Chris Marsh interview, 15 July 2015, 28 July 2015, 05 August 2015

Dublin Core


Chris Marsh interview, 15 July 2015, 28 July 2015, 05 August 2015


Other - UWA Sports Grounds


McGillivray Oval in Mount Claremont, now known as UWA Sports Park , celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015. Turf Manager Chris Marsh has worked at the grounds for 40 of those years as grounds man, curator and senior turf technician.
Chris talks knowledgeably about the history of the grounds from the early twentieth century when the State government endowed the university with a a parcel of land, to the world class multi sport facility it is in 2015. The Park has sporting facilities for athletics, Australian rules football, baseball, cricket, football, hockey, rugby and tennis. It hosts national and international championships and sports carnivals as well as being home to local sporting clubs and schools.
Chris talks about the improvements in turf management during his working life and the challenges of providing good playing surfaces for the increasing number of sports played year round on the oval. He provides anecdotes about the odd, unusual and amusing incidents he and his family witnessed during their years on site in the caretaker’s house.
At 65 years of age, Chris still finds enjoyment and challenges in his work and appears in no hurry to retire.


Marsh, Chris


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Anne Yardley


Chris Marsh


McGillivray Oval, Perth, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 hour, 13 seconds
Interview 2: 1:hour, 44 seconds
Interview 3: 1:hour, 8 minutes
Total: 3:hours, 8 minutes, 57 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1
00:00 Introduction
00:30 Christopher Richard Marsh, born 16 June 1950. Parents Roy [Ernest] Marsh, merchant navy sea caption, mother Joanna Marsh [née Martin] from Donnybrook. During childhood, didn’t see father often which he likens to present experience of fly in fly out workers’ families: “ship in ship out”. Schooling, everything based around what mother did for him and his sister. Only when father retired did Chris really get to know him. Father became a master mariner. Parents met just before the war, mother involved in secret service work unbeknown to family. Father travelled the world, sailing ships and motor vessels, was involved in convoys in North Sea during war. Most seafaring career up west coast of WA, taking cargo and later cargo and passengers. Very involved with development of north-west. Ord River scheme stands out for Chris, father involved in shipping materials for project – in its pioneer days.

05:00 In 1974 Chris’s future wife, Sandra [née Mclean] joined family at Christmas when family got news of Cyclone Tracy and that Chris’s father’s ship was the first into Darwin following the cyclone – only line of communication into Darwin.
School: ‘old boy’ of St Hilda’s pre-primary. Richmond then Nedlands State Schools till 1960 then Christ Church Grammar School until 1967. Sport a big part of Chris’s life: Aussie Rules and cricket especially. Mother mostly brought up Chris and sister. Father worked hard to send children to private school, thinks parents struggled financially, mostly renting homes. Father also worked in wool stores, made sacrifices to send them to private schools. “Blown away by this sacrifice, they worked really hard to give us a good education.” Chris valued his education, mostly enjoyed school, reflects on how character is molded by upbringing, environment.

10:00 But a disinterested teacher adversely influenced his academic performance, took Chris time to reach university standard. Loved humanities, biology, botany – loved tending mother’s garden, mowing, a very practical person. Quite good at art and drawing hence architecture but he worried about maths proficiency. Accepted into WAIT studying architecture and later joined architectural firm. Wasn’t a Chair in landscape architecture at the time, only course in Canberra. “If there had been, I would have done landscape architecture, no doubt about it.” Gained associate degree architecture, six years, industry based course at WAIT.
First work at 1974 Forbes and Fitzhardinge during last two and a half years of course, found it extremely energising – much activity late 60s and early 70s architectural firms doing well in boom times. Learnt from Perth’s best designers.
15:00 Assisted with work on AMP tower, Commonwealth Bank, Palace Hotel and issues with demolition. Historic buildings unfortunately removed in name of progress. Exciting time, one of bigger firms in Perth at 1 Ord St East Perth. “We had the time of our lives.” Got to know Gus Ferguson at UWA, much work on uni campus. Discusses similarities between architecture and turf management – the mindset doesn’t change. More hands on being turf manager, but still have same thought processes to plan for major sporting events: logical thinking. Skills cross over – Chris still uses drawing board to plan sports events. Presentation important. 1974, downturn in economy, construction declined, experienced architects were retrenched. Defining moment, geared up for architecture career, but had doubts about security.

