7 June 2023

A special (meeting) place in their hearts - Yass women's club marks 100th year

| Sally Hopman
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Woman next to plaque

President of the Allambee Club, Yass, Wendy Shannon. The women-only club celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Photos: Sally Hopman.

It was just on 100 years ago when a couple of Yass women flagged the idea of creating a place in town, a sanctuary.

They wanted a place where countrywomen, who made that one-day-a-week trip into town from outlying properties, could sit for a while, catch up with friends and family they didn’t get to see often off the farm, and feed babies and children – just take a moment or two for themselves.

In the days when women took their husbands’ first names as well as their last, two venerable characters, Mrs D’Arcy Bucknell and Mrs W Hay, led the way in creating such a haven in Yass – a place that remains today, the Allambee Club in the town’s main street.

The first meeting of what was known as the Yass Women’s Club was held on 10 November, 1923, in its first home – a back room in the Mechanics Institute. Barely two years later, the women had raised enough money, through debentures, to buy a block of land in the main street where the club stands today. It was designed by architect Sir Charles Rosenthal of Sydney. Club members, through money raised from lunches and dinners held throughout the year, decorated and furnished inside.

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It was also in 1925 when the club name was changed to Allambee, which stems from an Indigenous word meaning meeting place for women.

It was a club purpose-built for women, to their own design – with sitting rooms, a nursery, a kitchen and what could well be described today as a “good room”. In its prime, it boasted a nurse for the children and an “attendant” who served afternoon tea. Everyone had a role, as they still do today, from cooking lunch for 50 to flower decoration to raising money for good causes.

Today the club boasts about 140 members and although times have changed, there is still, according to club president and long-time member Wendy Shannon, an important role for it to play in the rural community.

“What it was 100 years ago is what it remains today,” Mrs Shannon said. “A place for women to meet, connect and support each other.

Old visitors book

The Allambee Club’s first visitors’ book from December 1923. The first signature is that of one of the club founders, Mrs W Hay.

“Yes, the world has changed since those days 100 years ago, but there is still a need for a place like this – I guess that’s why we’re still going.

“Back in 1923, Mrs Bucknell and Mrs Hay were clearly far-sighted women. They knew what women wanted and they made sure it was purpose-built for them.”

Today, the Allambee Club has only a little plaque on the door to identify itself, but most everyone knows where it is and why.

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For committee member Camilla Duffy, it has special family connections. She has been a member for about 20 years, following the tradition of her mother Robin and grandmother Helen.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the club later this year, Mrs Duffy has been going through the club’s history and uncovered the original minutes book from day one along with a visitors’ book that people signed.

Her family connections, Winterflood, feature prominently in the history, as does the name Shannon: “Wendy is the third president of the club to be a Shannon – and the 13th Mrs Shannon to be a member.”

Two women with old book

Allambee Club committee member Camilla Duffy and president Wendy Shannon look over the club’s original visitors’ book.

“Having a place like this is very important for women,” she said. “As young mums, we used it to meet with other young mums while the kids could play in the garden here.

“Then the kids went to school and we all reconnected again.

“For me, it’s like investing in the future. My grandmother, for example, loves that she can come here. Older women are often the ones left at home – but not here.”

Many of the Yass Valley’s pioneering families had a connection to the Allambee. And it’s these people that the club is keen to welcome back for the 100th-anniversary celebrations it plans for later this year – including a black-tie dinner and party.

Club members plan to mark the anniversary year by raising funds to improve access to the club Allambee building.

Former members of the Allambee Club are invited to take part in the anniversary celebrations. For more information, email the Allambee Club.

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