Belmont 16s marks milestone and gets set for redevelopment
Belmont 16ft Sailing Club will mark a major milestone on Friday with its centenary celebrations.
Club historian Roger Steel said the meeting to form the club was held 100 years ago on May 13, 1922.
While many know the club as an entertainment venue, Mr Steel said the club's main purpose remained the promotion of 16-foot skiff sailing.
"That's just as it was 100 years ago," he said.
The first regatta in Belmont Bay took place on Easter Monday on April 18, 1881.
It was named the "Belmont and Pelican Flat Regatta" and had a program of sculling, sailing and novelty events.
Mr Steel said a sailing movement spread around the nation at the turn of the century.
"The rapid growth of the 16-foot skiff class was interrupted by war from 1914 to 1918," he said.
By 1922, Belmont was ready for a 16-foot skiff sailing club.
An advertisement was placed in the Newcastle Sun for people interested in the formation of a sailing club at Belmont.
They were asked to attend a meeting at the Belmont School of Arts at 8pm on May 13. "A young man from Marks Point named Albert Smith was listed as promoter," he said.
The meeting was a success, with a decision to start a sailing club at Belmont under Port Jackson sailing skiff rules.
Eight skiffs committed to compete under the new club's banner.
Work began immediately on fundraising, with a euchre card party and dance organised.
As the sailing season neared, the club had attracted about 50 members.
Several new boats were built in anticipation.
The opening day at Belmont was held on October 7, 1922, with 400 people gathered along the foreshore.
Mr Steel said the centenary of the club's first race on that date is planned to be marked with a ball and celebration.
"It's not confirmed yet, but there's talk of getting some historic skiffs from Sydney, the old wooden ones, to sail at the event."
Volunteers built the first clubhouse over the water on Brooks Parade in Belmont. It was opened on October 6, 1923.
The club moved to its present location in 1952.
Mr Steel said the centenary celebration would be an "acknowledgement of the roots of the club and gratitude for the people who built it".
"The club has served so many roles in the community.
"If there's a birthday or christening, Belmont people invariably go back to the 16-footers to have a meal.
"It's more than just a sailing club. It's a meeting place."
The club has long been a popular stop for bands in the Australian rock scene, from the golden era in the 1970s and 1980s to more recent years.
When Midnight Oil played there in 2016, frontman Peter Garrett told the crowd: "I got prawns in Budgewoi tonight. I'm king of the world."
The club first obtained a liquor licence in 1958.
"A lot of other classes of sailing boat clubs died off or reduced in numbers," Mr Steel said.
"But 16-foot skiff clubs got on board with registered clubs and poker machines.
"That's what kept the 16-foot skiff class alive. Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club is really successful. Similar to our club, they support sailing.
"It's the same thing with St George Sailing Club and Drummoyne Sailing Club."
He said the Belmont club runs junior sailing classes that "allow youngsters to develop and come through into the skiffs", along with the acclaimed Sailability program for people with a disability.
Club director and life member Garry Edwards said Belmont 16s was a philanthropic club.
It gives a lot of money to community groups, schools and sport.
Mr Edwards, a former Swansea MP, said the club recently gave $20,000 to the Pink Ladies at Belmont Hospital.
"Not long ago, the Valentine heated pool was having trouble. They needed money for urgent repairs, so they got $25,000.
"We are so proud of the club. The club itself is an amazing community institution."
He said the club had tremendous views across the lake.
"The sunsets are spectacular. All the different colours we get are amazing," he said.
The 100-year milestone coincides with the club beginning a $20 million "centenary redevelopment".
Construction will begin in the next week, with the establishment of site offices.
The club won't close during construction, with the work to occur in stages.
Work is due to be completed by spring next year.
The construction contract was awarded to Newcastle company Graph Building.
The club's four dining outlets will be upgraded and function facilities will be redesigned for waterfront events and weddings. A roof-top bar is also planned.
"The best gift we can provide to our members to celebrate their club's centenary is modern and sophisticated facilities that meet their needs and showcase our magnificent location," club CEO Scott Williams said.
Mr Edwards said the renovations would transform the club.
"You won't recognise the place once it's finished."
The club's 600-seat auditorium has nine shows still to come this year, including the Angels, Screaming Jets and John Waters. Events won't be held at times due to surrounding construction, but the auditorium itself won't be redeveloped.