When young Dolores Correa arrived with her family from Spain in 1961 there was nowhere in the city to gather over a plate of tapas and a glass of cerveza.
By the year’s end, Sydney’s emerging Spanish community had set up a thriving club in the centre of town. After only being in operation for two years, the Club bought its premises on Liverpool St.
The Spanish Club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year but is also fighting for its survival. The institution went into voluntary administration three years ago. At the time, the Club had a $3.9 million debt and owned two buildings valued at $10 million: the nine-story Kent House and the smaller one next door.
When the administrator took the drastic step to sell both buildings, the Club’s members fought back. They were successful in getting a temporary injunction just one hour before settlement of the sale in September 2009.
The members challenged the administrator and by Supreme Court order were able to regain management control of the club in April 2010.
Despite the court order the administrator immediately proceeded to close down the club.
After a further challenge, the board gained access and reopened the club in June 2010 and set about fixing it up. It was ready to open on the day of the World Cup quarter finals, a glorious day for club and country.
The Club is now waiting for a court date to be set for a hearing against the administrator. Promotions manager Ana Gil is brimming with ideas to revive the club.
“We are transforming it to be more modern. We want to bring it to the level of what there is now in Spain,” she said.
The immigrants who founded the Club are now elderly and others have returned to post-Franco Spain. The second generation doesn’t feel the need of newcomers and outsiders to cling together. Yet many feel it would be an absolute tragedy to lose this iconic Club.
“It’s important as a link to the history of the community who arrived here and set it up,” said Dolores, who has been part of the club since her childhood. “The Spanish community could not have done it on their own. It goes to show the popularity of the club that by 1963 they had purchased the building.”
“It allowed us a space to experience our own culture, while learning to fit in in Australia. To this day the Spanish Club plays a relevant role and still fulfills a need.”
The crowd of older gentlemen, who for years have gathered in the club under smoke clouds around card tables, now maintain a space upstairs. In the restaurant tables overflow with tapas and Spanish reds, and the walls are covered in rich paintings depicting the country’s history.
Downstairs a modern flamenco band plays to a boisterous crowd. The walls are freshly painted red and yellow like the Spanish flag.