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Rodney Watton from Lifeline Talks about Homelessness in Toowoomba


According to Pro Bono Australia, women over 55 have become the fastest-growing category of people experiencing homelessness.

Chief Operating Officer – Partnerships and Business Development at Lifeline Darling Downs and South West QLD LTD, Rodney Watton explained some of the underlying factors he had come across relating to homelessness across this sector.

“Yeah, certainly the Toowoomba Housing Hub, it’s a significant component of the people (40-50 year old) that are coming to us seeking help,” Mr Watton said in the podcast interview above.

“In fact, that age group, if you like with both male and female is the most prevalent age group that is accessing the service, looking for support.

“We know that women are particularly vulnerable, particularly single women, that’s a variety of factors.

“I think some underlying just disadvantage regards to you know, incomes, superannuation – you know, all of those things.”

Things the community can do to help solve this growing issue was also discussed.

Read the Rodney Watton from Lifeline Talks about Homelessness in Toowoomba podcast TRANSCRIPT

McCarthy-Wood: Thank you very much for your time. Look, homelessness it is something that I am not aware of any community, any geographic locations, certainly in Australia, where a town doesn’t have some element of homelessness. Quite often now, there’s a lot of work that’s done to hide that. We have Daryl Nicholson on the line, he’s… Look, we call him in a Toowoomba advocate, and I know that a homelessness has been quite close to his heart, and rather than hiding this thing away, he’s worked very, very hard to bring it to the forefront as a discussion. So, it gets talked about and most definitely with an aim to tackle this issue that just doesn’t seem to go away. Look, Paul Cading famously said, all those years ago that guy that within a decade I think it was, or was a very short period of time, there will be nobody homeless, and that’s just not how it played out. Daryl, how are you going?

Daryl Nicholson: Yeah, going well, thanks for this opportunity, Andrew. Really do appreciate it. Going really well. The Toowoomba Region does some great work in all social enterprises, and work in the community. Part of what I do on the [inaudible 00:01:06] Toowoomba Regional partnerships is we get together with different committee groups, community groups, and talk about what’s going on, and see if we can help each other. So, today I want to introduce Rodney Watson to you, mate. He’s the chief operating officer for partnerships, and our business development at Lifeline. Good morning Rodney, how are you?

Rodney Watton: Good morning. How you going Daryl? How you going Andrew?

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, really good. Really good. Now, Daryl, you’ve got quite a bit, because you’re right across this subject. So first of all, congratulations for bringing this interview about, and you know, no doubt again with the aim, and you’ve done it for quite some time to really drive home that homelessness is not something that should be hidden away. Why do you do that?

Daryl Nicholson: I guess, we can see it now and as I’ve got more… I tell the story about six years ago I went to Sydney and a saw some homeless people, and I thought, “Losers, you know, it’s all their own fault…” and I didn’t have much time, and it wasn’t until I met a guy by the name of [inaudible 00:00:02:04]. And I saw he was raising money for base services in a soup kitchen that I went down, and met Matt, and then over the next few years I’ve done homeless for a night, and Rodney, you were out there with this issue on homeless for a night, weren’t you?

Rodney Watton: No, but a number of my colleagues from the Toowoomba [crosstalk 00:02:22] Help participated this year, and have over a number of years [crosstalk 00:02:29] it’s certainly an eye opener. As one of the say that my colleagues indicated that at three AM that stuff’s hectic, is what she said. It’s a really good exercise for people to do, because it really gives them a sense of what that might look like, and what that might feel like.

McCarthy-Wood: If I can just jump into just to further set the tone just because in the intro I said that it was Paul Cading that jumped up and said, you know, there won’t be be any homelessness, but it was actually Bob Hawk, and I thought there was a possibility of that might’ve been a case. So, I looked it up and a Sydney Morning Herald has an article in it that, it’s really quite interesting the way that they open this?
They say it was a momentary mistake, the stock would Bob Hawk, and became, when all was said and done, one of the most memorable lines, and he said by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty. The then prime minister [inaudible 00:03:27] his election campaign, and that was a line back in 1987 typing that up, that says the time that you know that statement was a mistake, but or be it, if it was a mistake, isn’t that great that at least that became a discussion point.

Rodney Watton: You’ve hit on a really good point, because I think the one of the underlying issues here, it’s in essence poverty, and it is a people sort of living on low, fixed incomes. To some degree I think one of the reasons that we’re experiencing more visual homelessness these days, particularly in regional communities like Toowoomba, is basically that lack of affordability, that inability for people to affordably rent somewhere. What that means is a their situation tends to be quite tenuous.
All it needs is a bit of a disaster, a bit of family break down dying even, the car break down, the fridge breaking down, something to happen that it puts a bit of pressure on the family budget, or on that individual’s budget. It can be quite easy for someone to find themselves suddenly with nowhere to go. Unfortunately, it can develop quite quickly from… I spent a few nights on somebody’s sofa they couldn’t have me there anymore. All of a sudden I was in my car. All of a sudden, I was sleeping rough. It literally can happen that quickly to almost anyone.

Daryl Nicholson: Rodney, I was reading some statistics that they’re really scared now, that women in the forties to fifties is the next category that could potentially become homeless.

Rodney Watton: Yeah, certainly the Toowoomba Housing Hub, it’s a significant component of the people that are coming to us seeking help. In fact, that that age group, if you like with both male and female is the most prevalent age group that is accessing the service, looking for support. We know that women are particularly vulnerable, particularly single women, that’s a variety of factors. I think some underlying just disadvantage regards to you know, incomes, superannuation. you know, all of those things.
The effects of a family break down, also leave women very vulnerable. That’s our concern as we’re moving forward as a community we’re going to need to grasp the nettle of some of these issues because yeah, the reality is it won’t be your stereotypical homeless person we’re dealing with in the future. It may will be someone who looks an awful lot like your mother, or your aunt day. I would like to think we would as a community we would really rally to, to deal with that.

Daryl Nicholson: Andrew, this is quite alarming when I did get involved with Matt and the team of [inaudible 00:06:48] services. I’ve met Helen at the Housing Hub and Rodney. 400 to 600 people are displaced in Toowoomba city every night. Whether they’re in the streets, whether they’re couch surfing, or in their cars that figure just blew my mind. Rodney, can you share with us, there’s four stages of homelessness isn’t there? Can we run through those four stages quickly, and then talk about them.

Rodney Watton: Yeah, I’m happy to talk about that. So effectively, you have primary homelessness, which is a what we would kind of refer to as rough sleeping. So, it’s really where you have nowhere to go. You’re sleeping rough, or you’re in a improvised dwelling, you might be camping at the side of the river or whatever.
Secondary homeless is a coach surfing. So, that you might have a roof over your head, you might be staying in someone’s garage, you might be a camping in someone’s back garden, but effectively, you have no security of tenure. You don’t know how long you can stay there. And by default effectively your housing is not secure.
Then tertiary housing, which is sort of the third level, that’s people who may be, and they may be staying in a shelter, they may be staying at a boarding house, but again they have a roof over their head. The standard of housing is not what most of us would say was a reasonable permanent housing solution. Again often there’s no security of tenure. So you know, you could be asked to leave within 24 hours, you simply could find yourself homeless in an afternoon almost with nowhere else to go.
The other category then falls into marginally housed, which is people that do have a hosing solution, but for whatever reason that might be tenuous. The housing might be okay, or in fact the housing might be substandard, which is why it’s tenuous. Look, to be honest with you, there would be thousands of households in Toowoomba who would probably fall into that category, if you really analysed it from the point of view of their capacity, where they might be, how stressed they might be in regards to paying their rent, simply affording to pay the rent where they’re living.

