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Death threat made to Orange Aquatic Centre staff during summer free entry period

March 19, 2024

Orange Aquatic Centre. Supplied.

By Peter Holmes

Orange City Council’s (OCC) decision to allow free entry to the aquatic centre over summer resulted in staff facing at least one death threat, it was revealed during Tuesday night’s council meeting.

As councillors discussed a council staff horror report into the goodwill gesture, director Scott Mander said he could not endorse such a giveaway in the future.

He said staff were traumatised by the experience.

“When kids are standing and screaming every word you can think of as you’re ejecting them, threatening to kill you. These things happened.”

He said around 250 people were ejected from the aquatic centre, “but it could easily have been 500, 700 - there was some leniency”. 

Ultimately, OCC had to spend $30,000 on security guards to try and keep a handle on proceedings.

Maunder said he “witnessed the impact on staff, which was significant, and can’t be understated. It’s hard to write in black and white. Go down there and ask them”. 

Data showed that there were 28,000 visits to the pool in the free period, compared to around 12,000 in the same time the summer previous, where patrons had to pay.

The picture painted by Maunder was of staff being completely overwhelmed, and of regular patrons being turned off attending.

Councillors asked if there was a way to avoid such chaos next summer, potentially via a booking site or wrist bands, but Maunder said he couldn’t see how it could be monitored.

“Sorry council, I don’t have a possible suggestion for how you can do it. The difficulty was the sheer volume and ability to keep track of that over an 18-hour operational period. With free entry, you just waltz in.”

He said that when staff were being abused or threatened while trying to eject a patron, “you don’t necessarily take their name, go to register [and say] ‘Oh you’re not coming back in sonny’ … It was that serious. That is what was happening.”

He said if councillors voted to do the same next summer he would “engage security from day one, but that doesn’t make the issues go away”.

Councillors Jeff Whitton and Kevin Duffy backed the continuation of the free period.

“I know it was a tough time,” said Whitton. “A small proportion of [people] created issues for staff and other people. But that doesn’t mean we stop it.”

 “I think it’s a good service,” said Duffy.

Mayor Jason Hamling said he was “extremely disappointed with the people who decided to take advantage of what we were trying to provide, and carry on like clowns”.

“I visited a couple of times and spoke to a couple of the staff and they were visibly distressed. The question was asked: ‘Why didn’t we talk to the staff before we made the decision?’.

“From the stories I’ve been told it wasn’t just young people, it was parents of young people who were getting into trouble, who decided to get into our junior lifeguards, which created a lot of angst.”



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