Established in 1911
PAST | PRESENT | FUTURE
The myth that the seed for the establishment of the Wonthaggi Workmens Club was born around a barrel, when some thirsty men decided to do something about a legal drink in the town, may have some poetic truth in it. Its foundation however is embedded in the attempt by the Victorian Government in 1910 to try to deal with the drinking problem in mining communities. Aware that banning alcohol outright in the new State Model Town was doomed to failure, the Murray/Watt government first allowed two-gallon licence outlets to sell alcohol, the aim being that the beer would be drunk at home. The failure of this policy led to the government encouraging the establishment of clubs, where men could drink and socialise in a civilised manner. Between 1911 and 1913, at least 13 licenced clubs were formed in the town. With very few exceptions, these institutions were “drinking holes”, not the civilised places envisioned by the government. The failure of the club experiment led to the government allowing the establishment of pubs in 1915. Only two bona fide clubs have survived: The Wonthaggi Workmen’s Club and The Wonthaggi Club.
The Wonthaggi Workmens Co- Operative Club grew out of the Workmens Club movement in the United Kingdom. These clubs were to be places not only where men could drink and socialise in a civilised manner, but also places where the working man could be educated and elevated. The pioneers of the Workmen’s Club Co-Operative established a club along these lines. In early 1911, they called meetings, encouraged memberships, raised funds, bought a suitable building, applied for a licence and very soon began trading. Club membership was, and still is, open to all. It was and still is, politically and religiously neutral. It was, and still is, run along strict democratic principles and rules. Civilised behaviour was, and still is demanded of its members. Despite initial teething troubles the Club flourished and grew. It has had to face many challenges in its long life but, faithful to its founding principles, the hard work of its committees and the support of its members, it has overcome them all and has continued to expand and serve the Wonthaggi community and visitors to our town.
Over the decades the club has weathered wars, fires, the closure of the mine, and changes including the extension of trading hours in 1954, the permission for women into the members’ areas in the 1980s, eventually giving women voting rights in 1985. The Club was burnt out in 1922 and rebuilt in 1923. In 1993 a licence was obtained to operate gaming machines and by 1995 a planning permit was approved to extend the venue. One of the features of the rebuild was a 20-metre mural painted by local artist Dennis Lervarsha, illustrating Wonthaggi rich mining history. Once at the entry of the club, it is now located in the Cavil Room corridor.
The club boomed. Less than five years later, in 1999 another extension was required to the west of the existing building. As well as the large bistro and kitchen. The Kirrak function room was created. The most striking addition was the impressive poppet head foyer and replica mine shaft entrance, which still is a feature to this day. Trucked in on huge semi-trailers were several sawn silver top gum trunks from the Yarram State Forest. These majestic timbers are featured throughout the venue. Eight of them stand proud and tall in the reception foyer, where they span a whopping 15 metres into the air, having been set 2 metres into the ground. Heavy lifting equipment and multiple fork lifts were used to position these massive timbers.
Then, in 2008, another larger Children’s play area was created to accommodate the increasing number of families visiting our club. Looking towards Christmas 2020 the Club will also be able to add a 26-suite motel to its facilities. The culturally significant design will add great value to the Town and surrounding areas. In its modern approach, whilst recognising our history, it moves the club into the future, in style and comfort.