History: Looking Back

Looking Back feature: Illawarra’s first clubs


REGISTERED clubs, with their assortment of restaurants, bars and

The Woonona Workmen’s Club committee

cafes, gymnasiums, and ‘mini-casinos’, have come along way from the timber cottages, offering dominoes and newspaper and magazine libraries, that began to appear throughout colonial New South Wales during the 1890s.

Prior to this, membership of early colonial clubs was confined to the elite. The premises of the first clubs emulated British gentlemen’s clubs and accommodated the style of living to which their members were accustomed. Club entertainment principally consisted of drinking, dining, billiards, card games and a literary library.

Clubs catering for colonial working class men first appeared in the late 1880s and 1890s. They first opened in the Illawarra as workmen clubs, chiefly established to cater for coal miners. They were men only venues, far from what members expect of their registered clubs today.

In 1898 the Mount Kembla Workmen’s Club was described as a four roomed cottage, containing bar room, committee room, bedroom and storeroom. The building was lined with pine and the ceiling with calico:

“The bar room had a plank nailed to the wall for seating. In the corner of the room was a short piece of timber with a counter and some shelving. Committee room had three tables and three chairs covered with pieces of casing board. Bedroom contained a wooden frame about 13 feet long, across which was placed a number of casing boards, upon which was seven beds made of bagging and filled with straw, as was pillows. There was no kitchen. The beds were for drunken miners to sleep off their liquor.”

Read the full story at the Looking Back website.


About Mick Roberts

A Sydney journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.


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