Marley Brown Oval: from 'rack and ruin' to the NRL
FROM an irregular shaped parcel of land to NRL venue, Gladstone's Marley Brown Oval has endured many changes during its history.
The ground has had a relatively short, but tumultuous life since the first rugby league match was played at the venue in 1976.
Before that time, rugby league was played at the Gladstone Showground from 1918 until moving to Fry Park in 1951, at the site where Rigby Park hockey fields are now located.
In November 1988, the Gladstone Leagues Club opened its doors and there were two major overhauls at the complex over the next 12 years.
In 1995 a grandstand able to seat 1000 spectators was constructed at a cost of $1 million and in July 2000 a new split-level licensed club was completed.
The Gladstone Leagues Club became a financial success, but before the LNG boom and right on the cusp of the Global Financial Crisis, a missed loan payment caused an unfortunate string of events.
Former Gladstone Rugby League president Glenn Butcher, who held the job from 2010 until resigning in 2015 when elected to state parliament, shared his memories of a time when dark shadows loomed over the Marley Brown complex.
"They defaulted on one payment so the bank came through and basically put in receivers without too much fan fare - they didn't give them too much of an opportunity to source extra income to pay the bill and it was taken over," he said.
"The club continued to trade, but by this time the receivers were out looking for new buyers and because the land was included as part of the bank debt someone needed to buy the club and the footy field.
"A couple of scrupulous operators were the lucky recipients to purchase the clubhouse and field."
The new owners had grand visions for the parcel of land including housing and motels, but those ideas had no regard for rugby league in the region.
"The club was continuing to trade under the Gladstone Leagues Club, but the relationship between the owner and the Leagues Club board soured so the owner kicked Gladstone Rugby League out of the whole venue.
"They had to go over and play at the junior footy fields."
After hitting arguably one of the lowest points in its history, rugby league in Gladstone needed a saviour and in September 2008 one was found.
"The Gladstone coal exporters at the time when Wiggins Island was kicking in - Leo Zussino gathered them all together and said why don't you do something good for the community and give us money to purchase the grandstand and the grass back, which had been left to rack and ruin," Mr Butcher said.
"The coal exporters put in a few million bucks collectively and purchased the land back."
In September 2008 BMA Coal, Ensham Resources, Felix Resources, Jellinbah Resources, Cockatoo Coal, Wesfarmers Coal and Xstrata Coal Australia put in a collective $2 million.
The Gladstone Ports Corporation under the leadership of Mr Zussino added $1 million to get the necessary $3 million to secure the oval.
The land was then gifted back to the Gladstone Ports Corporation, which then leased it back to Gladstone Regional Council, which leased it to GRL for $1 a year on a 100-year lease.
As a result, the venue was renamed Gladstone Coal Exporters' Sports Complex in 2009, although it's still colloquially known as Marley Brown Oval.
The ground has undergone plenty of turmoil during the last 10 years, but is now in a renaissance according to Mr Butcher.
"We've been down to the depths of hell and back and now we're hosting an official NRL game - it's an absolute game-changer for rugby league in Gladstone."
The Oval was named after Marley Brown, a character and noted post-war rugby league follower in Gladstone especially at Fry Park.
Rex Brown: Son of a gun
Rex Brown, 84, has fond memories of his father, Marley Brown, and the dedication he had towards rugby league in Gladstone.
Born in 1894 in Springsure, 66km south of Emerald, Marley died doing the job he loved, in 1975.
"He was an avid sports lover for all his life, mainly rugby league and cricket," Mr Brown said.
"He followed the rugby league here for 40 years.
"In the 1940s they played at the showgrounds and he used to cut all the grass with a scythe before the season started.
"He worked at the meatworks, which was seasonal work, so he used to have a lot of time and he'd go over (to Fry Park) day after day picking up all the stones and watering grass."
Marley used to work the gate at Fry Park, which was on the corner of Glenlyon St and the Dawson Highway at the time, selling tickets on football days.
Such was his dedication to rugby league in Gladstone, he did it until the day he died.
"Even the day he died he was still working for the league - he was selling raffle tickets and dropped dead with a heart attack."
The decision to name the field after Marley Brown wasn't made until after this death in 1975.