Nov 11, 2019In The Community

Darren Lockyer’s Old School Oval Rescued from Drought

The tough, brown oval where Darren Lockyer learnt to play rugby league has been resurrected as a green oasis for the next generation of regional Queensland sporting stars.

Though they might not have to endure quite as many grazed knees and elbows.

In one of the biggest community activities in recent years – completed at the weekend – Wandoan State School P&C and gas companies have led efforts to drought-proof the school’s two ovals.

A team of almost 100 volunteers came together over the past four weekends to cover 7,500sq m of playing fields with 150 tonnes of turf. The contrast is stark – fresh, green grass where it’s previously been as scarce as an Origin series victory for the Blues.

But the two-year project has been a much longer game. Natural gas companies Senex Energy and the Shell-operated QGC venture have funded more than half the $150,000 cost of the turf, an irrigation system and a new pipe to bring treated water from council bores. The P&C has raised funds for the remainder, Western Downs Regional Council is supplying the water free and the Education Department funded installation of a wildlife fence to protect the new grass from kangaroos and rabbits.

P&C President Greg Zillman, who has two daughters at the school, knows more than most how tough the playing fields have been. He played rugby league for the school in the mid-80s with his classmate Darren Lockyer, who was a pupil for about five years.

“I’ve got many great memories of playing, practising goal-kicking together on the bottom oval and watching State of Origin together,” Mr Zillman said.

“Darren obviously went on to great things but I’ve got no doubt that these ovals are special to him as one of the places where it all began.”

Mr Zillman said drought‐proofing the ovals meant the school could host big regional sporting events, bringing broader economic benefits to the town.

“It’s a big deal for the school and the kids,” Mr Zillman said. “They’re absolutely stoked with it and I can’t wait to see them fall all over the fresh grass and have a bit of fun.

“It was a big push by the teachers and the P&C endorsed that and we wanted to help.

“The students will fundamentally be the beneficiaries of this project but it will have ripple benefits to the school staff, parents and wider community.”

Shell’s QGC Project Manager Ricky Learman said it was great to see the work completed after working with the community to help make it a reality.

“This is a great project – not just for the kids and the school, but the town as well,” he said. “We’re proud to have played a part.”

Senex chief executive Ian Davies said he hoped the ovals might serve an even broader purpose than as a cradle for the next generation of sports stars.

“Wandoan has worked hard for this win and it’s been truly exciting to be part of it. We’re doubly excited because we hope it gives the local kids an edge in the classroom after they’ve finished running around on the ovals.”