Daryl Nicholson: They have income. Can you talk just a bit about how the housing, how it works and [inaudible 00:09:07] tenants, and also landlords can contact the Housing Hub if they’ve got a property that they might want to put under the Housing Hub is that correct?

Rodney Watton: Yeah, you can’t do that. We help them with a number of services, we work with including the Toowoomba Housing Service Centre, the reality is often the quickest and most straightforward way to get someone who’s either housing stressed or indeed homeless housed is through the private rental market, and often actually that’s the majority of the housing outcomes from the hub. That’s where they are, and they’re actually in the private rental market, and that’s about identifying the right sort of property.
The right sort of conditions, and something that you can afford. We put a lot of time, and effort into that, because we know if we can divert someone, if we can get them into something sustainable as a housing solution, and we can do that quickly, often then we can stop that sort of deterioration down towards something that maybe looks more like primary homelessness.
Because we know once someone has spent a period of time in that primary homelessness space, it’s a long, hard road back to getting them permanently housed. But of course, we don’t walk away from that either. Often what happens when people are experiencing primary homelessness, often we actually have to take them up through those phases so, we may place them initially in a hotel, which would mean that their secondarily the homeless, they’ve got a roof over their head, which is no improvement on where they were. But the bottom line is they’re still homeless.
Then we’ll be moving maybe towards temporary, or shelter accommodation, and then hopefully a more permanent housing solution. What we know is prevention is much better than cure. If we can work with people to find them somewhere sustainable to live where they’re still just stressed rather than homeless than then that’s the most effective action. Really, what we would like to do as a community is get to a place where that’s our work. There’s actually no one experiencing homelessness. So our work is helping people to a divert from that, and find sustainable accommodation solution.

McCarthy-Wood: If we can talk to the landlord, just for the moment. In your experience, when you divert people that are headed towards primary homelessness, as you put it, you divert them into the private real estate sector. What’s been your experience? Because landlords would be on the other side, they’re seeing the application coming through if they’ve got it managed through their real estate management organisation, and they quite often make decisions based on how they think that they are assets going to be looked after. What’s been your experience around all of this?

Rodney Watton: Look, I can’t say that I’ve never had a bad experience, if you like, in that situation. But I would also say we’ve had some really fantastic outcomes through working closely with real estate agents, both private and landlords. There are a number of people who are willing, if you like to give someone a goal, give someone a chance.
There are a number of things happening currently in this sector. We’ve got the Tenancy Skills Institute, which is something that operates out of the hub on a fairly regular basis. It’s sort of a two day course, which helps people really understand their rights, and obligations as a tenant, and a how to make a successful tenancy, and a sustainable tenancy. That works through, and people get a little certificate saying they’ve done that course, and we have a number of real estate agents who look very favourably on that.
They will actually respond quite well when we present someone to them, and we let them know this person’s been working really hard to make themselves the best tenant. They’ve gone to the trouble of actually doing this course, so that they can demonstrate to you that they understand what the rights, and obligations and will operate as a good tenant. Of course what we expect and from landlords is that they operate as a good landlord.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. Rodney, Daryl mentioned earlier the statistics, and they seemed to really stand out, and it just doesn’t seem to be a let up, or an improvement. In your view, and you being at the coalface of it all, do you think the community is stepping up, and doing enough to tackle homelessness, right at the root of it?

Rodney Watton: Yeah. Look, I think we’ve done an awful lot and you’re a conversation, at the beginning is actually very reflective of that. I think a lot of people doing sleep outs. I think from the point of view of turning the corner around being a bit more compassionate, and understanding what actually, if I was to miss a few pairs, I might find myself there as well. Also understanding that the safetey net that we have isn’t actually adequate to catch everyone. So, people are, you know, falling through the cracks as it were. In some instances, they may have contributed, if you like, but I don’t think anyone has contributed in such a way that they deserve to be freezing cold outside at night.
So, I do think we’ve turned the corner in regards to that compassion. I think the more difficult nettle to grasp is that housing affordability question. I think as a community, the reality is that homes are the solution to homelessness. Shelters aren’t the solution to homelessness. Soup kitchens aren’t the solution to homelessness. Those things are good ways to be compassionate to someone who is homeless, but they’re not going to put a roof over their head and they’re not going to create a home for them.
At some point or other, as a community, we have to realise that we need to increase that supply of affordable housing, and particularly social housing, and what that looks like for the rest of us, what that looks like for the 70% of us who are either purchasing the home that we’re living in, or already home own the home that we’re living in. It means perhaps, we need to be a bit more willing to see some of those sort of more medium density type of accommodation in our neighbourhood.
We also need to be not so negative when we hear that there’s maybe some social housing going into our neighbourhood, because you know, the reality is that’s where that housing is going to come from, if you really believe that everybody deserves to be housed, then you also have to believe that they deserve to be housed in your neighbourhood.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. Rodney, look at it, you’ve stepped down a very interesting path because it is a path that has got widespread media and attention for sometimes really, really bad reasons. Do you have a view on, with social housing what the, not the density of the housing per se, but the density of the social housing within a housing area, because there’s been lots of reports. When you, when you create high density of social housing, you can very quickly head down a path of basically creating a ghetto.

Rodney Watton: Look, I actually think in Queensland, we have actually done very, very well at that. We kind of sprinkle our housing through the community, and it’s very rarely have a density that would be any higher than you might expect from a similar sized private development. So, the reality is it’s been a long time since we’ve been building housing estates in Queensland, and actually very hard to spot the difference between social housing on any modern build these days, to be honest. From an architectural perspective, and from a street scape perspective, the housing often looks like it belongs there, and it looks like it should be there. As I said, really, if you believe that people deserve to be housed and that everybody should deserve to be housed, then we have to allow housing to be constructed.

McCarthy-Wood: Is it a possibility that like organisations like yours, you’re probably seeing the evidence anyway, anecdotal, where just because of the why that you come into contact with it. [inaudible 00:18:01] look at, it might be from this perspective that if I be more strategic in social housing, you can strategically place families, and it might take some work, but we’re a very wealthy nation, and maybe we should step up to the plate and become world leaders in this.
Is there a possibility that you could have a family or individual that’s on a downward trajectory, but if you strategically placed him in an affluent area that is doing well, that you could actually just not put a roof over their head, but then they’ll start forming relationships, because the kids are going to the local school, and the next thing there’s a job opportunity and, and maybe a career path. Is that possible?

