Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

4.5.15

The footy oval at the bottom of the valley.

Sixty years ago, several enterprising gentlemen purchased an abandoned building site in West Essendon. It was no surprise the estate was abandoned. Despite being close to sub-division, it sat on a cliff. The street plan had been submitted to the planning authorities, was printed in the 1955 edition of the Melways street directory, and then deleted in the next edition.

Potential builders looked at the site and were stunned. "Can't build on that," they exclaimed. "It's a cliff. Get a decent rain after you gouge into that, and you'll have a billion tons of mud and several earthmovers at the bottom of the valley floating down Steele Creek."

So they put it up for sale, to whoever would be mad enough to buy it.

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The several enterprising gentlemen bought it. They wanted to build a school. But where to put the actual building?

"Never mind where to put the school," said one, who played football and had his priorities right. "Let's make a start on the footy oval."

They borrowed someone's earthmover and a steamroller, scratched out a zig-zag road to the bottom of the valley, and carved out a primitive oval on the mudflats next to the creek.

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That oval, the home of St Bernard's Old Collegians, is still there, on the south west corner of the estate. They built the school about ten years later on the north east side on a shelf carved into the cliff. The south east end, being steeper, remained a virtual cliff until last year, when someone got brave enough to try to use the cliff-like hill to house football (and cricket) spectators.

They started digging in winter. Massive gouges appeared in the earth. The hill held, the reason being that it seemed to be mostly rock. Over the course of excavation, thousands of boulders were unearthed. Most ended up at the bottom of the valley, piled up next to the oval like a giant cairn. Later, they were used to rebuild the perimeter, half-buried in between landscaping grass amongst the weed matting, like studs in a leather couch.

One night last winter I was running slow laps on the oval. It had rained for several days and I expected a landslide to bury me at any moment. An earthmover was perched at a seemingly dangerous angle way above me. You'd have to be brave to drive an earthmover in a place like that. Clinging to the hill on a narrow cutting, it looked like one of those mountain goats that stand on cliffs. How do they do it?

After they made the first cut, they made another, higher up. Sheer madness. They were terracing the cliff! The idea was to tap into the iconic concept of drive-in parking, a feature of football grounds well known around country towns and some suburban ovals.

Then they joined the two levels via a hairpin-bended switchback, paved the lot, landscaped the hill and put in strong barriers for the inevitable occasion(s) when someone, parking, will hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

The view from both levels is like the upper tiers at Etihad stadium, except the sky is your roof (if you have an open-top car), and you don't have someone sitting half a centimetre away on either side.
In reviving this legendary and much-loved feature of the game, St Bernard's has turned the iconic footy drive-in into a cutting edge landscaping statement that thumbs its nose at the pastel plasticised anonymity of its grandstand contemporaries. As an example of urban infrastructure, it is as brave and as fearless as the feats performed way below on the oval.
- Uber-Urban Architect

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Once again the blasts of car horns greeting every goal will reverberate across the valley. Not sure whether the residents in their mock-palatial 1980s mansionettes on the other side of the valley will enjoy it.

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