The Australian Numismatic Society

A Paper given at the June 2020 online Conference

  Allan and Stark’s Swimming Club Gold Fob medal 1914 by Bernie Begley

 The industrial disputes in Australia in the 1890s caused great disruption to society and the workforce but the creation of a Federal Government uniting Australia in 1901
 started the 20th Century on an optimistic note. Workers were heartened by the creation of an old age pension in 1908 and the Harvester Decision in that same year set a
 minimum wage of 7 shillings a day for a six day week. This was a time when it seems the lot of employees was generally improving.

  Some larger employers by this time had adopted a different view of their employees. They were now encouraging their staff to view work as akin to being part of a family,
 with the employer being the head naturally, but now work was supposed to be more than just drudgery to be endured in order to get a wage that barely sustained life.
 Particularly as retail shops increased in size and hence complexity, the skill and attitude of employees was important to promote the store brand to the particular
demographic of society it targeted.

  In part this was necessary due to the large number of department stores there were then in every major city, unlike now when a couple of large stores are dominant. In
Brisbane these stores included McWhirters, Overells, T C Beirne’s, McDonnell & Easts, Bayards, Allan & Starks, Penny’s, Coles, Woolworths, Finneys to name just
those that come readily to recall.

  Each of these firms tried to develop its own esprit de corps, which they fostered in a number of ways; an annual staff picnic, staff cricket, football and other sporting
teams, even a staff magazine like the one produced from 1917 by the firm T C Beirne & Co (“The House of the People”), which they titled “We”. Clearly a title that
was designed to engender team ideals. 


  Swimming and its emphasis on Life Saving had become popular with the public in the early 1900s, so naturally retail stores also supported staff swimming clubs. These
firms initially had separate ladies and mens swimming clubs because until 1921 Council regulations did not allow mixed bathing, and the City, Town and Shire Councils
that today form modern Brisbane, usually owned the swimming bath, some of which were located in the river.

  A 9 carat fob-style medal was engraved on the reverse, as awarded by A.& S.S.C. to A Bremner for E J Gillingwater’s Trophy for Attendance on 28-3-14; presumably
 this was award was timed as the summer season closed. The maker’s punchmark is not entirely clear but is almost certainly “C.G.I.” for the Brisbane jeweller “C G Irish”.
 The engraving of the swimming scene on the front cannot be described as great art but the scene is readily recognised even 106 years later. There are three swimmers in
 the water with their heads facing the viewer and one standing on the edge of the pool. One of the characters in the pool seems to have his (as I do not think they look feminine)
 arm up, as if swimming Freestyle. It is likely that the standing figure is wearing trunks and also a garment covering his chest. He has his arms extended from either side of
 his body, as if he is about to dive into the pool.            

On each side of the standing figure there are what look like columns. These are clearly meant to delineate the individual changing rooms/boxes where the swimmers
transformed both before and after swimming. My theory is that these are in fact the same ones as are still in place at the Spring Hill Baths, which was the first in-ground
pool in Brisbane, opening in 1886. The pool is 25 yards (23.43m) long and located within walking distance of the CBD.

 The swimming club is Allan & Stark’s Swimming Club which seems to have been formed sometime around 1913. Certainly Trove records an announcement that the Allan
& Starks Ladies’ Club was meeting in November 1915 at the Spring Hill Baths; “no competitions, coaching for beginners, competitions next week”. If this award was meant
for the Ladies club I feel it would have stated that in its title, so it is almost certainly for the men’s club.

 The donor Edward John Gillingwater worked for Allan & Starks for 29 years, and for 25 years of that time was Managing Director. He retired in 1932 and died in Brisbane
in 1942 aged 74. To give some idea of the size of the firm, it had 400 employees in 1913.

 Who is “A Bremner”, the awardee? As mentioned already I feel A Bremner was a male, which seems to be confirmed by an account of the Allan & Starks annual picnic in
1913 where “A Bremner” won the event “220 yards”, which I assume was a foot-race. Other events are described that day as for boys or for girls under 21, for  girls or for
boys  over 21 but other events are simply described as 100 YDS, 220 YDS, and I feel sure these were men’s running events.

 Queensland Births, Deaths and Marriages website shows a birth for Arthur Bremner in 1889 so he would have been about 25 in 1914, a good age to be winning foot-races
and swimming. Interestingly there was also a Bremner’s department store in Rockhampton from 1908 till around 1934. Is it possible that A Bremner came to Brisbane to refine
his knowledge in retail with one of the major Brisbane stores?  An obituary of the owner of Bremner’s in Rockhampton in 1940 shows he had a surviving son named Alexander
(not Arthur!) who was then resident in Melbourne.  In all likelihood a large Queen Street, Brisbane retailer would not have viewed a much smaller retailer located in East Street,
 Rockhampton as a direct competitor in 1914, so may have agreed to take on a young son of the owner of the store there. Although there was a train link between Brisbane and
 Rockhampton from 1903, it was still over 600km North West of Brisbane.

Unfortunately after more than 100 years, it is just speculation in the absence of any real proof of the identity of A Bremner.

Refs NLA’s Trove; Queensland BDM

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12th June 2020