Rodney Watton: Oh, that’s absolutely possible. The bottom line is many people who who live in social housing in essence, once you solve the affordability issue, they thrive. The families thrives, and the families do well. What we’re actually doing is creating a pathway out of poverty by providing that stable… I think we need to be realistic about that. Housing is social infrastructure in the same way that hospitals, and schools are.
It is the sort of fundamental that people need, in order for them to move on and do things well in their own life, and look after themselves. From the other perspective of that, if someone’s in need of a lot of support, that is probably one of the things that we’re really finding from our work at the hub, is we’ve probably got to short term [inaudible 00:19:44] around up.
We tend to think we’ll get someone housed and we’ll provide a little bit of support over a period of time. What we’re finding with people, particularly people that have experienced homelessness for an extended period of time, they probably need a support over a much longer period. What we do find is where that wraparound support is really successful, and coordinated. Then you can make the housing sticky as well.
People will stay in the housing you can then build on success. Whereas people are sort of cycling through temporary housing solutions, it’s very hard to create an element where there’s a bit of success. You really do need the foundation to be in place so that you can build from there.

McCarthy-Wood: Rodney, for those people that are listing to this and maybe they’re in a position to help out. Maybe I just want to know a bit more about your organisation. How do they best do that?

Rodney Watton: Look, very happy to talk to people. We’re always happy to have visitors at the Toowoomba Housing Hub, if people want to come, and have a chat with us, and find out what it’s all about. It’s basically on the ground floor of the Eastern Well Building at the end of the Bale Street Mall here in Toowoomba. Number 10 Russell Street. People can come, and say hello. Otherwise, very happy for people to make contact us through the Lifeline [inaudible 00:21:11] website and you can go, if you do, go to the contact us there. There’s a both the phone numbers, and the web links there.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. Daryl, look, you would have to really think that “Gee, if you put the effort in, and you get people from a place of homelessness, whatever their level is, and you turn them into productive citizens, that’s got to be better for not just the society, but also the economy.

Daryl Nicholson: I’m seeing it in Toowoomba, I’ve seen success stories of people who’ve, they’ve got into their job, they’ve got into housing, and it just changed their lives, and there’s some great stories in the Lifeline, the Housing Hub, base services emerge, Toowoomba Woman’s Collective with priority supplies. They’re doing some amazing work, and I’m sure Rodney, Andrew agree with me there, and the Toowoomba [inaudible 00:21:57] partnerships.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. Rodney Watton, thank you very much for your time with out listeners.

Rodney Watton: Thank you. Thank you both. It’s been an absolute pleasure having a conversation with you today.

McCarthy-Wood: Daryl, the Toowoomba advocate, well done on getting this interview to air. Again, you’re not just an advocate for the region, but also some of the causes that are within it.

Daryl Nicholson: Oh, definitely, mate. We’re doing some great work in Toowoomba. I really loved the Toowoomba people and the region.

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PODCAST Toowoomba

Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio Thanks Emergency Services and Community


Toowoomba Region Mayor, Paul Antonio has acknowledged the efforts put in by all the emergency services, community, and even the military in fighting the recent fires.

“Oh, it’s been absolutely amazing,” Mayor Antonio said in the podcast interview above.

“And something that I, as the mayor, am very, very proud of, was the way this community came together.

“And many elements.

“Even those who were serving in the military around here were putting tremendous efforts into it.

“Not only did they help us with food and all that sort of thing, but of course they have some very high-tech imaging helicopters that flew out there.

“And in fact they were capable of making sure that they knew what was happening in the fire ground.

“They knew where the dangers were.

“All of these things came together to make a tremendous effort.”

Further, Mayor Antonio cautioned that the risk of further fires would continue through the Christmas period if weather conditions didn’t become favourable.

Read the Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio Thanks Emergency Services and Community podcast TRANSCRIPT

McCarthy-Wood: Thank you very much for your company, once again. Look, we have a very, very busy person on the phone. Mayor Paul Antonio. Paul Antonio, how are you?

Mayor Antonio: Very well, thanks. Yourselves?

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, good, good. Look, we have Daryl Nicholson on the line as well. It’s been a really, really busy time, but Toowoomba, no secret, has been under a whole lot of threats. Everything from the water supply coming under pressure, fires around the region. In fact, there were news reports that some of the water infrastructure started to fail because of those fires. But there’s been emergency services that have been stepping up to the plate defending the town of Toowoomba, but the broader region. Toowoomba is a really, really big place that has lots of regional areas that… they’re doing it tough. It’s no secret it’s been very dry in South West Queensland as of late. So Darryl, you want to have a talk with the mayor in relation to all of this?

Daryl Nicholson: I do. Thanks Andrew. Thanks Paul for your time today, mate. I was at the Toowoomba Safer Regional Parks Partnerships meeting a couple of weeks ago with Geoff McDonald, and he spoke about not only the work the fire emergency services are doing, but also the police, the SES and Queensland Ambulance. We lit up city hall there last week and you thanked them again, but mate, tell us now that what’s happening Ravensbourne, Peachey and the Millmerran area, which is really close to your heart. How things going out there?

Mayor Antonio: Well Ravensbourne, Peachey, of course, is under control at the moment. There’d still be a bit of internal burning, but there’s around about 20,000 hectares burnt there, and that’s massive by our standards. It was a fire that should probably never have happened. I believe… We’re not sure how it was lit, so we’ve got to be suspicious that it could have been deliberately lit. But I tell you what, the effort that went into it, the cooperation. We saw the likes of the Salvation Army producing around about 5,000 meals for the firemen. And a lot of those firemen were volunteers who were patrolling that. We had everybody involved. You’ve mentioned the police, the ambulance, the whole lot of them, the whole emergency services area. The fireman, of course, were controlling it all. We had people in from as far away as New Zealand helping fell trees. There were specialists in that area, when you’ve got piping trees. And it was really quite amazing the way it all went.
It was a very dangerous situation. And yes, we did lose a part of our water pumping capacity when the fire line into Cressbrook Dam was burnt. Saying that, as soon as it was possible to get in there, in goes the people from Energy Queensland. Ergon Energy they used to be. And they did an absolutely amazing job, as well. And they got that power reconnected in the Toowoomba water supply, which was in danger given that Cressbrook was down and Perseverance was under threat. That would have been catastrophic for the water supplies, but we managed to dodge that because there were people in there who burned back off the power line going into Perseverance. So we were very, very fortunate there and thank God that it worked out the way it did.

Daryl Nicholson: [crosstalk 00:03:07]

McCarthy-Wood: Mayor Paul Antonia, can you tell me… You being on the ground and witnessing all of this, what’s the sense of community? Has it strengthened through all of this?

Mayor Antonio: Oh, it’s been absolutely amazing. And something that I, as the mayor, am very, very proud of, was the way this community came together. And many elements. Even those who were serving in the military around here were putting tremendous efforts into it. Not only did they help us with food and all that sort of thing, but of course they have some very high-tech imaging helicopters that flew out there. And in fact they were capable of making sure that they knew what was happening in the fire ground. They knew where the dangers were. All of these things came together to make a tremendous effort.
In terms of the Millmerran fire, which is very close to my heart of course. That’s where I come from. And of course some of our properties were seriously under threat. We’ve got two properties that were in the fire line. One’s called Paddy’s Creek and one’s called Myalla and they were… it’s about four and a half thousand acres between those two. And that’s where we’ve got a lot of our cattle and they are struggling, those cattle. They don’t have much feed and a fire would have been devastating to us. And it was a very emotive time for me because I’ve been involved in firefighting for many years. And my son… I couldn’t get there, but my son was doing it all, and along with a lot of other people. And there’s some real heroes came out of that. The people who drive dozers all night. Didn’t stop for 15 hours, just to make sure they got around the fire while the fire wasn’t burning. So very lucky. Amazing community effort. Sad to see the houses burned out there. But we’ve got to support those people.

