A History of Bringing the Community Together

The majority of members walking through the door of the South Sydney Graphic Arts Club Mascot don’t even notice the display cases of time-honoured printing paraphernalia as they stroll past to enjoy a fine meal or to relax with friends. Few entering the elegant, contemporary facilities would recall the tired 70’s vintage building that occupied the site over a decade ago.

However, the present club has a rich and diverse past that represents a remarkable journey. This invaluable community asset actually started life as two opposing clubs – the Graphic Arts (Printers’ Union) Club and the South Sydney Businessmen’s Club.

In 1960, the Printing Trades Employees Union of Australia issued ten pound bonds that were bought by supportive members to raise the necessary capital to start a club. It soon became a popular recreational centre for union members providing low cost holiday accommodation and, during the long running Fairfax dispute of 1976, free meals to striking members.

Around the same time, the South Sydney Businessmen’s Club opened its, then, salubrious doors. It was an exclusive establishment that restricted its entry to an elite array of businessmen and employers. The wearing of a jacket and tie were mandatory and union members were not allowed on the premises.

Both clubs successfully served their different memberships for many years but faced increasing challenges including the death of the business lunch via the Fringe Benefits Tax and the extension of poker machines into casinos and hotels. Both needed to find a partner or perish.

Amalgamated in 2000

In a unique display of harmony, and financial necessity, the two clubs amalgamated in 2000 to form the Graphic Arts Club Mascot. This unlikely combination of an exclusive businessmen’s club and a club originating from the union movement required a new outlook and precipitated the change of focus to grow a community club for the South Sydney and Mascot municipalities.

An undeniable amount of courage, determination and vision under the directorship of President, Basil King and newly appointed CEO, Ian McMillan led to the outstanding make-over that created a stylish boutique venue with an impressive outdoor terrace. A focus on unrivalled quality catering also distinguished the club following the appointment of James Mackenzie as Executive Chef in 2002.

Indeed, the South Sydney Graphic Arts Club was in a position, after only 18 months of operation, to win a swag of awards at the prestigious Clubs NSW Awards for Excellence 2002 as a clear testament to the success of its journey. The industry acknowledged the club once more in 2003 with six awards including the prestigious Small Club of the Year and then, as if to prove that there was to be no resting on their laurels, the club created history by winning yet another six awards and Small Club of the Year 2004 for the second time running.

In 2005, the Board undertook a further amalgamation with the struggling Sydney Labour Club situated in Bourke Street, Surry Hills. Renamed ‘Arts on Bourke’, it provided not only a relaxed environment for food, beverage and gaming, but also a dedicated community arts space. Despite consistent attempts to invigorate the site, a well-funded campaign by particular local residents to constantly impede the club’s operations led to its closure in 2008.

Innovation continued at Mascot, however, with a complete refurbishment and extension of the club premises including the addition of outdoor decks in 2009. This further enhanced the club’s position as a recognised industry leader—as evidenced by the award of Best Club Development by Clubs NSW in 2010—and set the way for an incredible record of consistent achievement with the club going from strength to strength in all areas of operations.

Making a significant contribution to the quality of community life in Mascot

Success was underpinned by the club’s ethos of ‘making a significant contribution to the quality of community life in Mascot’. Strong community links were forged through the club’s support of local schools, including Gardeners Rd PS, Mascot PS, St Peters PS, Eastlakes PS, Pagewood PS and JJ Cahill Memorial HS, and sponsorship of sporting groups, including Mascot Junior Rugby League and Mascot Netball. As a result, the club was awarded Clubs NSW ‘Clubs and the Community Ambassador of the Year’ in 2013 in recognition of our ongoing and innovative support of the local community.

This honour recognised both the commitment of President Basil King to work with our elected representatives at local, state and federal levels for the betterment of our community, and the constant efforts of Community Services Director, Deborah Atkins. It also paved the way for Deborah to ably step up to the President’s role when ill health unfortunately forced Basil to retire from his position in 2016.

Certainly, the South Sydney Graphic Arts Club Mascot stands as testament to the successful adaptation to change. Today, the club is just as committed to responding to the changing needs of its community and is well positioned to serve the growing population of its dynamic local area which is set to quadruple in the next two decades.