Editorial: Writing on the wall for older clubs

By Doug Laing

Last night's closure of the Napier Cosmopolitan Club is one of those things many will regard as a sad sign of the times - in employment, and socially.

Chartered clubs - whether workingmen's clubs, returned services clubs or otherwise - are part of the working and social fabric of New Zealand, with many having long histories of services to their communities, far away from the bars at which the members gathered.

Generally, and despite often being restricted to men only for many years, they tended to draw together the workers and their families.

For example, many in Napier would still remember the days of the Cossie Club picnics, and generation after generation of many families were to pass through the doors, whether the Marine Parade club where it all ended last night, or at the former city-centre premises in Emerson St.

Such clubs were originally founded in New Zealand amid concerns that the hotel trade was becoming too much a haven of those who wanted to simply get sloshed in a room full of smoke whenever possible.

As a workingmen's type of club, the Cossie Club in Napier was among the first out of the blocks, becoming established in 1877, and was a base for the wharfies from the port, railways workers and the large numbers of other public and civic servants in the city, and other employers of significant numbers close to the city's heart.

But these numbers are no longer, their disappearance being perhaps the nail in the coffin for the club, despite how long it took to hammer the nail in, and it hasn't been easy for successive administrators trying to keep things viable and maintain some tradition at the same time.

In the modern era, Napier's eclectic range of chartered clubs is probably an overpopulation, which poses the question of how long it will be before others disappear, and not only in Napier.

All chartered clubs, including Returned Services Clubs, or RSAs as they are known, have been feeling the tough times for a long time, pushing it uphill as the working numbers disappeared from the inner city.

Then drink-driving concerns rewrote the rules of office, waterside, construction site and other knock-off-time social engagement and new bars and bar-quarters proliferated. And don't even mention smoking legislation.

The Cossie Club's move from long-time shopping centre premises to the Marine Parade 26 years ago was one necessary step to stay afloat, and it is now not the only one to vanish in Hawke's Bay in recent times.

The Waipukurau RSA shut its club nine months ago, and the historic Hastings Club and its marvellous wooden building are mere memories of an era bygone. Try Googling it.

There is also now talk of the merger of two other clubs in Hastings, uttered with the sour taste of reluctance, but nevertheless a merger of the type many in clubs see as a formality, sooner or later.

Napier still has two RSAs, in town and in Taradale and both, like RSAs throughout the country, now draw members from far wider afield than just those who served their country during the wars.

The oldest of all is the Hawke's Bay Club, set to celebrate 150 years in 2013 in its grand, old, white, wooden building on the corner of Marine Parade and Browning St.

Long-time sanctuary to the legal fraternity and various others of the three-piece suit, with a "smoking room" and spittoons, it does, however, rarely seem to have the lights on.

A few doors away was once the Napier Club, which sold its Marine Parade site more than 10 years ago to move into smaller premises in Herschell St, near where it had been based before the 1931 earthquake.

Formed in 1898, it has a special place in Napier, in that it's crest was later also adopted by the Napier City Council.

Another is the Bay City Club, a trading name for the Hawke's Bay Commercial Travellers and Warehousemen's Association club, and which occupies a significant site in Milton Rd, just off Tennyson St.

The degree to which other clubs in Napier benefit from the demise of the Cossie Club remains to be seen, but to those trying their darnedest to keep them going, all the best, and ... cheers!

- Hawkes Bay Today

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