Upgrade for Elsternwick Park’s playing surface

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Significant ground improvement works are now well underway at Elsternwick Park to address the quality of the playing surface ahead of the 2023 VAFA season.

Following several meetings between the executives of VAFA and Bayside City Council, the Council has invested significantly in engaging external turf experts to conduct extensive testing and repair works to address the standard of Elsternwick Park.

The works will ensure there is no repeat of the scenes from last year’s Premier B Men’s Grand Final, in which Old Haileybury and University Blacks battled it out in a low-scoring affair on a rain-soaked playing surface.

Following that weekend, VAFA CEO, Jason Reddick immediately reached out to the Bayside City Council for answers, and a full-blown investigation followed into the unsuitable playing surface that Elsternwick Park became across Grand Final weekend.

Whilst a number of theories have been circulating regarding what caused the ground conditions to deteriorate so badly and quickly on that day, an assessment of the oval was conducted in October of 2022 revealing “a thick and dense layer of thatch and rootmat existed over the entire playing surface”. 

The report determined “this layer is currently acting as a barrier to the movement of water from the surface during rain events.” 

The assessment found that water drainage was “extremely poor” through this layer which was confirmed by the “poor infiltration rate” measured in a number of locations on the oval surface.

“As a consequence, water quickly accumulated on the surface during a heavy rain event and had to rely on surface runoff to move from the surface.”

“Damage had occurred to a number of areas on the oval surface, resulting in a loss of cover, soft and unstable surface and loss of surface shape and levels in these areas.”  

The oval construction and infrastructure were also examined. Although there had been some impact from the damage to the surface in some of the affected areas, the oval infrastructure appeared to be “functioning satisfactorily” and was not “contributing to the current issues on this oval.” 

The report found that the extent of thatch build-up is the “major concern” on Elsternwick Park. With the extent of the thatch material that exists, intensive and repeated renovation practices will be required to give sufficient relief and benefit.

Following the assessment, a 10-stage intensive renovation program commenced on November 28.

Currently we’re in Stage 5 of the process – the implementation of turf replacement. The project is on track to complete the final stage by April 8, 2023, in time for the opening round of the VAFA season where Old Melburnians will host University Blues at Elsternwick Park.

The work to date has been extensive, with VAFA CEO, Jason Reddick telling VAFA Media “Our focus has been to ensure that Elsternwick Park is always presented in a condition that all VAFA supporters can be rightly proud of.

It has been very pleasing to see that Bayside Council have recognised our concerns and are investing significant resources and engaging the appropriate turf experts to return the Oval back to its traditional ‘tier 1 oval status’.

We also recognise the support of the local tenant Clubs (Elsternwick Cricket Club, Old Melburnians FC and VAFA Umpires) who have been displaced during the maintenance works, appreciating that it is for the long term benefit of all”.

Elsternwick Park Oval 1 is currently closed to the public, with the Council erecting signage at both entrances. The VAFA Office can be accessed via the Elsternwick Park Oval 2 car park (entry via St Kilda St).

Council have erected some advising users that pre-season training and football boots are not permitted on the oval which will be installed at each entry point to assist.

Both old Melburnians and the VAFA Umpires are working with Council to secure other arrangements for pre-season training.

The Bayside City Council appreciates the patience and support during this period.