The Hellenic Club of Sydney has celebrated its 90 Year Anniversary, with a huge gathering that took place earlier this month at Beta Bar and Gallery. The wonderful occasion saw members from both past and present come together to reflect on the remarkable achievements the Hellenic Club has made over the last nine decades.
History of the Club
In 1924 a group of Greek shopkeepers in Sydney decided to lease some floor space so they could meet during their leisure hours. These meetings brought about the formation of a Club, which they named The Hellenic Club. All the Greek National celebrations and concerts were held in these premises for many years.
“It was formed by a group of Greek businessmen who decided to have a meeting place, a home away from home is the best expression I can use- for Greek migrants who had come out to Sydney in the early waves of migration,” says the Hellenic Club’s President, John Comino.
“It was a meeting place to gather as they do in the city and village squares in Greece, to chat, discuss the day’s events, play some tavli, cards, read the paper and generally socialise. Originally it was only for Greek men but also for the family, so children and wives were also part of the social events, with Greek dancing lessons also held there,” Mr Comino says.
The Hellenic Club was primarily a sporting and businessmen’s Club, which originally opened for membership to Greeks from all parts of Greece however, by 1958 it was open to other approved applicants.
On 4 December, 1926, the Hellenic Club was incorporated and it served to bring future generations of Greek migrants together. During these early days, the Club supported the Greek Orthodox Church and assisted in the building of the St Sophia Cathedral Church. The Club also assisted the financing of the Greek Archdiocese.
For many years, the membership of the Hellenic Club was restricted to sixty people, however, during World War II all Greeks serving in the Armed Forces were accepted as honorary members and had the use of all facilities available, at that time, on those premises.
The Club began to grow and the directors increased the membership, allowing younger members with new ideas on the Board. The Board of Directors, with the new members, thought fit to sell Adams Chambers (which was purchased by the Club in the 1940s) and purchased the property where the present Club stands on Elizabeth Street, which was eventually built on and named Hellenic House.
On 19 October, 1959 Hellenic House was officially opened by the then NSW Premier Mr JJ Cahill.
“In the 1940’s there were a lot of Greek shopkeepers around the Sydney CBD and lots of Greek operators in this part of town, which is why they decided to purchase premises in this vicinity. In the last 5 to 10 years this part of town has had a rebirth of involvement of Greek businesses, which is great,” says Mr Comino.
“I joined the club over 10 years ago and have been President for the past three years. Historically, we have overseen a substantial and significant period of development of the Club – both in the utilisation of the club buildings and more importantly the reaffirmation and development of its cultural purpose, which is what was embodied in the original constitution of the Club. This needed to be recreated as it was important for the diaspora here in Australia.”
In 2013, The Hellenic Club opened Alpha Restaurant, which has been a huge success for the Club. “We set up Alpha, which is a leading Greek themed restaurant with a modern twist and we now have a very successful business that has been running for over 3 years. It continues to draw large crowds and attracts people of all backgrounds and ages.”
“The next thing we did was develop the first floor, Beta Bar and Gallery, which is used for functions, corporate events, photo shoots as well as a bar for people to come in and enjoy some cocktails and bar food. Since opening last year, it has been booked out with many VIP, corporate, fashion and private functions,” adds Mr Comino.
When asked why he believes The Hellenic Club is important for the Greek community of Sydney, Mr Comino says, “By speaking to people in the community, we are finding that things have changed. The Greek clubs that used to exist in Sydney representing individual islands and villages are under challenge competing with changing purpose and demands on Greek Australian youth in modern society. So, it’s about providing a social gathering space for those who have either rediscovered their Greek identity and for those who have always had it through their family, church, environment and would like a social gathering place that draws on their Hellenic identity. We identify with this pressing need that people of all ages are excited by their Greek heritage and we feel we have an important role to be able to provide space for Greek people to gather.”
“We cater for all Hellenes and we are trying to attract Greek Australians of all ages and being able to provide a social outlet for them,” John concludes.
Last year The Hellenic Club also created a category for youth membership – The Hellenic Club Sydney Youth, which they believe is of great importance for future generations.
President of the Youth Committee, Stephanie Papaioannou says “It’s all about continuing the Greek culture and we want to try and bring as many young people as possible to our events and to spread the Greek culture as far as we can.”
“We want Beta Bar to act as a spot for all our members to meet and mingle with each other. We also want to get involved in cultural, social and educational events. To have a spread of events that cater for the Greek Australian youth of Sydney and the broader community,” says Stephanie.
Highlights of the Hellenic Club over the last 90 years →
1920’s– Hellenic Club Limited was founded by its first committee of shopkeepers. They first rented a premises secured at the corner of Castlereagh and Park Streets. Between 1926-1944, national celebrations and feast days were celebrated here. Funds were also raised for the construction of Saint Sophia, which opened in September 1927.
1940’s- First acquisition is made under the Presidency of Peter Soulos through the purchase of 195-197 Elizabeth St, for 31 thousand pounds, the building was known as Adams Chambers and became the focal point of all the Club’s activities.
In 1949, the Club purchased a house and land in Randwick, which was leased to Archbishop Theophylaktos at a nominal rent. This property was then sold at a concessional price to the Archdiocese and became the Archbishop’s first official residence.
1950’s – The Greek Orthodox Community of NSW held its first meetings in our Club’s boardroom and, at a time of community harmony, worked closely with the Hellenic Club which featured in the Greek Orthodox Community’s annual gala, the Grecian Ball.
In 1951, approval was given for the famous barber shop within the Club’s premises for the benefit of members, which operated for over 60 years.
In 1954, the historic purchase of 251-253 Elizabeth St and sale of the Club’s first building at 195-197 Elizabeth Street.
In 1956 plans and sketches are tabled before the Board for the new building at 251-253 Elizabeth St and in 1959 the Club moved into its newly refurbished premises, which was officially opened in the presence of NSW Premier JJ Cahill.
1960’s- The Club becomes a cultural beacon for the Greek community and in 1961, donated money to assist the Archdiocese to purchase a premises in Edgecliff.
In 1962, for the first time women are invited to membership as Associate Members.
In the late 60’s significant donations from the Hellenic Club help fund the Chairs of Archaeology and Modern Greek studies at Sydney University.
1970’s- Crowds flock to the Hellenic Club to welcome Greek composer and performer Mikis Theodorakis on his first visit to Australia.
In 1979, the historic purchase of the building at 238-240 Castlereagh Street, Sydney takes place.
1980’s & 1990’s- These decades were successful but progressively challenging years as the dynamics and demographics of the Greek community change, while the Club’s successive boards grapple with identifying with a suitable vision and engaging with new audiences and needs of the Australian Greeks.
2000- In 2007, the Board under Presidents John Comino and Jim Kospetas first began to investigate options for the Castlereagh building, culminating in the triumphant opening of Alpha Restaurant in 2013 and Beta Bar in 2016.
2017- The Hellenic Club turns 90 and is now once again a visible and dynamic player on the Hellenic cultural scene in Sydney and catering to a much broader audience than ever before.
90th Anniversary Celebrations →