News / Council

Tensions flare over shared use of Gillon Oval

Dog owners claim they have been abused, while cricketers lament damage to playing surface

Duncan Adams, with Barry in the background, says he has sympathy for the cricket club.

Mark Phillips
Monday, February 28, 2022

MORELAND Council is facing calls to defuse growing tensions between dog owners and a prominent sporting club over the shared use of Gillon Oval.

Frustration has been growing for months on both sides over the designation of the oval as an off-leash dog park.

Named after a former Mayor of Brunswick and president of the Victorian Football Association, A.G. Gillon Oval has been the home to both Brunswick Cricket Club and Brunswick Football Club since they were both founded in the suburb’s earliest days.

The absence of organised sport for most of the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic saw increased use of the oval by dogs when exercising a pet was one of the few outdoor activities allowed during lockdowns.

But since cricket returned this summer, disharmony has grown.

An online petition by a dog owner accusing both people associated with the cricket club and council staff of bullying and abuse has brought the conflict out into the open.

For their part, sports clubs are concerned at feces being left behind on the grass and dogs digging holes in the surface, which could become hazardous for players.

The petition begun by Robyn Broadbent has spilled over into a vigorous debate on social media, with many commenters calling for off-leash dogs to be banned from the oval.

“Dog owners using Gillon oval in Brunswick have been bullied and abused by volunteers attached to the Cricket Club and by Council staff,” the petition says.

“This petition aims to get a meeting with Councillors and council officers to assist both the dog community and the cricket club to co exist [sic] peacefully.”

In a follow up email to Moreland’s three South Ward councillors, who include Mayor Mark Riley and Deputy Mayor Lambros Tapinos, petitioner Robyn Broadbent has suggested that the two groups can harmoniously share the oval with appropriate signage, temporary fencing to protect the cricket pitch, education, and zero tolerance for abuse.

“We need Council leadership on this issue because the level of abuse is unacceptable and will not end well,” they said.

“All are exacerbated by the situation. It should be noted that there has been a 25% to 30% increase of dog ownership during COVID this now needs to be reflected in further social planning.”

Brunswick Voice reached out to the petitioner for further comment but received no response.

Signage at an entrance to the playing field outlines the rules for allowing dogs off their leash.

Brunswick Cricket Club president Ron Sahlberg denied anyone officially associated with the club had been abusive towards dog owners.

But he said cricketers were frustrated by the designation of the oval for off-leash dog exercise.

Apart from holes and feces, he said dogs’ claws had damaged the canvas pitch covers, which cost in excess of $5000 to replace. Another problem is dogs on the field during training when signs around the oval clearly state that this is not allowed, he said.

“There’s more dogs than in the past,” he said.

“They’re on the ground while we’re training, there will be groups of five or six or more all over the place on the ground and sometimes we have got to ask them to move when we train.

“The oval is rough as anything at the moment. They dig holes and people let their dogs do anything and the council and footy club have to go around and fill up the holes before they can play.”

The cricket club currently has about 400 registered players and pays annual rent of about $15,000 to the council for use of the ground, which has been its home since the 1850s, Mr Sahlberg said.

He claimed a planned renovation of the playing surface a couple of years ago was unable to go ahead because of objections from dog owners upset at losing access to the area for their pets.

“I believe it can work both ways if the dogs are on leashes and they abide by the laws around training,” he said.

Brunswick West resident Duncan Adams regularly exercises his three-year-old Labrador Barry off his leash on Gillon Oval, but as the parent of girls who have played football and cricket he also has sympathy for the sports clubs.

With other off-leash parks nearby, he said dogs and their owners had to be mindful that they were guests on a ground whose primary use is for organised sport.

As Barry played with other dogs in the background, Mr Adams pointed to areas on the oval which had no grass and had to be patched up presumably because of dog damage. He said owners should keep their dogs off the central pitch area and needed to pick up any feces.

“Dog owners are here by privilege and they have to be more respectful of the ground and the conditions,” he said.

“I am sympathetic to the sports clubs. We should be able to co-exist. Dog owners need to be taught what the acceptable limits are and if they can’t do the right thing, they need to be kept off the oval.”