EXCLUSIVE: Bowling clubs are becoming fewer and further between in Queensland’s capital city as the great Aussie pastime of going down to ‘the bowlo’ is being replaced by that other great Aussie pastime: property development and gentrification. Linda Rose reports.
Bowls clubs around Brisbane are being knocked into the gutter by the Brisbane City Council as their land and facilities take up valuable commercial space and their maintenance requires funds.
These bowls clubs offer more to the community than the sport of bowls and have always been vibrant community social hubs.
Some bowls clubs are being transformed into sports, betting and gambling venues such as Stafford where Brisbane Racing Club now holds the lease.
Others are left empty and derelict such as the East Brisbane Bowls Club.
The East Brisbane Bowls Club has been a community cultural facility in inner city Brisbane for over 100 years.
Sitting on the edge of Mowbray Park right next to Lytton Rd the club is easy to access popular and busy.
It is fully wheelchair accessible and is the only DIY venue in Brisbane with a wheelchair accessible stage.
At least it was until the council moved BackBone, a youth arts organisation, who were leasing the facility and locked the doors.
The club is now closed and lifeless except for in the memories of thousands of patrons who enjoyed music, theatre, art, community activities and of course bowls there in the past.
Locals call it ‘the Bowlo’ and despite its popularity and recent upgrades the Brisbane City Council have decided to demolish the building.
What is proposed to replace it? Green space.
While most supporters of the Bowlo would say more green space is needed in Brisbane they say it’s not needed in this area.
“The community shouldn’t have to choose between green space and community facilities,” said local community worker and musician Tom Smith.
The Bowlo is adjacent to 3.2 hectares of parkland, and right next to a major six lane road and it’s worth repeating is a fully accessible entertainment venue.
Sham public consultation
The Brisbane City Council began the Mowbray Park upgrade and ‘public consultation’ in late 2020.
At that time few fans of the Bowlo knew it was under threat.
By the second round of consultation however, protests were held and the community said loud and clear that they wanted the Bowlo to stay.
The second round of consultation included a draft plan proposing the demolition.
A large group of people who opposed the demolition attended the second consultation
They questioned the wisdom of demolishing a functioning community space to replace it with grass and a few trees.
Many people highlighted the fact that the facility is one of very few which are fully wheelchair accessible and close to public transport.
Backbone spent $250,000 on a disability access project for the Bowlo.
The proposed space to replace the East Brisbane Bowling Club (Image: Brisbane City Council / Supplied)
And the council spent a similarly large amount on a wheelchair access ramp from the footpath on Lytton Road.
Despite this, and a petition to the council signed by nearly 2000 residents, the final plan released just prior to Christmas confirms the Bowlo will be bulldozed.
There’s evidence to suggest the council had already planned to demolish the building.
The initial consultation attracted 501 responses to a website survey and just 60 people to information kiosks.
Filling in the website survey does not require a proof of residency or log in so it would be easy to scew the results.
None of the seven questions specifically mentioned the Bowlo and the council would not released the data on any mentions of the Bowlo in the two questions which invited comment.
However the council didn’t need that to happen as they seem to draw their own conclusion even if the results didn’t support it.
A Right to Information Request revealed actual responses to the council’s consultation shows the majority of respondents support the building remaining and would like it upgraded.
The council says the surveys reveal residents feel the facilities is under utilised and unattractive and by extension want to see it demolished.
But actual responses say the facility should be upgraded.
“The bowls club needs refurbishment so it can become a community congregation point.”
“I think there is scope the improve the bowls club as a community centre.”
“It’s great to have the arts centre there…”
Jonathan Sriranganathan is councillor for the Gabba Ward which used to include the Bowls Club until the boundaries were changed three years ago.
He says no residents expressed concerns to him over the building.
“In all my years as a city councillor, the only real complaint I ever heard about the bowls club was that some residents found it hard to find out about upcoming gigs and events.
“A lot of people would like to see the building upgraded, perhaps with a more modern façade and better orientation towards the park, but everyone I’ve talked to seems to agree it should remain as a community facility.”
A reason locals may not have known about the extensive activities inside the Bowlo is that BackBone were not permitted to erect signs outside the building.
