Greens MLC Ian Cohen and Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson (far right) with members of the Ballina Croquet Club at their silent protest last week.
Greens MLC Ian Cohen and Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson (far right) with members of the Ballina Croquet Club at their silent protest last week.

Battle is over for croquet club

Despite a peaceful protest, the Ballina Croquet Club has been unsuccessful in being named the lease-holder for the Ballina croquet greens, with the NSW Minister for Lands Tony Kelly determining that the lease remain with the Ballina Bowling and Recreational Club.

The territorial turf war between the croquet Club and the neighbouring bowling club turned nasty, with allegations of “abuse, bullying, lies and broken promises”.

The genteel sport of croquet has been played on the Hampton Park Reserve in Ballina since at least 1936, when the Ballina Croquet Club was formed. But in 1985 (when relations between the bowlers and the croquet players were much more cordial than they are today), the bowling club approached the croquet club about taking over their patch of the park in exchange for a new clubhouse and new croquet lawns. The offer was accepted, but set in motion a series of legal and procedural minefields, which have exploded with increasing frequency over the past few months.

At the heart of the dispute is the question of who has the legal and moral right to the lease of the Crown land on which the greens are situated.

The bowling club says it does because it paid for the clubhouse and the lawns.

But the croquet club says they do because they have been paying council rates on it and the land is designated for the use of “mallet sports”.

Recently Ballina Bowling Club started their own croquet club to comply with this requirement.

Minister Kelly said the matter had been reviewed exhaustively.

“Council has determined the current lease arrangements should remain in place and I support that decision,” Mr Kelly said. “I believe the decision is the correct one, as the current five-year lease between Ballina Shire Council and Ballina Bowling and Recreation Club, which the Ballina Croquet Club had previously agreed to, is water-tight.

“It was signed with the prior agreement of the then executive of the Croquet Club and while it is unfortunate it does not now meet with the satisfaction of the new president of the Club, I do not believe there are any grounds to warrant intervention.

“The investigation into this matter has been a costly exercise and has now been completed and I urge both croquet clubs to accept the outcome and move forward.

However president of the Ballina Croquet Club Mary Hughes, who met with Mr Kelly in Sydney, said the club was disappointed with the Minister’s decision and that the executive committee was “concerned by the inaccuracies and errors” in his statement.

“It is true that the lease does not meet with the satisfaction of the current president of the Ballina Croquet Club... The Minister says the investigation into this matter has been a costly exercise and has now been completed. Given the inaccuracies and misleading information it is obvious that the investigation was cursory and relied on misleading sources of information. This appears to be a classic example of the incompetence of the NSW Labor Government.

“It is no wonder that NSW is in such a parlous state when a Minister who has responsibility for a number of portfolios with decision making for billion dollar projects cannot even get the facts right in a relatively simple community facility dispute.”


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