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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4032

Mr HOCKEY (8:40 PM) —I rise tonight to speak about a matter that links my electorate of North Sydney with the Central Coast of New South Wales. I am, of course, referring to the bid to see the famous red and black jerseys return to the National Rugby League in 2013 as the Central Coast Bears. Since 1908 the Bears have been an integral part of rugby league in Australia. As one of the earliest clubs—if not the first—they attracted a following that has been so strong that, even whilst they have been out of the NRL, their supporters have remained true to the cause. For several generations of fans, the Bears remain part of the culture and fabric of rugby league.

For me growing up on the North Shore of Sydney, a large part of my childhood and teenage years was spent following the mixed fortunes of the North Sydney Bears. Like so many, I fondly remember the days spent at the North Sydney Oval under its famous fig tree cheering on the Bears. We were as much there for the social atmosphere as for the game and the Bears brought us together as a community. Even in defeat—which I must say was a little too often from my point of view and those of the fans—the Bears’ loyal followers stuck behind their team.

Now the NRL is considering a bid to return the Bears to their place in the NRL competition. In what will be a blend of tradition with the new, the Bears will be based in the growth area that is the New South Wales Central Coast. It is an area with its own rich rugby league history, which is why its residents have embraced the prospect of their own team. Earlier this month, well over a thousand Central Coast residents joined a march in support of the Central Cost Bears in Gosford. Their enthusiasm was undeniable. I know that, led by people like Greg Florimo, David Fairleigh (Daisy), Robert Lopez and Martin and Anthony O’Brien, the Central Coast Bears will be successful.

For us on the North Shore, the return of the Bears is also strongly supported. They may be intending to move north a little to Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford, but they will remain part of the psyche of league on the North Shore of Sydney forever. The prospect of one or two games back at North Sydney Oval will be welcomed by my constituents. That is why I am proud to be a foundation member of the Central Coast Bears. The NRL has an exciting opportunity to revive the Bears by accepting their bid. It would mean a great deal to the thousands of fans who have been deprived of the opportunity to support a team of their choice that proudly wears the red and black.

It will also do much to further rugby league not only on the Central Coast but also in the vacuum for rugby league that has become the North Shore of Sydney. I know that the club is committed to the development of the sport in the region, as they have been for many, many years. I know that they are already working on ways to promote and assist younger sportsmen and sportswomen in the region. The Bears is very much a community orientated club, so the Central Coast can only benefit from its success.

I note that years ago I strongly supported the investment of Commonwealth government money in the creation of a stadium on the Central Coast. In fact, Barry Cohen, a former member for Robertson, was an advocate of a flower festival with the Federation money, but I and John Fahey, as absolutely committed rugby league supporters, put the money into supporting the development of a rugby league team on the Central Coast in the form of the Bears.

What we need to recognise now is that the Bears need a home. They need a cave to dwell in and the Central Coast represents an opportunity to not only rebuild Rugby League on the North Shore and on the Central Coast but more specifically to uphold the traditions that are so integral to community support for rugby league. When the Central Coast Bears run onto the field for the first time in 2013, they will not just be wearing the jersey of a new club, they will be carrying the weight of over 100 years of pride and history on their shoulders. I urge the NRL and David Gallop in particular to make this dream a reality and deliver us the Bears again.