20:00 Out of work, he waited by the phone, went to beach, the pub which led to work at Chelsea Tavern, became bar manager and met future wife Sandy there, married in 1978. Had great fun enjoyed night clubbing but not getting anywhere professionally.
22:15 1976 applied for UWA job in landscape architect’s office, Jean Verschuer , stayed 6 / 7 months. During 1968 holidays, summer Chris had worked at UWA for George Munns and his foreman, John Davey, very knowledgeable. Office work didn’t suit Chris, glad to be offered work as groundsman.

25:00 New Year’s Eve 2016 will mark 40 years working for grounds department UWA.
Office work for Jean Verschuer was drafting and although enjoyed architectural studies, preferred grounds work despite modest pay. Parents not pleased about move. Work involved mowing programs for sporting ovals. Athletes like Dennis Lillee, Raylene Boyle involved in testing with human movement department. Love of botany came to the fore. Doesn’t recall learning on the job, most people self taught then. Turf management a science but common sense also needed. UWA then had very good rose gardens, but today more maintenance free grounds needed.

30:00 Formal studies came later. Moved from campus grounds to McGillivray Oval – then a wide open space and akin to being sent to Siberia, not well thought of position. Known by horticulturists then as ‘green desert’. Still aspects of ‘them’ and ‘us’ between main campus gardens and McGillivray sports grounds: I was basically banished but that was the best thing that happened to me. Expectation he’d leave to return to architecture but he preferred horticulture. Was given termination papers but with help from foreman and curator of McGillivray pleaded his case, that he understood sport and wanted him to work on cricket wickets. Must appreciate sport and athletes’ needs to manage sporting facilities, especially cricket, where ground can affect outcome of a game. Chris finds it common sense, but not everyone does.

35:00 In late 1977 the then curator left, Chris thrown in at the deep end to provide cricket wickets,
Chris’s son, Thomas, studied history of McGillivray. Chris took on curator’s job and cottage 1981 until 2013. Thomas grew up at McGillivray. State government bequeathed land to university in 1908, about 60 acres of virgin bush, market gardens at south end, pig farm, west Subiaco rubbish tip, Aboriginal people living on land. 1929 to 1933 German entrepreneur selling tractors, Herman Ittershagen, leased land for airport. Local car club built race track around airfield, named it Brooklands. Usage waxed and waned over the years.
40:00 Air pageants with cars around the track, a marshal was injured. Car club folded. Subiaco and Nedlands libraries have some historical stories on record. During Second World War, airstrip bulldozed to prevent Japanese landing. Post war – motor cycle scrambles, gliding – people showing interest in using the land. Increasingly difficult for Ittershagen to get civil aviation licenses and gave it away.
Chris’s first recollections were of 1962 Commonwealth Games, used for bus parking to get to Perry Lakes Stadium.
43:00 Late 1950s and early 1960s, UWA considered the area for sporting rounds, notably Prof Allan Fels .
1963 UWA began to develop grounds for sport, clear land. Dr McGillivray donated 10,000 pounds to UWA towards cost. Chris doesn’t know actual cost. Land cleared and grass planted. 1964 change rooms western side of grounds built. Opened in May 1965 (50th year 2015). Race track still visible northern boundary Cambridge and Nedlands Council boundaries.

45:00 To acknowledge 50 years, a plaque or information board about history suggested, but not happened so far. Chris would like to see– both for 50 years of sports grounds and even earlier history. Noongyar community had to be consulted about moving native vegetation for clay tennis courts, discussed with anthropologists. Because Chris had knowledge of history and knew it to be re-growth so not actually virgin bush. Most of sports grounds originally part of coastal Tuart forests. Footprint of sports grounds grass playing fields not changed, other facilities built eg clay courts and synthetic hockey grounds. McGillivray Road follows lie of the land. Parts of CSIRO area (UWA land) still has old Tuart trees. Chris found part of race track on sports grounds when digging about half metre down. Early 1970s, concerns about tree stumps just under surface.

