ClubsNSW is the main organisation representing over 1200 clubs registered in NSW. In September edition of ClubLife magazine Senior Media Officer Ben Rossleigh published an interesting article about history and development of Polish Club Ashfield. The Club is also featured on the cover of the magazine.
CLUBSNSW SENIOR MEDIA OFFICER
In the aftermath of World War II, Australia embarked on a large-scale immigration program, with the firm belief that the country would need to ‘populate or perish’. Between 1945 and 1965, two million immigrants arrived in Australia, and among them was a large number of Poles – some who were simply seeking a better life and others who were unable to return to communist Poland after the war. Ashfield, in Sydney’s inner west, was where many of these Polish emigrants settled when they arrived in Australia.
While they were provided with much of what they needed to make a new life for themselves, a social outlet was initially lacking – a place to come together, bond and feel like they still had a little piece of Poland in their new home country. So, as was the government requirement at the time to start up a new registered club, 200 people got together and became the founding members of the Polish Club, which formally opened on May 21, 1967. And it was certainly the place to be.
“In the 1960s, you couldn’t get a table at the restaurant unless you knew someone who could get your name on the list,” says the Polish Club’s President, Richard Borysiewicz.
“The 60s and 70s really were the booming years, and I recall going there with my parents for lunch and you couldn’t move, it was that popular.
“On a Saturday night, there was live music and dancing – the ladies in their ball gowns and the men in bow ties, and there were queues out the door to get in.”
The Club was so popular that by the late 1970s, it had outgrown itself, and an auditorium was built to accommodate the sheer volume of people who wanted to socialise there. It allowed the Club to stage major functions which could cater for hundreds of people, and on a Friday and Saturday night it even turned into a nightclub.
“It became the super nightclub of Sydney (called Vibrations), it had legendary status right through to the early 1990s,” says Richard.
However, by the time the mid-90s had rolled around, the Club began to see a dip in patronage as the facilities became dated and the original members inevitably grew old.
“People who built the Club were now old and unable to physically climb the stairs, and many were at an age where they no longer regularly socialised,” says Richard.
“By the early 2000s the Club began to see a slow and steady decline, and in fact it was no different to a lot of other ethnic clubs that began struggling to appeal to younger generations.
“It was certainly through no fault of their own – with many well-meaning volunteers who didn’t know how to adapt and stay relevant.”
Not wanting to see the work of his parents’ generation go to waste, Richard joined the Board of the Polish Club in 2013 to try and turn around its fortunes.
“By the end of 2013, the place was close to shutting the doors permanently, it was running out of money with no real plan,” he says.
“We very quickly started to cosmetically fix parts of the Club to lift its image and we very quickly realised that our best product was in our food, and our Polish beer and vodka.
“We broadened this part of the business to entice more people to come to the Club, and we did start to see a lift in our functions including christenings, birthday parties and even some weddings.”
However, in the longer term the Club knew that it was going to need a much bigger refresh, with a decaying building and old facilities.
“Every time we put a band-aid on the wall, cracks would pop up somewhere else,” says Richard.
“We had a lot of issues, including no lift for the disabled and frail, fairly old facilities in an area where the local restaurants, bars and hotels kept on improving while we stood still.”
The path forward was to unlock the value of their land through an attractive deal with property developer Deicorp, with more than 80 per cent of members voting in favour
of the ambitious plan, with construction to begin early next year.
“Deicorp ticked a lot of boxes for us in terms of what we envisaged, and they have also been involved in other club developments, so they understand our industry,” says Richard.
“In fact, Deicorp’s Principal is so familiar with the Club, that he even frequented the nightclub here in the 1980s!”
The development, in which the Club retains ownership of its land, includes the Club on the ground level and 91 privately- owned apartments above, with three levels of underground car parking, two of which will be for the apartment owners and one level for club patrons.
“Club members will have the first right to purchase an apartment so we think that a reasonable number of apartment owners will be our members,” says Richard.
“Importantly, the Club will be 50 per cent larger than it currently is and there will be a 50 per cent increase in the number of car spaces for our patrons.”
The Club will feature a restaurant, bar/lounge area with a fireplace, gaming section, café and function centre.
The restaurant, described as the epicentre of the new Club, will operate seven days per week for lunch and dinner, with plenty of indoor dining, a 32-seat outdoor area and a 24-person private dining room.
“Our food is going to be our calling card – if someone wants Polish food with European hospitality in a 5-star venue then we’re going to be the place,” he says.
It’s no surprise, then, that the café will feature a delicatessen where people can buy the best Polish produce including ham, sausages, dry goods and cheeses.
“We also plan to have imported Polish beer on tap – the only place where you will find this in all of Australia,” says Richard.
The function centre will accommodate around 350 people seated for meals or 450-500 people in theatre-style, or as three smaller rooms and a breakout area for corporate functions.
But perhaps the most anticipated part of the new development will be a Polish museum, containing numerous items donated to the Club over several decades.
“We’ve had a number of items bequeathed to us through the years and until now we’ve had to store most of them inboxes, so we owe it to our founders to display these in public which will now be possible,” says Richard.
It’s expected that the Club will close its doors around March next year for demolition and construction, with the new premisesto open somewhere between July and September of 2022.
For Richard, it’s been a long road that will ultimately usher in a new era for the club and hopefully set it up for long-term success.
“We have a dedicated group of around 40 volunteers who give up their time to help out throughout the club, includingin our restaurant, at the front desk, to perform repairs and generally oversee the operations,” he says.
“All of these people have day jobs and busy lives, but all bond together for a common cause to do good for our community club.
“This Club essentially belonged to our parents and grandparents, and now that they’ve gone, we owe it to them to save this beloved community institution and set it up for future success.
“We are only at this point because of the enormous spirit and sense of community which exists here, and we can’t wait to see what the future brings.”