In an awful case of serendipity, following our in-depth report yesterday on Sydney’s live music scene and the battle between small clubs vs pokie beer barns, today comes reports of a similar in Victoria.

In Castlemaine, a new 800 capacity entertainment venue, funded by The Maryborough Highland Society – an expanding regional Victoria pokies operator – is proposed for the town’s centre. Local music venue operators however, are strongly opposed to the development, saying that it will hurt local culture, business and most importantly, the live music scene.

A press release sent to out to music industry figures entitled ‘We Wont Play The Pokies’ is urging for performers, promoters, managers and agents to oppose the development of the new ‘beer barn.’

The Castlemaine community are also preparing to challenge the contentious development of the new pokie-fulled venue, at a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in August, with local entertainment and hospitality operators viewing the new venue proposal as a threat to the live music scene in regional Victoria.

One such local figure who strongly opposes the property development is David Stretch, the proprietor of Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal and is spearheading the groundswell against the new development.  Stretch’s statement reads:

“Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal has been entertaining Castlemaine since 1854 but now faces the most serious threat to its existence in it’s 158 year history. We have worked extremely hard since 2004 to create a venue that hosts a range of local, national and international touring artists. All the while, working closely with the Shire Council, FREEZA and Castlemaine Secondary College to engage with and inspire young people interested in music and performing arts.

“While I cannot imagine many (if any) of the artists we book at our venue would ever consider playing at this proposed pokies barn, this new venue will undoubtedly suck millions out of the local economy and seriously compromise the viability of not only our business but many businesses involved in an already challenging local hospitality and entertainment sector.”

Stretch doesn’t mince his words in his resistance to the proposed beer barn development. Calling it a “socially toxic, aesthetically incongruous” location, with “65 pokies [and] the potential to undermine the ongoing development of a growing music scene here in Central Victoria.”

Stretch also urges “don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with healthy competition,” noting that the recently re-opened Bridge Hotel is “a good thing for a growing local music scene.”

Brendan Noonan of the Bridge Hotel, has also come out saying that diversification of live music venues is a case of ‘healthy competition’, “the more the merrier I say.” But Noonan has also come out against the proposed pokie-filled venue, “I’m a strong believer in the ‘precinct effect’ when it comes to music and arts venues,” says Noonan. “The proliferation of music and the arts enrich a community and strengthen the cultural fabric of a town. Poker machines on the other hand achieve exactly the opposite.

As for the argument that larger, centralised gambling locations like the proposed 800 capacity entertainment centre bring higher revenue and community culture; Noonan disgrees: “A lot is made of the apparent “economic benefit” to a community from poker machine revenue but the fact is any “economic benefit” will be paid for by gambling losses, largely from problem gamblers, many of whom are among the most disadvantaged in our community.”

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