The Goulburn Club, ‘a social club for gentlemen’ until 1988 when it opened up to anyone wishing to join or visit, was established in 1877. It originally met as a group of whist players in the Commercial Hotel then located on the corner of Market Street and Sloane Street – less than one hundred metres to the right of the current club premises and now the site of the Goulburn Soldiers Club (worthy a visit in its own right).

In 1880 the Club moved to its current location, renting the upstairs part of the building which had been vacated by Dr Davidson a medical practitioner and manufacturer of baking powder, the later being a business Davidson had purchased from its founder, Dr Waugh, in the 1870s.

In 1936 the Goulburn Evening Penny Post reported:

‘In the early forties of the last century of New South Wales it was soon discovered that the English baking powders lost their best qualities after crossing the equator. It was then about the year 1842 that Waugh’s Baking Powders were made up at the old Medical Hall, Goulburn, and were used most extensively. From that hall, every storekeeper throughout the Colony was supplied.

So good was Dr Waugh’s baking powder that is was awarded first prize at the Intercolonial Exhibition in 1878.

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A balcony was added to the Club in 1881 with the view that it ‘will prove a most comfortable lounge for members in hot weather’. The building was bought, by the Club, in 1898 or 1899. Improvements and extensions to the Club continued over the years, particularly relevant were art-deco modifications which occurred in 1927 as these brought the Club to the general layout and shape extant today.

There was one thing that did not change for the vast majority of the Club’s history and that was a prohibition on allowing women members.

The Club’s antics to stop women members (not that many women wanted to join anyway) make for amusing reading and are something I would like to record here.  Accordingly, this topic takes up the majority of the balance of this review with details being mostly drawn from the ‘The Goulburn Club on Market Street – A Short History’ by Rhys Howitt and Anna McCormack, former senior officials of the Club. Unattributed quotations are from this publication.

Prior to the 1930s there was no debate on the subject of women membership, nor their entering the Club. Both were no-nos.  Form the 1930s to the 1960s occasional events (generally annually) were held that permitted ladies onto the premises as guests:

‘Daughters and wives of members would decorate the Club for these events, and were gifted nylon stockings by the grateful Committee.’

In 1961, the Club changed its Articles of Association to allow the wife or daughter or unmarried sister of a member to become an Associate Member of the Club but in practice this change was not implemented.

In 1966, gentlemen members were allowed to entertain lady friends in the Strangers Room, a small room inside the front door, well away from the Club’s main rooms.

In the latter part of 1971 the last Friday of each month was designated Ladies Night where members could invite ladies and other guests. These events were

confined to the Smoke Room where the lighting will be modified and light taped background music will be played and cheese and biscuits available. Supper will not be provided.’

In 1973  at the Annual General Meeting, members voted 38 to 5 to accept women as associate members.  Associate members were excluded from the billiard room, the bar and the card room until 1978 from which time these facilities could be accessed on a limited basis.  For example, the ladies could now play billiards on the table on the northern side of the Club up to 5pm on a Tuesday and could use the upstairs bar ‘on invitation’!

Lest you be shocked by this point I should, in fairness, point out that there was a ladies’ equivalent of the Goulburn Club, The Lady Belmore Club. There was no love lost between the two clubs. In 1952 the Lady Belmore Club wrote to the Goulburn Club asking if it would assist them in purchasing the building next door to the Goulburn Club. The Goulburn Club declined. Surely that would be letting the ladies a bit to close for comfort. Again, in 1963 when the Lady Belmore Club had to vacate its premises the Goulburn Club declined its suggestion that it take up rooms within the Goulburn Club. It relocated to Montague Street where it may or may not still be operating in some very limited way.

Ironically, in 1976 when the Goulburn Club was in significant financial difficulty its members voted to accept what was essentially a takeover by (merger with) the Lady Belmore Club.  However, when it revealed its planned restrictions on what particular rooms the ladies could use, in exchange for them taking on the Club’s debts, the Lady Belmore Club voted against the merger by a large majority.

In 1977, the NSW Parliament passed the Anti- Discrimination Act which was a death-knell for private clubs where members of a particular sex were excluded. The Goulburn Club quietly ignored this new Act.

In 1982, a Miss Vicki Norris applied to become a full member of the Goulburn Club in her own right. One particular member objected:

‘To maintain the standards of any club ‘Discrimination’ must be the name of the game. Perhaps I am too old or too old-fashioned to remain a member.’

