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Byron Shire
September 26, 2022

Keeping it local at the Bangalow Bowlo

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‘The Bangalow Bowlo’s future is in the hands of their membership’

Norths Collective CEO Luke Simmons tells us that many clubs have turned to ‘strong partners’ to secure their future. While some types of club amalgamations are partnerships, the Norths proposal is a takeover. All Bangalow Bowlo lands and assets (and debts) would be transferred to Norths ownership. The board of Norths remains unchanged, while the Bangalow Bowling and Sports Club Ltd will cease to operate. 112 years of local ownership and management comes to end. Norths say there will be an advisory group in Bangalow, but in reality the group will have no legal authority to make decisions. Current Bowlo members will be entitled to membership of Norths.

Members have been told that the club is in such dire financial circumstances after Covid and the devastating floods that giving it away is the only way to keep the doors open. However, it is clear to many members that patronage is flourishing once again. Bangalow’s population has grown significantly with many new professional families working from home and supporting the club on a regular basis. The school and childcare centres are full. Members have been asking the Bowlo board to suspend the amalgamation process, embrace the support and expertise on offer from the local community, and see how the club is going after a full year of trading. So far, the board has refused our request.

The Seagulls Club at Tweed Heads (owned by Norths) operates around 200 pokies. Norths admits that 56 per cent of its total revenue comes from gambling. They have proposed to triple the Bowlo’s turnover to around $6 million per year, with pokies and gambling making up 15 per cent. Therefore, the Norths plan is to raise the current Bowlo pokie revenue of $50k p/a (from three old machines) to around $900,000 pa!

Members will soon be invited to vote on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that so far has been negotiated confidentially between the Bowlo and Norths. No drafts have been shared with the wider membership for input. When notice of the amalgamation vote soon goes out, members will have 21 days to read the MOU and consider alternatives. However, NO changes can be made to the MOU. I have been told by a Bowlo director that the Norths board will not accept a process where the Bangalow membership can propose amendments to the MOU version approved by Norths. When the vote comes, it will just be a YES or NO. While it takes a 75 per cent majority vote to change a single word in the Bowlo Constitution, the vote to ‘give away the farm’ is 50 per cent + 1 of those who attend the meeting. This is the actual extent to which the future of the Bowlo ‘is in the hands of the membership’!

Finally, members should be under no misconceptions about what the MOU can and can’t do. After the MOU term has expired (ten years), the Norths membership (around 60,000 of them) can vote to sell any asset, just as the Bowlo membership voted to sell land it owned ten years ago.

However, unless the MOU specifically prohibits it, the Norths board can build holiday accommodation units for its members and their guests any time during the MOU term.

During the MOU period, any deviation from its terms will have to be picked up by local members. The onus will be on them to try to enforce the MOU or lodge a formal complaint with the relevant authority. After the term of the MOU, binding agreements about gambling, kids’ play areas, support for local sports clubs, investment in buildings, maintenance of local cultural and social activities expire. This is the ‘future of the club’ that is now in the hands of the membership. Bangalow Bowlo members are urged to pay their $10 annual membership fee ASAP, update their email details with the club, and be alert to the upcoming amalgamation vote. Members can go to the ‘keepthebowlolocal’ webpage www.keepthebowlolocal.com.au to see our alternative pokie-free business plan for saving our local club.

Sol Ibrahim, Bangalow

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