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Bruised but not broken, businessman dresses as bishop and fights on

By Peter Holmes

John Vandenberg outside The Blind Pig on Friday morning. Supplied by Blind Pig.

You may have seen a man wandering around town on Friday morning dressed as a bishop.

At the end of his tether, the owner of the Blind Pig Sound Lounge & Bar, John Vandenberg, decided all that was left was to play dress ups and walk to Bensons for a cuppa.

Vandenberg is furious, and believes that live music venues such as his have been singled out with regulations banning singing and dancing.

And they are crushing his business.

“Hospitality and bars are the lowest hanging fruit, and everyone [in government] grabs that to make it look like they’re doing something,” Vandenberg told The Orange News Examiner.

He was particularly irritated by the recent controversy surrounding a camp run by the Hillsong church that featured hundreds of young people inside tents singing and dancing to bands.

“Because you're praising a deity, you can sing, and if you’re getting married you can sing and dance and hug and kiss, but with a bar you can’t sing and dance because Covid knows [the difference]."

Hence the costume.

“Why is a wedding different from being in a small bar where there are strict checks on vaccinations and social distancing?" he asked.

“I can go and scream and chant with 30,000 other people in an outdoor fish bowl at the cricket or the tennis, because there is too much riding on sports, with the TV rights and the gambling ads. But no-one is backing hospitality.”

Vandenberg has cancelled his DJ for Friday night.

He will proceed with the Robbie Mortimer gig on Saturday, but instead of having four bar staff, one person on the door and himself working the room, it will only be Vandenberg and one other person.

Financially, he is on the ropes.

Two years of being buffeted by a pandemic - and the endless daisy chain of new rules that have come and gone with each phase - have left him battered, but not broken.

“I was a fireman for two-and-a-half decades, my super has gone [into this business], and I now get $250 a week from my pension," he said.

“I’ve never paid myself [a wage] at the Blind Pig. We were starting to make money [again], but last week I was down to 37 percent of normal revenue.

“I won’t give up. I’ll keep fighting.

“I’m getting old, but I’ve invested that much time and money, and it’s a place that Orange wants and needs - a place where groups of women feel safe, and a safe place for the LGBTQI community.

“I’m not going to let it go.”

The Blind Pig opened in 2017.

NSW Restrictions

As of January 12, 2022:

Anyone can attend a wedding, funeral or place of worship.

You don't need to be fully vaccinated or show proof of your vaccination status. Face masks are required for indoor premises, subject to exemptions.

You must use the Service NSW Check-in app at places of worship, funerals, memorial services, and at any gatherings after a ceremony.

Density limits no longer apply to weddings, funerals and memorials.

Singing and dancing at hospitality venues is no longer allowed other than for wedding services and receptions.


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