Daryl Nicholson: Paul, [crosstalk 00:04:44]

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, man. Paul Antonia. Yeah, Daryl, you go for it mate.

Daryl Nicholson: Sorry. Yeah, Paul. Look really, the community again… And at Christmas carols last night, I’m sure [inaudible 00:04:50] people of Toowoomba were really grateful what the Toowoomba Regional Council have put together. and again, your thanks to everyone there. You’re farce, you’re dedicated and you’re passionate about this region. That’s what I love about you. And I’m certainly putting out the prayers, and hopefully things are going to be good this week for Millmerran and all the areas around Toowoomba.

Mayor Antonio: Yep. And of course the thing we’ve got to be mindful of is that there are some seriously bad areas, if they were to catch on fire, they can have a dramatic effect on things here in Toowoomba and those smaller communities out there. We just pray that the fools will stop lighting fires and that we will, in fact, have a peaceful time. And of course we’re praying for rain. Everyday we pray for rain. And can I just say, just to give you an indication of how difficult the situation is. Gatton on Saturday. Temperature, 42.6 degrees. The highest ever recorded. The atmospheric moisture was 6%, which is catastrophic really. And around 40 K an hour westerly wind blowing. Those conditions bring about conditions that you would not want to put yourself involved with.

McCarthy-Wood: Mayor Paul Antonio, we’re heading into Christmas. As you said, we may not be out of the woods, so to speak, when it comes to the fires and the conditions that we’ve got. It may even get hotter over that Christmas period, as sometimes it does. For the community, can you tell us over the Christmas period, not withstanding the emergency services, they’re always there, but what about the Toowoomba Regional Council? How are they situated for supporting the community over that period?

Mayor Antonio: Well, we’ll do what is necessary to be done. And you know, we’ve thrown tremendous resources at the fire in terms of personnel, in terms of equipment, in terms of some of our infrastructure. We’ve helped with that. But in saying that, we’re facing a difficult period. And no matter what happens, our people, as always, will stand up and they’ll make absolutely sure that they do the right thing by their community, which we represent. I’m very proud to lead a community as compassionate as this. It’s a wonderful compassionate community and no matter where you go, or what you do. And you saw this come out with the fires with the way this community came together, they supported everybody. Anyone that needed anything was helped. And today I’ll be making a call to BlazeAid and I’ll be looking at how we can help those people. They’ve lost their fences and council will have to play their role in that, too.

McCarthy-Wood: Mayor Paula Antonio, you’re a very, very busy person. Thank you very much for your time with our listeners. But just finally, heading into Toowoomba, the pride, the effort that… You know, all of the challenges. If you are wanting to go and visit a place, head into those regional areas. I’m sure you might actually have a message around that. Because there are businesses out in these regional towns that are probably missing out because people are going, “Hey look, there’s fires.” We’ve been discussing Stanthorpe a lot and they’ve been experiencing that. Would you encourage people to get out there and maybe just, not get in the way, but still go and patronage a town and put some money into those economies?

Mayor Antonio: Oh, that’s great. And of course, we haven’t seen the worst of this terrible drought yet. When you look at the Antonio family’s business model, we are selling off our breeding herd bit by bit, as we have to. We are selling off next year’s income. And the worst has not hit us yet. But we’ll get through it. But it’s going to be a tough journey.

McCarthy-Wood: I know that you really do need to go, but just finally, and I was going to go a little bit quicker, but can you just let people know what they can actually do to help?

Mayor Antonio: Look, I think the important thing is support all those who are being impacted by this. And I think mental health is one of the biggest issues that I’ve seen coming out of this. You know, there’s an awful lot of pride around many of the males in agriculture today. And it hurts them terribly when they can’t feed their family, and all those sorts of things. So I think I’ve seen some amazing stuff done. Absolutely amazing stuff done, when people step up and they go out into the community and they make absolutely sure that the people that they know are impacted are being helped. That’s the greatest thing you can do. Show friendship, show support, because that’s the thing that sometimes is lacking for these people who are just suffering daily. And it is daily, as cattle die daily. Cattle and sheep and goats and whatever it might be. So thank you very much.

McCarthy-Wood: Mayor Paul Antonio, once again, thank you very much for your time with our listeners.

Mayor Antonio: Thank you.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, Daryl, there you go. We’ve just heard from the mayor. Sorry we had to jump in and get through his interview because he is a very, very busy person. We had a very small window to take on that interview. But what do you think, what are your thoughts in relation to what Mayor Paul Antonio had to say?

Daryl Nicholson: Mate, I’ll tell you what, we do these podcasts each week and I want to thank Paul. I’m sure he’s probably broken the line now, he’s very busy. Every time we do these podcasts I’m trying to challenge myself each week, can we get more information, better information? And you know what? I had goosebumps. You asked that tough question, what can the Toowoomba community do? And he touched on just being there, and mental health and helping people. And men’s mental health. And mate, that’s an area I want to explore a bit further down the track and talk about some real issues there.
And I was just… Sorry, I just got goosebumps. And I’m just thinking, he’s got a business he’s running in Toowoomba. The council is a business, and he’s got a [inaudible 00:10:15] business. He’s got his own Antonio Family Trust that he’s running, and they’re into forecasting for the future and not seeing… I don’t want to bring bad news, but we’re in December now. What’s going to happen in January if we don’t get any rain? Where are we going to be?
It was really smokey out here in Stanthorpe yesterday, and it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it. I drove out here Saturday night. Visibility, I reckon it was down to 40 metres. Driving out from Warwick to Stanthorpe.
Mate, I just think you asked another great question today and got a great answer from someone who’s really… As I said, he’s farce, he’s dedicated and he’s passionate about Toowoomba. He really is.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. A moment of indulgence. I just want to take this time to encourage our listeners that… Maybe they’ve tuned into the podcast just simply because they’ve seen the headline on it that we’re interviewing Mayor Paul Antonio. But you and I have been really in the middle of this from a media perspective, and the podcasts and the great interviews that you keep lining up.
And through those conversations the resounding feedback that we have been getting in broadcasting wherever we possibly can is that, for those that are maybe in the cities, or they’re just thinking, “I’d like to get out for a country drive.” Or maybe they’re not, they want to head to the beach. Think about a country drive. Toowoomba, we were only there last Monday, I believe. You and I caught up and we conducted a few interviews. And I said it then. I’ll say it again. I was amazed at just the effort, for all of the challenges that have been presented right now, the effort that has been putt into beautifying, making sure that there is pride displayed. You mentioned just before we started recording that there were Christmas carols last night. Christmas Wonderland. There’s all of those great things to check out and visit.
But also those other towns like Millmerran and Stanthorpe. We talk about Stanthorpe a lot. That’s out of the Toowoomba region, but definitely you can make a beautiful drive up through the Toowoomba range, up and over, check out Toowoomba, check out some of these towns. Aratula, all of those sort of places out to Stanthorpe. Stanthorpe is… I think it’s in great shape, as well. When you look at that main street, it’s beautiful. And the hospitality of the communities out there. But just go and spend a little bit of time, and money, of course. Enjoy it. You’re not going to get nothing out of it. You’re going to have a great time, but at the exact same time you’re going to be helping out a community that needs our support right now.

