OPINION: Boandik Lodge pleads for funds while city ‘spends’ $40m

MOUNT Gambier aged care centre Boandik Lodge is the perfect example of how society is in danger of getting its priorities wrong by spending $40m on an indoor sports centre.

Last week it was revealed that Boandik Lodge was building a $4.5m hydrotherapy pool for its residents and community.

It has received a $150,000 state government grant, but along with its own finances is seeking sponsorship and donations from businesses to help fund the project.

This is a typical project I wrote about last week when I questioned whether society had its priorities wrong by spending huge amounts on sport when there were other areas of the community in need of help.

Nearly every week a front page news story in this newspaper highlights a different heart-breaking story on health, hospitals or aged care, where government funds are urgently sought.

Yet, here we have a situation where we might spend four times more than any other infrastructure project in the city’s history on sport.

When writing my column last week I understood I was going to upset local MPs, some councillors and sports people, but did not expect the amazing support I received from other areas of the community.

Someone had to put the other side to the debate and bring a common sense perspective by highlighting many in the community would go without, including Boandik Lodge, if society went ahead ploughing so much money into a sports centre.

The column definitely struck a chord.

One section of people I feel sorry for are those who have lobbied hard for 15 years for a heated indoor pool.

City council made a promise it would revisit the project when its debt was under control, which it fulfilled, but when the project suddenly involved an indoor sports centre and ballooned out to $40m, the heated pool copped collateral damage.

With only a heated pool, loans and running costs would be less.

Since last week, I understand a 25 metre pool is what modern day communities require and Victor Harbor is a perfect example.

I suggested ratepayers might be prepared to support a $20m-$25m project.

A heated pool is a worthy project for consideration on its own, but is now linked to a sports centre which comes with a $40m price tag.

I learnt years ago there is more to life than sport.

I played top level local sport for many years, including basketball for 20 years, 18 in A grade.

A four-time premiership player, I lost more grand finals than I can remember, mainly to Panthers, the best team I played against.

I was playing-coach of three clubs, Waratah, Roos and Bulldogs, played inter-town for Mount Gambier and playing-coach of Mount Gambier’s first SA Country Carnival senior men’s title, winning A reserve in 1981.

I loved sport and wrote about it, so people might believe I would support a sport centre.

As a newspaperman, I realised sport is hardly relative when someone has a life-threatening condition, and with no government health funding, these issues become the important community causes to champion.

I was taught to stand up for the person in the street and give them a voice through what I wrote.

It was also about common sense, fairness, keeping things in perspective and challenging authority to ensure they spend money where it is most needed.

I make no apologies for that.

Over the years I have won a few battles and lost plenty, but each time I enjoyed the respect of people I was campaigning for, and sometimes even those I opposed.

This was a difficult issue to address because at first it seemed like one against thousands, and who knows how ratepayers will vote, if given the chance, but the level of support, with people walking up to me in the street, shaking my hand, thanking me for standing up for them, is something I have never experienced in 55 years in newspapers.

What they indicated was $40m was too much for sport and as ratepayers they were not prepared to pay for it.

Maybe the sleeping giant has woken.