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The history of Australia’s ‘ethnic clubs’ and why they matter today

When Manfred Koch started volunteering at the Concordia Club in Sydney’s inner west more than 20 years ago, he did more than he expected.
“I found romance in German clubs,” says Manfred, now in his 80s.
“If you go back in history, there are many Germans who say, ‘I found my wife here, I found my partner here.'”
His partner of 12 years and volunteer, Uta Panayotakis, says their relationship was quick.

“After talking to another person for about an hour, he turned and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Would you like a drink?’ That was it. There was chemistry.”

Old Concordia Club. sauce: attached

Marrickville’s Concordia is one of the smaller clubs originally founded by groups of immigrants from around the country.

Dating back to 1883, this one is a pokey-free niche dining experience in a former bowling club leased from the government after the building that housed the last club was sold 20 years ago. I keep that door open.

And then the place was noisy. Musicians play old German songs on accordions, and diners enjoy pork his knuckles and other German delicacies. Old photos of past club members line the walls, and there’s a deli that sells German condiments and sweets.

Exterior shot of the old Concordia Club

Old Concordia Club. sauce: attached

Manfred says business is booming as the customer base has grown.

“The Concordia are no longer strictly ethnic. We are just there, and that is why we are successful.”

What is an “Ethnic Club”?

According to Clubs Australia, there are over 6,500 registered clubs in Australia. These include RSL clubs, sports clubs, leisure facilities, etc.

However, there is no census to estimate how many of them are called ‘ethnic clubs’ or clubs founded by immigrants to Australia. Not all clubs are licensed venues. Some clubs are simply halls or homes owned by community organizations, while others have evolved into providers of care and education for the elderly.

In 1968, a study by former government policy adviser James Houston estimated that there were over 1,000 ethnic clubs, organizations and associations, but the number is still unknown.

However, we know many venues are struggling to stay open. Clubs Australia estimates that in New South Wales alone, 33% of small clubs show signs of distress or severe distress.

The Stanmore Hawks football club sign outside Cyprus Club Sydney.png

Cyprus club sign in Sydney. sauce: SBS News / Peggy Jacomeros

Many of the venues that exist today started out as football clubs.

Club Marconi, Hakoa White City and King Tomislav Croatian Club have always been strongly associated with football, but others transformed into support services for immigrants when such services did not exist.
Former Deakin University academic and sports historian Roy Hay says the club played a key role in helping new immigrants settle in Australia.

“A week or so after arriving, they joined a local football club where they could meet people who spoke the same language and had similar interests. it was a soccer club [them] Work, home, sometimes family. “

Men, gods and coffee at Cyprus clubs

Founded in 1929, the New South Wales Cyprus community – the Cypriot Club to locals – once had strong ties to football and hosted its own team.
The team still survives today, but is no longer part of the club’s culture.

One afternoon, 40 people gathered in the club’s dining room to have lunch and dance to a band playing traditional Greek music. Statues of Greek gods and goddesses line the staircase, and old photos of past members hang on the walls in a blue and white color scheme.

A couple enjoying a meal at Cyprus Club, Sydney, December 2022

A couple enjoying a meal at the Cypriot Club in Sydney. sauce: SBS News / Peggy Jacomeros

About 50 men in their 70s, 80s and 90s are playing cards in the basement. “Not for the money,” one of them insists.

it looks like old school cafenio (Café) Found everywhere in Cyprus and Greece. It was frequented by men and still functions as a social gathering place for the village.

Here, strong black coffee is served in small cups, and homemade sweets are made and served by volunteers.

In a society where loneliness is classified as a health problem, loneliness is a winning combination.

Traditional statues and figurines on display

Traditional statues and figurines on display at the club. sauce: SBS News / Peggy Jacomeros

Amylios, a regular, makes the 120km round trip from Penrith in western Sydney several times a week.

He left Cyprus almost 50 years ago when civil war broke out between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
“It was terrible. I just left home. I lost friends and relatives during the war,” he says.

“I was in the war too. I was not injured, but I saw people die. I was lucky to be alive.”

Amilios in the basement of Cyprus Club Sydney - Dec 2022.jpeg

Amilios in the basement of the club. sauce: SBS News / Peggy Jacomeros

Amilios says the club gives him connection with people who understand his past.