50:00 April 1981 Chris and family moved into the caretaker’s cottage. Tony Morgan replaced Jean Verscheur as landscape architect. Subsidised rent attractive to young family but house run down and wife, Sandy horrified. With clean up and modifications became livable. House became a farm in the western suburbs. Son, Thomas, had plenty to do, Chris tells story of Thomas playing with lambs and ducks in Perry Lakes – free range child. Closest residential neighbours in Floreat.

55:00 We looked out on a vast greenness from the front door - fabulous time in the early days, changed after Challenge Stadium built 1986 with more people coming in. No security concerns, felt safe, doing rounds occasionally came across unfortunate things – suicide in change rooms quite difficult to deal with at the time. Living on site meant always on duty, very protective of facility, kept on top of any problems that arose. Occasional undesirable behaviour with increase in clubs activity. UWA Football Club at AJ Williams pavilion hockey, tennis and baseball clubs for instance. Chris believes still needs to be a presence on site on regular basis.
It’s an asset that’s worth billions in land value, but it’s also an asset that is worth so much more to the population.
1:13:00 END First interview

Interview 2
00:00 Introduction
00:30 Value of the asset at McGillivray Sports Oval and main campus for recreation, pleasure and sport. UWA fortunate to have space for multi sport venue, receive many requests for large carnivals, for instance Australian University Games (every five years). Facilities benefit economy by bringing people to Perth for carnivals. In early 2000s, the Golden Oldies Rugby international competition, brought approximately $20 million to the economy; July 2002 held World Lacrosse Championships with 20 countries, USA, Canada, Iroquois native Americans, competing at elite level – challenging event for Chris and staff. Overseas visitors in awe of space in Perth for sports facilities. Hard to put a figure on financial value of sports grounds to economy. Draw card for sport, for instance UWA the only host of Australian University Games able to hold all sports within radius of two kilometres.

05:00 Most cities bus from venue to venue. UWA facilities unique though Loughborough University, UK and Sydney University also place high value on sport. Building towards carnivals is challenging and interesting part of job for Chris. Qualifications: as grounds man, gardeners were self taught, usually passionate gardeners. Nature part of process. Through 1970s and 1980s qualifications became more important. Horticulture certificate, diplomas studies at Tafe at Bentley. Turf management not thought of until mid 1980s. Chris took two year industry based turf management certificate 1989-90 partly to encourage UWA to recognise occupation as a trade. Course consisted two evenings, two hours each for two years; included site visits for instance WACA to learn about wickets.

10:00 Small industry with little opportunity to meet others in industry; friendly, enjoyable industry. Chris won best student in his year, won an award – C H Bailey Shield. UWA supportive of studies. Turf management a growing medium. Grass has different needs at different times of year, good surface must be sustained. Some sports, much hockey now played on synthetic surfaces, some tennis on clay. Most ball sports played on turf, with different preferences. Chris says McGillivray has best grass hockey grounds in Southern Hemisphere. 1977 Australia played New Zealand in hockey test match, turf quality very good. Spring is renovation time for grass, most growth in summer to be ready for non growing period in winter when most ball sports played.

15:00 Other turf types introduced, for example over sowing rye into couch, particularly for heavy sports like rugby, AFL. In spring, rye sprayed out and couch strengthened. Waste water irrigation introduced 2004 from sewage treatment works, Subiaco – bonus for grounds with extra nutrients. First big city to use treated sewage waste water on sports grounds. Most treated waste sewage water goes into sea at Swanbourne. McGillivray now uses 1.5 megalitres (1.5 million millimetres) per night, five nights per week in summer. Fifty-four million litres wasted into the sea. Water also chlorine treated before use at McGillivray, two year trial period through Water Corporation through Tafe. Water sampling and CSIRO pathogen survival test done, so very safe for sporting ground, better than earlier times with sheep grazing on grounds.