Daryl Nicholson: That’s what they need, mate. They’re thankful for our prayers, but they need our support, and they need us to come out there and spend money to keep these businesses fighting because they are at the grips of life. It’s going to be a tough Christmas for people in these regions. And as John [Wagner 00:12:58] said about tourism, mate, he doesn’t care whether they go in Toowoomba to Darling Downs, just go somewhere, whether it be Gatton, [Dalby 00:00:13:03], Warwick, Stanthorpe. Just go somewhere and support these locals. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about community.

McCarthy-Wood: Daryl Nicholson, thank you very much for your time. What’s your tagline?

Daryl Nicholson: Toowoomba 4350 TV and Stanthorpe 4380 TV. They’re more than just postcodes. They’re community.

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PODCAST Toowoomba

The Toowoomba Sports Club is LOCALLY Owned by Members and is Renovating


The Toowoomba Sports Club is still owned locally by the members of the club, and is currently investing in renovations to its building.

The Toowoomba Sports Club General Manager, Karen Evans set the record straight on the club’s structure.

“So, that constitution that was formed way back in 1990, we still work by that constitution,” Karen Evans said in the podcast discussion above.

“There is a landlord agreement (with the Canberra Raiders Group)…

“We lease the building from the Raiders.”

The club profits continue to go to the sporting affiliate groups.

“We’ve got five sporting affiliate clubs, three rugby league, a basketball and a hockey,” Karen Evans explained.

Further, the club is undertaking renovations to remain competitive.

“There’s a massive re-investment, and it is a shared re-investment as well,” Karen Evans said.

“And I’ll give the Raiders a little pat on the back for being awesome landlords, because they are contributing a lot more money than a regular landlord would.”

The club is expected to trade mostly as per normal, with members and guests being encouraged to continue to go to the club and check out the renovations as they progress.

Included in the renovations, are provisions for outdoor space within the club.

Read the Toowoomba Sports Club Discussion Podcast TRANSCRIPT

McCarthy-Wood: Thank you very much for your company. Once again, I’m Andrew McCarthy-Wood. What I am up in Toowoomba. We drove up early this morning. As you know, we quite often chat with Daryl Nicholson. He’s known as a Toowoomba advocate, or so likes to get out there and talk about some of the other regions, being Warrick and Stanthorp, and all of those sort of places. There’s a really good reason as to why we’re in Toowoomba. The Toowoomba Sports Club. Now we have a special guest, Daryl. This is odd. I’m actually looking at you. We usually do this over the phone.

Daryl Nicholson: Normally, we’re on the phone, but yeah, we’re face to face. Thank you for coming up to the beautiful garden city, by the way, so really appreciate it.

McCarthy-Wood: Thank you for having us. Look, I know we’re going to have a chat with Karen Evan. She’s a general manager of the Toowoomba Sports Club, but I’ve just got to mention it was an early morning that we jumped into the car, headed out from the Morton Bay region. We were just talking about it before we hit record, but up through Woodford Kilcoy to [inaudible 00:00:52], all of those places, and it’s really obvious. There is no question about it. You can see that dry weather’s taking its toll.
And as we’re talking about with Kilcoy, we’re seeing a very, very green. When it rains it just becomes awesome, really green, and usually when it’s dry, it just comes off that green, but now it’s almost turning into a desert. To come up into Toowoomba and see the effort that has been taken. We know that it hasn’t been raining in Toowoomba because I see your posts regularly. You’re calling for rain, calling for people to get out there and rain dance, and all of those sort of things, but the main street, Rutland street, and the other streets back from it, the pride and the effort that has been put into this place is amazing, isn’t it?

Daryl Nicholson: Well, that’s what I was saying, too. I walk home at two or three o’clock in the morning. The street sweepers are out. I’ve lived at Prince Henry Heights. They send up a street suite there once a week, once a fortnight. There is a lot of pride here with our city and the Toowoomba Regional Council do a great job maintaining the parks and gardens and the streets around Toowoomba is absolutely beautiful.

McCarthy-Wood: And that pride, it goes into the businesses, and that’s part of the reason why we’re here at Toowoomba Sports Club. There’s substantial investment underway when it comes to the Sports Club. And we do have Karen Evan with us. Karen, how are you?

Karen Evans: Good morning. Thank you, Andrew. I’m well.

McCarthy-Wood: Well, I know Daryl’s got a heap of questions for you and we’ve talked about Toowoomba Sports Club quite a bit because we have a bit to do with different clubs around the place, and what we tend to find with clubs we want to get in and talk about the renovations and some of the other things. And I know Darren wants to have a chat with you about some of the history around the Club. But I just want to jump in, if I can, Daryl, just a bit of indulgence, and find out what did it is, some of the things that the club does for the community.

Karen Evans: Sure, a great history here, Andrew. Five sporting associations started Toowoomba Sports Club, hopefully I’ll get this right, let’s say 1990, trading in 1992, but in 1990 they’re said to establish the club. So, five sporting groups got together, come up with the concept, let’s start a licenced premise and that licence premise can then return in incoming years money back to fund our sports. So, we have Rugby League, Basketball and Hockey. So, quite unique. We don’t have any sporting fields attached, but we’re here to provide money back to those sporting groups.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. And you know Patchy, well, Kelvin Patchy, he’s the secretary manager of the [inaudible 00:03:21] Sport Club. We’re talking about him just recently and that’s why it got my curiosity, because they’ve got a similar model. And that’s one of the things that there are quite often conversations around the sports club might look shiny and well invested, which it needs to be so that you have patronage, but it’s the stuff that quite often goes unrecognised and unrealized that the club is actually doing something very, very important for the community. Do we want a find a little bit more about that, about maybe some of the benefits that those clubs have, just subsidiaries, have enjoyed because they’ve got a club here that supports them.

Karen Evans: And I agree. That’s a tricky one. When you have a golf club, you see the golf course, it’s very obvious. You have a bowling club, you say the bowling greens, but a sports club, Toowoomba Sports Club, without that field attached, the identity has been a little bit lost, I guess, as to what we actually do. So, it’s tricky. It’s been tricky to get the message out that the money here goes back. Well, lots of money goes back. Not all, of course, lots gets reinvested, as we’re going to talk about, back into refurbishment and for our members, but a lot of cash goes out every year to keep sport happening in Toowoomba.
And that, when you talk about how many people that impacts, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of people, potentially. We’ve got five sporting affiliate clubs, three rugby league, a basketball and a hockey. I don’t know exactly how many members I have, but I’m going to go it’s tens of thousands of people.

McCarthy-Wood: Then all of the families, all of the benefits of them participating in sport. It just goes on and on, doesn’t it?

Karen Evans: Correct.

McCarthy-Wood: Daryl, you used the term just before we started recording, involved.

Daryl Nicholson: Involved. And look, I went to the Southbrook-Toowoomba Regional Partnerships meeting. I saw Cole from Teen Challenge last week. I said, “How’ve you been Cole?” He goes, “I’m not going to use the word busy, but I’ve been involved in the community.” And I thought, “That’s great.” And that’s the theme I want to bring forward in this podcast today is involvement, because Karen’s really taken the staff, the management and the members now on a journey in the redevelopment.
Because this club originally was in the old Coronet Theatre, which is the car park, and I was telling you earlier.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, tell us your story.