The bowling greens themselves held much potential for performances but utilising them involved jumping through many hoops.
Perhaps this was part of the council’s plan to ensure future plans for demolition would not face much resistance.
The demolition of the Bowlo or rather the opposition to said demolition has caused quite a lot of push back from the Liberal-National dominated Council.
When the campaign to halt the demolition was just beginning local residents attended the ‘Mobile Office’ event to meet with Local Councillor Fiona Cunningham and Deputy Mayor Krista Adams.
A photo emerged of Adams aggressively pointing her finger at a community member who was reportedly asking very relevant and reasonable questions.
A considerable amount of time has been spent discussing the demolition during council meetings.
Labor’s Kara Cook councillor for nearby Morningside ward is a strong supporter of the Bowlo and has raised a number of motions.
Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner repeatedly refers to the campaign to save the Bowlo as a fake campaign orchestrated by the Greens and Labor.
He has repeated many times his view that because bowls has not been played at the club for more than a decade there is no reason the save the Bowlo.
He likes to frequently say he supports green space and investment in green space.
This may be because the political landscape in Brisbane is fast becoming a ‘Greens’ space.
A significant plot twist in the fight to save the Bowlo came in November 2021 when Councillor Cook tabled a document containing a draft concept plan for the park upgrade.
This document from February 2021 proposes a new community facility be built on the site based on community feedback.
During an emergency motion Councillor Cook told council that the Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner should meet with Save Our Bowlo as they have requested and tell them why the plan for the Bowlo changed.
Lawn bowlers at East Brisbane Bowling Club in 1906 (Image: State Library of Qld / Supplied)
True Crime News Weekly contacted BCC Chair for Environment, Parks, and Sustainability, Tracy Davis.
In response to a question about leasing the building for use as an arts and music facility Councillor Davis claimed the building is not suitable for short term use.
“The former East Brisbane Bowls Club building was purpose built for lawn bowls and as such has always been problematic for alternative community uses.”
She went on to claim that the lease to Backbone was always a temporary one while another more suitable facility was found.
Sources who were involved in Backbone when their lease was arranged say this statement is completely false.
The East Brisbane Bowls Club is perfectly suited to being a arts and entertainment venue.
In fact bowls clubs around Brisbane, around Australia, and around the world are used as entertainment venues.
Just across the river the New Farm and Merthyr bowls clubs host social and entertainment events almost daily.
South of East Brisbane the former Moorooka Bowls Club is now a thriving community hub called The Clubhouse.
The not-for-profit organisation behind The Clubhouse, The Third Place Group, was formed specifically to secure the lease of the facility.
Why Demolish EBBC?
As mentioned earlier the LNP council is at pains to let everyone know that they are all about green space.
But why do they want to demolish an established community space to provide green space?
There is much speculation within the supporters of the Bowlo as to the real reason for the proposed demolition.
Some think it’s to build apartments, others suggest it’s related to the Brisbane Olympics 2032.
Councillor Sriranganathan believes it’s simply because the LNP don’t want to allocate the funds to maintain community facilities.
“I think the LNP are just so out of touch with residents that they don’t understand how valuable community facilities are.”
Since Backbone left the building last year, the council announced the Mowbray Park upgrade would be postponed as the funding was redirected to flood repair projects.
While the flood emergency seemed like a good opportunity to reopen a popular community meeting place the council said they were using the facility for ‘council activities’.
Community members reported however that no activity was ever apparent at the site.
This year it was revealed that in fact the building has not been used and has become ‘mouldy’ due to neglect.
Save Our Bowlo
A group of East Brisbane (and surrounds) residents formed a group called Save Our Bowlo in 2021.
The group activated community members to demonstrate to council the level of support the Bowlo has.
Pictures on their social media are testament to the fact the Bowlo was once a vibrant functioning facility.
The council’s propaganda painted it as neglected and tired and it has now become that way through their action or rather in action.
But while there has been no activity at the Bowlo for some time the Save Our Bowlo crew are reportedly busy behind the scenes and determined to save their Bowlo.
The Moorooka Social Hub is proof that communities can take back control over community owed assets.
In 2023 communities in East Brisbane and Stafford are fighting to do the same.
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