20:00 UWA rugby club were concerned about staph infections but turned out to be off ground hygiene at fault. I think it’s [waste water] an accepted thing. Hopefully, one of these days we’ll be drinking treated waste water.
Regulations require signage to say These grounds are irrigated with waste water between the hours of nine and one. No drinking fountains on grounds. Now have different types of grasses for over sowing, worked with PGG Wrightson, New Zealand seed producers to work on over seeding so there is winter grass growing. Turf technicians beholden to usage and weather – if they all align, then we’re really doing well, …It’s one of those jobs where it’s not finite. It’s to do with a lot of luck. Management of ground, with usage. We’re victims of our own success and I think we succeed reasonably well within the constraints of budget… that we can produce sports grounds that people want to play on. Elite sports teams want to train at McGillivray.

25:00 Western Force uses grounds for training as well as UWA Rugby and third tier rugby – city based, Perth Spirit, hence now able to sustain rugby over full 12 months except for two or three weeks over Christmas. Big challenge to maintain grounds. Elite sportspeople need to be safe on the sports grounds. For instance, shin splint injuries if turf too hard. Injuries inevitable, try to provide best surface for particular sport. Important for turf managers to understand different sports from a player’s viewpoint, eg, baseball has specific dimensions for pitcher’s mound.

30:00 Aim for weekend sport is for freshly mown, beautiful looking ground – Chris finds joy in this. In Chris’s 40 years, worked under seven vice chancellors. Some passionate VCs – Alan Robson – very keen on sport. Fantastic people to have around. Prof John Boomfield , Human Movement also passionate – provide grounds for testing eg fast bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar , came to WA to have bowling action checked. Had to prepare wicket to specific standard. John Bloomfield instrumental in development of Challenge Stadium.

35:00 Elite teams, for instance AFL teams, West Coast Eagles and Dockers, train at McGillivray and requested testing and remedial action of surface to suit requirements. Climate important factor: in 2000, eight clay tennis courts put in, 2004 another six added, now not really playable. Clay courts new to WA and experienced problems with dry summer winds. European designed courts deteriorated quickly in WA but turf can be rehabilitated or re-laid. Challenges come with local conditions, eg water, now have good irrigation for uniformity of grass. Eventually grounds suffer too much use.

40:00 McGillivray has ability to move sports to different grounds to prevent over use. When Chris played sport was two nights per week for limited time with no lights on ground. Now grounds used every day and evenings. Schools use grounds 3.30 – 5.30 pm, then UWA seniors continue to 9pm. Intensive use of grounds especially during practice sessions. Chris worked 10 years on James Oval, UWA campus on cricket wickets. Different from McGillivray as built on alluvial flood plain, hence drainage and watering different. James Oval has different uses, good planning necessary..

45:00 Silver Chair Concert at McGillivray with one week ‘bump in’ trucks bringing in infrastructure for seven thousand people on ground. Weeks and months before event the important part. All campus space well used, for instance Writers Festival, social sport, O Days on James Oval and others, compromise needed. Chris believes UWA cricket may need to move as it grows. Suffers from only having one ground on campus.

50:00 Staff at McGillivray when Chris started work were down to earth, hard working – didn’t have in ground irrigation, grounds mown with small mowers – back breaking work. People now wouldn’t put up with such conditions. Chris learnt from these older workers. In 2005 supported an English worker on 457 visa , problems trying to get sponsorship. Within hours of visa expiring, Chris visited Julie Bishop’s office and had visa approved through sponsorship by UWA. Another worker similar problems, now both have permanent residency and enjoying life in Australia: Rob Thompson and Simon Tipple. Rob won same award Chris had [C H Bailey].
55:00 Other staff member Thomas Marsh, Chris’s son, started 2000 works skills situation, now permanent staff member particular interest in athletics track, passionate about work and weather. Cinder based grass athletics track arguably best in Australia if not worldwide. Grass good for young athletes and for rehabilitation, very forgiving unlike synthetic tracks. Many WAIS athletes train on grass — pole vaulters, Kim Mickle , javelin champion. Grass tracks labour intensive, needs continual maintenance. Cinders come from coal fire power stations, few remaining, cinders now scarce. Hard work to shovel cinders into truck for grounds. Very dirty, dusty, no masks, ear muffs or protective clothing then. Proud that track is still used.
1:00:44 END second interview

