BEST OF 2023: Wagga and Griffith need a giant waterslide more than a new cultural arts hub

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Kid going down a big slide.

Everyone seems to miss the Water Whizz at Wagga Beach. Photo: Linda Douglas/Lost Wagga Wagga.

Year in Review: Region is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2023. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking this year. Today, Oliver Jacques stirs the pot.

It’s very odd that families in the Riverina’s biggest cities have to trek to Narrandera, Leeton and Junee for decent water recreation facilities.

But while Wagga and Griffith invest millions in their arts scenes, could the smaller councils in our region be more attuned to what the masses really want?

The Riverina’s cultural attractions are now the envy of rural Australia. Our larger councils have done an amazing job securing the funds needed to build and upgrade our theatres, libraries, galleries, museums and the conservatorium.

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You would need to travel a long way to find the rich history on display at the redeveloped Museum of the Riverina Botanic Gardens and Pioneer Park Museum.

Wagga Council is now transforming its old ambulance station into a creative industries hub, while Griffith Council plans to build a new art gallery as part of a cultural precinct in town – which could cost $30 million if it goes ahead.

Both sound great, but are they really what our towns need? What proportion of our residents actually go to art galleries and creative hubs on a regular basis?

I’d bet our average family would choose riding Leeton’s new twin-ring giant waterslide ahead of visiting the latest ‘Monet in Paris’ exhibition.

Leeton twin-ringed waterslide

Leeton’s need waterslide has Wagga envious. Photo: Supplied.

Leeton’s redeveloped pool has sent the town into a spin, just as the high-speed racer slides at Lake Talbot entranced Narrandera.

Wagga kids can only look on with envy – the closest they got to something like that was riding the slippery dip at Riverside Adventure Park during last year’s floods.

In Griffith, children are jumping in dangerous irrigation channels due to a lack of alternatives.

We are told our galleries and museums are good for tourism and the economy. That may be true, but how much are local businesses losing when entire families spend their summer days at water parks in other towns?

It’s clear there’s nothing Wagga and Griffith want more than better water recreational facilities.

wet playpark

The Wagga floods were the closest residents got to waterslides. Photo: Chris Roe.

Try posting an old photo of the Water Whizz at Wagga Beach or Rippa Slippa at the Wagga baths on social media and you’ll get a torrent of comments lamenting their loss streaming on your feed for days.

When my peers were young, they would spend their weekends at Lake Albert or Lake Wyangan – both were once the heartbeat of their respective towns. But the water is now usually so toxic, even pets can be advised to give them a wide berth.

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Addressing blue-green algal outbreaks is challenging and expensive. But towns such as Shepparton have made this a priority, fixed their lake and revived their biggest summer attraction. Most Riverina ratepayers would see substantial investment in lakes as a better use of their taxes than some recent council expenses.

It’s true that Wagga’s Oasis Aquatic Centre and Griffith Regional Aquatic & Leisure Centre are impressive facilities. But both are more geared towards fitness and lap swimming rather than frolicking and fun.

The good news is that waterslides and a splash park are both included in Wagga council’s Bolton Park Masterplan, though there’s no timeframe for completion.

As our bored kids wilt over another sweltering summer, let’s hope these slides don’t slip behind a new ‘cultural hub’ in council’s list of priorities.

Disclaimer: The author of this article is a complete philistine.

What should be council’s top priority when it comes to your town’s recreational facilities?

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