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The Early Years

How the Swiss Club of Victoria was founded.

As recorded in the first Edelweiss newsletter published on 1 January 1900; “... on 24 December 1898, afternoon 3 o'clock, six jolly Swiss souls made a promise - not with crossed swords, as their ancestors in the "Rütli" have done it, but with sparkling glasses filled with wine - to make joint efforts to establish a Swiss association for the purpose of promoting social activity and a closer connection among the Swiss living here."

"... and on 1 February 1899 the matter had progressed to the point that the club was formally founded and was given the not very poetic, yet very important sounding name of "Swiss Club of Victoria."

But the foundations for the club were laid many years earlier. The first wave of Swiss migration to Victoria started only five years after the foundation of the first permanent Victorian settlement in 1834. It was initiated by the appointment of Charles Joseph La Trobe as superintendent for the Port Phillip District, as Victoria was called before 1850. La Trobe was married to Sophie de Montmollin. The de Montmollin family belonged to Neuchâtel’s aristocratic elite. Through this connection, over 100 winegrowers from Neuchâtel and adjacent districts were encouraged to migrate and work in the colonial wine industry.

   Swiss Society

Solidarity was strong among the now considerable number of Swiss citizens living in the district. Many had fallen on hard times because the promise of gold and fortune came true for only a few, and it did not take long until the first benevolent society was founded. This was usually done by wealthy businessmen and tradesmen committing themselves to helping newly arrived or needy countrymen. And thus, on the 17th of April 1879, the ‘Swiss Society of Victoria’ was founded. There were 21 founding members and within six years the membership climbed to a record 136, a number that until today remains unsurpassed.

         M. Louis W. Grasset with his Australian wife Hannah Burville       M. Louis W. Grasset with his Australian wife Hannah Burville

In 1890, the ‘Swiss Society of Victoria’ patronised the foundation of the ‘Social Club Helvetia’ to take responsibility for organising social events and festivities, such as the Swiss National Day. The closing down of this club only six years later due to financial problems made way for the formation of a club that was independent of the ‘Swiss Society’ and so, the ‘Swiss Club of Victoria’ was founded in 1899. In order to raise community interest and increase membership, the club published a monthly newsletter called ‘Edelweiss', a newsletter we are proud to continue today.

Despite the best efforts to raise membership to a level that would have secured the financial viability of the club, the first incarnation of ‘Swiss Club of Victoria’ failed and dissolved in 1904. Another attempt to establish a social club coincided with the third wave of migration following the First World War. This wave consisted predominantly from the German-speaking Cantons of Switzerland. Launched with generous private donations totaling more than £100, the second incarnation of the ‘Swiss Club of Victoria’ held its inaugural meeting in 1924 at the ‘Manchester Unity Hall’.

The initiative to re-form the club came from a small but passionate group of 48 Swiss residents in Melbourne and from the Swiss Consul at the time. The bond between the ‘Swiss Club of Victoria’ and the ‘Consulate General of Switzerland’, including consular staff of all levels, has been a strong one from this very beginning and remained so until the Consulate in Melbourne was closed in 2007. The National Day Gala Ball in that year took on a special meaning as it was celebrating 150 years of Victorian statehood as well as saying farewell to the consulate, after exactly 150 years of continued representation.

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