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A three-minute history of the Workers Club

Garry Gillard, 3 March 2021

The Workers Club was established in 1914 with two basic aims in mind.  It was similar to both the Mechanics Institute of 1851 and the Working Men's Association of 1862 in providing (self-)educational opportunities for working men.  Those two became one in 1868 - the Literary Institute: its 1899 building is still standing in South Terrace.  And like those earlier organisations, the Workers Club had a library as one of its central functions. In 1932, the club claimed that it held more than 3000 volumes.

But the Workers Club had another major function in addition to education.  As its original name suggests, it provided opportunities of a Social and Leisure nature.  The second of those words might be as referring to the second of the three categories of the Eight Hour Day movement: Labour, Recreation, Rest.  While the first of them only needs the addition of three letters, -ist, to suggest that there was an implied political tendency of the membership.

Most of the original members were lumpers, and all of the first committee-members were unionists.  It is worth mentioning, as an aside, that the Australian Labor Party was founded only a few years before the Fremantle Workers Club.

The particular form of 'Leisure' engaged in by the members did not involve physical  exercise.  They had been doing that all day, and had got thirsty.  So what 'leisure' meant in this context was drinking beer.  Records of the period show that at the height of its activity in this sphere, the Workers Club was selling more beer than any other licensed premises in the state.

That hadn't changed much by 1956, when the club moved to its new premises a few doors up the road in Henry Street. The club did still have a library, but the real feature was the bar - which took up one entire wall (and a bit) of the main room, and, as Ron Davidson delighted in pointing out, was thirty metres long.

However, the membership changed.  With the advent of containerisation on the wharves, there were far fewer waterside workers.  And then the unthinkable happened: women were admitted as members.  So less darts were thrown, and the dance floor got a lot more use.

Which brings us neatly to the present version of the Workers Club.  'Social' and 'Leisure' are still key words, but the second one does now include exercise.  The membership is aging, as is the population at large, and there is a general realisation that to keep it healthy it's important to keep it on its feet.  That is one of the reasons why dancing to a live band is now the club's principal activity, and why it was so important to provide an excellent dance floor in the new (2020) premises in Ellen Street.

See also:
chronology below
pages for documents from these years: 1914, 1919, 1923, 1932, 1936, 1954, Gregg 1932
aggregated historical documents
1932 re-opening booklet
1956 opening booklet

The Workers Social & Leisure Club was established 2 February 1914: its first premises were at 1 Henry St, in the former Lodge's Castle Hotel, which, according to the ratebooks, it owned from 1916. It began in response to a perceived need for a meeting-place for the workers of Fremantle, many of whom were lumpers. The Workers Club was granted a licence on 2 June 1914.

The Fremantle Workers Social and Leisure Club was not the first workers social organisation in Fremantle, and probably developed out of earlier groups such as the Mechanics Institute and the Fremantle Working Men's Club.

Lodges Hotel

Lodge's Hotel (aka Castle Hotel) a three-storey building, was built before 1869 (it was extant c. 1864). It soon became a school for young ladies until 1880, then a private hotel 1884-6, and then the (first) Fremantle Club, an organisation serving the needs of Fremantle businessmen, 1887-1912. After the Fremantle Club moved on, the building was available for the use of the Fremantle Workers Social and Leisure Club, which purchased it from the AMP Society for £2000. >

According to an article in the Westralian Worker of Friday 6 February 1914, the foundation President was William Roche and the Secretary Herbert Taylor. The inaugural committee met on Monday 2 February 1914 and named the Club. All those involved were unionists.

According to the Club's folk history, the 'founder' and first President was Billy Clare. This is not borne out by the historical record. Clare was a foundation member, and later a life member and 'grand trustee', but he was not the first president, and neither was he a member of the foundation committee.

The Club was officially opened on Wednesday 2 September 1914 by Reginald Burchell, (Labor) Federal member for Fremantle 1913-1922.

William Moore was President 1921-1933; he was instrumental in having major improvements done to the Lodge's building costing £3,500, commencing in July 1926 and not completed until 1932. At the re-opening he presided; life member Billy Clare was there, with long-term secretary Alf Gregg—who claimed to have been bashed later in 1932 in connexion with money being stolen from the Club safe. George Edinger was President in 1935 (and had been since 1933), having previously served as Vice-President with William Moore.

In 1923 the Secretary, William Roche, stole amounts of money from the Club over a period of seven months. He may perhaps have been attempting to leave the State when he was apprehended at Southern Cross. At his trial President William Moore told the court that the money had been repaid and the Club had unanimously decided not to continue to press charges. They were consequently withdrawn, though the prosecuting police officer was not very pleased about it.

