Almost a year after a massive sinkhole opened under the bowling greens of the Diggers Sports Club at Wallsend, members say they are losing faith in the process to bring the community institution back from dereliction.
Several long-term members, speaking on condition of anonymity because they say they have been threatened with expulsion if they speak out about the ordeal, said the bowling club was left to "rack and ruin" in the months since a mine subsidence caused large swathes of the greens bordering Fogo Street to sink over a rainy weekend in March 2023.
A wide-scale multi-agency emergency response was triggered the morning of Saturday, March 25, when locals noticed that around 100 square metres of ground under the greens, stretching towards the street and residential buildings nearby, had fallen in after days of heavy rain over the suburb.
Some 40 residents of Fogo Street, which borders the club's greens, were evacuated and put into emergency accommodation for three nights as engineers assessed whether the damage had reached the residential side of the street.
At the time, the Wallsend Diggers, which auspices the bowling club, estimated that the cost of damage would run into the millions. The club has been closed indefinitely since that weekend.
The NSW Mines Subsidence Advisory undertook remedial works over the ensuing seven months, pumping grouting material into the voids of a historic coal mine under the surrounding area.
A department spokesperson said the local council was responsible for completing repairs to the road, but the City of Newcastle has countered saying long term remediation of the site had been "complicated by the fact that (the City) cannot undertake work without the approval of Mine Subsidence NSW".
A council spokesperson said they "expect once Mine Subsidence NSW approves the works we can finalise the timeline".
A letter to residents dated October 31 from Mine Subsidence said that work had been completed that month. It added that department surveyors would continue to monitor the area for any further movement, but results indicated that the ground had stabilised.
Long-time members, though, say they have watched their club fall into dereliction. Works appear to have stalled, and a perceived lack of consultation from the parent Diggers Club has left many in doubt over the venue's future.
The greens have become overgrown with weeds, and members say the venue's interior has been stripped down to the bar taps, even as members wait to hear what will become of their club.
The venue was closed so quickly during the subsidence that many bowlers could not retrieve their bowls and other belongings from their lockers. The club arranged for the members to collect their effects after the Newcastle Herald reported the issue in June.
At a June meeting attended by more than 100 members, those who attended said they were left with more questions than answers. Promised updates via the bowling club's social media pages, the most recent of which was made in December and said that the club was "continuing to carry out proper due diligence" have left few satisfied.
The most recent post said the club had engaged a structural engineer to inspect the site, a report from whom would be added to an "extensive" compensation claim to be lodged" with the NSW Subsidence Advisory.
As many as 65 full-time bowlers - many of whom have been with the club for decades - have rescinded their memberships with Diggers or plan not to renew in a "mass exodus" over the issue and the parent organisation's perceived silence on the fate of the venue, two long-time members familiar with the matter said.
Many of the former bowlers have taken up new memberships with the nearby Water Board Bowling Club at New Lambton, which took in the displaced bowlers after the subsidence last year. Others have been scattered to suburban clubs further afield at Cardiff, Hamilton North and Mayfield West, members said.
The state's Subsidence Advisory spokesperson would not confirm if the club had lodged a claim for compensation over the damage but said such claims were "paid in accordance with a claim assessment and cost estimate for repairs".
The department's website notes that claims should be lodged within a year of the damage occurring.
The Wallsend Diggers Club has been contacted for comment.