Sporting and social clubs across Australia are among the many institutions affected by the government’s shutdown laws amid the coronavirus outbreak.
For the thousands of patrons who make the daily pilgrimage to a club for social connection activity, there are concerns anxiety levels may rise the longer the clubs stay closed.
That’s the verdict from Danny Fitzgerald, the chief executive office of Sydney’s Petersham RSL Club.
“There’s certainly been a significant impact because nothing’s happening in clubland at the moment,” Mr Fitzgerald told SBS News.
With about 8,000 signed-up members, Petersham RSL is one of the biggest social clubs in Australia.
From the moment the glass doors at the front desk open every night, to closing time in the late evening, the club is usually abuzz with patrons of all ages and of a variety of backgrounds.
Sydney’s inner-city area is known for its multicultural population and the elderly, in particular, rely on the club’s facilities.
But with clubs, pubs and restaurants now a no-go zone, members are forced to stay indoors and find other sources of entertainment.
“I miss socialising with other club members,” said Esther Rhodes a former native of Tanzania who migrated to Australia in the late 1970s.
“The interaction of talking to people is important for me.”
Retiree Esther is a regular bingo player and loves to mix with the members of the Petersham RSL Club, who come from diverse backgrounds.
“We have people from Portugal, Greece, Italy, Vietnam and China,” she said.
“We all play, talk, interact and basically like each other’s company even though English is not our first language.”
Esther usually spends her time in her garden, attending to her patch of herbs, tomatoes and lemons, and looking after her 13-year-old grandson, but visiting the club is a big part of her social life.
“I enjoy what I do stuck at home, but I admit it does get boring. I do miss the club,” she said.
“A lot of them are here seven days a week,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
For many, they simply come for the socialisation and being with their friends and being with the people that speak their languages.”
Among the club members feeling the impact are two former football foes who have become lifelong friends.
Tony Labbozzetta is a former director of Club Marconi in Sydney’s west.
after arriving in Australia from Italy as a 14-year-old, he became one of the forces that formed the National Soccer League which ran from 1977-2004.
Now, 78, Mr Labbozzetta has retained his friendship with Les Scheinflug.
The 81-year-old arrived in Australia from Germany in the mid-1950s and made a name for himself as a hardened defender for Sydney FC Prague in the NSW State League, before representing Australia as the country’s first captain for a World Cup qualifying campaign in 1965.
The pair now spend more time together than they would ever imagine.
Both are missing the regular visits to Club Marconi.
“There’s a couple of groups who ring me constantly,” Mr Labbozzetta said, “[saying] ‘let’s get together and have a game of cards. I can’t stay at home anymore, I’ve had enough’.”
“While these lockout laws exist, we try and keep ourselves high in spirit but it’s not the same.”