Canberrans have long loved their sport. Going right back to Canberra's early years, our region was home to a variety of active sporting clubs. Our first public sporting ground, Manuka Oval, was opened in 1923 and the Canberra Golf Club was established in Acton in 1926.
Fast forward 50 or so years when interest and investment in local sporting facilities was booming and the idea for an aquatic facility that had the potential to be the best of its kind in Australia was suggested for Canberra.
The 1980s was a decade of excess. It was the time to go big - big hair, big shoulder pads and big ideas. And one of the biggest ideas in Canberra at the time was to bring an aquatic wonderland to Jerrabomberra Creek. The initial focus was to develop a world-class rowing facility. While Lake Burley Griffin provided some facilities for rowing, it did not cater well for senior-level competition. Spurred on by rowing's peak bodies, a preliminary study was undertaken "to determine how an international-standard rowing course could be accommodated at a site on Jerrabomberra Creek".
In October 1983, members of the ACT Rowing Association, the Australian Rowing Council, the World Rowing Federation (FISA), the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of Territories inspected the Jerrabomberra Creek site, bordered by Hindmarsh Drive and the Monaro Highway. FISA's Australasian delegate pronounced that a rowing course on the site "has the potential to be the best in Australia; providing a top-class facility for the AIS, local, state and international regattas".
However, proponents soon had bigger plans and early discussions resulted in three suggested options:
Option A - Basic development with a 2km rowing course and facilities for water skiing, including a boat ramp.
Option B - Developed recreational lake. This option built upon Option A and included an enclosed swimming area, golf course, rowing and canoeing club, and additional public facilities.
Option C - Formal recreational lake. This option built upon Option B and considered the potential for urban development in the Jerrabomberra Valley with the lake as a focal point.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing.
As is the norm with most projects of this magnitude, there were some obstacles to overcome. The development site was home to major water supply and sewerage infrastructure, namely in the form of the Googong water supply mains and Jerrabomberra Truck Sewer. There was also a major electricity line planned by Actew for the area. The Defence facility Naval Receiving Station (NRS) Bonshaw was nearby, a High-Frequency (HF) Receiving Station, and there were limitations placed on the types of activities that could be conducted in the surrounding area so as to not produce potential interference.
These obstacles appeared too difficult to overcome and the plans were shelved.
Fast forward to 1996 and an enthusiastic ACT Rowing Association lobbied for the proposal to be revived. Their focus was to address the fact that there was still no high-quality rowing course in the region but they were also keen for authorities to consider a venue to cater for canoeing, water skiing and jet skiing, the belief being that "the Jerrabomberra proposal offers exciting opportunities to broaden the base of the ACT's sporting facilities and assist in attracting more events and training squads to the city". A feasibility study was commissioned at a cost of about $100,000.
The basic re-imagined plan was for two basins: a main basin incorporating a rowing and canoeing facility to cater for international-level competition and a secondary basin providing a marshalling and warm-up area as well as a facility for competition water skiing. The concept began to grow and soon there was the suggestion to incorporate whitewater kayaking, canoe polo, power boating, cycling and triathlons.
Meetings and a Value Management Study held at the ANU in 1997 produced many suggestions for the site, with developers interacting with water sport associations, government departments and private enterprises to gauge their response. Benefits of the project included an increase in tourism, the generation of revenue and increasing land values for residential development nearby, all while being ecologically and economically sustainable.
So why aren't we now kayaking down Jerrabomberra Creek or frolicking on Jerrabomberra Beach? The precise reasons are unclear, but correspondence between the consulting engineers and Actew Corporation in late 1997 give us some strong ideas as to why the grand plan for Jerrabomberra Creek never went ahead. As much as the average person loves sport, they tend to love a reliable electricity supply and sewerage services even more. The locations of the Mugga/Googong and Red Hill/Queanbeyan water mains were problematic as they were located very close to the development. This existing infrastructure would require protection, but by late 1997 it had become apparent that the need to protect this infrastructure would severely limit "options for lake orientation and shaping", not to mention a price tag of approximately $600,000 for earthworks alone.
Apart from sewerage, Actew had substantial power supply infrastructure in the proposed area and the costs to relocate this infrastructure were eye-watering. Canberra was rapidly growing, and the Jerrabomberra area was ripe with potential to house newcomers to the area. The investment needed for sewering was in the vicinity of $60 million. There was also growing concern that the development would have a significant effect on flood levels and the lake footprint.
By the end of 1997, the odds were stacked against the proposed Lake Jerrabomberra Aquatic Park. The idea does not appear to have been raised since, and we are left to ponder what might have been.
- From ArchivesACT
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