When Tasmanian Jen Rayner was a kid, she loved nothing more than going to her local ice rink for skating lessons – and its Friday night disco.
Now, her 12-year-old daughter Olivia is a dedicated figure-skater at the same rink with dreams of becoming a champion.
So, when that rink – in Hobart’s north and the only one left in the state – was put up for sale and possible demolition, the pair launched a campaign to save it rather than face the prospect of a 12-hour trip to Melbourne for the nearest alternative.
And with 1500 people now signing up as supporters of their mission and former world champion Nancy Kerrigan and Australian Olympic coach Kylie Fennell sending public messages of encouragement, Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has pledged to look into its future.
“The government recognises its importance to figure skaters, ice hockey players and the general public,” he said.
The rapid growth of the campaign has shocked everyone.
“It’s been amazing how much support we’ve received nationally, too,” said Ms Rayner, who would love to see a new Olympic-sized ice rink built while keeping the threatened rink in the meantime at Glenorchy, nine kilometres from the CBD.
“The ice rink is growing in popularity all the time, especially with the publicity over Disney On Ice being cancelled because of COVID-19.
“Tasmania has had some really successful skaters, such as Amy Pailthorpe, the national champion of adult gold, and female world champion Christine Van Den Berg. It would be a tragedy for all of us if it closed.”
Sales agent Rod Cohen of NAI Harcourts Hobart has also been taken aback by the weight of support for the ice rink.
Built 40 years ago by the same Kaitinis family that runs it today, it was put up for sale after the death of the owner’s husband, and she now wants to retire. It’s for sale for offers of more than $1.27 million.
“There has been a lot of community support for it,” said Mr Cohen of the 780-square-metre building, with the ice rink, cafe, games area, party room and storeroom.
“They want to keep it as an ice rink, but we don’t know if that will eventuate. We’ve had a few inquiries and a couple of inspections, but I don’t know if someone will buy it to keep or convert it to another use or demolish it.”
However, if it does close down, it will leave Tasmania as the only state or territory in the country without a rink. NSW, for instance, has eight of the national total of 21 rinks, Victoria has three, Queensland has five, and even Darwin has its own, started four years ago.
At the moment, the rink is still open to the public, budding figure-skaters, the 70 youngsters enrolled in the learn-to-skate program and more than 60 adult ice hockey players.
Ice Skating Australia’s sport development committee chairperson Kim Wilson said she’d been astonished by the support for the Save Tasmania’s Ice Sports and Recreation campaign.
“It would be awful to lose this rink,” said Ms Wilson. “We wouldn’t have ice sports any more in Tasmania. Even if the government did agree to build a new rink, that would take time and if this closed, we’d lose all these skaters and knowledge and resources and have to start again.
“Ice rinks are very popular now. Since COVID, the number of beginner skaters enrolling for classes has doubled, and we’ve even had a 70-year-old woman signing up here. It’s something everyone of every age can enjoy.”
Ms Rayner reached out to Nancy Kerrigan, the Olympic and world championships figure-skating medallist – who was embroiled in one of sport’s most shocking upsets when she was attacked by rival Tonya Harding – who agreed to record a message, saying she was distressed to hear about the rink’s potential closure.
“[It’s] just so devastating because skating is so important,” she said. “It’s so exciting; it’s international, there are so many opportunities for hockey players [and] figure skaters. Also, it’s just great exercise, not just physically but mentally, and it can be a great thing for people to do as a family … get out there and have some fun!
“I hope that you are able to save your ice rink because I would love to get down there and skate with you guys one day. Let me know how it goes, and good luck.”
Internationally renowned coach Kylie Fennell said in her message of support: “It’s so important to keep places like these open for the next generation.”