Sportsfield protest was from the heart

By BELINDA F SCOTT

TEENAGERS attempting to convey their feelings about the proposed poaching of their sportsfields for high-rise apartments were yesterday contemptuous of the Education Department which has tried to lower the profile of their campaign.

"We're all in Legal Studies and they tell us to stand up for what we believe in, but as soon as we do they say 'take your sign down'," said Year 12 student Maria Chelman."

A large banner saying 'Save Our Open Space ? Jetty Oval, Englands Park ? Coffs Harbour Come Together' which was draped across the front of the school building last week, was removed on the orders of the Education Department after only three days.

Students from Coffs Harbour High School converged on Coffs Harbour City Council chambers yesterday with 400 submissions opposing proposals to develop their sportsfields into housing.

The submissions represent a response from close to 50 per cent of the 850 students at the school, including the school captains and the students' representative council.

The school has only one small sportsfield and relies for playing fields on Jetty Oval and Englands Park, both listed for redevelopment in the Harbourside Project Concepts.

The students, most of whom arrived at the council offices in a bus sponsored by the school's P&C Association, rejected suggestions that their protest was political.

'We want to save those fields ? we use them for football training, sports and PE ? our bottom field floods and there's never enough room there for PE," said school captain James Ewings.

"We were not at all influenced by teachers ? some of us had already written letters to the council."

Year 12 students Mia Shorter and Samantha Sutton said some parents would not be able to afford bus fares for sport at distant fields and Amanda Millott said as seniors they were protesting on behalf of juniors.

John Cole and Tom Shone said their protest was not just for the school but for others.

"This is our outlook and our scenery and where people walk their dogs," said Tom.

"We have to look out for the future," said Robert Mitchell.

But Maria Chelman said teachers had confiscated students' hand-held protest signs which read 'Save our Grass' and 'Don't Sell Our Grass ? Shove That Idea Up Your Arse' on the grounds that they could be misinterpreted as having a drug reference.

Coffs Harbour resident Peter Rake, who was at the council chambers when the students arrived, said he had approached the department about the banner, but it had been removed and the principal 'counselled' as a result of approaches by others as well as himself.

Mr Rake said in the past children had been encouraged by some teachers to commit acts of civil disobedience and he did not think public schools should be encouraged to support 'political things'.

Since voicing his opinion, Mr Rake has seen the other side of being in the public eye.

He said he had received both angry anonymous letters and threatening telephone calls.

Coffs Harbour High School P&C president Sabine Benz, who also rejected the suggestion politics was involved, said the P&C unanimously supported the students and had already written to the council opposing the sale of the open spaces.

The removal of the banner has sparked a thoroughly political reaction, with the member for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser questioning whether it was NSW Labor Government ministers or the Independent candidate for Coffs Harbour, Keith Rhoades, who forced its removal.

"The only politics in relation to this sign is the order to remove it," Mr Fraser said.

Declaring 'democracy is dead', or what was left was only 'jackboot democracy', Mr Fraser yesterday called on the State Government to allow students to replace the Save Our Open Space sign.

Submissions on the Harbourside Project Concepts must be delivered to Coffs Harbour City Council chambers or emailed to coffs.council @chcc.nsw.gov.au by 4.30pm today.



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