Hatless man in thoughtless bar
By DAVID MOASE
DEALING with the early stages of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hugh Kearney knows all about feeling ill but his treatment at a local bowling club recently made him feel even sicker.
Mr Kearney, 52, says he felt insulted and humiliated at the 'heartless' treatment he received from Sawtell Bowling Club staff and an executive because he was wearing a plain black beanie to cover his now bald head ? the result of chemotherapy treatment for the cancer.
A number of staff members asked him to remove the beanie and, after explaining his condition and why he would like to keep it on, he was told to stay at one end of the club 'behind the poker machines'. "I have never felt so insulted and humiliated in my entire life," he said.
"You would think that in a beautiful village like Sawtell, at a club which caters for the community's senior members, there may just have been a small tincture of maturity, life experience or common sense associated with the gaining of wisdom through age. Apparently not.
"What my friends and I experienced was crass stupidity, heartless discrimination and a total abdication of personal values.
"And for what? A rule. How very, very sad."
Mr Kearney has recently commenced chemotherapy treatment and seen his hair start falling out.
He says that since shaving off the remainder of his locks he has started wearing the black beanie to help him cope with self-consciousness about his condition, as well as fulfilling the important role of keeping his bare head warm to prevent him catching a cold ? a constant problem for chemotherapy patients.
The Murwillumbah man was visiting the Coffs Coast to support friends racing go-karts at Raleigh Raceway and he and a group of friends visited the bowling club for dinner.
"Upon entering the club the doorman asked me to take the beanie off," he said.
"I explained my condition to him and that I would prefer to keep it on. He supervised us signing in and we proceeded to the restaurant.
"A drinks waiter also chipped me about the beanie, then a barman, then another woman staff member, before the doorman came back and said he had checked with the secretary/manager and I had to take it off.
"I protested and asked to speak to the duty manager.
"The doorman came back a little later and said he had spoken again to the secretary/manager who said I could stay but up the far end of the club behind the poker machines.
"My friends said we wanted to eat in the restaurant but we were told no, I had to stay at this end."
Mr Kearney said he then confronted the secretary/manager in the dining room to demand an explanation for the treatment and says he was told 'rules are rules'.
After a short argument, he and his friends left the club in disgust.
Club chairman Shane Podesta said he supported the actions of staff members in enforcing the club rule, which was based on a long-standing tradition of male members not wearing hats in a club where there was a portrait of the queen.
The rule was widespread in registered clubs and many members of the bowling club were of an era where respect for the Queen was very important.
Mr Podesta said because there were so many of those members in the dining room at the time Mr Kearney and his friends were there, staff thought it was prudent to move the group to an area where there were fewer people in case members were disturbed by the sight of someone in a beanie.
"It was explained to Mr Kearney what the rule was and I am happy how the staff performed their duties on two levels," he said.
"They helped Mr Kearney maintain his dignity and made sure he was not made embarrassed by the situation.
"I am also pleased the staff acted in accordance with the current rules of the club.
"It has been a unique situation to our club.
"We have at any time people in the club who are battling serious health problems but a situation like this has never come up."
Mr Podesta said the issue would be discussed at the club's next board meeting.
Mr Kearney said he had not experienced similar treatment in any other club.
"I would have thought a little understanding would have gone a long way," he said.