EARLY YEARS FROM 1891 - 1900
Acquiring a liquor license.
During the first nine months of the club’s existence, the ability to serve refreshments became a sore point. At the half-yearly meeting on the 17th of June 1892, the President, John Basedow, noted that the club’s application to acquire a liquor license has failed, but “most likely if we persevere we might succeed next time”.
The laws as they related to clubs were uncertain, and the antagonism of local hotel keepers was only too evident. These factors had combined to restrict the availability of the very commodity that the club’s founders had hoped to promote – Barossa Valley wine and spirits. In fact, it appears that the club “could not sell any intoxicating liquors at present”. Apparently confounded at every turn by inadequate laws and hostile opponents, the club took legal advice. Everyone wanted something to happen – “to consider what is to be done in the future.
An August 1892, the Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Way, brought down a decision on new rules for clubs. Next, the eminent barrister, Sir John Downer, advised the club that they should test the licensing procedure and allow the club to remain open all day. A week later, another lawyer, E. P. Nesbit, stated that members should now be able to take liquor off premises. A second opinion, from Sir Josiah Symon, at Symon, Bakewell Stow & Piper, was obtained and he concurred with Nesbit. As in so many matters dealing with intricacies in law, the club committee could only hope that after all the advice, they really understood what it was all about. Nevertheless, whatever the truth of all the legalities, from this point on alcoholic refreshments became part of the established life of the club.
Good Barossa wines could now be served alongside the best Walkerville Brewery beer, imported stouts and spirits.
Establishing order and decorum.
During these first months of the club’s existence, it was also apparent the committee were anxious to apply the rules and see that decorum was established. At one meeting, in June 1892, there was great debate on bringing members into the club and one motion was put that ‘in future no member would be permitted to introduce strangers’. During the next week, those first members were courteously reminded that if they did not ‘pay up’ their dues, their time at the club was at an end. Soon after this, the first official complaints against a member of staff were received and the caretaker was forced to resign, even though he felt that the accusations were ‘unfounded’.
In September, the committee were even firmer when two incidents occurred that they felt lowered the dignity of the club. After one meeting, rough behaviour in the refreshment room turned into uproar when the President doused the lights. Irate members, whose ‘fun’ had been spoilt, abused Basedow and said that ‘they would not come to the club again’. Then, the following week at a ‘smoke social’, more stock was consumed than paid for. Members were thoroughly roasted over these incidents and proper conduct was re-established. Despite the well-ordered way of the Club’s affairs, its fortunes were not to run smoothly. By June 1893, the depressed state of the economy was so affecting business that the club was forced to close during the day and the caretaker had his salary slashed.
Economic depression 1893-1894.
The fact that club survived this period at all is quite remarkable, for the greatest economic depression yet experienced by Australia had taken firm grip by 1893, and 1894 was simply a ‘horror’ year. As the combination of a series of disastrous agricultural seasons and the collapse of major financial institutions merged, a body-blow was dealt to the great Victorian era ideals of self-help and progress. It was an era of insecurity as poverty, deprivation and poor public health affected people throughout South Australia.
When the depression worsened, soup kitchens were established by churches and community groups to feed the starving, clothing was donated to charities and the homeless were given temporary shelter in public buildings. There was a noticeable upsurge in cases of destitution and insanity, and crime was on the increase. All appeared to multiply the afflictions as banks, building societies and other financial institutions crashed, bringing misery to many. It was a very sad era. The club committee and its affairs did not fare very well either.
At one point, the Secretary was forced to resign when some members argued that his duties had been poorly performed. The President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Vice Secretary also resigned. By August, stock sheets were being kept in an attempt to trace the path of many of the refreshments and – possibly much to the members’ horror – the price of beer was raised by 3d to 1/9 per gallon for 5 gallon lots. This was not the end of the problems.
By November 12th, there was an apparent deficiency in the stock accounts of £10/5/3 and the caretaker was made to pay half of this amount. Then only a fortnight later, the committee was appalled by the ‘disorderly state of the rooms’ of the club, and demanded that they be kept clean and tidy. Within another week, more money was missing from the club’s takings, and one member, W.A. Hamann, reported that someone had forcibly entered the bar and made off with the cash. The caretaker, it was decided, was either himself the culprit or at least to blame for allowing the incident to take place; he was summarily dismissed. So the year ended on a sour note. And the situation was not helped in any way when one member brought a complaint against another for using insulting language ‘in the club’. The committee heard both sides of the dispute, and somehow managed to resolve it. There is little doubt that the committee members would have been very happy to put the year’s affairs behind them and hope for better times ahead. The happy occasion of a ‘New Year’s Eve Festival’ was just the tonic to turn the tide.
