Flashback Friday | Cronulla Sharks make their home at Endeavour Field and build a leagues club

The Cronulla Sharks experienced mixed fortunes in establishing their home on the edge of Woolooware Bay.

Several other locations were proposed before the former rubbish tip site was chosen and the club became the first in the rugby league premiership to own their own ground, Endeavour Field. 

But, the leagues club they soon started building became financially stricken and stood incomplete for two years until the community rallied behind the Save the Sharks fund-raising campaign.

Photos from the Leader’s archives (above) include a great shot of English star Cliff Watson marking out the field while working as a groundsman at Endeavour Field.

Imagine that today!

Cronulla-Sutherland District Rugby Football League Football Club was initially allocated Sutherland Oval as its home ground by the council.

But, club officials fought to move to Caringbah Oval (now Glenn McGrath Oval), which was handy to the leagues club, which stood where the Highfield Caringbah hotel is today.

Gary Lester, in his book, Sharks – Colour me Black, White and Blue, the definitive history of the club, said the council was strongly opposed and offered the club “an amphitheatre-style parcel of land” on the southern side of Bates Drive – presumably the area at Kareela, which is now the headquarters of the Sutherland Shire Football Association.

The Kareela location was not mentioned by former Sutherland Shire Council president Arthur Gietzelt, who told the Leader in 2011 he came up with the Woolooware Bay site ‘‘to get them off my back”.

Mr Gietzelt, who died in 2014 at 93, went into more detail in his memoirs, Sticks and Stones.

He told how the “Shark Park story” started about 1961, not long after the council allocated Caringbah Oval to the Sutherland Cricket Association and upgraded it to a standard that allowed it to enter the district grade competition.

The rugby league club applied to use the oval during the non-cricket months and were “very unhappy” when the council refused.

”In fact, I was unfairly portrayed as an opponent of rugby league, as my son played soccer. It was of course, nonsense,” he wrote.

Mr Gietzelt met with club officials and offered three alternative sites in Caringbah.

They included “land owned by the Hospital Commission in Taren Point Road, a block of land zoned Industrial and an area owned by council in Cawarra Road, North Caringbah.”

He recommended the Cawarra Road site as the most suitable, but club officials “remained fixated on Caringbah Oval”.

The issue remained unresolved for several years, becoming a political “hot potato”.

Mr Gietzelt said he came up with the Woolooware Bay site after the club’s application to enter the first grade competition was accepted.

The council had bought the land on his recommendation in 1962 after the company which owned it went bankrupt during the 1961 economic recession.

This  council sold most of the land to Australian Consolidated Industries but kept a portion which was “also suitable for reclamation, and could be filled to produce a further 23 acres that we would set aside for sports playing fields, especially for the juniors”.

“At the same time, the Menai hard-fill tip was almost full and there was an urgent community need for an easily accessible alternative,” he wrote.

“The reclamation area we had envisaged at our new site in Woolooware was the perfect solution – it could be used exclusively as the alternate hard-fill tip for our ratepayers, and the facility would provide the fill needed to reclaim the area for sports fields.

“After opening, the new tip became a mecca for all of us – to such an extent that we had to finally make non-shire residents pay a small fee for the disposal of their household wastes, as residents from other areas like St George found it a good place to dump their household waste.

“Over time, the western end of this site was filled with household, non-putrescent hard-fill.

“It was full of old beds, refrigerators, washing machines and other household discards.

“It was at this stage that I thought the intended 23 acres of sporting fields might be the most suitable site for the Cronulla-Sutherland Rugby Leagues Club.

“It was on the extremity of the golf course, away from most houses, and separated by a wide roadway.

“I took Shire Engineer Bill Wood to the site and confidentially asked him if he thought this area was suitable for rugby league.

“He said, with sufficient funds, he would be able to compress it and prevent any leaching into Woolooware Bay, which was used by the oyster industry.

“He could also take special care to top-dress the area to make it usable for any sort of sport.

“I called a special ALP Caucus meeting and excitedly told them we were on the verge of resolving the impasse of a site for local rugby league.

“I told them it was a masterpiece, combining public need and investment.

“They were ecstatic at the prospect, as it was well-known that lLeague had its roots in Labor.”

Mr Gietzelt said the rugby league club was not enthusiastic initially.

”I explained to the committee that they would be able to build a first-grade playing field and clubhouse, and provide plenty of off-street parking for their patrons,” he wrote.

“It was in a convenient area where there would be minimal effect on residential life.

“I also highlighted the immense possibilities from owning their own site outright, which I was offering them at a heavily discounted price.

“However, they had many reservations about my proposal, as they were stubbornly wedded to Caringbah Oval and all the immediate superficial benefits.”

Mr Geitzelt wrote, “Knowing they were low on funds, I sweetened the proposition by offering them the chance to pay a nominal deposit, and the balance at an agreed time”.

He told how the club committee “eventually came around and accepted the offer”.

In 1968, the club paid a $90,000 installment to the council and the first game was played at Endeavour Field.

In 1973 work started on a constructing a $2.3 million three-level leagues club.

However, by the time that money was exhausted, the building was only at lock-up stage and another $1 million was needed to complete it.

Institutional lenders offered no help, so the club launched a Save the Sharks appeal and sold debentures to members and the general public.

A fund-raising drive at Miranda Fair was a feature of the appeal.

The Leader was a strong supporter, publishing names of major contributors, who included other leagues club.

Premier Neville Wran, who promised to help the Sharks before the 1976 election, was true to his work and the State Bank backed the rescue mission.

In April, 1977, the first stage of the new leagues club was opened.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

Every Friday we delve into the Leader archives to embark on some time travel.

We will bring you photographs of a news event from 57 years of Leader news coverage that you may or may not recall.

Flashback Friday submissions are also welcomed.

Feel free to share your recollections with us on our Facebook page @SutherlandShireStGeorgeNews or email leaderletters@fairfaxmedia.com.au