FACING OFF: Members of the Womens Croquet Club Ballina (left) and the Mens Bowls Club Ballina.
FACING OFF: Members of the Womens Croquet Club Ballina (left) and the Mens Bowls Club Ballina. Doug Eaton

Bitter split with bias

IT'S A turf war like no other.

On one side are the mallets. On the other are the bowls.

No wall separates the Ballina bowlers from the croquet players in the afternoon sun as they compete in their respective games, but the battle being waged behind the scenes is as fierce as it is vicious.

The Ballina Croquet Club accuses the Bowling and Recreation Club of being the Goliath to their David - overcharging on lawn fees, 'squeezing' its members out of their old club and abusing community lease provisions to save a buck.

The bowling club insists it has truth on side - that the croquet club willingly moved grounds in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of enhancements to its facilities.

At a meeting this week, the bowling club found measured support in Ballina Shire Council, which is the trust manager of the government-owned Hampton Park.

The council resolved to lease the land solely to the bowling club and charge it the legal minimum rent based on community activities at the site, with the option of granting the croquet club a sub-lease.

The 74-member Ballina Croquet Club, which until 2005 had a lease of its own at the former Cherry Street lawn before agreeing to move around the corner so the bowling club could expand, is up in arms.

“We feel that we are being squeezed all the time by a big brother,” Ballina Croquet Club vice-president David Humphrey said.

“They think we're a group of silly old women and men.”

The croquet club, which according to council formally merged with the bowlers in 2007, wants its autonomy back.

“Not some wrangled deal where a commercial club gets the rent at a community price,” Mr Humphrey said.

“They really are more interested in earning money from pokies than protecting their members' interests.”

The croquet players have formally seceded from the bowlers, but under the plan endorsed by council would have to sublet their new lawns and clubhouse - built by the bowling club for $340,000 - from their bowling neighbours.

Mr Humphreys said the bowling club had increased lawn maintenance fees by 300 per cent in the past 18 months.

“We want some say. We want to be able to deal with the bowling club on equal terms.”

The bowlers tell a very different story and say they would like to smooth things over.

Bowling club board member Ken Clarke said the agreement brokered between the clubs in 2004 was 'going swimmingly' until a change of regime in the croquet club.

“The new group was saying they wanted to be absolutely independent,” he said.

Mr Clarke said they were more than happy for the croquet club to have autonomy, but the 450-strong bowlers group had spent almost half a million dollars on their new lawns and amenities under the old agreement.

The council decision was 'very logical', he said.

“There was disquiet about the behaviour of the croquet club and that's putting it politely,” Mr Clarke said.

Ballina Council general manager Paul Hickey said he hoped mediation would help.

“Council asked for a mediation if we can get it and also potentially a sub-lease for the croquet club.”

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