Kyneton rally against MHS

By Chris Hosking

Members of the Kyneton community held a rally outside the Kyneton Bowling Club on Wednesday to protest against the Maryborough Highland Society breaching a long-standing agreement.

The arrangement between the landlord of the Kyneton Bowling Club, the Macedon Ranges Shire Council and the KBC, was for a door connecting the club and the carpark and community facilities to be an exit-only door.

As refurbishments of the Kyneton Mechanics Institute and the grounds surrounding the site began, the door was opened as both entry and exit to and from the bowling club.

I attended the rally as an interested observer and witnessed a group of primary school children from the adjacent school visiting the library.

The library entrance is about six metres from the entrance to the KBC with its poker machines inside. The primary school is next to a playground that abuts the library. This area is a very public area used by families, school children and library patrons, and of course those who gamble on pokies.

There are public toilets between the library entrance and the club entrance. As women enter the women’s toilet, the door to the club opens as the electronic sensor is activated exposing an open space area of the bowling club.

There are no poker machines visible from the entrance but this is not the point.

The agreement has been broken.

The protesters want the door returned as an exit only.

The Macedon Ranges Shire councillors apparently met yesterday to discuss, among other issues, the future of the door.

But of course as the Shire is the landlord, they would be very concerned about the viability of the club. However, some at the rally indicated that a few councillors would be happy to see the pokies gone and the space given over to the community and the club returned to the bowlers before their folly of morphing into poker machine operators.

The sign on the offending door says the entrance will open for use at 4:30pm Monday to Friday and at 12 noon on Saturdays and 11 AM on Sundays.

The door was fully operational when I arrived at about midday and no doubt it was operational at opening time.

The MHS are flouting their own rules.

Malcolm Blandthorn, general manger of the Maryborough Highland Society is quoted in the Midland Express as saying the door was opened up as an entry door to ensure the viability of the club.

Apart from the startling proposition that the bowling club’s financial future hinges on a door opening, the breach of the agreement is another example of not only poor community public relations on behalf of the Highland Society but also the desperate financial state of the bowling club.

WIN TV from Bendigo covered the rally and the journalist said on air that the MHS had been contacted about the door issue. The official response from the society was that this rally was part of a backlash to the Commission granting a license in Castlemaine.

The society avoided the door issue altogether and did nothing to improve their standing and reputation with the Kyneton residents.

As the controversies associated with the Maryborough Highland Society both in Kyneton and Castlemaine unfold with the society’s poor public relations skills and condescending attitudes, I am drawn to the experience of CVGT in the old gaol.

CVGT embarked on an exercise of folly, as it turned out, to transform the old gaol into something the building was not built for. They wanted the kitchen to be industrial providing catering internally and externally. They wanted the gaol to be a tourist destination and there was a series of evolving grand plans including a four star hotel with beautiful views over Castlemaine all supported by a generous federal government and obliging local government.

It all turned to dust.

The point I am making is that CVGT embarked on a mission beyond their core business through a half-baked and genuinely ill-conceived plan. From employment and training to the provision of touristic pursuits. CVGT had neither the skills nor expertise to achieve what they wanted despite a sizable bank balance.

I argue that the Maryborough Highland Society has also embarked on an exercise of folly where they are extending from their core business and taking a number of significant financial risks on behalf of the members and the board.

The core business for the MHS is running a poker machine based club in Maryborough and there is no doubt they are successful in that.

That the MHS removed some $5 million a year from the local and surrounding economies is testament to their success.

Apart from the VCGR affording the MHS a license to set up 65 more pokies in Castlemaine, the situation in Kyneton for the society reveals the expertise found within their core business does not extend well into other geographical regions.

The Kyneton Bowling Club is possibly as broke now as it was when the MHS bought the debts and took over the bowling club.

For the year 2009/10, the KBC had expenditure on their pokies of $1,284,000 and for 2010/11 it was $1,456,000. Considering the club hands over one third of that to the government and another third to the gaming operator, Tattersalls, there is not much left to pay wages etc. and to repay the pre-existing debt.

More interesting is the way the Kyneton locals are avoiding the KBC due to the problems with the club and its encroachment into the Mechanics Institute, the playground and the library. The space in the new library is around 30% less than it was.

The Kyneton Bowling Club has been on the nose ever since the doomed expansion fiasco commenced 12 years ago.

Besides tough financial acumen, the MHS will need expert public relations skills, which they have not demonstrated to date. At least in Castlemaine.

The Victorian Government has given the MHS a license for their 65 machines in Castlemaine, yet this had little to do with any real expertise on behalf of the MHS.

‘Our maine aim is your castle’

– MHS slogan at their public performance in Castlemaine last year.

The VCGR – now the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) – gives out licenses like lollies and as long as there is cash to pay lawyers, consultants, experts (and the Government), of course, pubs and clubs get exactly want they want from the Commission with very rare exceptions.

I am yet to be convinced that the MHS has the financial expertise, management skills, the necessary community relations prowess or the appropriate and conclusive plan to successfully pull off their proposed Castlemaine Club.

It may happen, but what then? Another Kyneton Bowling Club experience?

The anticipated committee to be based in Castlemaine should have been established long before the last week’s VCGLR hearing to represent the society in Castlemaine.

The MHS are now only considering talking to the community here to sell their proposal in the light of the more than generous granting of a license.

The MHS have promised only $50,000 cash as part of their community benefit proposal or all of the profits from the Castlemaine Club. Kyneton get nothing back except jobs.

It is very possible many residents of Castlemaine may well avoid the proposed club should it materialise as Kyneton residents do to the KBC simply because of distrust with the society.

There are big risks when you set out from a comfortable position and CVGT certainly showed how setting out beyond core business could lead to failure.

I wonder if the Maryborough Highland Society board have fully considered the risks?

The Kyneton experience suggests they have not.




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