HISTORY OF THE SWISS CLUB OF NSW
Flag of the Swiss Society of NSW circa 1895
Johann Wäber, first Swiss to set foot on Australian soil in 1777, captures his voyage in this artwork on Captain James Cook's 3rd expedition.
Members of the Swiss Society of NSW circa 1920, displaying the front of the 1895 flag.
Members of the Swiss Club, celebrating the 640th anniversary of the foundation of Switzerland, 1931
Swiss Club members representing traditional Swiss industries at an international ball 1933.
Annual reports (1944, 1954 and 1956) from the Swiss Club of NSW
The Enzian Lodge in Jindabyne, owned by the Swiss Club from 1979 to 1987
The origins of the Swiss Club of NSW began in the feverish migration of workers to Australia during the Gold Rush era of the 1850s. More than 2,000 immigrants from impoverished regions of Switzerland arrived on the shores of Australia, hoping to find enough gold to return home considerably wealthier. During this time, some 200 Swiss gold prospectors were taken to Sydney, unable to speak English and with little or no funds to travel; they were assisted by Louis Chapalay, the first honorary Swiss Consul in Sydney at the time.
On 2 September 1898 in Pfahlert’s Hotel Sydney, seven Swiss men formed a "benefit society" for the Swiss residents of NSW. The main objectives of the Society were "to give advice and information to those of Swiss nationality newly arrived in the colony" and to assist "any Swiss in NSW in want of help and worthy to receive assistance". Further meetings were held in the Trocadéro Café in the city, managed by John Meier, a long-serving committee member, and later in various city buildings.
In 1924, the Swiss Society of NSW was changed into the Swiss Club of NSW and succeeded the Society, taking over its funds and bulk of the membership. The objectives remained the same; however, social aims, such as "social gatherings" were added. Traditional activities, such as picnics, the National Day Ball and the Christmas Party were part of the club's social calendar.
In 1951, the club had purchased and opened a house in Stanmore that was referred to as the "Swiss House". The club also used a series of restaurants with Swiss connections in Sydney’s north side as venues for meetings and social gatherings.
Wednesday, 2 October 1968 marked a significant day for the Swiss Club of NSW; it officially became a public company. At this time, the number of members remained constant at below 300. One of the main reasons the club decided to go public, was because it was then easier to purchase a property suitable for meetings as well as social functions, and where alcohol could be served and consumed legally.
In April 1967, the committee aimed to find a clubhouse that would not only meet the requirements for a liquor licence, but also generate income by operating a restaurant on the premises. This is when 22-24 Kings Street in central Sydney was purchased; however, the cost of the proposed work proved too costly and instead the premises was rented out as office and warehouse space to raise funds to purchase another property. Eventually it was sold for the same amount as the original price.
In preparation for the 1978 annual general meeting, the committee decided to purchase a ski lodge in Jindabyne, which was later refurbished in the style of a traditional Swiss chalet and christened "Enzian Lodge". It officially opened in time for the ski season in 1979 and attracted 1,500 guests. Unfortunately, the short snow season, poor management arrangements and the economic downturn of the early 1980s proved the premises to be a bad investment. Eventually, the building was put up for auction and sold in 1987.
In keeping with its new image, the club decided to produce regular newsletters to keep the members informed of its activities and events. Thus, from 1967 to 1970 a newsletter was produced called The Tellebueb (Tell's Boy). From 1971 to 2000, the publication was called Swiss Club News, and was later renamed Swiss Community News, to reflect the wider readership it addressed.
Without a permanent meeting place, the club held its regular Wednesday evening meetings in a series of restaurants, including Cahill's chain: the Tudor in Martin Place, the Cosmopolitan in Pitt Street, the Swiss Tavern in York Street and the Csardas Tavern in Clarence Street. From 1977 onwards, the German Concordia Club became the venue for regular gatherings. From 1997 to 2015, Monday meetings were held at Eiger Swiss Restaurant in Petersham. The highlight of the club’s social activities was the Swiss Ball, now referred to as the 1st August Swiss National Day. The club also offered regular "Jass" card games, which were also held at the Eiger Swiss Restaurant every Monday night, and the annual Jass competition. Other activities and events include bushwalks, picnics, outings, food tours, bicycle tours, Buure Zmorge and children's Samichlaus, which is co-organised with the Swiss Playgroup of Sydney.
In 2012, the club joined the social media network, and we are now active on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, along with having our own website (originally a portal website shared by all Swiss clubs in Australia). Going public means the wider Swiss community in NSW and all over Australia can view our activities and events, thus promoting the Swiss Club and perhaps increasing attendance at these events, so that we can afford to offer a wider selection. In our attempts to become more environmentally conscious, the club has decided to begin emailing the quarterly Swiss Community Newsletter to our members, which significantly reduced our unnecessary usage of ink and paper.
In 2015, Ruth and Alain Will from the Swiss Eiger Restaurant decided to open a new chapter in their lives by selling the restaurant and began their well-deserved retirement. We would like to sincerely thank Ruth and Alain for the unforgettable 18 years of hosting our meetings and other events. From 2016-2019, Swiss Club meetings and weekly Jass gatherings were held at The Royal Leichhardt. In 2020, a new Swiss restaurant opened in Turramurra, The Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant, where the Club organised a few meetings and Monday night jass for a few months.
To this present day, the Swiss Club of NSW remains a non-profit organisation. We do not have a formal club house; we instead meet up and organise functions at various venues. We also continue to offer fantastic activities and events and maintain links to other Swiss groups in Australia and the Consulate of Switzerland to support all Swiss activities in NSW. It is important to maintain ties with other Swiss groups in order to provide an interesting and enriched cultural experience for our members and wider Swiss community. We aim to keep Swiss traditions and culture alive in Australia and perhaps create a few of our own along the way.
All information regarding the history of Swiss in NSW, including the Swiss Club of NSW has been carefully researched and attractively illustrated in 'The Swiss in New South Wales: A History' by Dr. Bettina Boss. Dr Boss was the former president of the Swiss Historical Society (now inactive), and Honorary Senior Lecturer at the School of International Studies, University of NSW, Sydney. The Swiss Club of NSW would like to thank Dr Boss for allowing us the use of this valuable information.
If you would like to purchase this book, please contact Erin Wilson at Schweizer Kobras, Lawyers & Notaries, either by email or phone +61 2 9223 9399.
Reference: Bettina Boss with contributions from Walter Annen ... [et al.]. 2012. "The Swiss in New South Wales: A History". 1st ed. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. ©Swiss Historical Society Inc.