Tauranga Club now depends on women

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This week lawyer Alison McEwan boycotted her local Law Society Christmas Party because it was to be held at the Hawke's Bay Club, a male-only club. Julia Proverbs visits the Tauranga Club, where women are not only welcomed, but sought as new members.

The year is 1894.

Cigar smoke and testosterone fill the room as men put the world to rights over billiards and whiskey.

Like other gentlemen's clubs of the day, the Tauranga Club is not a place for women.

Fast forward 118 years.

Sitting in the club's light, airy lounge on the 5th floor of the Devonport Towers with a sweeping backdrop of Tauranga Harbour, president Tracey Rudduck-Gudsell is the epitome of femininity.

Her floral, knee-skimming dress matches her bold coral, white and blue sandals, which in turn match her brightly painted toenails.

She laughs as she recalls her first association with the club.

Back when it had no female members, she was involved in setting up a professional women's network group. "We managed to secure the use of the Tauranga Club facilities for our meetings, but we were not to be seen at the bar, and we were to go to our room in an orderly fashion.

"It was a bit of fun. I always remember thinking I would like to get a drink from the bar."

That was only 20-odd years ago.

Seven years ago Tracey became a member and now she is at the helm, the second woman to hold the presidency.

Overwhelmingly voted for by members, her appointment is a strategic one. The club is keen to recruit young members to secure its future. The challenge lies in doing so whilst retaining its old world sensibilities.

"It very much has a culture of its own," says Tracey.

"We're one of Tauranga's best kept secrets."

The first meeting of the Tauranga Club was at the Star Hotel on Devonport Rd in 1894, and the subscription was one guinea.

In the late 1920s it moved to a purpose-built house on its present site, that was later removed to make way for the towers in which it is now housed.

Now incorporated into a high-rise apartment development, its facilities include a lounge with full bar facilities, a la carte restaurant, conference rooms and a boutique-style gymnasium.

A personal trainer and nutritionist have recently been added to its services.

Its members - who fluctuate in number between 550 and 600 - are mainly corporate and professional people, with the annual fees being $388 for an individual member and $290 for a corporate member.

Membership also gives members access to five reciprocal clubs in New Zealand (except Hawke's Bay if you are a woman), one in South Africa and one in Australia.

The dress code is "high smart casual". Men must wear a collared shirt and covered shoes, and women the equivalent.

To apply you must be proposed by a member and seconded by another member. The application is then posted on the club noticeboard for a month and if there are no objections it is presented to the committee for final approval.

Although, Tracey says if you don't know any members she is prepared to meet and have a chat.

"It's open to anyone and everyone, if what we offer is what you are looking for," she says.

In the past five years no applications have been declined.

"A lot of the benefits are intangible," says manager Deborah Naysmith.

Members can bring one guest, or 100, she says.

They can work in the lounge, hold business meetings in the private function rooms and work out in the gym.

"We often say that the club should be looked upon as an extension of a member's own home in the heart of the city," says Deborah.

"It is rare a member arrives and is not greeted by staff by name. They know why they're here and what they like to drink. It's very personal."

While perceived as an "exclusive" club, it is very inclusive, she adds.

"Fellowship is very important."

Tracey, who is the chief executive of Creative Tauranga, was sought out by members to help take the club forward, says Deborah.

"Tracey is a great interface to other networks. We went after Tracey. Prior to the AGM there was a lot of talk about who we wanted. Members overwhelmingly voted for Tracey."

The club's culture has its roots in Britain, says former president Jock McIntyre, 66, who is working on a book about the club.

"It was created by members of the English gentry that came to New Zealand ... it was a little bit of England," he says.

"Bars and hotels at the time were pretty rugged, not what they are today, and only extremely unruly women drank."

It was not until 46 years after the Tauranga Club opened that woman were invited to attend - and, initially, only once a year.

The first annual Ladies' Night was held, after some debate, on September 17, 1940.

Records show one member who objected believed it would be "highly improper" to hold such an evening.

But, despite objections, it went ahead and The Bay of Plenty Times reported it as being "a very gay party" that "showed clearly that they live as we do".

"That went right up to the '80s," says Jock.

In 1987 the committee voted to allow female "guests" to attend the club regularly, with 96 votes in favour and four against.

Two years later Jan Beckingsale became the first female member.

"Women could go anywhere in the building, expect for the billiards room. The men felt it was theirs," says Jock.

"Only in 1993 women were told forthrightly that they were not welcome in the billiards room."

In 1994 Jane Cullen became the first woman president at the club.

Throughout the history of the club there has been a group of older men considered "die-hards", Jock says. The earliest group had an area off to the side of the main entrance, referred to as "cobweb corner", where they kept a close eye on comings and goings.

"They sat on big, old couches. They drank whiskey and half of them smoked cigars and two to three smoked pipes."

Amongst members were a lot of wagers, or "silly bets" that were recorded in a "disputes book".

"It had all sorts of strange and wonderful things in it. Unfortunately it has gone missing. I think it has gone missing for a very good reason ... No-one owns up to having it," Jock laughs.

When women were eventually welcomed into the club, once such wager was who could bring the most women in. The prize was a bottle of premium whiskey.

The inclusion of women was a major cultural shift for the club, but there have been other influences, too.

"Possibly the biggest change has been the change in the drinking and driving culture. People dispensing liquor have to be more responsible," says Jock.

"As it was, the culture of the club was built around the availability of spirits, in particular, that were not generally available all over the place. Tauranga Club had access to all sorts. In the 1950s that was starting to change. By that time the club had an off-license. People started to buy their own."

And in 2004, when the club reopened in the Devonport Towers, smoking was banned.

"There was an uproar," says Jock.

 


 


Today, he says, he has more cups of coffee at the club than anything else.

However, the core culture of the club remains.

"There is a certain amount of exclusivity, and we try to maintain it. Once we lose it, what else have we got? Our traditions are changing because they have to, but a certain amount of holding on to tradition is probably essential. If you lose tradition and culture you lose everything."

The future of the club, says Jock, lies in its appeal to younger people.

"Unless younger people use it, it's not going to survive. I am sure it will continue but it will have to continue without people of my age to make it work.

"That's one of the reasons we need Tracey looking after the place."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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