An auction of a building in Broken Hill is being hotly contested by a local group who say they own it.
The venue at 237 South Road was controversially put up for sale by St John Ambulance NSW and was set to go under the hammer next week.
But the November 4 auction has been halted until clarification of ownership can be made, much to the relief of the APEX Club and other concerned community members.
Local APEX is furious, claiming the building has been “wrongfully seized” by St John, along with nearly $5000 in cash in a bank account and a Pro Hart painting that has gone missing.
Apex Club’s current president, Jason Denley, said he was shocked when he learned the hall was advertised for purchase.
“I didn’t know it was going to auction,” he said. “We want to find out what’s going on.
“One moment we thought we were going to get the hall back, the next minute they are trying to sell it under us.”
The hall was built by APEX and community funds in 1975, on a site gifted to APEX by Broken Hill City Council. Almost immediately, St John Ambulance NSW began operating first aid courses from the building, APEX handing St John the keys for what was essentially a volunteer organisation.
APEX says the first-aid courses at the hall, staffed by Broken Hill volunteers, generated over a million dollars for St John Ambulance, much of which flowed out of the community and “into the coffers of St John”.
But St John Ambulance was shut down in Broken Hill in early 2016 after head office in Sydney decided to overhaul the program, shafting local volunteers, many of whom had dedicated over a decade of their lives to the charity. Since then, the hall has been under control of St John and largely remained vacant.
APEX senior active member, Andrew Denley, says it’s a disgrace that St John Ambulance is now claiming the right to sell it.
“The way they’ve worded it, St John were giving it back to APEX,” he said.
“There was a half-page ad in the local paper saying that they are handing it back to APEX and nothing has ever eventuated from it.”
Mr Denley claimed he has not sighted any documentation from St John that suggest they are entitled to sell the building, and said he was shocked when he was contacted by the organisation.
“He said we are selling the hall, start getting your gear out of the shed,” he said.
“They haven’t sent me any emails (with proof) saying they own it officially.”
Ken Martin, former St John trainer and branch treasurer, backs the appeal from the local group after it was publicly agreed it would regain possession.
“That was a public statement at a public meeting,” he said. “The statement was made by the St John people that it would be returned to the APEX Club.”
Mr Martin expected St John to honour the agreement and said he received several calls from concerned community members after the auction was advertised in the Barrier Truth on October 27.
“As far as we are all concerned, it should be returned to the Broken Hill community in general,” he said.
“It should be up to their wisdom what they do with it.”
Stakeholders will use the auction delay to develop a strategy to help keep the venue in hands of the community.
“It was fundraised for the community and one person shouldn’t benefit from it,” Mr Denley said.
“We want to donate the hall to the Broken Hill Foundation, so it stays in the community.”