Interview 3
00:00 Introduction

00:30 University sports people have priority in usage of multi sport facility. McGillivray initially an adjunct to Perry Lakes, now even closer to new athletic stadium for athletes training and rehabilitation. Successful athletes who used facility include high jumpers Alison Inverarity and Christine Stanton. Alex Parnov trains daughters [Elizabeth and Vicky]; Steve Hooker world champion pole vaulter—privilege to work with them, to be appreciated for efforts. Kim Mickle javelin thrower training for next Olympics – refreshing to see athletes humble. Once athletes appeared more aloof. Athletes now more community minded, friendly.

5:00 Late 1980s early 90s athletics track used for ultra marathons, recalls Cliff Young: These guys were just a little bit crazy in the way they would run 24 hours non stop round our athletics track. Mentions Joe Record who came to caretaker’s door looking for Vaseline for a chaffing problem from running.
Different kinds of activities held on oval not usually associated with sport: weddings, funerals. Previously, held gay olympics with traditional sports as well as handbag throwing. Several held before AIDS epidemic, imaginative floats—even a mock Pope-mobile. But AIDS stopped games and though now re-instated not as joyous as before. Made life at the oval interesting.
10:00 In late 1980s, recalls wedding on sports ground. Funeral was rugby club well known identity. FESA [now DFAS] used oval for helicopter training – water placed in bath for helicopters to load from. Fire and hose drill generally done here. Chris had discretion on what events were held on oval, now OH & S concerns means closer scrutiny. Usage of grounds tightened because of its popularity. Major events include: World Golden Oldies, early 2000s, World Club Ultimate Championships, 2004, World Lacrosse, Indian Rim Asian University Games.
15:00 Chris understands Noonygar camped around Lake Claremont, Herdsman area with movement of people from one watering hole to another. Aboriginal community had curfew placed on them by City of Perth, had to return to camps by certain time in evening. Chris’s aunt, a nurse, worked infectious diseases hospital, Lemnos St , and went to camps to assist. Aboriginal people made clothes line wooden props from cut down trees and sold to households. Chris thinks this was pre Second World War. Living at McGillivray, before HBF, Challenge, stadium, nothing around area except CSIRO, Brockway tip and sewerage treatment works. Had issues with facilities – winds brought unpleasant smells. Professor Bloomfield lobbied gov to build purpose built stadium for gymnastics, basketball and others. 1991 and 1998 world swimming championships held at Superdome [HBF Stadium], Chris very involved with facilities.

20:00 University became involved with DSR [Department of Sport and Recreation] about location of new Perry Lakes and basketball stadium. Rugby WA was looking for new home. UWA Sports Grounds to provide facilities for these sports as well as centre of health and sporting excellence – original vision. Global financial crises delayed projects. Human Movement department keen to move to McGillivray. Development of clay courts, needs progressing. Seen AJ Williams pavilion built 1981, Uni hockey club building, now rugby club. University hockey club built first sand filled turf in 1989, first synthetic wet surface in early 1990s, then two more turfs laid and new clubhouse built. 2014 another second wet surface – hockey well catered for. Tennis has own club rooms, more work to be done with lighting and clay courts. With 14 clay courts able to put on major tournaments – national clay court championships for juniors, State championships and others. Sporting surfaces need replacing over time. Turf can be renovated, synthetic need replacing. Footprint of grass turf area hasn’t changed, development of synthetic surfaces changed area.

25:00 Challenge to provide top sports grounds and facilities to service sports people. Original change rooms built 1964, need improving. Chris would like to see facilities upgraded, club rooms have great potential overlooking sports grounds and towards city. Wonderful facility, opportunity for smart buildings in future. In excess of 500,000 people through grounds each year. They come for recreation, health, competitive sport, camaraderie – social interaction. Need to balance optimum use against over use. Better equipment helps, can always improve methods, still more scope to partner with elite sports clubs, with extra funds to put back into facility. Have been times when specific sports have wanted to connect with university to use facility, politics sometimes intervened.