Daryl Nicholson: I saw Grease in their Coronet theatre when I was 14, and I lived out of Coronet Barracks. Now that Coronet theater’s gone. Good memories there, the car park’s there. The club was open here. Pokies were upstairs. I remember that. I joined in 2013, no, 2003 I joined. Pokies were upstairs. They moved the transition downstairs, the sports bar moved and it is what it is today. And a member said to me the other day, she goes, “Oh, I got thrown. I came in here, I had to go upstairs. Why are you renovating?” I said, “Well, we’ve got to, because we’re not only competing with the golf club and Club Glenwell, we’re competing against QRDC with Green Central now, because the restaurants, they’ve got food available all day.
And this member, she’s like, “Oh, I don’t really see why you’re doing it. The club’s perfectly great.” And that’s fine. That’s for perspective. But we’re really on an exciting journey. So, the involvement, Karen, I do you want to thank you. You’ve had staff meetings. We’ve all been in staff meetings here. Management, the committee, the Raiders because want to dispel the myth. A lot of people think the Raiders own the club. It’s the members that are in the club. So, the Raiders are involved. And of course the committee. So Karen tell us, why are we renovating? Why is the sports club renovating?

Karen Evans: So, can I give you a little bit of history?

McCarthy-Wood: Absolutely. Go for it.

Karen Evans: To set the record straight. And it’s a little bit complex, a bit of a complex story. And I’ll try and keep it as simple as I can. So I did start here in 2002, and it was a beautiful looking club. Brand new. And so we’re looking at around about 20 years now, since it’s been built, and it was three old buildings here. I took three historic buildings, I gathered them and then made this beautiful club hous.
And then behind us, as you remember, Daryl, the theatre was behind us, and the theatre was the function room, so they added that up to the buildings. We’ve got a little bit of a walkway across now, to what’s our car park now, hangs over the line way behind us. We’ve got a lease over that lane way as well.
So, it’s very complex. So, five lots of land, effectively, that might up the club. This club was built beautiful, but unfortunately they spent a lot of money and they didn’t quite achieve the trading results that they thought they would. It fell into receivership and that’s where my journey started here, I guess, in 2002, because I work for and I still work for the Canberra Raiders Group.
Effectively, the easiest way for me to explain this, they are the bank. So they came along, they funded the club when a traditional bank wouldn’t because of the debt level. So, the Raiders come along, they were the bank, but the bank insisted on having their own manager in place to help the club trade.

McCarthy-Wood: If I could jump in here. Queensland has quite stringent and technical regulations around who can own clubs when it comes to licencing for gaming and all of those sort of things. So, it’s a management agreement as such, isn’t it?

Karen Evans: That’s right. So, those five affiliate clubs that we spoke about, that started, still receive the benefit and our members here own the club.

McCarthy-Wood: Which, at the end of the day, if there wasn’t such an arrangement, and probably some of those hoops, which can be frustrating at times, but it then means that those subsidiaries don’t lose the benefit of having that primary club about, right?

Karen Evans: That’s correct. So, that constitution that was formed way back in 1990, we still work by that constitution.

McCarthy-Wood: Isn’t that great?

Karen Evans: So, money goes back to the members here. Money goes back to the clubs here. However, there is, in the background, the Raiders’ agreement. There’s a management agreement that we manage the club on their behalf, and also now, there is a landlord agreement so that they lease. We lease the building from the Raiders. So, the Raiders own the building. So, the landlord and there’s a management agreement. It’s pretty simple.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Totally get it. And it’s not unusual, just to put some context around it. That’s actually happened a lot through Queensland, and one that comes to my mind straight away is the [inaudible 00:09:07] has that same arrangement with the [Cambalda 00:09:08] Sports Club. We’ll talk about Patchy. And I know that there are other clubs where they’ve done the same sort of thing. So, it is protection mechanisms to keep clubs very community based.
But then there’s also mechanisms for them to be able to move forward out of times where trading does become difficult. And Daryl, we have talked about this. This happens in communities, doesn’t it? Where an area of the town might be bustling, but then something changes and it shifts it from underneath you. It’s good that you can actually have mechanisms that you can move forward. So, moving forward to now, there’s a reinvestment in this facility.

Karen Evans: There’s a massive re-investment and it is a shared re-investment as well. I’ll say that. And I’ll give the Raiders a little pat on the back for being awesome landlords, because they are contributing a lot more money than a regular landlord would. So, they’ve got these club’s benefit at heart, too. They are kind of going, “You know what? We’re going to back you in as well, because we’re longterm partners. Even though we’re landlords, we’re also a longterm partner. We see our partnership here with you, and we want a longterm commitment to the place, too. So we’re going to throw a [inaudible 00:10:12].”
They’re contributing, I can’t give up the money, of course, a significant, some would say, into this refurbishment, too. So, here we are, and off we go. So, we’re 20 years old, effectively, this building, and we do need a lot of work done. So, the member that said we don’t need it done, Daryl, that is fantastic feedback. It means we’ve done a really good job of keeping it looking presentable because it’s not.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, so a couple of things there. Essentially, Daryl, what we’re saying is that we like the Raiders except for when our teams are up against them, yeah?

Daryl Nicholson: Well I am.

McCarthy-Wood: No love lost in that moment.

Daryl Nicholson: I was born in Canberra. Karen reminded me that. She asked me at a state of origin story. “Where were you born, Daryl?” I said, “Camberra.” “Well. You’ve got to go for new South Wales and Canberra.” So, I’m always excited when they win. So, again, coming back, Karen, that’s a great answer to the question. We’ve got to renovate, we’ve got to invest that money. We’re not only competing against clubs, we are competing against the Grand Centrals of the world, and other businesses out there. So, it’s business as usual for the next 10, 11, 12 months. So, that’s the message we want to get across.

Karen Evans: I think business is going to be unusual, not as usual, but it will be fun. That’s for sure. But we are going to trade. We’re going to trade the whole way through this.

McCarthy-Wood: And actually, it’d be fun. It’s something to embrace. And look, if you’re a nosy person like I am, this is the best time to down. Check the club out, have a meal, sit around. And we’re in the facility right now. We’ve had no problems as far as tables, and all of that sort of stuff, guys. The logistics of getting in and out, the accommodating factors around that have been absolutely brilliant. We’ve been able to get a vehicle straight to the back door, which is awesome with this club, that you have that mechanism, get the gear in and all of that.
But you can sit here and see this transition happening, and probably the same as what you said Darryl. You think back to when you’re 13, 14 you fond memories and there’s been changes. This’ll be another moment where there’s going to be some changes. So what are some of the exciting things that you’ve gotten a pipeline for this club?

Karen Evans: So, I think the biggest one for us will be that we’re going to try and get some outdoor space inside. So, obviously, as we’ve already talked about, we don’t have any outdoor space here. So, that’s always been a challenge for us, competing with those places that have a beautiful out walk. We don’t have that. We don’t get to look over the beautiful green golf course or over the bowling green. So, let’s try and get the outdoor arena.

McCarthy-Wood: Just while you’re talking about that, we noticed when we drove up Ruffin Street, you’ve got a plant out on the veranda. Who keeps those green and healthy because they are awesome.

