Join the ClubClubs have always been an important part of my family and social life. I’m referring here to the registered clubs with premises, food, drinks and – perhaps more contentiously – gambling. My grandparents’ lives, I am told, were greatly enriched with the advent of Souths and the offer of chicken- in-the-basket; something to get dressed up for, apparently. Growing up for me meant Friday nights at the Chinese restaurant in the Bronte RSL and, in more recent years, Wednesday night steaks at the bowling club on Birrell Street, cheap T-bones at Club Bondi on Thursdays, lemon sole Tuesdays at Easts, and so it goes on. We follow those cheap, good eats that only the clubs seem to offer and we don’t have to travel far.
Clubs are also where many of us meet and sometimes the only place we see each other. I know I can catch up with my great uncle Ron and his mates at the Charing Cross Legion Club before 6pm, my uncle Mark at the Coogee Diggers, and family besties Deb and Harry at the Juniors on Anzac Parade. The affordable function areas of our local clubs are also likely to be the venue for important events in our lives, be it a wedding, birthday party or the children’s dance exhibition. I had my 21st at the Randwick Club and my dad had his at the Charing Cross Legion Club opposite the then family newsagency. A lifelong friend had her bar mitzvah at the Hakoah Club in Bondi.
Our local clubs are important institutions in our community, providing affordable social gathering places as well as food, drink and entertainment. They are the places in which we gather and meet our friends and it is here where friendships are formed, bonds are made and social capital is produced. They also provide much-needed support for many community activities including junior sporting clubs, life saving, older citizens’ activities and more. This explains in large part why the membership of Save Bronte galvanized to fight the sale of the Bronte RSL site and why so many have joined the battle to save the Waverley Bowling Club.
For those without membership of a church, temple or other special interest group, the local licensed clubs may be their only source of community engagement. For the growing numbers of us lacking much domestic entertainment space, the clubs may be our only ‘backyard’ or parlour, with the added advantage that we do not need to clean up afterwards! Importantly, for the many who are struggling with mounting energy costs, especially the aged, the clubs provide free heating.
Clubs are important and we need to support them. However, many people are rightly concerned about the impact of gambling on the community and the dependence of clubs on revenue from pokies. In my view, if someone wants to gamble a manageable, sustainable part of their income, be it on pokies or lottery tickets or get rich or thin schemes, that is their business. Of course legislation and other efforts must be directed to protecting gamblers from addictive behavior, including limiting withdrawals from ATMs and regulating the machines themselves.
The good news is that there are indications that the best community clubs are already moving away from a dependence on gambling activities. There is some great data coming out of our clubs showing that the combination of club culture and events can be a far stronger magnet than gambling for attracting revenue. A number of local Eastern Suburbs clubs are already earning the majority of their revenue over the bar with declining pokie participation, which is a very promising sign. These venues have become places that you can bring your entire family to and have a great day. They are a great example of how clubs don’t need to be dependent on pokie revenue in order to be sustainable.
My call to the clubs is to bring back more good entertainment and some appropriate décor
to attract more of our younger residents. Friday night at Easts Leagues Sessions Bar used to be the happening place to be, with cheap drinks, dim lighting and karaoke. I’m sorry to say this but now it feels completely soulless and totally dedicated to pokies.
If there is anybody reading this article who doesn’t frequent a local club, I recommend that you give it a go – you will probably be surprised by who you meet there. My bet (pun intended) is that you will want to preserve it.
Dr Marjorie O’Neill is a Waverley Councillor. The views expressed here are her own, although we generally agree with them.