It was the rock and roll era of the 1970s when music legend Johnny O’Keefe shook the floorboards of a packed auditorium at The Fraternity Club. His distinctive jacket, dance shoes and vintage microphone combined to blast out the classics, such as Wild One, She’s My Baby and Shout!
Dressed to impress and with a few dance moves of his own, a young Gabe Bresolin was there to witness the historic event. With a passion for music and a love for The Frat, it was a night of fun and good times for Gabe and his youthful mates. Little did Gabe know that his ‘future wife’ was also in the audience that evening, cheering on O’Keefe’s performance in 1974.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but my wife Josie was also at that concert,” he said. “It was a fantastic night. My wife and I often talk about that we were at the same event. Luckily, I met her not too long after. We’ve been married for over 40 years.” Gabe, who spent almost 10 years as a director of the club before stepping down at the start of 2020, fondly recalls the fun and fanfare of the early days at The Frat.
“It was the good old days of rock and roll. Johnny performed at the club in the current auditorium and the place was packed out. You could not move,” he said. “Over the years we have seen some of the best entertainment at the club, and if you were out to impress you would dine with food and a concert upstairs.
“I vividly remember the original club had the main dance area upstairs. Children were not allowed and would entertain themselves in the games room downstairs. “In the early 1960s the floor above those downstairs would vibrate to the rhythm of the dance beat. Many celebrations were undertaken at the club over the years – too numerous to mention.”
Born in 1950 in northern Italy, Gabe migrated to Australia with his family in 1952. He and wife Josie have two children – Melissa and Matthew – and two grandchildren – Genevieve and Apollo. The family has spent many decades socialising and dining at The Frat.
“My earliest recollections of the club were as a 10-year-old in the early 60s. We were living in Melbourne and came to the Illawarra via Griffith with relatives and friends,” he said. “My dad had two brothers living in the area and one of them (Enrico) was getting married at St John Vianney Church in December 1959.
“After the wedding, my parents flew back to Victoria and packed all our belongings, sold the house and found work here. Most of the socialising used to be done in the homes of paesani (people from the same country), but the club was where the formal socialising took place.” Gabe said his family had strong ties with the club in the early days. “Both of my parents worked at the club at various periods,” he said.
“My cousin Frank and lots of my mates learned what it took to be in the hospitality business because of The Frat. “Unfortunately, I was lured to work at Balgownie Hotel where the publican (Bill Waugh) took me under his guidance for a couple of years until I turned 18.” However, The Frat came calling.
“I joined The Frat as a member when Bill Jarvis was the Secretary Manager in 1968,” Gabe said. “Mr De Cont and Mr Savio were two of the toughest supervisors of the club and would keep any would-be troublemakers in line.
“They’d do this just by looking at you, especially when the Saturday night dances took place. “Everyone knew the dress code and if you didn’t come up to scratch, you would not be allowed in.”
Gabe also recalls the time when he was called upon to become a director at The Frat.
“Early in 2011, I got a call from Mick Cuda (President), asking if I would be interested in nominating for a position on the board,” he said.
“I had known Mick through our business dealings when my wife and I ran our Occupational Health, Safety and Training Consultancy business. “After some consideration and discussion with my wife and children, I nominated and was voted onto the board in November of that year.”
Gabe says it was a tough induction into this role, as the club was in receivership at the time and needed some strong leadership and guidance. “Getting up to speed as a director of a club in receivership was very confronting as we had no powers or functions of normal directors,” he said.
“Our purpose was to ensure that our members were being looked after, while the running of the club was the role of the receiver.” After some hard work, Gabe said the dedication of those behind the scenes was rewarded with the safe return of the club.
“I recall there was a sigh of relief when, after a lot of hard work by the president and the board, the DOCA (Deed of Company Arrangement) was put aside with the help of the members,” he said.
“Then on the night of the club’s 60th birthday, with the auditorium filled to capacity, Mick Cuda announced that the club was out of receivership and back in the hands of the members. “There were tears of joy and relief as now we could turn our club around.”
Gabe said, in 2020, the club was in a positive position to enhance its ties with the community and its members. He said recent improvements, such as the revamped foyer, La Trattoria Bistro and Il Bene Pizzeria, had added to the club’s popularity.
In early 2020, Gabe decided to finish his journey as a director of the club. “After nine years I decided to resign from the board and in January 2020 I notified Mick of my intention,” he said. “This was not any easy decision, but I wanted more time with my family, my passion for seeing more of the country, bike riding, kayaking and enjoying retirement. Many thanks for the wonderful journey.”
Throughout a strong involvement with club activities, Gabe also immersed himself in various sub-committees, including the Castagne Day organising committee, Foundation Member committee and representing the club during the allocation of Club Grants for the community.
Other highlights include the amalgamation of the Association Christmas dinners and luncheons into one function; a hands-on involvement for seven years in helping the Alpini Association and friends reach the highest roasting quantity of 1300kg of chestnuts at Castagne Day in 2019; and becoming a second-round Foundation Member while wife Josie became a Gold Member.