In 1873 a group of builders in Sydney founded the ‘Builders & Contractors Association of NSW’.
The builders of Newcastle banded together and sent a letter on 19 August 1874 to their fellow builders in Sydney asking their permission to establish a branch in Newcastle. On 25 August 1874 the Honorary Secretary of the builders of Newcastle, Mr Smith, went to Sydney to make arrangements about the branch and at that meeting a motion was carried which stated “we extend a branch of this Association to Newcastle (according to a request by several builders there) and to be called the No 1 Branch of the Builders & Contractors Association of New South Wales”. And so it was.
One month later, on 16 September 1874, the New South Wales Association admitted as members of that Association the following people and appointed them to the respective positions: Mr John Ash, President (father of Frederick Ash, the hardware supplier empire); Mr W Lang, Vice-President; Mr P Smith; and Mr W Dartt, Treasurer. The branch at Newcastle was given “power and authority to enrol all builders and contractors as members of that branch and that the branch should keep their own subscriptions for working expenses”.
The first General Meeting of the Newcastle branch occurred on 4 November 1874 at 8.00pm in the offices of the first President Mr John Ash in King Street.
The Newcastle Chronicle , as it then was had some interesting comments about the life and times of people in Newcastle. Here’s a ‘Wanted’ advertisement from 31 October 1874 : “WANTED – a capitalist to lend money in small sums, ample security, and large interest guaranteed. Reply by letter to TWR Chronicle office, Newcastle “. And to show how tough times were, on Thursday 29 October 1874 : “PUBLIC NOTICES – D McLardy begs to inform the inhabitants of Hunter Street that in consequence of not having received sufficient support, he will discontinue watering the streets”.
And some things just don’t change! On 10 December 1874 , under LOCAL & GENERAL NEWS was the following: “The local meeting of the Borough Council lapsed on Monday evening for want of a quorum. The only persons present were the Mayor and Aldermen Lovelow and Thorn” – such is the interest given to local government at times.
One of the first recorded matters of the Newcastle branch of the Builders Association is correspondence to an architect in Maitland, the well-known name of Mr Pender, and subsequently to other architects in Newcastle in which builders were requesting “compliance with the standard conditions of contract”. Who was it that said “the more that things change, the more they remain the same”! Of course, contracts in those days were very simple, and often a handshake was the binding contract. Today we see 80-page contracts, 400-page specifications, and addendums right up until the close of tenders.
The Association continued during the late 1880s and in 1902 the builders in Newcastle wrote to their parent Association in Sydney advising them that they wished to form an independent and autonomous organisation. This request was granted by contractors in Sydney and the Association has operated as an autonomous body ever since. In 1909 the “Newcastle NSW Master Builders Association” became a member of the Master Builders Federation of Australia.
In 1909 the “Newcastle NSW Master Builders Association” became a member of the Master Builders Federation of Australia.
Up to 1927, the position of Secretary of the Association was filled in an honorary capacity by members, but in that year Mr FS Scorer (a chartered accountant in the city) was appointed on a part-time basis as Secretary. Sam Scorer continued in that capacity for 40 years until 1967 when our Association’s first full-time Executive Director was appointed.
1928 saw the builders take charge of their own destiny and commence construction of its first headquarters building at 25-27 King Street , Newcastle called ‘The Builders Exchange’. This building was just around the corner from Watt Street which at the time was a very prestigious part of town. Watt Street was Newcastle’s first street and ran from the Anchorage up to the Government quarters at the top end of Watt Street. We were in good company, as the Great Northern Hotel is located in Watt Street and it commenced in 1865. Before this, the site was occupied by the Ship Inn which was opened in 1823 – the Duke of Edinburgh staying at the Great Northern in 1868, and on the corner of Watt and Hunter Streets stands the NSW Public Works building which was designed in 1870. This building was constructed by William Lang, then Vice-President of the Newcastle branch of the Builders Association – it was the original Post Office of Newcastle. The Newcastle Post Office was located on the corner of Watt and Hunter Streets in 1872.
WWI and WWII took their toll, as did the depression – but people just got on with life.
