Whenever Mario Sartori attends The Fraternity Club, he makes a soulful journey down a quiet corridor to view a pictorial history of the club.
It is here that he reconnects with his late father and uncle, whose photographs hang proudly on the wall. With a wide smile and a teary eye, Mario’s heart beats with pride and admiration as he immerses himself in a lifetime of memories.
His favourite photograph depicts his father and uncle – alongside other foundation members – working in singlets and laying bricks. The photograph is dated 1954, when the club’s founders used bare funds and hands to build a club based on friendship and socialisation.
“I feel nothing but pride in what this group built,” he says.
Mario, 63, is the eldest son of the late Geatano Sartori, and he along with his uncle Camilo Filippi are foundation members of The Fraternity Club. “My father loved The Fraternity, catching up with fellow Vicentini (a province of Verona, Italy), playing cards and talking about the old country,” Mario said.
“But most of all he looked forward to Saturday nights upstairs at the club, dancing with my mother Adelina and to the music of Con and the Latin Beats.” It was the weekly dancing events that would shape Mario’s life. “My first date with my wife Deanna – who is an Aussie girl – was at The Fraternity and, yes, it was upstairs dancing,” he said.
“This was her introduction to the Italian way of life, which changed her life as we married and she became part of Italian-Aussie family. “Deanna loves the movie Wog Boys because it reminds her of times our family of five would come together, hands going everywhere and everyone talking at the same time.”
Mario said it would become a tradition with family and friends to attend the club for dancing on a Saturday night – something his parents loved too. “I remember the boys would wear suits and ties, polished shoes and after-shave,” he said. “The girls would wear their best dresses, make-up and lipstick and not a hair out of place.
“But this was not restricted to the younger generation, as mums and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers would dress up and channel the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in them.
“Once the music started the boys would gather enough courage to ask the girls if they would like to dance. “As the night drew to an end, staff would bring out bread rolls with ham and salami, and these quickly disappeared once the band sang their last song.
“I wonder how many couples met at The Fraternity on a Saturday night over the years!”
Mario also shared other fond memories of growing up and attending The Fraternity.
“My early memories were when the men played bocce and then there was the big timber bar at the club,” he said. “I refer to it as the Cheers bar, as it reminded me so much of the bar in the television series Cheers.
“I recall the men playing cards and that I could never understand the pictures on the cards.
“It was a place where the Italian community would come to catch up and share a drink. “My sister had her wedding reception upstairs as many couples did back then. There were also picnics that were organised by the Vicentini. We would go to Cataract Dam where food and wine flowed, and everyone would have a great day.”
Mario also recalled a time when the club almost slipped into receivership and the positive involvement during difficult times from his late brother Adrian. “He was one of many benefactors who donated money to keep the club from closing,” he said. “He also grew up at The Fraternity and had a passion for the club. Unfortunately, he did not see the club survive and to see where it is today.
“This made me realise that The Fraternity is more than a club – we have a bond to the past and to the present, which we should all cherish. “It is a credit to the current board that they have brought the club into the future with the new dining room and pizza area."
“The club is inviting, and you feel at home as soon as you enter the doors while still respecting the past. So, when I go to The Fraternity today, I go and say hello to my dad and uncle whose photo hangs in the corridor and I feel nothing but pride.”