Karen Evans: Oh look, you know, I’ll give him a rap. Tony Hold is his name, and he has his own little plant business. He’s a good fellow and we’ve known him for lots of years. He comes in diligently, weekly, and waters and prunes and looks after them. He does a good job, doesn’t he? They’re beautiful.

McCarthy-Wood: Absolutely.

Karen Evans: Yeah, so they do look great. But we want to get some outdoor in. We want to pull out some windows and I’m going to call them outdoor spaces. They can’t be entirely outdoor, of course. We’ve got two level buildings, and we can’t get rid of that slab in between the roof and the ground level, but we’re going to pull out some windows and try and create these outdoor spaces with a bit of greenery, and a bit of fresh air, and some bi-folding doors and whatnot. So, we’re going to have an outdoor cafe on the ground floor that’s got outdoor space.

McCarthy-Wood: So, you’ll be able to get a coffee and that in the morning.

Karen Evans: Get a coffee, come in a bit early, set up your laptop before work. You know, if you’re wandering around the streets and you’ve got your car parked a kilometre away because there’s a bit of a lack of parking in [inaudible 00:13:25]. But come early, get your car park in a shady street, walk down, have a coffee, set up your laptop, sit in the cafe for an hour or so before work and do a bit of work.

McCarthy-Wood: [inaudible 00:13:35] That’s starting to seem a perfect morning.

Daryl Nicholson: And even after the Empire Theatre, there’s possibility of capturing that Empire Theatre market because there’s really not a lot of places to get a coffee after a show at the Empire Theatre.

Karen Evans: And I think that’s right, Daryl. And particularly when you’re of a certain age group like I am, we get a bit particular about where we want to go late at night. So, I think here, you certainly can come back. We trade through ’til three in the morning and so with that beautiful cafe-

McCarthy-Wood: So, you’re saying, if you’re particular and you’re picky, you need to head to the Toowoomba Sports Club. They’ll take care of you.

Karen Evans: Yes. I think you better sit down there and have a lovely glass of red and a chocolate brownie or something late at night. That’ll be beautiful, wouldn’t it.

McCarthy-Wood: Oh, that sounds good.

Karen Evans: Sounds pretty good.

Daryl Nicholson: So, Karen, the community and a lot of money goes back into the clubs and especially, we’re encouraging the young sports people to take part. And we’ve got some great sporting names like Nicky Hudson was Toowoomba Hockey. Angela Skirving. The names could just go on and on. But tell us about the contribution you put back into the five clubs, that money that goes back into those organisations.

Karen Evans: I’ll tell you about Nicky Hudson’s abs first. And let me tell you, when I started working here, her mom, Jane Mark, was here, and actually quite a few of Nicky’s family members worked here when I started here in 2002. And one day, Nick came in, and her mom, Jane, introduced me to Nicky, and said, “This is Nikki.” And I went, “Wow.” I was a bit in awe of Nick. And she said, “Feel her abs. Go on, feel her abs.” Poor Nikki was very embarrassed.

McCarthy-Wood: Just want to point out this is a G rated podcast.

Karen Evans: So, I gave Nick a little poke in the tummy and I said, “Oh my gosh. There’s nothing that hard on me except my elbow, Nick.” It was pretty hard. I’m sorry, Daryl. The initial question?

Daryl Nicholson: Just under a quarter of $1 million. I think the figure I saw on the screen is about 200.

Karen Evans: 200000, I think. This year was 100000 because we’re doing a refurbishment. We’re being a little conservative and holding onto a little bit of cash just in case, just watching cashflow. But last year was 200000, and it’s been around about that 200000 mark each year for the past four or five years. So, then, building that, the answer is, we give as much as we can afford to give. We are hoping that, along with refurbishment and improvement to the club, that along comes improved trading results so these clubs get more money.

McCarthy-Wood: And that’s fairly similar to company dividends, isn’t it? You don’t always give out all your cashflow in a dividend because you may be putting it into something, which is, in your case, the renovations, which will then create more sustainable and larger dividends down the track.

Karen Evans: And sustainable is the word, isn’t it? You know, we want to give to these clubs for as many years as we possibly can. Hopefully forever, sort of thing, you know? So, we’ve got to make sure this business, first and foremost, thrives, moves forward, improves its trading results, and we can continue to give and build on that number if we can. That’s the challenge, isn’t it? If we can look after everybody and give the most we can give.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. Wow. Membership. What do you get for your membership when you sign up here?

Karen Evans: Heaps! Heaps, Andrew!

McCarthy-Wood: We’re members. For full disclosure. Yeah. We became members of here. And we were surprised. It was very competitive. I can’t remember exactly how much it was. It was like, yeah, five bucks or something for five years or something like that. And then we use it to reciprocate other places around Queensland.

Karen Evans: Yeah, fantastic. And of course we accept reciprocal members. We love them coming in here, but for two bucks 50, if you join up, it’s a whole heap of benefit and straight off the bat, the minute you walk in here, we have a $10 members menu. So, straight away, for you $2.50, you’re purchasing meals for $10 a year, saving you money on that very first visit.
Members here, we try to look after our members and give them good reason to return. So, we are effectively cutting margin, of course, to get members to come in and buy a $10 meal. But the idea is that you can come here three, four, five times a week if you want to, for your $10, as opposed to going to a fancy restaurant once, and spending 50, 60 bucks on a meal. So, we want you to come. We want you to be involved, as Daryl says, and be part of the place, and come regularly, and really get on board with the whole idea of the club.

McCarthy-Wood: That’s awesome. We have talked about subsidiaries and the benefits that they are to [inaudible 00:17:39] sporting subsidiaries, but you’ve also got a staff here, and Daryl’s one of them. How many staff do you have? What’s the employment status of this place?

Karen Evans: So, I think, at the moment, we’re about 54 staff, Andrew. But that does go up and down a little bit, depending on the time of the year and how many people we need, and who comes and goes. But roundabout the 50 mark is where we hover. And I’ve got to say, that’s pretty lean, probably, for a club this big, but we intentionally keep it quite lean because I try to look after our staff.
I think a lot of our staff are here 10 years plus. Some of our casuals are 20 years. Yeah, there’s a couple few in the kitchen, Wendy that calls bingo, they’re 20 years. They’re casual staff members that have been here for 20 years. longer than I’ve been here. We’ve got some permanents around that 20 year mark as well. And lots of permanents over 10 years.
I think just last year, we gave out some awards to staff who are greater than 10 years. There’s probably, I don’t know, let’s go with 12, 13 staff members that are greater than 10 years service? So, we keep the number lean. We try to look after people as well as we can possibly look after them. So, lots of the casual staff are mothers who want that flexibility around their work. They want to come in and work when the kids are in bed asleep or when the kids are at school during the day. So, they’ve been with us forever because it’s flexible, and they can do that, you know? So it’s a good place to work.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah. Awesome. I want to do something a little bit different. Usually, we would go to Karen and say, “Look, you’re the general manager. Make the case for why people should come along here and have a good time.” I think you’ve probably done that anyway. But Daryl, you’re also a Toowoomba advocate. You do work here, but I think we might get you to do this one.

Daryl Nicholson: All right. Okay.

McCarthy-Wood: You invite people. Tell people why they should be travelling even from out the region, to Toowoomba and come and attend the Toowoomba Sports Club.

