Narrandera’s own “gentlemen’s club”, The Murrumbidgee Club, was formed in 1903 with the bulk of the original members coming from the Riverina Picnic Race Club. It was similar in nature to the Riverine Club in Wagga and the Waradgery Club in Hay.
The inaugural meeting on 1 December 1903 elected Sir Samuel McCaughey as the first President. McCaughey was a well known pastoralist and philanthropist, who at one stage owned up to twelve stations and properties in New South Wales and Queensland with a total area of 3,250,000 acres.
McCaughey remained President until 1909; as a mark of respect from his fellow members, he was subsequently elected Patron of the Club. He was the only member to ever be given this honour as the position was discontinued after his death in 1919.
The Club purchased a house, ‘Mon Repose’, the property of Mr Edwin Roach, at 43 Douglas Street to be their clubhouse. This grand residence was officially opened by the Club in June 1904. At that time the house comprised the Billiard Room, Reading Room, Card Room, Lounge & Bar. A Ballroom and a Supper Room were later added in 1922 and 1925 respectively.
Being a gentlemen’s club, ladies were certainly not permitted as members. There was also a strong membership bias towards graziers and those they did business with, eg. station managers, bank managers, doctors, solicitors and other ‘professionals’. The annual subscription for town members was £4/4/0 and £3/3/0 for country members (those deemed to live 15 miles or more outside of Narrandera).
Suggestions began to arise after the Great War that wives of members might be allowed some limited use of the Club’s facilities but these were always dropped or deferred. During the mid-1930s, the women got sick of waiting and started their own – the Sturt Club. It was in 1976 when the unthinkable happened – women were to be admitted as members, although as Associate Members only. It took until 1985 for women to be enrolled as full members of the Club.
Despite the changes over time, the distinct slide in membership numbers meant that the club began to struggle financially. It nearly closed in 1997 but managed to carry on until its centenary. The Murrumbidgee Club was formally wound up on 14 September 2004 after 101 years of existence.
In 2016, Mr Norman Houghton published a history of the Club, “Murrumbidgee Gentlemen”. It is full of interesting bits and pieces from the 101 years of the club, such as problems with the doorbell on the clubhouse (the wives were finding it very inconvenient as they were unable to extract their husbands when it was time to go home), the sacking of the first steward (apparently he did “something crooked”), and the Presbyterian minister next door who objected to the boisterous activities and language emanating from the clubhouse grounds after Race Week.
The CSU Regional Archives acquired a collection of records from the now closed Murrumbidgee Club, including club meeting minute books, letter books, registers of members, rule books, building plans, financial records, and photographs of many of the club presidents, which are available for research. Please contact our Reference Archivist if you would like to know more about these records.