IN the early 1900s, a group of prominent Bendigo businessmen and notable identities gathered on the second floor of the Clarence Hotel in Bull Street (now known as Huha Nightclub). This select group had identified a need for a second licensed social Club in Bendigo and as such, the Citizens' Club of Bendigo was formed.
Members enjoyed popular card games of the time including euchre, crib and poker and of course, a civilised, relaxing drink with like-minded folk in their private environment. With a membership list of more than 600, it became clear that an increase in space was required. Woodbury House, which at that stage was a reception and function centre, was chosen as an ideal venue.
Woodbury House was originally built by Thomas Naismith as a private residence with life member Pauline Brooks remembering the entrance to the property being directly off McIvor Road. "You drove up a white-gravelled driveway lined with poplars, and on either side there were sheep and cattle grazing."
The Woodbury Bowling Club was a welcome addition in 1978, and over the years has grown to over 100 active bowlers, many who frequent the venue most days of the week.
As the Club's Journal of 1986 noted, life at Woodbury House was completely different. Associate membership had been introduced, social activities were increasing and of course the lush, pleasant surrounds had in turn created a further influx of members with numbers now exceeding 1800.
Since those early years in Bull Street to the current location in Park Street, The Bendigo Club remains one of the hidden gems of Bendigo. It has provided countless members and guests with a valuable outlet for entertainment and relaxation and of course a fantastic environment in which to enjoy a great meal.
Peg Coates was made a life member of the Club after 11 years of great service. When her husband died, Peg felt lost. Living across the road from the Club she occasionally visited to have a drink. One day she was asked to look after the phone on reception. "I told them that wouldn't be possible as I hadn't worked since I married. They kept asking 'just for an hour.'"
Peg finally relented and nine hours later she was still looking after reception. "It grew on me. I thought, this is exactly what I want to do - I like meeting people and they were beautiful people. Since then I come over and do bits and pieces, they usually bring me a coffee, we have dinner, organise the raffle and then go home. "It's been a lifeline - I love it."
John Fawcett joined the Citizens' Club in 1961 and held the role of President at the renamed Bendigo Club from 1995 to 2005. He fondly recalls his early days as a member. "In those days, we employed a manager and one barman, and a committee member was always happy to jump behind the bar to help out. We also had part-time staff for the functions that were held".
"When the Bowling Club was formed in 1978, the Club started to go ahead in leaps and bounds and membership really took off". John still shakes his head in disbelief at the discos held weekly on Friday and Saturday nights. "A thousand people would come," he says, "they were a bit of a novelty then, but not so much for the neighbors' who eventually complained about the noise."
In recognition of his service to the Club, John was made a life member in 2002 and enjoys Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights where he says the Club "is always packed!"
In 1951, the Bendigo Club had a membership of 243. By the mid 1970s, it had grown to more than 600. The move to Woodbury House continued to help membership growth and today, it totals a staggering 2750. Over the past year, the Club has experienced a spurt in membership, no doubt due to the continual improvements occurring.
You need not be a member to enjoy the fantastic facilities the Bendigo Club has to offer. Everyone is welcome to drop in, be it for a casual coffee, a bite to eat, or a function for family and friends. However, for less than 50 cents a week you can become a member of the Bendigo. Membership entitles you to discounts on all food and beverage purchases, events and functions, birthday vouchers, members' only draws, spot prizes, weekly money draws and a whole lot more for only $25 per year.
A new deck has been constructed by the Bendigo Technical & Educational College to allow extra seating and for those using the Naismith Room, an extra dimension. Weddings and other functions held in the Naismith Room will be able to enjoy finger food and drinks whilst overlooking the beautiful surrounds. Combined with new floor to ceiling windows, and continual improvements, all members and guests will benefit from these additions.
Another change around the Club is the addition of TAB facilities. In the not-too-distant future the Club will also be adding a sports bar, and also modernising their bistro area to cater for ever increasing demand.