Athletics at Nathan, water sports at Chandler – surely it can’t be long till they roll out Matilda again

For a couple of hours on Monday, Brisbane’s Olympic venue plan had the sniff of impressive research and planning for the future. Then the government got involved and we’re back to where we started, writes David Fagan

Mar 19, 2024, updated Mar 19, 2024
Matilda, who has spent most of the past 40 years at a Queensland fuel station, may as well be brought out of retirement for the Brisbane Olympics. (Image: ABC)

Matilda, who has spent most of the past 40 years at a Queensland fuel station, may as well be brought out of retirement for the Brisbane Olympics. (Image: ABC)

Athletics at Nathan. Aquatics at Chandler. The Games 2032 feel like a rerun of the Games 1982. So where’s Matilda?

And where, really, is the legacy from the patchwork solution pulled together in the state government backrooms while the committee tasked with sorting out Olympic and Paralympic venues was putting the final touches to its report last week?

We end up with a better Suncorp Stadium, a better but still highly substandard Gabba, a better but barely needed Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre (QSAC) at Nathan and a better aquatic centre at Chandler (but with no rapid transit systems to either of them).

And the truth is that Steven Miles (because this was his call) had no option other than to cut the cloth to fit after the years of bungling and buckpassing that has characterised planning for the Games.

Time is still on our side to get this right but the time is not right for this or any government to be telling the community it intends to spend multi-billions on new sporting stadiums when their votes are guided by concerns at insufficient spending on health, crime and housing. That’s how we’ve ended up with yesterday’s decisions.

We can only hope they are made with a bit more rigour than we’ve seen so far.

It’s only three months since the government’s chief bureaucrat, the Director-General of Premier and Cabinet Mike Kaiser, told his LinkedIn audience (which he updates daily) that the government had been applying the carpenter’s maxim to its decision to demolish then rebuild the Gabba.

“Measure twice, cut once. The expert advice is a rebuild (of the Gabba) is the best value and lowest risk option – we know what rennos can be like!….This isn’t just a new stadium. Like London 2012, it anchors the complete urban renewal of Woolloongabba. Has anyone regretted the investment in Southbank since Expo 88?”

That was then. The new expert advice from Graham Quirk’s review committee is that the Gabba is not just a bad stadium but has no hope of redemption (even with a full rebuild) to a 21st Century standard.

And after yesterday’s decision to give it a small “renno”, it will barely pass 20th Century muster.

So cricket lovers, get used to seeing the dead rubber Test matches rather than the season openers that have long been part of our life.

It’s hard to challenge the inclusion of Suncorp Stadium as a star act in the Brisbane Games. Despite the Gabba’s international fame, it’s the stadium that comes most to life and hosts our greatest regular sporting event, the State of Origin. It (unlike the other nominated Olympic venues) also has easy train and bus access.

The movement of both athletics and acquatucs so far out of the city are hindered by the absence of decent public transport. They are also so separated from each other, the disparate Games venues and the northside athletes’ village that it’s hard to see how the magic Olympic atmosphere can be created in this city in 2032.

With venues resolved (and I doubt they are because the carpenters may want to measure again), this will be an important focus for the Games organisers.

Graham Quirk was correct in his report to highlight the determination of the venues was about more than four weeks in 2032. It’s also about the longterm legacy to the city and state.

An important part of that legacy is not just the physical infrastructure but how we are seen. My concern is that, necessary as Steven Miles’ decision was this week, we will be seen as hicksville compared with the cohesive venues traditionally put together for Olympics and Paralympics.

An hour or more bus trip (if we’re lucky) from the athletics to the aquatics won’t cut it for visitors from around the world who only have a few days to enjoy their once-in-a-lifetime five-ringed circus.

A few other interesting but little noticed facts from the Quirk review.

. The disruption from the $2.5 billion Brisbane Live indoor arena planned for above the Roma Street rail yards (now moved 500 metres up Spring Hill) would have required an extra 200 buses on already busy roads for two years. They weren’t costed. Two hundred!!

. The use of QSAC at Nathan will require construction of a permanent bus hub capable of holding up to 150 buses at a time for just the four weeks of the Games – and with little to no use after.

At least QSAC is again getting some love. The painters were there Sunday (to the surprise of the athletes), sprucing it up for the cameras, no doubt. The carpenters will be next.

And where is Matilda?



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