HE’S the man behind arguably the biggest development sporting wise that Sunraysia has ever seen.

Don Harley is the manager at Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct.

The facility itself is currently waiting to be officially named, with Mildura Rural City Council currently considering objections to the proposed title in line with Geographic Naming Victoria’s guidelines.

More than three quarters of MRCC submissions received recently voted in favour of it the facility being named the Mildura Sporting Precinct.

Politics aside, who is the man closely involded in this developemt and what is he hoping for the new facility?

Mildura Weekly chatted to the man himself to gain further insight.

It was the AFL that brought Harley to the district regional general manager of AFL Victoria’s Sunraysia office just over a year and a half ago.

But it was his fondness of Sunraysia that led him to stay once that role was made redundant.

“I do class Mildura as home, absolutely,” Harley, who is originally from Perth, said.

“I really like Mildura, I think the best past of it has been the people I have met while living here.”

Although he hasn’t yet been able to make it out on the park, due to injury, Harley plans to play football with the Wentworth District Football Netball Club.

“I play football locally and have had various touch points with the football fraternity which has been a great opportunity for me to meet people and build a bit of a network here and I have really identified with a lot of the friends I have made here,” he said.

“When I first landed here my two housemates were both Wentworth players and I have a bit of an existing link with Wade Hancock from the old days at GWS.

“He knew a lot of the players I knew and he gave me a call and we were able to draw on that and that is what got me out there.”

After uncertainty in his role with the AFL regarding relocation, as well as the COVID situation, Harley said it was difficult for him to settle originally, but by taking the position with Council, he has been able to get himself sorted.

“When this opportunity came up it wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to let go because not only is it a fantastic chance to use my existing skills but also build new ones while maintaining a presence in the sporting industry,” he said.

“It’s brilliant, it is exactly what I was looking for in terms of a new role and being able to utilise skills that I have gained in previous roles.

“Working at council has given me fantastic exposure to the project management aspect, working with the project management team as far as completing the build and being exposed to the different bargaining agreements etc which has been a good experience.

“I have also been able to utilize a lot of the existing relationships I had with sporting groups, but also have had a really good opportunity to meet different presidents and board members of other sporting groups that I haven’t met before, so I have really enjoyed the people aspect and being able to meet other figures in the local sporting scene.”

Harley spent the first 25 years of his life in Perth, before leaving temporarily for a brief stint in the inaugural GWS side in Sydney. In Western Australia he worked as a lawyer and was heavily involved in football.

Not that being the manager of a developing precinct as well as coaching and playing football locally leaves much spare time for Harley, but when he does get the chance he enjoys travelling.

“I tend to travel a lot and have enjoyed the proximity to Adelaide, but also exploring other areas of country Victoria like Bendigo, Daylesford and even down to Warrnambool and Port Fairy,” he said.

“I like to get away most weekends where possible.

“Otherwise, I have a small interest in a craft brewery in Western Australia called Cheeky Monkey, so I enjoy experiencing Victoria’s craft brewing culture and trying different products and experiences.

“I’m also a bit of an undercover nerd, so I enjoy reading a lot – Shoe Dog by Phil Knight has me hooked at the moment!”

Back to the precinct – Harley said he acknowledges how lucky he is: “I am very privileged because this will be a feature of Mildura for long after I’m gone and I think it will be something the community can be really proud of,” he said.

“I’ve obviously had a bit of a hand in formulating the different operational manuals and user group agreements that will set the framework for the community to be able to enjoy the different facilities that we have so it has been exciting and pleasing to be a part of something from the ground up.

“That’s appreciating a lot of the work from the building and project team occurred before my employment but it has been really exciting to be a part of something so significant to the community.”

Although only a small number of people have viewed the facility – due to the nature of the build, Harley said the feedback received so far has been really pleasing.

“The feedback has been really positive and a common comment is this isn’t what they were expecting, eluding to it being much better than they were expecting, so that’s cool,” he said.

“The effect of that makes us really excited to be able to open this facility up to the community at large because we are very hopeful that sentiment will be reflected by the entire community and not just the small snippet that have been able to see it ahead of time.

“I hope the future sees us being able to deliver a number of really big sporting events across the sporting codes and at a range of different levels to be able to demonstrate the full ability and capacity of this stadium and to really justify to the community that it is a worthwhile project.

“I’ve got no doubt that will come to fruition and we have seen that already with our partnership with Bendigo Spirit in the WNBL.

“We were able to lock that down without having a completed facility so hopefully that is a really good sign of things to come.”

– By Zoey Andrews