30:00 Different university personnel has meant different emphasis. On site management during operational hours is best practice. University clubs volunteer based. Important to have customer service on site to solve problems as they happen. Sporting association used to have people working from sports park, tennis or hockey centres – worked well. Chris believes should be someone on site from 2 or 3pm to 10.30 or 11pm. Ground staff available during day with trades people available for back up. Expects bookings will go online; disadvantage is inability to pay on the day. Weekends should have someone with sports knowledge and ground management on site.

35:00 Ability to check grounds and speak to users an advantage when living on site. Still has meetings with clubs pre season to set out ground rules, clubs are also ground managers when playing – all work together to get best out of facility. 2015 is 50th anniversary of McGillivray. So far no commemoration planned. Celebration matches one suggestion. Chris believes it’s important to record and learn from history. Remembers that everything was manual in early days, important to pass on knowledge to future staff.

40:00 Personal achievements – ability to put on major events. Likes the variety at McGillivray, unlike single sport venue such as the WACA. Enjoys interaction with people. Recalls Japanese baseball team came to play WA side, were amazed to see spacious facility. Advantage of large space to be able to hold events like Uni Games. My joys have been successful events. And to have efforts acknowledged by sporting clubs. We walk away every Friday hoping we can show ourselves we have achieved something in a week.

45:00 Enjoyment from work. I feel quite privileged being in this situation. Disappointments: put everything into something but outside factors prevent completion, minor setbacks but still disappointing. Need to rise above, need resilience. Recalls meeting Jean Verscheur after many years and suggested tour of McGillivray with Friends of Grounds.
50:00 Organised morning tea in tractor shed, displayed history, toured facility. People appreciated meeting grounds staff and learning about sports facilities. Glenn Sproule, former curator of grounds was passionate, like George Munns, and had great insight into grounds, an ecologist. Would like see more education of staff about McGillivray – never been staff induction that includes McGillivray. Crawley campus academia quite insular. Chris worked 10 years on James Oval, chemistry lecturer regularly traversed Oval without noticing Chris or Oval. Many immersed in own world, don’t see anything else around. James Oval interesting time for Chris – Elton John played there 1980s. Food fights between competing faculties. Cricket Club 100 years old – Chris put together scrap book about Oval.

55:00 Hard work going from McGillivray to main campus daily. Personnel change enabled Chris to stay at McGillivray. Believes University cricket will struggle if it stays on main campus, like rugby would benefit from moving to McGillivray.
57:00 During early caretaking days, bushland setting, enjoyed walking through bush; had a resident tramp living there. Riding for the Disabled (RDA) used area for riding. Mounted police did training on grounds. Unfortunately some people escaped from Graylands Hospital and would need to be returned. Quite sad. Recently a patient ended up on shed roof, police had to coax him down. During building of Challenge Stadium discovered underground room big enough to stand full height. Walls tiled (from swimming pool tiles), had cooking utensils. Some concern from RDA people, never discovered who lived there.

1:00:00 Found marijuana growing, the odd stolen vehicle. Problems with foxes taking chickens. Their friends enjoyed visiting and being in bush setting. By 2013 area was well populated. Sporting clubs had celebrations on site. Chris continues to enjoy working, still engaged. Since leaving as caretaker, realises there is more to life than work but has also given him renewed enthusiasm. Still finds challenges. Seasonal routines though needs can change quickly—that maintains interest. Enjoys interaction with sportspeople and other users of grounds. Saw Ben Cousins work on rehabilitation, became friendly with family, helped to keep media away. McGillivray now very much media central as far as sport is concerned.

1:05:00 Good for reporters that it’s one stop shop: can find Eagles, Western Force and Perth Glory training on same day. Fun for staff. Chris thinks university could get free publicity out of regular television coverage. Still has much to offer new people coming in, would like to be involved with UWA Sport re-structuring. Doesn’t think he’s slowed down much.

1:08:00 ENDS




Marsh, Chris, “Chris Marsh interview, 15 July 2015, 28 July 2015, 05 August 2015,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,