By Ted McKeown, Bulletin 2/2024, April 

Wentworth Park at dusk (Image: Phil Vergison)
Wentworth Park grandstand (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

It is somehow comforting to know that neither side of State politics has a monopoly on hare-brained schemes as regards Wentworth Park.

Back in July 2016, the Liberal Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, made the ’brave’ decision to ban greyhound racing in this State, a decision that would, of course,  have led to the closure of the greyhound track at Wentworth Park. In this context, he mused that the government might build a 14,000-seat indoor stadium on the park, having demolished the Entertainment Centre at Darling Harbour while failing to replace it with a venue that could host sports like basketball.

  The Glebe rugby league team (the ‘Dirty Reds’  has been playing at Wentworth Park since 1908
The Glebe rugby league team, the Dirty Reds, has been playing at Wentworth Park since 1908 (Photo: Tim Hesketh)

In my capacity as the former chairman of the Wentworth Park Sporting Complex Trust, I was asked by Jacob Saulwick of the Sydney Morning Herald what my reaction was to this apparent embarrassing own-goal by the government, to which I responded (perhaps inadvisedly since my response was published), “Stiff shit”. I stand by the sentiment, if not the expression.

The government also toyed with the idea of building a school in the park. It did so, but only a temporary one – to house the children from Ultimo Public School, and then the children from Fort Street Public School, while their schools were rebuilt. That temporary structure has now been removed.

The decision to ban greyhound racing was rescinded in October 2016 before it ever came into effect.

Through all this, the constant leitmotif was that the Greyhound Breeders Owners and Trainers Association (GBOTA) would vacate Wentworth Park no later than 2027 when its licence expires. This was apparently accepted by GBOTA, presumably because it could see the writing on the wall for metropolitan greyhound racing – attendance on race nights at Wentworth Park has fallen to virtually nothing, and those that attend are principally breeders, owners and trainers of greyhounds. The then Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, did commit to converting the greyhound track to ’newly activated, publicly accessible open space as part of a larger and enhanced parkland’. But the future of the greyhound infrastructure itself, with its hideous and practically useless grandstand, was left up in the air.  

Wentworth Park Stadium and demolished school rooms
Wentworth Park Stadium and demolished school rooms (Photo: Tim Hesketh)

As a reminder, Wentworth Park is Crown Land, having been proclaimed as a public park in 1885. The Blackwattle Bay Land Reclamation Act 1873 (as amended in 1888) provided for the reclamation of the swamp land at the head of Blackwattle Bay, which was to be ’set apart and dedicated in perpetuity for a park or place of public recreation.’ It is still a public park and, as far as I can tell, we have not reached ’perpetuity’ yet. This is in no way diminished by the presence of the greyhound track, or the fact that 90% of the grandstand is in truth a commercial office building in a public park.

Fast forward to February 2024, and we now have a State Labor government, and here we go again. If we can believe the Sydney Morning Herald of 22 February, all the decisions taken by the former government are now off the table. Instead:

  • the Lands and Property Minister, Steve Kamper, is apparently reconsidering the future of the park, including ’the continuity of some form of racing ‘and the introduction of ’other activities’; and
  • the GBOTA is apparently having second thoughts about leaving Wentworth Park, since the government has not found it an alternative site, or presumably the funds (said to be in the order of $100 million!) to move.

The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is quoted as saying:

Wentworth Park sits in the middle of one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Australia and is dominated by a greyhound racing track. This parkland should be for the benefit of the community, not an industry that has admitted to killing 17,000 healthy dogs each year, has been shown to live-bait, and causes problem gamblers real suffering.

It would be bitterly disappointing if the government backed down, indicating the greyhound industry is more important to them than the community of Pyrmont/Ultimo.

This is a sentiment with which we heartily agree, except perhaps that the reference to Pyrmont/Ultimo should be a reference to Glebe/Pyrmont/Ultimo. Wentworth Park is and always has been in Glebe, and is a jewel in our crown, although we are happy to share it with Pyrmont and Ultimo.

Oh well, back to the barricades!