The new clubhouse at 7-9 Henry St was built in 1956. Number 9 Henry St is original town lot 60. No. 7 Henry St is town lot 59, which was bought by John Bateman at the end of 1829 or beginning of 1830. Neither Hitchcock nor Ewers records who was the first owner of lot 60, so Bateman may have bought it after 1837, when their records break off.

Hitchcock 1929:
On January 31, 1835, John Bateman was appointed as the first postmaster at Fremantle. The first post office was in a little vine-clad cottage that stood well back from the street on lot 59 in Henry Street. Some idea of the smallness of the business transacted may be gleaned from the fact that the address and date of receipt and delivery of every letter posted was recorded in a book. Imagine that being done nowadays! (J.K. Hitchcock 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: 24-25.)

Lots 59 and 60 were bought from Bateman in 1870 by the Mews family who then owned the terrace house on lot 60 and had a boat-building workshop on lot 59. This may seem odd now, but at the time the river beach was only a hundred or so yards away, where Phillimore St now is.

The Lodge's Hotel building was demolished to provide ... a carpark - with a function room planned to be above it - for Club members. That site was sold to Notre Dame University in the early 2000s; it remains a carpark.

The Club closed on 26 May 2011 for eleven months and was almost wound up. Thanks to the hard work and vision of President Don Whittington, his partner Ruth Belben, and others, it was able to reopen in January 2012—when I gave it a free website.

At the ClubsWA Awards Ceremony, at The Astral, Crown, Sunday 14 April 2013, the Club won the Award for Members Choice Club of the Year.

The Club closed the building in Henry Street towards the end of 2014, and the building was sold at noon Friday 17 April 2015. The club ceased to exist, in the sense of a unique location.

Members' activities over the next four years were temporarily conducted at other venues, including the South Fremantle Football Club, the Italian Club, and the Tennis Club. A new facility, the Fremantle Park Sport and Community Centre, at Fremantle Park, will be shared by the Workers, Tennis, and Bowling Clubs from 2020.

A booklet on the history of the Club was launched on Sunday 9 November 2014 by Hon. Melissa Parke MP: The Fremantle Workers Social and Leisure Club 1914-2014, by Deborah Gare and Jane Davis.

In 2020, the club will be absorbed by the Fremantle Park Sport and Community Centre.

Chronology—with links to relevant pages

1914. Club established 2 February 1914 with the purchase of the former Lodge's Hotel at 1 Henry St

1914. Club licence granted 2 June 1914

1914. Official opening of the Club 3 September 1914

1919. Funeral of member Tom Edwards, working class martyr, felled by a police rifle butt on Victoria Quay

1923. Secretary William Roche steals a large amount of money and is arrested, but the charges withdrawn

1926. Preparations for major renovations to the Club building

1932. Opening of the renovated Club building

1932. Secretary Alf Gregg admits major robbery from the Club safe and is dismissed

1935. 21st anniversary celebrations

1936. Further renovations to the Club building: new social hall opened

1940. Death of 'founder' Billy Clare

1954. Plans for new Club building unveiled

1956. Building at 7-9 Henry St opened

2011. Club closes and is almost wound up

2012. Club reopens

2014. Club celebrates its centenary

2015. Club sells its building; shares SFFC clubhouse

2016 or later. Move to new facility at Fremantle Park

FuFu Band

This photo from the early 1930s used to hang at the western end of the bar in the Workers Club building at 9 Henry St. The Fu-Fu Band, which played cheap instruments like kazoos and jews harps, collected money to assist the unemployed. The photo appears in R. Reece & R. Pascoe, A Place of Consequence: A Pictorial History of Fremantle, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1983, 1985, where it is noted that the photo is 'courtesy Betty Anderson'. The truck was loaned by Betty's father, John Anderson, who had a woodyard at the corner of South Terrace and the Mandurah Road.

President Don Whittington in September 2013, holding a card presented to James Croll in 1924 by the Fremantle Workers Club 'as a mark of esteem for services rendered'. See here for a larger image and transcription.

Orloff photo

Photo by Izzy Orloff from about 1960.


The clubhouse was sold at noon Friday 17 April 2015. The facade has been retained - in the sense of a wall one single brick thick with the name and logo of the club on it. Note the two smaller logos on either side of the doorway: they were stolen after the sale.


proposed buildingNotice on the front of the Workers Club building in 2015.

Drawing of the new building >

The Workers Club building is on both Lots 59 and 60 at the address 7-9 Henry St - which was clear in the actual planning documents that were available from the Council website but have been taken down.

References and Links

Gare, Deborah & Jane Davis, The Fremantle Workers Social and Leisure Club 1914-2014, Fremantle Workers Social and Leisure Club and Notre Dame University, 2014.

Thanks to the Fremantle Library Local History Collection, and Pam Harris, History Librarian (since retired).

logoFremantle Workers Social and Leisure Club Inc.
PO Box 1234 Fremantle 6959