“We enjoy each other’s company. We tell stories about our past, sometimes good, sometimes sad. Being surrounded by our own culture makes us feel more comfortable.” ”

I feel more comfortable when I am surrounded by my own culture.

– Amilios, Cyprus Club Member

However, like other clubs, it is experiencing a downturn due to an aging membership base, changing geographic location and local demographics. Many smaller clubs have also struggled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Club president Andrew Costa said, “Apart from what you call ‘Porky Palace,’ we find regular community clubs very difficult. So do we.

As well as offering traditional dance classes and Greek language lessons, the club is now looking at other ways to attract business and is going through a rezoning process in hopes that the development will help it survive. increase.

A tale of two Polish clubs

Polish club Ashfield in Sydney’s inner west is already on the road to development as it partners with a developer to build 88 apartments and a new club.

Club president Richard Borysiewicz said the board decided long ago that growth was the best way to survive.

Exterior of Polish Club Ashfield in Sydney

The original entrance to Ashfield’s Polish Club before it was demolished for new development. sauce: attached

“Instead of getting carried away by emotions, we look at the facts and think, ‘What do we have to do to survive? Is it?’ I thought.”

There is another Polish club in Bankstown, southwest of Sydney, which is currently the only licensed Polish club operating in Sydney.
The one-story yellow brick building houses a small Polish restaurant and a variety of local community groups, including a Polish seniors group and a movement group for older Greek-Australian women in the area.

There’s a tray of Polish jam donuts covered in powdered sugar and a jar of coffee for a lady listening to health stories in Polish.

Exterior of Polish Club Bankstown 2022 - Courtesy of .jpeg

Polish club in Bankstown. sauce: attached

Zofia, who is in her early 90s, is one member of the group. She jokes that she hopes the group’s gender balance will change a bit.

“If there are free men, they don’t want to come here. They are too busy. But there are a lot of free women here. It’s nice to go out and have coffee.”

Zofia joins the senior group of Poland Club Bankstown 2022 SBS.jpg

Zofia and other seniors meet once a month at club Bankstown in Poland. credit: Peggy Giakoumelos SBS News

For Zofia and many others, the group is a social outlet and one of the only ways to meet friends of similar age and background.

Short of men, another female member pipes up. “We are all free!” she says.

Club president Andrew Rubieniecki says the club has been having a rough time in recent years during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, the last two years have been devastating for us.Additionally, there have been floods.A lot has happened.In the last two years, we had no income at all, almost nothing.So now , we start again.”

1970s Polish club outside Bankstown - courtesy of .jpeg

Bankstown’s Polish club, which hosted official guests from Poland in the 1970s. sauce: attached / attached

Both Polish clubs are located in areas where demographics have changed rapidly due to migration from Asia, the Middle East and the subcontinent.

Robert Borsak is Treasurer and Director of the Ashfield Club and President of the NSW Shooters and Fishers Party. He believes development is one of the few ways for a small club to keep the early founder’s vision alive.

Richard Borysiewicz Ashfield Polish Club President and Robert Borsak Club Treasurer November 2022 SBS.jpeg

Ashfield’s Polish Club, Richard Bolisevic and Robert Borsak at the construction site of the apartment complex. sauce: SBS News / Peggy Jacomeros

“This is not just a fantasy. If you don’t make this work as a business, there is no Polish community organization here at all. And you have to work hard to make it work and then make a profit. I have to,” he says.

But the Polish club in Bankstown has chosen to stay small, renting out its facilities to new immigrant groups in the area.

Michael Lubieniecki is a club volunteer and the son of the club president. He believes it will survive.

Michael Lubieniecki Volunteer Poland Club Bankstown November 2022.jpeg

Michael Lubieniecki at the Bankstown Polish club. sauce: SBS News / Peggy Jacomeros

“There will always be niches. There will always be clubs like this. Maybe not as many as there used to be, but there will always be some. Polish clubs are a kind of organization and people are here. I love coming to

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https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/the-history-of-australias-ethnic-clubs-and-why-their-survival-matters-today/xjfs6yk4v The history of Australia’s ‘ethnic clubs’ and why they matter today

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