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Issue #1889      October 9, 2019

A brief history of the Darwin Workers’ Club

The concept of a workers’ social club in Darwin has been around for more than a century. As early as 1914, a story appeared in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette about the establishment of a “Darwin Worker’s Amusement Club,” to be built on land annexed by the Administrator of the Northern Territory.

Thirty years later, this idea finally came to fruition when the North Australian Workers’ Union formally established a Darwin Workers’ Club with premises on Cavenagh Street. The land was granted to the NAWU in 1946 by the Royal Australian Navy. The purpose of the club expanded beyond hosting social activities to functioning as a broader community organisation, which included hosting sporting events, boxing matches, blood drives and Christmas celebrations for member’s children. In the words of Ernie Williams, a founding member of the original club:

“Because of the lack of social recreation, workers after their laborious toil in the heat take to ‘the grog’ in an effort to overcome the monotony. The purpose of the club would be to divert their energy into other channels, to make the workers of Darwin more healthy in body, keener in mind, and comparatively sober in habit.”

Many accounts indicate that the Darwin Workers’ Club of the 1940s to the 1970s was a centrepiece of social life in post-war Darwin.

Interestingly, during this time ASIO was monitoring the membership of the club for communist agitators. At the time, the federal government agency viewed it as an “organising centre” for the communist party, according to files released in 1984.

In the 1970s, the club ran into financial difficulty due to a series of factors, not the least of which was the damage incurred by Cyclone Tracy. It nonetheless continued to operate in a diminished capacity. The Club was redeveloped in 1981 and amalgamated with the newly established Public Service Club, which operated a separate tenancy on the same property.

Unfortunately, the amalgamation did not pan out and the club incurred significant debt in the mid 1980’s and was subsequently closed in 1987.

Our intention

To match the personality of the original Darwin Workers’ Club would be a tough task. Current Committee members are well aware that the sporting, social and drinking habits of workers have changed since the hey-day of the organisation from the 1940s to 1970s. While the concept of a mixed sporting and social club with annexed hostels and shops is an attractive prospect, it would be very difficult to run such an organisation profitably.

Instead the committee seeks to establish a smaller, member-driven social club. Our aim is to provide a place for workers to enjoy a cheap beer at knock-off time without the onerous restrictions on work attire common in other establishments, and to create a reputable live music venue in the city for local bands.

We rely on the generosity of sponsors and donors such as yourself to resurrect the important institution that Darwin Workers’ Club provided in Darwin.

Next article – ANZ bank closing more branches

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