Miss Norris withdrew her nomination.

I wonder if the objecting member was the same Mr J.E. Carter who in 1979 had suggested:

‘That a bottle opener be available in the old card room at all times – as one of the senior members I find my teeth are no longer up to performing this task. Should openers be subject to theft I suggest that … a TV camera be installed in the ceiling to identify the bounders responsible.’

Miss Norris’ application did cause the Club to set up a Committee ‘to look into the problem’. Six years later, in July 1988, based on the Committee’s deliberations, the Club’s Articles were updated to ‘enhance the membership numbers of the club as well as the appearance’. This would be achieved by allowing women to become full members of Club.

Very few women joined as membership fees (for both men and women) were extremely high and few women could afford to join.

Today, after over thirty years of financial hardship and struggling to survive, all is good again. Membership of the Club is fairly mixed and fees significantly less than they used to be. Perhaps most ironically, the current Club President is female as have been a number of her predecessors since 1988.

There are little or no restrictions on anyone visiting the Club which is a popular venue for live music (including regular Ukulele and Irish music sessions – held separately, lest you wonder). The only thing to bear in mind is that the Club has very limited opening hours – Thursday and Friday nights and Sunday afternoons – but do check the website or give them a call to confirm current opening hours and what is on.

By way of footnote to this part of my review –

Lest you be wondering what happened to Ms Vicky Norris, who applied to become a full member of the club in 1982. Well, by then Ms Rabjohns, she returned to the Club as the Guest of Honour for the grand opening of a new ladies toilet in 2015.

While attending this momentous event she explained that back in 1982 she had been an “accidental suffragette” who thought she was doing the right thing, by the club, in seeking membership as she had been using the Club’s squash court for some time, presumably as the guest of a member, at little or no financial benefit to the Club.


Prior to signing-off on this review I would like to comment on the archway, the keystone of which is emblazoned with the lettering ‘B&W AD1847’, across the entry to the right of the Goulburn Club.

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This historic archway, bearing their initials and the date of its construction, provided access to the rear of the business premises of Joseph Bull and John James Woodward who, between 1843 and 1848, worked in partnership as auctioneers and general storekeepers. Their business premises (Post Office and General Store) were to the right of the arch, noting that Bull was Postmaster at the time as well.

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Messers Bull and Woodward were both ex-convicts from England.

Bull, a framework knitter from Leicestershire, England and a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, in which he lost the thumb on his left hand, was transported for seven years in 1821 for felony. A well respected and successful businessman, he died in Goulburn on the 10th of June 1871. The Monaro Mercury reported that

‘On arriving home he retired to his room, and seated himself in a chair to rest when he suddenly expired, before medical aid could be called.’

Woodward, a London tailor was also transported for seven years in 1832 after being convicted at the Old Bailey for ‘stealing a pair of trousers’. Like Bull, Woodward also became a very successful businessman in Goulburn.

In reality, a seven year transportation in those days meant life away from family and friends. Very few could afford to return to the Motherland and those that could mostly didn’t want to.  Once non-life sentences were served convicts became free men and women in Australia. Many ex-convicts, like Bull and Woodward, went on to eke out a much better life in Australia than they could have hoped for back home.

Goulburn Club Location: 19 Market Street, adjacent to Belmore Park

Club Website (for opening hours, etc): https://goulburnclub.com.au/


My next Goulburn review– HERE

Return to the beginning of my Goulburn reviews –HERE


6 thoughts on “The Goulburn Club

  1. I realise your post was about the men-only Goulburn club but I can’t think of a response. Except to say that as a child I spent many hours sitting in the car with Mum while Dad went into a hotel bar for a drink. Not a good memory.

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  2. Thanks for all the research you do. This was so interesting. I’m a descendant of a 7-year sentenced convict and I’ve learnt that he did very well for himself once freed, though he lost it all in the end. In any case this life we have in Australia is thanks to many of them and the hard slog they put in.

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  3. Really interesting insights into social history – both the restrictions of the club against women members and the lives of the ex-convicts who went on to become successful businessmen. I wonder did female ex-convicts fare as well if Australian society was as discriminatory as the club’s rules would suggest?

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    1. For sure female ex convicts did not fare as well as male ones but probably still better than they would have done back home so it was relative I think. Though Australia certainly was a man’s world in the late 19th century I am not sure that it was any more or less discriminatory than the UK.

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