – at a cost of $24,500 – that clearly showed the region would have an ongoing increase in its Gross Regional Product of $2.5 million annually and 14 full-time jobs would be created - that's on top of the 39 full-time jobs created during construction. The report also showed various health and social benefits. Ultimately there will be a constant struggle in any community among the different pursuits that people undertake but I think Dubbo is currently very well serviced and balanced – and you can rest assured we will continue to try and keep improving what we have.
Let me know if you think we have the balance right at firstname.lastname@example.org