ARARAT - The Ararat Harness Racing Club has been devastated by what members have described as 'wanton destruction'.
Offenders broke into the bar area of the club sometime between midnight and 5am on Sunday and caused more than $22,000 damage, which included destroying two large fridges - tipping one over - and badly damaging a third, as well as strewing cans and bottles of drinks across the floor and destroying much of the stock.
Vice president Bob Collins said the club will need to replace two of the fridges at an estimated cost of at least $12,000.
As well as tipping over one fridge, Mr Collins said the offenders deliberately damaged the glass doors of the fridges by charging at the doors with a bar stool.
It is the fifth time in the past six months the club has been 'done over', with damage for all six occasions estimated to be at least $28,000.
Mr Collins was alerted to the break in at about 4am when he was notified that the alarms had been set off and by the time he arrived at the scene police had also arrived.
"When I went down I wasn't allowed in side, they told me to have a look through the bar door and I nearly cried, I couldn't believe that morons could do something like that. It was like a bomb site," he said.
"It was a terrible shock, I said to the police 'they haven't chucked a hand grenade in have they?'
"I just can't understand it. The Ararat Harness Racing Club runs functions for the likes of the hospital and sick kids and all that sort of thing and at the end of the day, they come in and it's just wanton destruction. It makes you wonder what they've got in their head, if they've got anything. I can understand why people don't want to have anything to do with community type clubs because, I mean, you shouldn't have to go through all this."
Mr Collins said club members are devastated by the damage and will now be moving to have CCTV cameras placed on site.
The club hopes that the offenders will come forward and appealed to the community for any help in apprehending the perpetrators.
"I believe that they're sick, they should come forward," Mr Collins said.
"Ararat is turning into a town of no respect for anybody's property.
"If you want to break in and take a box of grog, take it, you don't have to trash the joint and while it's very, very hard for us to actually work out what has gone, we think it's only a slab of grog."
Mr Collins said the offenders should be made to pay for the damage, but did not want their punishment to include helping with the clean up and repairs.
"I wouldn't want them near the joint," he said.
Mr Collins said this latest incident may put a hold on the Department of Justice program it participates in whereby those who receive community service orders through the courts are ordered to help out at the club.
"Most of them (participants) are very, very good," he said.
"But that is going to be looked at, whether we are going to continue with that, because we have got to the stage at this moment that we don't trust anybody and that's a terrible thing to say."
Mr Collins is also wary of responding to alarms due to concerns for safety. Currently he is the only one from the club able to respond.
"It's on my shoulders and I've got to the stage I don't feel like going down there," he said.
The clean up of the bar area took until Wednesday, with four people spending around 40 hours clearing the mess made by the offenders.
"We've had phone calls from people in the area wishing the club all the best and asking if they can help but my feeling is the local council should have been in touch with us and offered some sort of help. They could have offered us a ute or something to clean it up," he said.
Mr Collins said many did not realise what an economic boost to Ararat the club provides.
"This is a multi million dollar industry down here. All those people who come to the trots they've got to buy fuel in town, they buy all their food here and it's a great industry," he said.
"I've been involved for many, many years and I've never, never had the trouble we've had in the last 12 months."
Mr Collins said while the Russell T White raceway is fenced it can't be locked because trainers use it for early morning sessions and if it is locked up police won't patrol it.
"So you're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea," he said.
Mr Collins was adamant that the damage to the club would not affect the running of next Wednesday's race meeting or any functions and weddings booked for the club.
The new fridges arrived yesterday and would be restocked.
The cost of the damage will be debilitating for the club as it is unsure what will be covered by insurance.
"It makes us feel like the Salvation Army asking for handouts, but we just can't afford to keep paying money that we would normally use for race meetings and increasing prize money for races - that's going to have to go too," he said.
"And if it keeps going on, unfortunately there is no such thing as survival."
Ararat Criminal Investigation Unit detectives are appealing for help in identifying the offenders.
"This was an extensive and senseless form of damage caused, with the offenders showing a complete disregard for property and social norms," Senior Detective Guy Menhennitt said.
Anyone with information should contact Ararat CIU or Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.