It was an announcement Wodonga has been waiting to hear for 10 years: the federal government had finally agreed to provide $10 million to the Baranduda Fields sporting facility.
Mayor Anna Speedie was beaming on Thursday as she thanked Senator Bridget McKenzie for the funding, admitting "the minister's been sick of me coming through her door, asking for money".
"This is an important moment for this community," she said.
"Without significant funds like this, projects of this significance and this magnitude can't get off the ground.
"Regional Australia deserves this investment and absolutely our people deserve this investment.
"They deserve to have access to great quality sporting facilities that enable them to follow their passions, to get into elite sports."
Baranduda Fields is currently a large empty paddock and the $10 million will be used to start constructing fields and buildings to cater for sports including football, cricket, netball, soccer, rugby, tennis, cycling, hockey and gymnastics - eventually to be worth upwards of $100 million.
"We have got real champions right in this region. Giving them facilities to be able to train on and access so they don't have to go to Sydney and Melbourne is absolutely key," Cr Speedie said.
"The great thing is, when you've been working on a project this long, we have got detailed design."
She said Wodonga was in need of rain after Easter, which might set back construction, but the council would talk to sporting organisations immediately and start work as soon as possible.
AFL North East Border general manager John O'Donohue said the priority for football was a junior ground because it was children who often missed out due to a lack of space.
"The Baranduda Fields project fills a void that's in Wodonga. We've spoken for a long time about the lack of facilities, not only for AFL but for sport and recreation," he said.
"Hopefully out here we can grow both our numbers and the quality of the facilities so the juniors want to stay involved in the game and transition through to senior footy. It's a great outcome."
He said there was an opportunity for junior participation to grow, especially in the Baranduda and Leneva areas, and did not rule out another Ovens and Murray club being based there in the future if there was a demand.
Murray United Football Club chairman Darren Yates said he hoped the club could be at Baranduda Fields within two or three years and possibly be able to expand to female teams.
The senior men and boys teams now have to share the La Trobe University facility with Wodonga Diamonds.
"The facility is over utilised, it doesn't allow us to get in as many training sessions at our elite level that we'd like," Mr Yates said. "We see this as our future home with a first-class facility."
He said the plan for the new facility was to construct a 5000-seat stadium.
"It opens up the opportunity for a boutique rectangular stadium in our region so we can attract A League pre-season games, Matildas, internationals - it's really exciting," he said.
They’re in competition for #indivotes but Steve Martin, Mark Byatt and Bridget McKenzie teamed up to take on the Murray United soccer kids at this morning’s announcement of $10m for the Baranduda Fields facility. #firstname.lastname@example.org/Up9BBb6pjo— Shana Morgan (@shana_morgan) April 18, 2019
The Coalition has committed to use $10 million in funding from the 2019-20 budget, announced two weeks ago, but Labor is yet to make the same promise.
"It would be a very brave Bill Shorten - if he ever bothered to rock up here in regional Australia or in Albury Wodonga and saw how much this community has fought for this project, how much they want to see it delivered, how much it means to them - it would be a very brave future Labor government that took this off the table," Senator McKenzie said.
She defended the government's decision to announce the project now, just weeks after it had missed out on Building Better Region Fund money, saying that fund was "oversubscribed".
"Knowing how important this project was, particularly with our commitment to the regional deal between Albury and Wodonga, we as a federal government need to make sure we are backing projects in this community and across the river that ensure we can grow to where we need to be," she said.
"This project will mean we'll have the best sporting facilities between Melbourne and Sydney - what an important narrative for Albury-Wodonga."
Indi MP Cathy McGowan, who is stepping down at next month's federal election, was not invited to Thursday's announcement.
"The retiring member for Indi has never raised Baranduda Fields with me as Sports Minister as Victorian National Party Senator, as the person in the party that actually holds the infrastructure portfolios that actually funds these sorts of projects," Senator McKenzie said.
"I have not heard from the former member nor the current candidate of the former member's team (independent Helen Haines) on this project at all."
But Ms McGowan provided The Border Mail with a copy of a letter sent to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the lead up to the 2019-20 budget, which does list Baranduda Fields as a priority for Wodonga.
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