OUR SAY: They built it, but we stopped coming

THE debate over the new proposed use of the Maclean Services Club site has brought familiar complaints on Facebook.

"How dare they take our club!" they say. "This shouldn't be allowed!"

Of course, the real world works differently, and when a commercial piece of property sells, the owner can use it for whichever purpose they wish, so long as they comply to development standards.

That's the same reason why your house sits on what was probably once pristine, timber filled land by the way. Someone had to permit you to knock it all down and lay a big slab 'o concrete on it. I doubt the animals were happy about it, but we did it anyway.

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The Maclean Services Club seemingly had a lot to offer. A riverside spot for lunch or dinner and a convenient position in the CBD give it a headstart on a lot of other entertainment venues.

So why can't we have nice things? Maybe it's because while we like the idea of these places, most of us don't go there in the numbers we used to.

I get it. There are lots more distractions, and there's lots more choice, right? Apparently not.

I remember turning 18 and having the wide world of licensed premises legally opened to me. I lived in Woombah, but we always met up in Maclean each week.

What to do on a Friday night? We could start at the Top Pub. They had a DJ on, but the Services Club had a band on, so it was a toss-up.

The Bowling Club tended to cater to an older crowd and had country music, but you could usually get on the pool table there, and the drinks were cheap, so they pulled a crowd too.

If you felt game, you wandered into the Argyle, where a lot of the local characters hung from the bar. But eventually, you'd end up listening to Mudcrab Boogie at the Bottom Pub until about 3am, or later.

That's one night in Maclean, and it was only 25 years ago.

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Now? The Bottom is in stasis but had mostly dropped its entertainment anyway. The Arygle has been sold three times and sits waiting for its new owners, and the Services Club is in administration, catering still to its Friday night raffles crowd, but the days of two big local bands a week are long gone.

The Bowling Club and the Top Pub still keep the music scene alive, but crowds are often sparse past dinner time.

The tale is similar across the Clarence Valley. A typical Friday AND Saturday night in Grafton years ago gave you the choice of entertainment at any up to SIX pubs at the same time, with most people ending up at the Crown Hotel's bouncy floor eating indigestible hotdogs at 4am.

Even the registered clubs on both sides of the river had a raging "nightclub" scene upstairs until the wee hours if that was your choice. No more.

While one or two places still hold high the gauntlet of live entertainment and crowds, the lights can be dim in many other venues at what was peak time.

Like many industries, the days of these rivers of gold which offset their almost public service opening on quieter days, are long gone.

To the venues who still put on entertainment, this piano-playing covers singer salutes you. But sometimes, it must be hard. If you're not the flavour of the month or really risking your neck, it must be tough going.

So for people to turn around and tell a business they can't take away "our" club seems a bit trite. Sure, it might not be your fault, but commercial property owners are not a public service.

The demand will always win the day, and if the market says your favourite place is turning into a funeral home, a backpackers or other non-entertainment use, ask yourself how it got to that situation in the first place.

They've built it, but we've stopped coming.