Daryl Nicholson: Well, look, I know for a fact, the meals here. I spoke to the member for Toowoomba North, Trevor Watts. He does tours around the region every fortnight on his speaker’s corner. And he said, “I got home last night, it was Australian Sit Day, Friday night. And he said, “The wife said, ‘Want to go out?'” And he goes, “Oh, I don’t want to go and pay $26 for a steak.” And I said, “Trevor, why don’t you come to the sports club? Because we’ve got five chefs here, five or six chefs. They do everything from toasted sandwiches to steak, salmon and chicken.”
So, we’re talking, it’s a very big range of a menu. So, I think this is one of Toowoomba’s best kept secrets. And I know you and Jody jump in the car and come to Toowoomba to eat.

McCarthy-Wood: Absolutely.

Daryl Nicholson: And you love the secret I put in, which I’m hoping is still on the menu, but yeah, Karen, the chefs. I mean, that is, and we’ve talked about this, the great range that they can do from a toasted sandwich up to the $32 steak, and that sort of thing. It tells a bit of the diversity of the chefs that we’ve got here.

Karen Evans: And they are all chefs. Let me point that out first. At the moment, we don’t even have any apprenticeships. They’re all qualified chefs. The wage bill and the kitchen is big, but we did that intentionally to try and make sure that we provide a quality product.
Food is a tricky one, and the menu is diverse. It’s everything from the $5 toasted sandwich all the way through to the, like you said, the salmon meal. And, also, on top of that, we have long trading hours. Which we start at nine in the morning with our food and we go through to 9:30 at night with our food, and of course with the renovation, I’m hoping that we can take it that through to midnight or beyond, perhaps.

McCarthy-Wood: Yeah, then you’ll have the cafe opportunities as well.

Karen Evans: That’s right. Exactly. So, long hours of trade and a big selection of foods. So, I think the idea for me, if I may, is that anybody can come in here. A family can come in here with the five year old, right through to grandma, and they can all pick what they want to have and it’s affordable, you know?
So, not only can they all have what they want to have, they can afford to come in here and have it weekly. They can come once a week. It’s not crazy promising. If they just want to have something small, they can have something small. There’s plenty of kids meals, there’s plenty of members $10 choices. It’s a massive menu. There’s a massive range of things. And I think that’s a big bonus. Like Daryl said, we’re a good, well-kept, secret, I think. And I think it’s a wonderful thing to be affordable and to have a big choice and long trading hours.

Daryl Nicholson: Yeah, exactly. And the other thing, Andrew, is sport. You can come here anytime. NRL on the big screen, IFL on the other screens, basketball. We’ve got so many screens around here and there’ll be more screens and different private areas that people can watch sport. Entertainment, I’m sure that’s going to be coming up on the agenda there. Poker machines, bingo, trivia. It just goes on and on. There’s so many more things here to do.
And the prices of the drinks. I mean, I’ve gone to other hotels and that sort of thing, and I’ve paid paying $5 for a scoon, or $5 if you’re member for a a cold mid scooner, versus $7, $7.50 somewhere else. I mean, wow. It’s great prices. So, that’s the benefits of membership.

Karen Evans: And again, it’s intentional. It’s an intentional thing to try and make sure that we look after members, we get people involved in the club, we get that return visitation and that loyalty. As it’s not about making a quick buck right here and now. It’s about trying to get people involved and their hanging there with us and stick with it. So, make it their place.
Now, it’s an interesting thing, a little bit of a sidetrack here, but I have a friend who lives in Port Macquarie whose father was a longterm director at a bowling club, who is also a very clever man, a bank manager, and has lots of interesting perspective and points of view. And he once said to me, “I love clubs, Karen, and the reason I love them is because they’re a great level up. A person from any background, from any economic sort of status, it doesn’t matter what they have at home. You come to the club, you’re all members for your 2 bucks 50. It’s an equaliser. It’s everyone’s club. Doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you’ve got.”
And I love that. I love that about clubs. The fact that, when you’re in here, we’re all members, we’re all valuable. It doesn’t matter what’s happening at home or where you come from or what’s going on. It doesn’t matter. We’re all members and we’re all valuable and we’re all in it together.

McCarthy-Wood: Beautifully put. I was just going to say, one of the last things, so the renovations. When do you expect to have those completed? Because you’re going to have the Christmas in between aren’t you?

Karen Evans: We’re going to have Christmas in between. It’s going to be awesome isn’t it? Hey? So much fun. August is the answer, at this point in time. And so it does move a little bit depending on our schedule, but at this point in time, we’re hoping for a finish around about August of 2020, but it’s happening in stages. So, people are going to see stages open up between now and August.
So, we’ve got all of these stages of work happening, and in fact we’ll have some stages open in January. We’ll have little bits and pieces open in January. Then we finish that stage, we move to the next stage and so forth. So, unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to draw the curtain back and go, “Woohoo! Here’s the brand new club.” It’s not going to quite happen like that. That would be the dream wouldn’t it? But people are going to see little parts of the club opening around them.

McCarthy-Wood: But what you are saying is that, for a very limited time, until August, in fact, you can actually come down and see renovations being taken place, and you can see some investment in Toowoomba, and get involved in it, and have a good meal at the same time.
All of that. And in fact, you can take part in the renovation. Just last week, during bingo, we had all sorts of audio problems, and our staff member handled it beautifully. The microphone went out. She started to call out. “It’s okay, possums. Hang in there and I’m going to yell out these numbers.” She called out the numbers manually, which is quite physically straining for her. And at the end of it, when the audio come back on, they all cheered, and they were actually quite excited by the fact that something quite crazy had happened.

Karen Evans: There you go, Daryl. That’s community, isn’t it?

Daryl Nicholson: That is. And that’s what it’s about. It’s community. That’s the sports club and we’d certainly want the members and guests to get into the involvement, and the plans are all around the place. There’s architectural drawings and we invite the members to ask questions and get involved in some channel.
Karen, I am going to miss that staircase, but some engineering challenges as well. Just very quickly. Toowoomba is a land on swamp, the swamp underneath.

Karen Evans: You know, I’m learning. I’m learning so much. It’s such an exciting process. It truly is. To sit there and listen to the architects and the engineers.

McCarthy-Wood: Well I hear you’ve got your own hard hart now.

Karen Evans: I have got my hardhat. I have to learn a new hairstyle other than a ban here, Andrew, because my hard hat doesn’t fit along the bun. But yeah, it’s quite amazing. We’ve got this massive staircase. It’s all concrete. It’s about to come down next week. They wanted to bring in an eight tonne excavator, do you believe it, into the building on this side, but they can’t because they’ll [inaudible 00:25:28] with it. But they’re bringing in a three tonne excavator, which I believe arrives this afternoon, and they’re going to knock down these stairs. So, I think we’re going to shake this city up.

McCarthy-Wood: So if you want to see an excavator in action, come on down here. You can watch the renovations and you can have a good feed. Look, Karen Evan, thank you very much for your time. Thank you for sharing everything that’s been happening at the Toowoomba Sports Club. It’s been absolutely fantastic. Hey, Daryl? What’s your tag line?

Daryl Nicholson: Toowoomba, 4350. More than just a post code. It’s all about community.