The Acquisition and Development Of Playing Fields

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It is the natural and praiseworthy ambition of any progressive club to secure its own playing fields and in this respect the early pioneers of our club showed a long sighted view. As has already been mentioned play was initially confined to a ground on the old golf links, more familiarly known perhaps, to the residents of Johnsonville, as the Mara Estate.

The desirability of possessing its own playing grounds was early recognised and in 1904 the Johnsonville Town Board acquired by way of purchase the site on which our recreation grounds at present stand. The area, which was taken under the Public Works Act, comprised approximately 10 acres originally, and arrangements were made to raise a loan of £1000 to buy the land and to provide the necessary roadways, stands and other conveniences. Actually a roadway, which has since disappeared, was put in but the plans to erect stands appear never to have come to fruition. Subsequently the recreation reserve was partially sub-divided and a number of sections on the Field Street frontage were sold. The unwisdom of this action became apparent in later years when all the sections had to be repurchased, with the exception of one on which a house had been erected.

Visitors today to the recreation ground can have little conception of the original topography of the land. It consisted in its original state of an undulating piece of ground far from ideal for the making of football fields, rising at the highest part to a level of some 50 feet above the lowest boundary on the northern side of the reserve. However, funds for large scale improvements to the area were lacking and it remained in its pristine state for many years, though it is interesting to note that football, and even cricket, were played on the ground despite the natural handicaps.

It was not till 1919 that a concerted effort was made to bring the area into a reasonable state for playing of sports. In that year a combined carnival was held to raise funds for improvements and this culminated in a field day with a varied programme, comprising children’s events, foot races for adults and two football matches, one in the morning and the other (v.Porirua) in the afternoon. The administration of the money raised by this carnival and the development of plans for improvements to the recreation grounds were entrusted to a Combined Sports Committee, which shortly afterwards became the Johnsonville Sports Club.

The present generation of players and members has little idea of the magnitude of the task undertaken by the Johnsonville Sports Club and of the vast programme of improvements which it was able to have carried out. The original band, which comprised the membership of the Sports Club, included men of considerable practical experience in the type of work which was to be carried out and the enthusiasm of the whole of the members was unbounded. Not only did they plan, supervise and administer, but they were not above labouring themselves on the task in hand. Succeeding generations of players, and indeed the whole of the residents of Johnsonville, owe an undying debt of gratitude to the perspicacity, enthusiasm and wise administration of the Sports Club. Truly it may be said of them that “they builded better than they knew.” It is invidious to mention individual names from amongst a band in which every member pulled his full weight, but the names of Messrs. Charlie Watson, Arthur Washington and George Orr, who were foundation members of the Sports Club, seem to spring automatically to mind.

The first major work undertaken by the Sports Club was the shifting of a small pavilion erected on what is now known as No. 2 ground. Records are inconclusive on the point but this was probably erected about 1907. It was in 1920 that the shed was shifted to its present site, a distance of some 100 yards and the work was carried out entirely by voluntary labour. During 1921 improvements and additions, comprising the erection of a kitchen, ladies room, the provision of latrines, water and drainage and the installation of showers were carried out, most of this work, by the way, being also the efforts of voluntary labour

Season 1922 saw the commencement of the major undertaking, -viz., the levelling of No. 1 ground. Prior to engaging upon the work it had been necessary to build a sod wall along the northern end of the ground, the height of this wall varying from four feet to eight feet. All traces of this wall have now disappeared, but the work entailed, which was again carried out by voluntary labour, can well be imagined. After the completion of the wall a contract was let for levelling of the ground by means of ploughing and shifting the soil with a scoop. The value of this contract was £370, no trifling sum for those days and circumstances.

By this time the Sports Club had also acquired some very fine, and, by the standards of the day, modern equipment. It possessed, for example, a horse drawn mower which was specially imported from overseas, a horse dray, horse, line markers, boots for the horse, etc. Members of the Sports Club personally carried out a substantial amount of maintenance work and preparation of the grounds.

Not content to rest on its laurels the Sports Club set about putting No. 3 ground in order during the year l924. Some levelling work was carried out by contract, the amount of which was £350.

Having achieved the major portion of the programme of development and improvement of the playing areas, the Sports Club undertook, voluntarily, the work of maintenance of the ground and of seasonal preparation for the different types of sports played thereon. It continued in its great work until 1943, when it was disbanded. After a short lapse of time necessity induced the Johnsonville Town Board, which is of course the owner of the reserves, to set up a similar Organisation to the Sports Club for the purpose of maintaining, etc., the playing areas. The result was the formation of the Johnsonville District Combined Sports Bodies Association, which thus is really the successor to the defunct Johnsonville Sports Club, and which is carrying on the traditions established by its predecessor body.

This narrative would be incomplete, however, without mention of the amount expended by the Sports Club during its term of office. From the time of its inception to that of its dissolution in 1943, a period of some 23 years, the Sports Club expended an aggregate amount of £2,289 on the recreation grounds, all this money having been raised by the Sports Club by its own efforts, with corresponding relief to the ratepayers of the district.

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