History: Looking Back

Looking Back: Coal miners established oldest club


The original Helensburgh Workers Club in Walker Street

The original Helensburgh Workers Club in Walker Street

ALTHOUGH Helensburgh Workmen’s Club began trading on shaky grounds it has survived to become the Illawarra’s oldest operating registered club.
Born from a dispute with the town’s two publicans, the Helensburgh and Lilyvale Workmen’s Club was established by a group of coal miners in 1896.
Complying with a request from the village’s two hotel-keepers, the scheduled opening was under threat when two of the State’s largest brewers, Tooth and Company and Toohey’s Limited refused to supply the club with beer.
William Hanley, host of the Centennial Hotel, was tied to the Tooth’s Brewery, while George Welch, host of the Paragon Hotel, was under lease to Toohey’s.
A sympathetic brewery was most likely found through the efforts of another liquor dealer in Helensburgh at the time, David Craig.
He was a foundation member of the club who ran a wine saloon and barber shop and his contacts in the liquor industry may have helped broker a deal with Marshall Brothers Brewery on the corner of Oxford and Dowling Sts Paddington.
Marshall’s beers, brewed since 1857, were a favourite in Sydney until Tooth’s brewery purchased and closed the company in 1911.
Marshall’s beer arrived by rail and it is said the first casks were carried in a steel-wheeled barrow from the old Helensburgh Railway Station to the clubhouse by six members working in relays.
Born at Spring Hill, near Wollongong, David Craig was in his early 20s when he moved to Clifton to work in the newly opened Clifton Colliery in about 1880.

Read the full story at the Looking Back website.

About Mick Roberts

A 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 Australian pubs and associated industries for over 30 years. He is 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 managed several community newspapers. He has been 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), the Sydney city newspaper, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.


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