Recent experience has confirmed my view that the Hellenic Club at Woden has lost its ‘member’ focus. The club does not appear interested in the patronage of longstanding members, but more depressingly, does not seem interested in listening to the legitimate concerns of members. This disinterest is symptomatic of a worrying trend across all aspects of society where the ‘ordinary’ people are totally ignored and overlooked in favour of pandering to corporate interests.
In Canberra’s earlier days, and particularly from the 1960s, community-based clubs sprang up providing support and activities for Canberra residents. For people who arrived during that time from interstate and overseas, the social aspects of those clubs were a major drawcard.
Although some clubs were based around sporting activities, there were also a number of ‘ethnic’ based clubs such as the Harmonie German Club, Finnish Club and Italian Club. Many migrant workers who moved here from the Snowy Mountains scheme established clubs as a place for members to keep in touch and socialise. This was a unique feature in the development of Canberra.
Members of the clubs were offered a range of benefits. For example, the Tradies Club had low cost holiday accommodation at various locations around Australia which, although fairly basic, allowed families the opportunity to take reasonably cheap holidays. Those properties were sold off about 10 years ago to the disappointment of some members – the explanation was that the younger generation wanted more upmarket facilities.
As Canberra’s population grew, some of the smaller clubs disappeared or were swallowed up by the larger clubs which now dominate the landscape. Clubs like the Southern Cross Club, Hellenic Club, Tradies and Labor Club now have large memberships and the original ‘club’ atmosphere seems to have diminished as they pursue more corporate-oriented goals. This is reflected in the operation of eating outlets that are run as stand-alone enterprises, often in competition with commercial operations nearby.
As an example, I have been a member of the Hellenic Club at Woden for over 40 years. As I worked nearby, the venue provided a convenient place to keep up with friends, and a place to enjoy a reasonably priced meal. Until about 15 years ago, it was necessary to make a reservation for dinner at the bistro (and often at lunchtime).
I am part of a group of workmates who have met weekly for lunch in the bistro for more than 25 years. Now all retired and on fixed incomes, the opportunity to socialise while enjoying a reasonably priced meal was a bonus. Like our group, the demographic at lunchtime has changed, with the bulk of the clientele in the 65+ plus age group.
As the price of meals has increased, the numbers at lunch have dropped markedly and the bistro is often over half empty. The offer of a small selection of lunchtime specials (at around $10) has disappeared, while at the same time the quality of the food has deteriorated significantly.
I approached the management a year or so ago asking why the bistro had increased prices when many clients were looking for a more reasonably priced selection. There are other places nearby that offer a small number of choices at lunchtime at around $10. I suggested that this might bring back more of the older clientele. My argument fell on deaf ears.
For our regular group, we had chosen to drink the excellent wine ‘on tap’ (a very acceptable red) to accompany our meals. Given that we have several carafes each meal, this option is much cheaper than the inflated prices of listed bottled wine.
We were surprised a few weeks ago when the barman told us that ‘on tap’ wine was soon to be ‘removed’ and only the very average bottled wine would be available (at a cost that is 92% more than the cask wine of a per litre basis). Some of our group asked to see the manager (who reluctantly appeared) and were assured by him that no decision on this change had been made. Two weeks later we were informed that no ‘on tap’ wine would be available in future. The manager was again spoken to and informed us that he had not made any ‘promises’ and that it was a board decision.
To my mind, the Club is simply gouging its members to make more money.
After consideration a group decision was made to find another venue for our regular gathering. The Woden Tradies just down the road, which has $10 schnitzel and fish and chips specials at lunchtime and wine ‘on tap’ will now be our ongoing meeting place. A couple of other groups are thinking of moving with us. It’s a classic example of ‘voting with your feet’, and it will impact on the club’s bottom line.
A rough calculation is that, over the years, our group of eight has provided more than $400,000 to the club just at lunches, not to mention other visits and, for some, money spent on the poker machines.
The Tradies will be only too pleased to pick up the business.
Which is your favorite local club and what do they do to retain your membership?