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Thursday, 15 February 2007
Page: 102

Mr WOOD (4:35 PM) —I rise to inform the House that Gemco Players Community Theatre, in Emerald, in my electorate of La Trobe, has received a grant of $440,000 under the Australian government’s Regional Partnerships program towards a $940,000 expansion of its facilities. First of all, I would like to thank and congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile; the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Jim Lloyd; and also the Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, who is in the chamber, for their fantastic administration of this program.

This project is 20 years in the making and is testament to the spirit of the Gemco community. Since it was founded by Mr David Greenaway in Emerald over a quarter of a century ago and had its beginnings in the Emerald Community House, Gemco has needed more space. This need grew in the mid-1990s and the Tecoma Uniting Church donated its old Methodist church. The youth group grew from 10 to 80 youths in a matter of weeks.

Gemco’s plan to expand its performance space began to gather momentum when the late Sir Rupert Hamer, the long-serving Victorian Premier and champion of the arts, became a patron of the project in the late 1990s. Sir Rupert became involved after he learned of Gemco’s herculean efforts, one scorching Boxing Day, in filling two semitrailers parked on Collins Street with seats discarded from the Melbourne Town Hall. As the story goes, by the time the trucks had arrived back in Emerald, everyone was so spent by the efforts of loading them that they had not the strength to unload them. Thankfully, divine intervention ensued, as an Assembly of God congregation, which was having a barbecue nearby—perhaps the only teetotal barbecue in the hills that day—came to Gemco’s aid. Sir Rupert urged Gemco to secure its site in Emerald. Without his counsel, today the site would probably be a car park. It is a shame he is not alive to see the project realised.

In 1999, Gemco came perilously close to not realising its ambitions. Funding had been arranged through the council for a large development, tenders had been received under budget, but funding was withdrawn at the last minute. After this disappointment, it took Gemco six months to regroup. I understand that the resolve of the current secretary, Chris Toyama, was vital in keeping Gemco’s hopes alive. True to form, when all seemed lost, the Gemco community rallied once more. A new expansion was designed free of charge by architect Mal Nichols, whose daughter Casey was in Gemco’s youth group at the time. A young engineer named Chris Rozycki, the husband of Bridie Briggs, a youth group leader, also donated his time and expertise. In 2004 Belinda Smullen and Tara Rankin, assisted by Cathlin Gemmell, delivered a compelling presentation to the Cardinia Shire Council which convinced it to commit $250,000 to the project. I congratulate Cardinia Shire on their commitment to this project.

The federal government’s contribution of $440,000, which I announced in November last year, enabled Gemco to secure a funding commitment of an additional $200,000 from the Victorian state government. I congratulate the member for Gembrook, Tammy Lobato, for her assistance and also that of former Mayor Bill Ronald and Councillor Graham Lee on the day of our announcement. Gemco’s own fundraising is well on track to meet its $50,000 target. It recently received an anonymous $25,000 donation, and its Australia Day fundraiser raised $4,000. In the spirit of the community’s generosity, the Bendigo Bank at Belgrave has undertaken to fill any shortfall in Gemco’s contribution. That is a fantastic gesture. I again congratulate Bendigo Bank.

Once complete, the existing facility will be equipped to seat 150 people, with an orchestra pit, a foyer, dressing rooms, a bar, a loading bay, an outdoor performance area and on-site parking. It will be a great asset for the local community. Gemco is so delighted that three openings have been planned: the laying of the foundation stone, a roof-raising ceremony and the official opening. And celebrate they should. It is a fantastic achievement. Congratulations to the entire Gemco community, past and present. Again, I also congratulate the township of Emerald and the south-east development centre for assisting with the Regional Partnerships. They have done an amazing job.