Bendigo skateboarders given marching orders

SAVE OUR SPACE: Tyler Wilkinson and Toby Gujer in the abandoned former Bendigo State Government Battery which they have converted into an indoor skate park. Picture: NONI HYETT
SAVE OUR SPACE: Tyler Wilkinson and Toby Gujer in the abandoned former Bendigo State Government Battery which they have converted into an indoor skate park. Picture: NONI HYETT

A group of youths who spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours converting an abandoned shed into an indoor skate park have been given their marching orders by a state department.

Twenty-one-year-old registered nurse Toby Gujer led efforts to patch holes in the roof of the former Bendigo State Government Battery in Golden Square and construct two half pipes.

Now he has started an online petition to try and garner community support to preserve the place he calls the ‘Neighbourhood’ after receiving an order to remove all material from the building. 

“The Neighbourhood started because we needed a place to skate in winter,” Mr Gujer said. 

“It’s cold, it’s raining, if we skate in indoor car parks we get moved on.

“So we thought – ‘why don’t we use an abandoned building?’” 

The Castlemaine Health nurse previously worked for Skateboarding Australia running workshops in rural towns. 

Eventually, he felt the space could have been used to run outreach programs for disaffected youth. 

“Skateboarding saved my life,” he said. 

“It is an outlet for some people, something for them to focus on rather than other...distractions.

“It is something positive to do instead of doing nothing.” 

In the meantime, the Neighbourhood has already become a social hub for more than 20 young skaters and their friends.

Thirty-six-year-old Leon said he had seen the skateboarding community “grow up” in Bendigo – where nothing compared to the Neighbourhood. 

“I’ve had a skateboard in my hands since I was six,” the father of two and hospitality worker said. 

“Back in the ‘90s there was a skating rink – which wasn’t that great – but that was shut down.

“We haven’t really had anything since.” 

Eighteen-year-old skater Issac Rosaia said the space had given him and his friends a place to pursue their passion. 

“If our passion was football it wouldn’t be a problem – there’s plenty of space in Bendigo for that,” he said.

“But we’re passionate about skating and because that’s our sport there’s nowhere for us to go.” 

And it is not just skateboarders who found in the space a creative outlet. 

Artist Celeste Lloyd, 19, recently graduated from Bendigo Senior Secondary College and plans on moving to Melbourne to study creative arts.

“There just aren’t many good art spaces in Bendigo,” Ms Lloyd said. 

“Here you feel like you can do whatever you want, you can come down and be creative and you know whatever you’re doing you’ll be supported.”

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has given the group until August 8 to remove the ramps and other material.

Mr ujer’s petition – Save the Neighbourhood – had gathered 697 supporters by 3pm today. 

If it reaches 1000 signatures it will be forwarded to Minister of Land Richard Wynne.

State agrees to talk

DELWP Loddon Mallee land, planning and approvals regional manger Adam Melis left the door ajar to coming to an agreement with the skaters in a statement to the Bendigo Advertiser

“Currently there is no permission for specific use of the former heritage State Battery on the corner of Belle Vue Road and Porter Street, Golden Square,” Mr Melis said. 

“The site has not been used for a number of years and there are no immediate plans for its future use.

“An inspection of the site by department officers found that in its current condition the site may pose health and safety risks to the public, particularly to young children.

“The department is willing to meet with representatives of the skateboard group to discuss their needs and future arrangements for safe use of the site.

“The department can be contacted on 5430 4444.”