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Author: Public Record Office Victoria

Every year world sporting events occur at night under the glare of the light towers dotted around the roof of the incredible Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) stadium, but those towers were a figment of our imaginations until the 1980s, and even then, there were questions over their value. 

World class competitions like Twenty20 cricket and the locally loved Australian Football League (AFL) would not have even been possible had it not taken ten years of discussion and debate over whether night games were even possible. The tension over getting the lights installed at the ‘G was played out in the media at the time and it rapidly turned political.  The records in this article document some of this historic tension and are held within the archived files of the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands. 

The goal was to rapidly install the MCG light towers ready for the 1984-1985 World Series Cricket, but leading up it a very public debate raged over the impact of the lights and who had the right to make them even possible.

"Premier John Cain's decision to have floodlights installed at the Melbourne Cricket Ground has been condemned as another State Government attack on the powers of local government." 

Clarion newspaper clipping, 1984. Department of Conservation, Forests and Land, General Correspondence Files, VPRS 11544/P1, Unit 649.

 

These days the positive effect of the MCG light towers can't be understated, in fact it’s almost unthinkable to think of a stadium of the MCG’s ilk not having the capacity to host events past sunset. The 1980s however were a time when cultural norms were shifting, sports marketers were looking for ever-increasing forms of revenue, not only for attendance numbers but also for television screening rights. The commercialisation of sport was on the rise and night games were integral to that success.

Australian rules football, and its elite competition the AFL, was traditionally a Saturday afternoon competition. Elite first-class and Test cricket was (and, for the most part, still is) played during daytime hours. It wasn’t until the advent of one-day cricket games played half during the day and half at night, with coloured clothing and white balls, that games started playing under lights. Despite widespread cynicism, Kerry Packer was driving this new style of cricket under the  brand World Series Cricket. It was initially hosted at Waverley Park where lights were installed in 1977 for the day/night format, and, of course, with the addition of broadcasting rights on Channel 9.

The Victorian State Government couldn’t ignore this new opportunity to increase revenue for the MCG and Premier John Cain began the push to light up the 'G' by openly supporting the Melbourne Cricket Club's proposal.

 

Clarion Newspaper article 18/1/1984 VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312
Clarion Newspaper article 18/1/1984 VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312

 

Evan Walker's approach (former Victorian Planning Minister) of  attracting events to the ground, and to the City, has proven a massive boon for Melbourne. But at the time he was accused of finding sneaky ways to get around the approval process, as inferred by the media at the time, despite local opposition to the lights by residents. This article from The Age in 1983 suggests he could use his Ministerial powers to overturn any opposition to  the planned lighting:

 

The Age, 10/12/1983 within VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312
The Age, 10/12/1983 within VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312

 

There was intense opposition to the plan by local residents which only seemed to heighten when a special inquiry was set up by the Minister to investigate the environmental impact of the lights.

The records include planning correspondence surrounding potential environmental effects and a panel inquiry pursuant to the Environmental Effects Act 1978,   with objections received over the potential damage to the surrounding YarraPark grounds and to the anticipated traffic congestion.

Another obvious point of contention related to the impact of the light glare on the suburbs surrounding the stadium, East Melbourne and Richmond. The environmental impact report from the Department of Conservation however indicated that light glare would not be a huge problem, and that the visual impact would be more of a concern. 

"Individually, the increases in on-street parking problems, traffic noise and congestion, crowd behaviour and light spill could be borne or coped with and would not represent an unacceptable detriment to the environment"

(Final Conclusions, Environmental Effects Act 1978)

The major area of concern from the inquiry appeared to be related to the visual impact of the lighting towers on the historic heritage precinct.

 

 

Environmental Effects Act 1978, final conclusions p.38 VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312
Environmental Effects Act 1978, final conclusions p.38 VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312

 

Despite the concerns, the public controversy and the bureaucratic to and throw, the MCG light towers were built with both football and cricket teams playing their first matches in 1985. These images of records give us a good insight into the public controversy created by the lights as well as the government processes involved in the decision making around their development and the many years spent debating the pros and cons of what we now know was a major step forward in the city's consumption of major sporting competitions.

 

News Release 13/11/1983 VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312
News Release 13/11/1983 VPRS 11544/P1, unit 649, “Melbourne Cricket Ground Development” file 32 1 312

 

 

Written by Kate Follington, Asa Letourneau and Andrew Harris.