Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, a Battle Emerges Over Green Spaces

November 20, 2020 

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week's issue is written by Yan Zhuang, a reporter with the Australia bureau.

As Australia emerges from coronavirus lockdowns, a battle over access to public green spaces in its cities has started and is largely being fought on the country's golf courses.

In Melbourne, a need for parks and green spaces was acutely felt during its harsh lockdown, when exercise was one of the permitted reasons to leave the house. With outdoor sports -- including golf -- banned, local councils across the state threw open the gates of courses to the public.

But when the lockdown ended and golf was allowed to resume, some residents in the suburb of Northcote wanted to keep their local golf course open to the public, arguing that access to the space brought health and mental health benefits to locals. Golfers were outraged. Bill Jennings, a semiregular at the course for over two decades and a leader of the campaign to save the course, framed it as a matter of fairness: "You can't just walk in and go 'We'll have this,'" he said.

Now the council is examining whether to cut the size of the golf course to unlock more parkland. In Sydney, a similar proposal has spurred equal parts support and backlash. Campaigns to reappropriate golf courses are happening in Britain, where space is an even tighter commodity.

And although they've been exacerbated because of the coronavirus pandemic, debates over the future of golf courses in inner-city areas have been going on for many years, according to the head of Australia's national golf body, David Gallichio.

As the Australian dream of a house with a backyard complete with an archetypical hills hoist gives way to apartment blocks to accommodate growing populations in the country's cities, the provenance of public green space has become a hot-button issue. Reappropriating golf courses is a compelling solution: They take up huge quantities of land, and the number of golfers in Australia has been slowly decreasing for over two decades. Mr. Gallichio notes that there has been an uptick in membership this year because of coronavirus but it's unclear whether that will be permanent.

On a recent sweltering Thursday morning, there were a few golfers teeing up at Northcote golf course, distant pinpricks of color against a backdrop of rolling hills. It was a far cry from the swarms of locals who were reported to have flooded the course during lockdown.

One of them, Nick Verginis, used the golf course as a place to exercise and picnic with his three young sons during lockdown. He described standing among its hills as "like being Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music.'"

Mr. Verginis, who has been coordinating the campaign to open up the Northcote golf course, says inner-city suburbs like his are the poorest in terms of access to green space. He notes that the Northcote golf course is council-owned and says that at heart of the debate for him is the question of what benefits the many, versus what benefits the few.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne note that a lack of green spaces in urban communities is a result of decades of poor urban planning by governments. Golfers agree that green spaces are important but question why they have to pay the price to rectify the issue.

The debate has also become one of perceptions. Golfers stress that public golf courses do not embody the "classic stereotype that golfers are people like Donald Trump"; that might be more accurate of private courses with high fees. "He's never played here," Mr. Jennings said of Northcote.

Mr. Verginis rejects the idea that the issue is a political one, but said that the golf course had not proved its value to local residents. "It's basically a sport for older men," he said. "They have not been able to demonstrate the value to women and younger people."

And so the battle continues.

Here are this week's stories:


ImageAmid the Coronavirus Pandemic, a Battle Emerges Over Green Spaces - merlin 180191847 fa16d615 bd7e 447a a7e1 308505419a15 articleLarge
Australia's military chief, Angus Campbell, said on Thursday that the military "unreservedly" apologized to the Afghan people.Credit...Mick Tsikas/AAP Image, via Reuters

Image

Election workers recounted ballots in Atlanta last week. The deadline for Georgia to certify its election results is Friday at 5 p.m.Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Tell us what you think at NYTAustralia@nytimes.com.

Enjoying the Australia Letter? Sign up here or forward to a friend.

For more Australia coverage and discussion, start your day with your local Morning Briefing and join us in our Facebook group.

Latest News

November 29, 2020
Ronna McDaniel urges Georgia Republicans to vote in Senate runoffs, not 'lose your faith'

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Saturday urged Republican voters in Georgia to vote for the party's Senate candidates in the January runoffs. Some Trump supporters in the state had reportedly expressed reluctance to vote in the Jan. 5 runoffs out of concerns the presidential election was "rigged" in favor of Democrats and the […]

Read More
November 29, 2020
Calif. Governor Newsom nixes parole for Manson follower Leslie Van Houten

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has reversed parole for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, marking the fourth time a governor has blocked her release. A California panel recommended parole in July for Van Houten, who has spent nearly five decades in prison. Newsom reversed her release once previously and his predecessor, Jerry Brown, blocked it twice. Van […]

Read More
November 29, 2020
Here’s when the NBA plans to induct Kobe Bryant into Hall of Fame

The NBA announced Saturday that the ceremony for Koby Bryant’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame will be held in May of 2021. It had been announced in April that Bryant would be awarded the honor posthumously. The Lakers legend died at age 41 in a helicopter crash in January, along with his daughter, […]

Read More
November 29, 2020
Number of suicides in Japan over month span exceed deaths from COVID-19

Japan is struggling with a mental health crisis as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, with more people dying in one month from suicide than from COVID-19 all year long. The National Police Agency said suicides surged to 2,153 in October alone, with more than 17,000 people taking their own lives this year to date, CBS reported. By comparison, fewer than 2,000 people […]

Read More
November 29, 2020
Seattle-area homeowners report ‘sovereign citizen’ property seizure attempts: report

That knock on your door? It might be someone attempting to take your home. Police in suburbs north of Seattle say so-called “sovereign citizens” have been visiting homes in at least two communities, presenting homeowners with official-looking documents, and announcing that they’re the rightful owners. In at least one case, a homeowner was told she […]

Read More
November 29, 2020
Mysterious monolith disappears from Utah desert

A mysterious metal monolith that was recently discovered in the southern Utah desert has now disappeared, officials said Saturday. The ten-foot-high silver structure — which was installed illegally — was removed by an “unknown party” on Friday, the Bureau of Land Management said in a statement. The BLM said its employees did not remove the […]

Read More
crossmenuchevron-down