This short documentary is a fascinating insight into the iconic Sydney Trade Union Club during its rock n roll fuelled 1980s. Referred to as the ‘People’s Palace’, the club situated in working class Surry Hills became one of most popular live venues in Sydney and a centre for Australian music.
The film opens with shots of members enjoying themselves in the club, along with vox pop style comments to camera as members articulate their connection to the club and the reasons for its popularity. The older members are proud trade unionists, while the younger members seem to be there only for the music and a good time, a clash of generational expectations that is a central theme of the film.
Through interviews, the club administrators and founding members talk about the motivations for the club and its widespread appeal in the community. Established in 1947 by the Hotel, Club and Restaurant Union and the Federated Ironworkers Association, the club was an attempt to improve entertainment options for working class people in the area. Founding member Vic Workman describes how the club was also an effort to raise member awareness of the arts and to raise their political understanding. Founding member Flo Cluff says the idea for the club came from a desire to provide working class people with the same sort of sit down leisure time that upper class people enjoyed in clubs. She goes on to explain how the club was involved in May Day parades and union campaigns such as the 40 hour week.
Club staff and older members describe traditional leisure activities of years past, such as ballroom dancing, concerts, a couple of poker machines, a lounge bar as well as a dining room with first class kitchen staff. There was a library, billiard room and indoor bowling.
But much to the lament of the older members, this bygone era has given way to a rowdy mix of bingo, pokies and rock n roll live music. Club administrators talk of the need to embrace a younger membership as the older members retire and move up the coast. The older members left behind feel they are being pushed out by noisy and poorly behaved young people. The film ends with an optimistic scene of an elderly couple dancing to live music.
Author: J Bird, 2023