In 2019, The Geelong Club celebrated 160 years of social value in the Geelong community
As the leading social club for Geelong and District, the Geelong Club has always enjoyed high profile and high achiever members.
The Club has experienced three Victorian premiers as members (Sir Charles Sladen, Graham Berry and Sir Henry Bolte), one Governor General (Sir Richard Casey), 13 Knights of the Realm, several Order of Australia recipients, a Victoria Cross winner, numerous members of parliament and cabinet ministers, many municipal councillors and mayors.
The Geelong Club House as newly built. Photograph taken in 1890.
The Club House was designed by architect Charles Figgis in the Transitional Queen Anne style and built by local contractor J. C. Taylor.
The Geelong Club was formed in 1859 by a group of Western District squatters and their Geelong town professional associates at a time when Geelong was experiencing the gold rush boom.
It was intended to be a men only, exclusive social group, which took its ease over fine dining, billiards, cards, cigars and conversation.
The Club secured a two storey premises in Yarra Street and had about 60 members and flourishing for a while until rising costs and stagnant membership caused it to go into recess in 1866.
In 1881 a group of wool brokers, wool growers and their bankers and lawyers revived the notion of a social club for like-minded persons. A public meeting was called in August 1881 to canvass the notion and sufficient support was gathered when some 76 persons agreed to sign up as members.
The Club raised funds amongst its members to purchase Mack’s Hotel in Brougham Street and convert it to a Clubhouse. The Club occupied half the hotel premises. There were problems with this arrangement and in 1888 the Club decided to move to its own dedicated premises.
The two adjoining blocks on the east side of the hotel were purchased, the Hotel sold, and the proceeds used to build the present Clubhouse.
The Club traditions of gentle behaviours, convivial fellowship, fine dining and dress codes were maintained throughout the changing times of the late twentieth century and at the same time, the Club horizons were expanded to allow for female membership.
The first moves towards female participation were made in the 1950s by grazier members who wished to bring their wives to the Club on their visits to Geelong but it was some time before the general membership felt comfortable with turning a gentlemen’s club into a gender inclusive club.
Women were admitted to Associate Membership in 1989, and to full Membership in 1993. Since then the Club has elected two female Presidents.
In the early days the Club was a young man’s Club and while many members (or their parents) were of substantial means, wealth was not ever and has never been a criterion for admission.
Club members at play in the 1880s—founders were men of culture and class.
Membership of the Geelong Club requires entering into the spirit of the Club, upholding its values and traditions and being comfortable in being there.
At first, the Club did not provide dining facilities for its members, but after the First World War the country members pressed for such a service.
The conversion of the old bar room into a kitchen allowed for such an initiative. The dining room was purpose built in 1923.
Reading rooms were an important feature of private clubs where members could read the papers and periodicals and take a smoke and whisky while doing so.
The room, now used for dining, originally had a large table in the centre, easy chairs around the walls and a writing nook in one corner.
The bar room was erected in 1914–1915 to cater for expanding membership numbers and changing manners in taking drinks. The room was not used as a bar during the War owing to licensing restrictions but returned to being the main bar when the war ended.
The mounted deer head in the bar has been a Club feature for a long time, so long in fact that there is no written record of when it first appeared. It is likely that the head dates from 1889 or soon after when the present Club premises were occupied.
The Billiards Hall
When the Club House opened, the main recreational pursuit for men was then the playing of billiards. All Clubs and most pubs had billiards rooms. The tables are set onto separate stone blocks independent of the wooden floor.
Billiards was extremely popular and the tables were in use on a daily basis. Members paid a fee each game and gave the Club considerable revenue. Member interest in the game is still there but use of the room has declined in recent years.
This large room was the venue for card games, a popular pastime for gentlemen. Cards were played at the Club through to the 1970s. The room then became a dance room and other social space.
The Club bought two blocks of land here in 1888 and this allowed a garden to be installed alongside the main building. There was a bowling green for member use but this was removed when the present bar and verandah was installed during the First World War. A petanque piste was laid in 2000.
Originally the land went through to Corio Street and was bounded by a dog leg lane. A squash court was erected near the dog leg in 1924, the very first squash court in Geelong. During the 1950s the Club sold the Corio Street frontage.
The Club has a twin logo arrangement—a Club Flag and Club Colours as expressed through neckties, cravats and scarves.
The official Club flag for many years was the flag of Australia. A new and distinct Club flag was created in 1994 using the Club colours.
The Club colours are blue, gold and crimson, derived from the blazer worn by the Club cricket team in the 1890s when these colour combinations were fashionable for gentlemen.
During the 1980s, the Club developed a Club tie for its members using the traditional colours in its design.
The force & drive behind forming the 1881 Club
First President of the 1881 Club