Member for Whitsunday Lorraine Bird with Broncos player Julian O'Neill and Shire Chairman Cr Glen Patullo at the opening of the Sportspark on 19 October 1991.
Member for Whitsunday Lorraine Bird with Broncos player Julian O'Neill and Shire Chairman Cr Glen Patullo at the opening of the Sportspark on 19 October 1991.

GALLERY: Sportspark’s history of community triumphs

THERE have been many tales of triumphs and tears at the Whitsunday Sportspark as teams battled it out on pitch, field and court, but for president Justin Butler, a lasting memory of his sporting days was the distinct stench of mercurochrome.

Before its opening on October 19 1991, the sportspark was a dump site.

“The only hard land there was where the carpark is … the rest of it was all sort of mangrove country and it was a big dump where everything was sort of backed up and thrown in the ocean,” Mr Butler said.

“The thing would resonate the most with most of the readers who were around in that era was the fact that any sport you played, if you cut your knee, grazed your knee, any cuts or bruises were infected straight away because of the old dump site.

“Not that it was a major issue, but sales of mercurochrome and antiseptic were pretty strong in the town because it was just quite common that you’d go and play sport and then two days later you’d have all these infected cuts where you’d grazed a knee.”

The opening of the Whitsunday Sportspark.
The opening of the Whitsunday Sportspark.

Mr Butler has been president of the park for six years, but has kicked a ball around on the field since the mid ‘90s.

“I can remember playing touch footy down there and there used to be a caravan that touch footy and rugby shared,” he said.

“The president would roll up to training or games with the caravan on the back of their car and that’s where you would do your sign up.”

The park has since come a long way from the days mercurochrome and caravans with the construction of a new clubhouse set to begin over the coming months.

However, the humble beginnings of the park have been fondly remembered by Mr Butler.

“A group of local sportspeople decided the growing town needed a sporting complex back in the late 70s,” he said.

“Airlie Beach being such a new town didn’t have the big a population back then so you basically had to go into Prossie to play any sport.”

The official opening ceremony saw a visit from Broncos player Julian O’Neill who cut the ribbon, before tree planting, flag raising and what was described at the time as a “zesty” rugby game.

The rangers challenged the local police in the relay.
The rangers challenged the local police in the relay.

More than 15 teams competed in the Aussie Challenge relay where the rangers challenged the local police, with the rangers coming out on top and police given a wooden commemorative spoon.

Several heats were run for the first Whitsunday Gift and about 30 people took part in Whitsunday Fun Run.

At the opening, then Whitsunday Shire Council Glen Patullo said the Sportspark was the result of hard work and dedication from the community.

“John Bell and his committee just didn’t know the words ‘give in’ and council was heavily lobbied,” Cr Patullo told the Whitsunday Times at the opening.

Mr Butler said this community spirit still existed within the park today and thanked all the volunteers who have kept sport in Airlie Beach alive.

The last Whitsunday Times will appear in print on Thursday, but rest assured there will still be journalists on the ground in the community covering the stories that matter most, including sport, in the new digital-only era.