Patrons roam free

THE Buffs are hoping it’s the start of a new golden era.

As word filtered in earlier this week that the McGowan government is to relax liquor laws and allow social clubs such as Freo’s Buffalos to welcome tourists and visitors, the mood in the High Street front bar was decidedly more upbeat.

“Woarr, that’d be good; get some more people in,” one old-timer exclaimed, trying to encourage his drinking partner into discussion.

Modernise

It’s Wednesday lunchtime and the pair are amongst 10 or so blokes quietly nursing beers.

Pensioners, mostly, club president Richard Malpass notes somewhat grimly.

Over the years he’s watched membership of Fremantle’s once-booming clubs shrink along with the waterfront workforce, and more recently has had to sit by while the first wave of liquor reform ushered in a boom of small bars in Freo.

With no red tape relief for the social clubs, they went the other way, selling off their premises and merging with other organisations to stay afloat. The Wyola Club simply folded and disappeared.

But Mr Malpass says being able to tap into Fremantle’s cruise ship market could help fill the tills again.

“Put an ‘A’ down for that,” he says.

“I think the first thing is all the clubs should look at a notice board in the shipping terminal, and also in East Perth where the buses come in.

“You really have to think modern these days.”

• Buffalo Club bartender Debbie Edson pours a beer as members Rodney Felstead and Darren Dell discuss new liquor laws with president Richard Malpass. Photo by Steve Grant

Mr Malpass says extra patrons would give them the opportunity to offer food more regularly. Currently Pete’s Kitchen at the Buffs is only open Fridays and Sundays.

Clubs WA CEO Karen Giles also welcomed the McGowan government’s reforms, but says they come with conditions and should be viewed as a first step to removing the shackles holding back the state’s social and sporting clubs.

Ms Giles says the clubs won’t feel the impact immediately, as some regulations need updating before they can accept tourists, but she’s hopeful that’ll happen before the end of the year.

She’s more concerned about a rule that will prevent anyone living within 40 kilometres of a club from dropping in for a drink, as they’d still be required to take out a membership. She notes that over east the limit is generally about five kilometres.

Visitors will also be required to register and pay a fee and Ms Giles is hoping the government gives the clubs discretion to set their own price.

“Western Australian clubs are the hearts of their communities and proposed amendments to legislation will now allow clubs to showcase their facilities and regions to domestic and international visitors,” Ms Giles said.

Pop-up bars

“Clubs WA has advocated for legislative changes to temporary membership for more than a decade and the proposed amendments will allow our volunteer-driven club industry to better service their communities.”

Other changes to be brought in by the government include allowing people to take home partially-consumed wine, making it easier for restaurants to offer a drink without a meal, and some controls over pop-up bars to limit their impact on bricks and mortar pubs.

Tourism and racing and gaming minister Paul Papalia said the changes will help create jobs. “It is time to modernise the hospitality and tourism industries, and these laws strike a good balance between the responsible consumption of liquor together with the tourism and employment benefits of a dynamic and prosperous hospitality industry,” Mr Papalia said.

by STEVE GRANT

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