Sunday, 5 January 2014

Adelaide’s New Field of Dreams

Back in Adelaide for Christmas and our hometown is definitely changing. After years of languishing in its own financial crisis (commonly referred to by locals as ‘The State Bank Disaster’) during the 1980’s, the old town is finally beginning to claw its way back and is starting to provide tangible evidence of a more prosperous future. One of the most significant signs has been the return of construction cranes across the city skyline with some major government funded building projects beginning to take shape. One of the most notable has been the recent re-construction of one of the city’s most famous landmarks, The Adelaide Oval. This has also been one of the most controversial developments ever undertaken in the city, as the old cricket ground has long been considered one of the most beautiful sports grounds in the world. Here in Australia this is truly hallowed turf, where history has been made, sporting dramas unfolded and where players became legends. With a proud history that dates back to 1871, this is Australia’s very own ‘field of dreams’!

In past years, many South Australians like us spent lazy summer days laying back on its grassy mounds or sitting in the shade of its elegant old grandstands watching cricket much like the early pioneers had done a century before. Apart from the occasional concert, cricket was just about all that occurred there, with Aussie Rules football departing to suburban grounds in the 1970’s. However, the grounds prime position within easy walking distance from the city centre had long been recognized as the ideal location for a much larger sporting arena similar to the famed MCG in Melbourne. So after years of public debate, negotiations between the various sporting codes and with government financial support, the deal was finally done. By 2014 Adelaide would have its own world-class stadium at a cost of $535 million and the old ground, as generations had known it, would be no more.

By the end of 2013 the new facility had already hosted its first international cricket match and with a Rolling Stones concert planned for March, the new Adelaide Oval was now almost complete, so we decided to take a walk around the complex to see it for ourselves close-up. This was a very strange experience for Jules and myself, as when we left Adelaide in 2009 the old oval was still very much in tack. Now, as we looked toward the ground from the statue of Colonel Light (the city’s original town planner) in its elevated position on Montefore Hill, the scene was almost unrecognizable. The most notable reminder of the old days was the traditional wooden scoreboard that still remains at the northern end, but it was dwarfed by the concrete and steel structures that now surround much of the ground. Having taken a tour through this Edwardian tin and wood structure many years ago, and having viewed firsthand the antiquated mechanisms and the conditions that scorekeepers endure during a game, it now appeared not surprisingly out of place, particularly set alongside the large digital screen right next door. Being a heritage building we felt reassured by the knowledge that it would be preserved in some way, but we couldn’t help think that its tenure at the new ground was now limited.

As we walked around the ground and entered through the new gates to view a brief video about the ovals great history, we continued to debate the wisdom of the decision to re-invent this beautiful old ground. I had visited Wrigley Field in Chicago several years ago and had very much respected the way this bastion of baseball had been lovingly preserved, yet on the other hand we had also seen the ‘Birds Nest’ Olympic stadium in Beijing and noted what a significant landmark it had become. After all it wasn’t just the viewing of sport that had instigated such a major decision, but rather the broader ramifications of such a development upon the mindset of the city as a whole. Such a major economic, social and cultural landmark would certainly have huge implications for the future of Adelaide that were simply too great to ignore. While Jules largely remained unconvinced, preferring the elegance of the old ground, the new stadium was beginning to win me over. Although, I too am a traditionalist at heart, I acknowledge that modern sport is very much big business these days requiring state of the art facilities and while a brand new stadium may have been a more desirable option, it always remained an economical pipe dream. So in this case progress had defeated tradition and while the initial signs are positive and the stadium itself impressive, only time will tell whether it was indeed the right decision.

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