In 1947 the Past President of the Newcastle Master Builders Association, Mr Charles Davis, was elected as the first National President of Master Builders Federation from Newcastle , and he was made the second only Life Member of MBFA in 1967.
We jump forward now to 1952, when the Association purchased land in Darby Street (now occupied by a squash court) with a view to establishing a social club with a liquor license. This was to be an expansion of the current billiard table, small bar, and social meeting place that the builders currently occupied in King Street.
In the 1950s, as the Association’s influence expanded the MBA of NSW made overtures to take over the Newcastle MBA “with all deeds and property to transfer to them”. The builders of the day rejected that proposal and retained their autonomy. The Darby Street site was subsequently sold, and in 1965 several members of the Association returned from European tours and being impressed with services and facilities being made available to members of the public by building material display centres in various large European cities, it was decided that Newcastle MBA should as part of its redevelopment, construct a building with such a display centre.
In 1966, “for reasons unknown to the Newcastle builders, the Master Builders Association of NSW (with whom we have always had the most cordial of relations) convened a meeting in Maitland on 15 December with the object of forming a division of that Association in that area”. While this created ongoing tensions between the Associations, these matters have now been confined to history, and both Associations enjoy sound working relations as a partnership within the brotherhood of the Master Builder movement.
In 1967, at the retirement of Sam Scorer, Mr W (Bill) Hollinworth was elected as the first full-time Executive Director of the Association on 20 December 1966. Bill and other staff appointments were to meet the increasing demands from builders for expanded services from their Association.
In September 1967, the second headquarters building of the Newcastle MBA was constructed at 38-42 Watt Street. The tender of W Stronach Pty Ltd for $124,420 was accepted. The building was opened on 1September 1967 by the then Prime Minister of Australia , Mr Harold Holt (this is the only building that this Prime Minister opened in Newcastle ). At the rear of the ‘Building Centre’, as it was known, stands a house known as the ‘Old Toll House’ reportedly over 130 years old and built originally for Mr A Beveridge, no doubt a relative of the Beveridge empire. Opposite the MBA’s site was the oldest known building constructed in Newcastle – the United Services Club, which was constructed for Captain Wallace, the Commissariat Officer of the Military.
In September 1967, the second headquarters building of the Newcastle MBA was constructed at 38-42 Watt Street.
As the pace of industry started to mature and get faster, Newcastle’s first exhibition village was constructed by the MBA in Queen Street , New Lambton in 1969.
As the centenary of Newcastle MBA in 1974 approached, a gift was given to the people of Newcastle of a replica pioneer’s cottage. This is now to be found at Blackbutt Reserve.
The building display centre’s success and expanded MBA membership services quickly outgrew the Watt Street premises, and early in 1978 the Association purchased from a member, WH Hudson Developments, the land on which the building at 165 Lambton Road , Broadmeadow now stands. The ‘gully line’ area was a tract of disused railway line purchased by Bill Hudson and sold to the Association. The successful contractor was DF McCloy Pty Ltd at a cost of $750,000. The building was opened on 26 th October 1979 by the Governor, Sir Roden Cutler.
28 December 1989 is a date etched in the minds of all Novocastrians. Australia ‘s most devastating earthquake saw the MBA become an integral part of the emergency recovery and reconstruction of the city of Newcastle. Newcastle MBA’s role was recognised by the presentation of ‘Meritorious Unit Service Award’ by the NSW Governor at Government House in Sydney on 2 nd May 1990.
In 1998 and ’99, Paul Doran – Past President of Newcastle MBA was elected as the second National President of Master Builders Australia coming from Newcastle.
The devasting fire of July 2003 which resulted in the complete loss of our offices at Lambton Road Broadmeadow did not deter us from “business as usual” and we continued our operations and services to members despite the enormity of the event.
The more recent times of the Association would be familiar to all of you, so I do not propose elaborating on them. When one considers our humble beginnings in the office of John Ash in 1874, progressing to the office of Sam Scorer in the T&G Building, and our first building in King Street in the early 1900s, followed by a move to Watt Street in 1967, and premises at Broadmeadow in 1979, we have grown of age and with the help of Newcastle, its builders, subcontractors, suppliers, and professions; and we will remain a strong, active and autonomous voice of the building industry for the Hunter.