York Park, now known as Aurora Stadium, has always been central to sporting and cultural life in Launceston and the northern region, but it is only since 1999, that it has firmly established itself as the home of AFL football in Tasmania.
To see an exceptional, but none the less essentially regional facility, transform to AFL standard and sentiment needs a number of driving factors to come together. The place has to have potential, a dream and dreamers, a plan, support and a dash of good luck.
There was no doubt that the York Park of 1998 had the potential to be raised to AFL standard. It had played host to many of the State’s momentous football moments including perhaps the most famous of all – the 1960 match between Tasmania and Victoria where in front of a crowd of 15,000 the home team won.
To fully understand the potential of the place however, you need to understand the location of the City of Launceston. It is centrally located in the State. No place is more than around two and a half hours away, particularly Hobart, the capital and the urban centres of Devonport and Burnie in the northwest.
Launceston is also less than an hours drive from Devonport. Robin McKendrick, Chairman of the York Park Inveresk Precinct Authority (YPIPA) explains why this is so important. “I’ve done a lot of football games ‘Adelaide style’. There, you watch the busloads of fans arrive in from Melbourne. These people spend a couple of nights in that city. They go to the game and then look at what else Adelaide has to offer. That’s great for Adelaide and South Australia’s economy.
‘ Here in Tasmania, thanks to the foresight and commitment of the Bacon Government, we’ve now got two ‘buses’ to ferry fans across Bass Strait – Spirit 1 and 2. When they arrive at Devonport, it’s less than an hour from ‘Port to Park which is pretty good.’
It’s also interesting to note than when the independent group of architects were asked by the State Government to assess potential sites to establish an AFL ground in Tasmania, York Park ranked the best, primarily due to the City’s central location. Other contributing factors where the ample parking around the facility and that it was only a five minute walk from the Central Business District where the visitor could find accommodation, restaurants and experiences to support their visit. York Park has always been the potential winner!’ he added.
There have been leaders from both political sides, who have seen the potential of York Park. In 1998 as part of his re-election campaign, then Bass liberal member, Warwick Smith, made the re-development of York Park (now Aurora Stadium), an election promise.
‘ Warwick was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election but the Federal Liberals stood by the commitment and York Park (now Aurora Stadium) received a $5m injection to upgrade the facility to AFL standard’ recalls the former Launceston City Council General Manager Bob Campbell. ‘I remember at the time when the $5m was confirmed I thought to myself that whilst it was a great thing (no Council in their right mind would turn such an offer down) how on earth were we going to make it work? $5m was not enough to do the things we had to do to bring the complex up to AFL standard. We had to widen and lengthen the ground adding an all-weather sand-based surface, build a 2,500 seat capacity grand stand incorporating corporate and player facilities, install state of the art lights and an electronic scoreboard at very minimum. ‘
‘The history of the Inveresk precinct – the $43m inner-city precinct development involving Council through York Park and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, the University and TAFE through the Academy of the Arts and the Royal Launceston Show Society had, from its inception, demanded innovative responses to both physical and financial challenges that would have made most councils run and hide.’ Mr Campbell said.
‘ Our aim was to create a cultural precinct for the City and State that featured a museum, art gallery, the visual and performing arts of the University, a vibrant student culture, trams, trains and football; but not just any football – our national game – the one we’re so passionate about!’
‘ Not so good leaders always go for a quick fix. Good leaders will see the bigger and longer game and make decisions to support their dreams. They have courage. They also bring others along with them. We set about establishing partnerships to help us with the precinct project and the York Park redevelopment. The Federal and State governments thankfully responded favourably. I thought it was telling that when Prime Minister Howard stood beside then mayor Alderman John Lees at the official opening of the York Park re-development in 1999 he made the comment that from these projects bigger things grow. How true that’s proved’ he added.
Bringing together the success factors for long-term gain was always part of the dream and understanding of Tasmania’s Premier, Jim Bacon. The State’s hunger for involvement in AFL, either through mounting our own side or having matches played here was legendary. The Premier’s desire to satisfy that hunger, his commitment and partnership to Launceston and York Park (now Aurora Stadium) and his relationship with the Hawthorn Football Club all combined to eventually see the realisation of AFL in Tasmania.
Timing can be everything. At the same time that York Park was being redeveloped, Bacon’s Government was in discussion with Hawthorn Football Club with the aim of making Tasmania their second home.
The State Government struck an agreement with Hawthorn and in 2001, the first year of AFL in Tasmania, there was one game – Hawthorn V Adelaide. The Hawks won in front of a record crowd of 17,460, toppling the previous record of 15,600 at the 1960 Tasmanian triumph against Victoria.
The following year, 2002, two games were played – Hawthorn V Fremantle where the Hawks won by 9 points in front of a crowd of 15,100 and Hawthorn V Port Adelaide where Port Adelaide won but AFL in Tasmania was the victor. The near capacity crowd of 18,122 broke the previous year’s record. AFL football had arrived in Tasmania. The people had voted with their feet and their support.
In 2003, 5 AFL games were played at York Park:
Pre-season Wizard Cup game St Kilda V Hawthorn; Premiership games: Hawthorn V West Coast Eagles; St Kilda V Port Adelaide; Hawthorn V Fremantle and St Kilda V Western Bulldogs. In 2004 there were 5 games scheduled at York Park (now Aurora Stadium).
And on October 30 a Rugby World Cup match – Namibia V Romania - an international standard game on our international standard surface.
The potential of York Park (now Aurora Stadium) and AFL in Tasmania has been realised, the dreamers proved leaders, the plan rewarding and the support signed, sealed and delivered.
Aurora Stadium…the home of AFL football in Tasmania.