From a small, rundown Carrington St house to a two-storey multi-purpose facility, the Police Club has come a long way in 50 years. But the humble, community-spirited beginnings from which it came make its history extra rich.
It started with a Police Association committee meeting at which the concept of a police club was first raised. Members decided that police should have their own off-duty meeting place in which to socialize among colleagues and friends.
A short time later, association secretary Bob Fenwick noticed that an old house on a small block of land at 27 Carrington St was available for sale. It was an ideal location, close to police headquarters and in a then cheap area of the city.
The property was bought for £6,000 and a large fridge was purchased and stocked with beer. This beer could not be sold because no licence was held, so an honour system was established – each officer had to replace any beer he or she consumed at a later date.
The system worked but the committee had bigger plans.
At an AGM in 1958, members decided to increase subscriptions by 50 per cent to pay for the construction of a new building to house both the Police Club and the Police Association.
Plans were laid for a two-story complex consisting of the club and association offices on the first floor, and a kitchen, meeting hall and bedrooms for visiting country members on the top floor.
A club licence then had to be obtained, and that required a poll of the electoral district in which the club was to be situated.
Association members furiously doorknocked the area and provided lifts to and from the polling booths to ensure the highest possible turnout. The licence was won and the club officially ordained The Police Club.
Its purpose, as set out in clause 3.6 of the Police Association constitution, was the same then as it is today: to “encourage esprit de corps among members of the Police Force of South Australia.”
Members of parliament, business leaders, and representatives of the judiciary, Crown Law and local government attended the opening of the club, hosted by then premier Sir Thomas Playford.
The first official trading day was September 7, 1961, when both levels of the brand new club were filled with serving police officers. But it did not stay an exclusive club for long.
Concerned about the large debt taken on to build the club, the association committee decided to allow for 200 members of the public, nominated by association members and approved by the committee, to be granted associate membership.
In 1964, land at the rear of the club was purchased by the association for a car park, as was a small chapel to the west to extend the building.
Through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, pay nights were huge at the club and ran into the early hours of the morning. Many events, such as cabaret and disco nights, were also held, but the most successful was the monthly luncheon.
A total of 364 luncheons were held in Fenwick Hall on Mondays and drew full houses to hear some of the nation’s most notable speakers. Among them were Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, Gough Whitlam, Sir Mark Oliphant, John Gorton, Sir Zelman Cowan, Bob Hawke, Bill Hayden and Alexander Downer.
Today, the spirit of the club remains the same. Cadets, patrols, detectives and traffic police socialize together, and every week police farewell one of their colleagues at functions in the dining room.
The club is also a meeting place for police sports clubs and societies, and SAPOL and other organizations use Fenwick Hall for training sessions, events and conferences.
Police clubs were once common around the country and, indeed, the world. But South Australia’s police club is now the only one of its kind in Australia.
The Police Association committee of management believe the police community is alive and strong in South Australia, and see the Police Club as an essential and historic promoter of that community spirit.
The Police Club is part and parcel of who police in South Australia are; and, after 50 years, the club is intertwined with the careers of many police.