Time for consolidation.
During 1894, the affairs of the club began to settle down, and by 1895 there was a feeling that it had a great future – perhaps this was partly because of the wider economy being brought out of the doldrums
The library at the club was beginning to look formidable. By the turn of the century there would be about 2,000 German language books and a regular supply of German newspapers as well as the favourites like the Critic, Review of reviews, Leader, The Sydney Bulletin, Scientific American, Pearson’s Weekly and the Illustrated London News. This fine library was zealously guarded. If any member was found removing any newspapers or periodicals without the sanction of the steward, he would be ‘dismissed without appeal‘.
Moreover, the committee decided the time was ripe for a large social occasion and a large masquerade ball was planned for July 1894, ‘on the first Friday after full moon’. In those days of poor roads and horse conveyances, most large functions were held at the time of the full moon to facilitate ease of travel.
The next few years were ones of consolidation of the club’s important position within Tanunda. It has obviously been accepted as a place of significant social activity. In 1896, when the first Christmas Tree Festival was held, the club also instituted one of Tanunda’s longest standing highlights of the social calendar. At this first festival, adults would be charged an admittance fee of 1/- and children under 14 would receive a present and free admission. The club then, was a trendsetter. Not only had it beaten the hotels and achieved prominence for the local wine industry – although the battle to maintain an adequate license was always there – it was now the most notable gathering place for those influential in the town’s affairs.
There can be no doubt though that while the club filled an important social need, its practices followed the proper conventions of the time. Everything was done in a formal, rather stiff manner. The serving of drinks and food to non-members was always a concern and was hastily suppressed if it occurred. The fellowship of the members themselves must also have been restrained. Nonetheless, there were always plenty of grievances being brought forward, particularly when members or staff offended others. Obviously one’s ‘name‘ in the community was a matter of great pride and no insult could pass unnoticed.
Purchasing a billiard table.
By August 1898, club members were seeking diversions other than the excellent library, animated discussions, food and refreshments of the previous seven years. A sub-committee was formed and they had to undertake a feasibility study as to whether or not a syndicate could purchase a billiard table; and if the table was purchased, whether the club could provide the necessary £50 to build a special room for the recreation.
John Basedow obviously believed that he knew the answers to these questions even as the sub-committee, which included himself, met. On October 18th a special meeting was called to discuss a most burning issue: how the club could come to a settlement with John Basedow for building a billiard room without sanction of the members. This forthright action was typical of Basedow’s character and showed the enormous authority vested in the committee. W. J Offe, the club’s third President following after Basedow and G. A. W. Schick, sat in the chair at this meeting. Basedow got to his feet and addressed the gathering about the facts: "...the room and removing WC and urinal and fixing up again would cost £62… he would either take the results of the (billiard) room for two years or take payments in monthly instalments for twelve months to cover the amount, or 5/- rent in addition to the £1/0/0 (per week) now being paid. (He) promised to extend the term of lease for club buildings on the same terms as before for any length of time (the) club may desire."
The committee, in its wisdom, decided that they wanted the billiard table, the room, the clubhouse and the profit from the table itself and told Basedow they would pay the £62 in the twelve monthly instalments, provided ‘no interest on the money was charged’. Inevitably, in January 1899, the lease on the clubhouse was extended for another five years.
One can only surmise the emotions of moments like these in the club’s first years.
There is little doubt that Basedow’s character and influence reigned supreme over those days: the clubhouse was situated on his land; he had been the one who urged its foundation; he oversaw the discipline and order of meetings.
The club though could not be dominated forever by one man, or by one culture: there was a need to flow with the times. Membership was both of German and English origin and many more wanted to have their say as to how it should be run. Also, it was the end of an era of change during which Australian society would become united under a Federal system of government. Even clubs could not remain closed to the alterations of the wider society. Soon, as the world fell into the calamity of war, the very existence of the club would be threatened.