Wellingtonian Interviw: Brett Sipthorpe

Brett Sipthorpe on drop-in pitches: "They weigh 35 tonnes and we move them at half a kilometre an hour."
Brett Sipthorpe on drop-in pitches: "They weigh 35 tonnes and we move them at half a kilometre an hour."

Westpac Stadium and Basin Reserve head groundsman Brett Sipthorpe talks about moving from Australia, living on Russell Crowe Island, and a famous David Bowie concert.

Were you keen on sport at school?

I was into every sport. Coming from Melbourne, AFL was my big winter sport and it was cricket in summer. But golf, tennis . . . anything really.

Did that interest lead you into this job?

Definitely. I did OK at sport, but was never going to be an international player. I figured this would be another way of getting there.

Most people would go down the coaching, administration or media routes.

It was in our family. There had been a couple of curators on my mum's side and I always wanted to do it. I was always especially interested in cricket pitches.

How did you train?

I did an apprenticeship at Wesley College in Melbourne and ended up working there about nine years.

What prompted your move to New Zealand?

I missed out on a couple of jobs and thought it was time I looked outside the square, so I applied for a job in Whangarei.

How was that?

It was fantastic. Great friends, great weather. Trouble was, I was far too comfortable for a bloke of 30, so I had a go at this job about six years ago.

What is your job here?

I'm the turf manager for the Westpac Stadium and the Basin Reserve.

What did you know about Wellington before you arrived?

I had the wrong impression. I'd flown in a couple of times and the sky was blue and the weather was beautiful. I've grown to understand the weather since then!

So what do you think of Wellington now?

I absolutely love it. We've bought a house in Karori and I can get to work in 10 minutes. Living that close to the centre of Melbourne, my house would cost $2 million. I love how easy it is to get around Wellington, and the waterfront, the restaurants and bars. If the weather was better, everyone in the world would want to live here. I didn't expect to live in New Zealand so long, but we feel very settled here.

Does the weather make it difficult for a groundsman?

Definitely. Try putting covers on in that wind. But actually, the weather is not dissimilar to Melbourne's.

How do you feel about concerts on your fields?

There have been five since I've been at the stadium. They are challenging. My preference is not to be there for the set-up, but to just clean up the mess afterwards. Sometimes the turnaround is tough. AC/DC played two nights, and five days later the Sevens began.

There are some famous examples of grounds not recovering in time after a show.

The one people here talk about is Bowie, with a one-day cricket international following. A storm delayed the clean-up and in the end apparently they were still rolling out the turf while the players were warming up!

Do you watch the shows?

Too right! If they're going to stuff up my turf, at least I can enjoy the show.

How do you get the lines so straight when marking a field?

It is a real skill. Our guys take their time. You mark the lines with string and then paint by hand. It's not even 1 per cent of our job, but if the line markings are crooked, it's a terrible look.

I suppose drop-in cricket pitches have arrived since you were an apprentice.

Yes. New Zealand and Australia are the only countries that have drop-ins. Other countries have dedicated cricket parks. Drop-ins make it difficult, but once you get them right, they're OK.

How heavy is a drop-in pitch?

They weight 35 tonnes and we move them at half a kilometre an hour, so it's not a process that can be rushed.

How many staff have you got?

We have five fulltime staff and one casual in summer. Normally two of the fulltime staff are apprentices.

Does the Basin Reserve take up much of your time?

Not so much. We maintain the practice wickets there - the new ones up the back of the Brierley Pavilion, and about a dozen on the field. And we prepare the cricket pitches during summer. Most of my time is spent at the stadium. Especially with the Phoenix based here, there's very little down-time at the stadium.

What sport have you especially enjoyed since you arrived in Wellington?

I loved the Rugby World Cup. That South Africa-Australia quarter-final was awesome. The other big one while I've been here was the Bahrain-New Zealand World Cup football match. That was unbelievable. The noise and the crowd involvement was amazing. I'll never forget the crowd reaction when New Zealand scored.

Are you still an Aussie? Who do you support when New Zealand plays Australia?

I quietly support Australia, but I'm not very loud about it! My brother says I'm on Russell Crowe Island, about halfway across the Tasman, with no country to call home! Kiwis and Aussies are very similar. Aussies will always support the Kiwis if their own team isn't involved.

Can you do the haka?

No. I have too much respect for the haka to ruin it with my version.

The Wellingtonian