There are many great reasons why Sydney’s inner-west is a great place to live, including our heritage neighbourhoods, buzzing main streets, great nightlife, active and engaged community and close access to CBD.
However, there is one significant downside to Inner West life – a lack of open space.
Last year, Inner West Council commissioned a Recreational Needs Study which found that many Inner West suburbs have comparatively low levels of open space.
These suburbs tend to be congregated around the central and southern parts of the LGA, along the Inner West and Bankstown lines.
Across the LGA, the average amount of open space per person is 13.3 sq/m
This compares to a low open space rate person of just 1.2 sq/m in Enmore, 2 sq/m in Stanmore, 3.8 sq/m in Lewisham, 4.3 sq/m in Summer Hill and 4.5 sq/m in Dulwich Hill (where I live).
The good news is that Inner West Council has unveiled a plan to create hectares of new parkland which will service the central and southern suburbs which are most in need of new and improved open space.
This includes creating sporting fields, wetlands, riverside pathways with naturalised banks, picnic areas, playgrounds and a community nursery and educational area.
This work will play an important role in the ongoing environmental repair of the Cooks River, which at present is plagued with ugly foreshore sheet piling. It will also help implement long-held strategies to filter, cleanse and naturalise waterways leading into the river.
The exhibited plan of management also includes a proposal to build a new Cooks River crossing for pedestrians and cyclists, which will improve greatly on the poorly-designed and dangerous Wardell Rd bridge.
In short, this new 10 hectare area has the potential to become a new riverside recreational oasis. Importantly, it will create the long-awaited southern bookend of the Sydney Harbour to Cooks River GreenWay, along with complete a missing section of the Cooks River cycling and walking route.
The bad news is that a relatively small number of people (just 368 to be exact) are trying to block this plan which will benefit many tens of thousands of Inner West residents.
Strong reasons in favour of parkland proposal
The draft plan of management released by the council proposes to turn Marrickville Golf Course from 18 holes to nine holes, to create this new open space.
The reasons for doing this are compelling.
Golf, as a sport, is dying. The 2018 Golf Participation Report, prepared by Golf Australia, shows that the number of golf club members has fallen by 0.7 per cent each year for the last five years to June 2017.
This trend is reflected in the membership of Marrickville Golf Club, which has dropped from 409 members to just 368 members in 2017-2018 alone, according to the Inner West Council draft plan of management which is currently on exhibition.
What’s more, golf as a general rule is played by the elderly – the average age of a male member is 56 years and the average age of a female member is 64 years.
In 2016-17, just 5.5 per cent of Australians participated in golf. Further unpacked, 9.2 per cent of men play sport and just 1.9 per cent of women – proof that the sport is not only declining, but also fails the diversity test.
This compares to 42 per cent of the population which take part in recreational walking, 14.9 per cent in jogging and running, 9.8 per cent in cycling and seven per cent in football and soccer.
Given the above, there can be no justification for a single golf club to occupy this land.
The club claims that 20,000 play golf at the course each year. This sounds on face value like an impressive number, but it would surely fade into insignificance compared to the number of people which would flock to this regionally-significant new open space.
Spurious claims against the parkland proposal
Despite the above, this council’s proposal is opposed by the golf club.
Some of the claims made in opposition to the proposal cannot be justified.
One of the claims that has been made is that, by reducing the golf course to nine holes, it would make the council unviable and therefore make the land “being alienated and targeted for sell-off in the future”.
I can’t comment on the viability argument, but the claim that the golf course would be sold-off to developers is without basis.
The remaining nine hole golf course would largely sit on Crown land managed by the council, which has been set aside for public recreation since at least 1911.
You cannot imagine under any circumstance which the government or the council would move to sell-off this land.
What’s more the community outrage would not allow it to happen.
The next claim is that “the course is heavily used by the local community as both active and passive recreation space. Golfers, dog walkers, pedestrians, runners and bio-diversity volunteers all share the space currently.”
The draft plan of management also puts this one to bed. It states that the feedback from the community, which was used to inform the draft plan, was that “the constant threat of being hit by a golf ball was significant” and scared people off entering the course.
Furthermore, there was uncertainty among the community as to whether the public were even allowed to access the lands.
A third argument is that the golf course provides facilities to the public, through its licensed club. This argument is de-bunked by the fact that the club will get to keep its clubhouse while additional community facilities, such as a community nursery and educational area, will be provided in the parklands area.
This area of Marrickville hasn’t always had an 18-hole golf course.
An original nine-hole golf course opened up in 1940. At that time, it sat alongside a foreshore park called Riverside Park, which from historic photographs looked to be a very pretty area with picnic areas and children’s play equipment.
It wasn’t until 1954 that the additional nine holes were opened and Riverside Park disappeared.
It’s time for the people of Marrickville and Dulwich Hill to re-claim half of Marrickville golf course to allow this important land to be used for the many, not the few.