So I was having a beer with some mates at King O’Malley’s and we were musing at the great irony of the naming of this wonderful old pub.
King O’Malley was the first in a distinguished line of wowsers who have unsuccesfully attempted to sterilise the ACT into the capital of dull and bland. As Home Affairs Minister, the South Australian based O’Malley convinced his parliamentary colleagues to make the ACT a virtually dry territory in 1911. Now, when I say ‘virtually’ dry, the ordinance that he created outlawed the granting of any more new liquor licences in the territory. As I understand it there was just one pub in the territory at the time, The Cricketers Arms at Hall so once this law came in, it was tough to buy a beer in Canberra.
So what did Canberrans do? What do you think? They went to Queanbeyan.
In those early years of the territory, Queanbeyan pubs were chock full with the workers who were constructing the new city. I’m told that if you were driving from Queanbeyan to Canberra on a moonlit night in the 1920’s the way was lit by the reflection on the empty beer bottles littering the roadside.
Temperance organisations around the nation were most interested in the ACT experiment and made whatever noise they could to continue or expand it but at the end of the day common sense won the battle. ACT residents voted in a 1928 plebiscite to end the prohibition and beer taps started flowing again almost immediately.
Wind the clock forward to the 1950’s when New South Wales made the big call to legalise poker machines. Federal administrators of the ACT erred the side of blandness and refused to allow them in the territory. Come the mid 1970’s and it became apparent that thousands of Canberra residents were simply skipping over the border to Queanbeyan to play the pokies and to generally eat, drink, be merry. So there was a change of heart. In 1976 pokies were legalised in the ACT and machines were allocated to various community clubs to stop the bleeding of money over the border.
And that brings us to greyhound racing.
Last month the Minister for Regulatory Services announced a ban on greyhound racing in the ACT to commence in the middle of next year. It remains to be seen whether this ban will stand up on legal, legislative or constitutional grounds, but the more pertinent question is, what will it achieve?
It doesn’t save the government any money as they had already announced a cessation of any financial support to the greyhounds. Because of their rapidly increasing share of TAB turnover and relatively low cost structure, the greyhounds are the only racing code in the ACT that can actually sustain themselves and the club had prepared for that reality prior to the ban announcement.
The Canberra Greyhound Racing Club has had no animal welfare breaches in its 38 year history but Mr Ramsay suggests that it’s ‘out of step with community values’. However he’s only banning the racing of greyhounds here….you can still own, train, breed and bet on the dogs in the ACT. The Government will, over the next four years accept over a million dollars of ‘blood money’ from betting on greyhounds as per their agreement with TABCorp after the sale of ACTTAB.
On the day of the announcement of the ban the NSW Deputy Premier, John Barilaro announced that he would love to have the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club relocate some 6 kilometres east of their current location in Queanbeyan. I know that the club is committed to fighting the ban on every possible front, but that it is also considering all options including the NSW move. If they do simply move over the border of common sense it seems like King O’Malley all over again.
When will legislators wake up to the fact that the ACT is an island within NSW and it’s impossible to stop leakage of most things over the border.
In the spirit of King O’Malley, I’d strongly recommend that the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club name any new track, “The Gordon Ramsay Greyhound Track” so that, like the pub, it can carry his name forever.