Getting a buff-up

Buffalo Club secretary manager Lyn Gray and new president Darren Dell. Photo by Pip Waller

FREMANTLE’S Buffalo Club is charging horns first into 2021 with a new social club president at its reins. 

Seven-year-long member Darren Dell was recently sworn into the top job after former president Paul Vincenti stepped down due to a family illness. 

It also ushered in a restructure of the club’s committee after two long-termers stepped down. 

The heritage-listed Buffalo Club opened in 1938 and has transitioned from a male-only social club to a one-of-a-kind, staple bar on Fremantle’s High Street. The club’s traditions originate from the Royal Antediluvian Order of the Buffalos, and members from three different lodges meet upstairs every second Sunday. With the iconic long bar, dark green carpet and framed pictures of life members on display, the club is drenched in character and boasts 200 members – some of whom have been on the books for 40 years.

Secretary manager Lyn Gray began as an office girl 30 years ago. 

“I could sit down and write a book about everything that’s happened at the Buffalo Club and it could become a best seller and then a movie,” she laughs.

Ms Gray recalls a kitchen fire some 20 years ago; it wasn’t enough to dislodge the lodge members who refused to evacuate until they’d finished their pints.

Fremantle’s social clubs have faded in recent decades and only the Navy Club and the Buffs still hold CBD property; the Fremantle Club, Workers Club and Wyola Club have all sold their digs, but Ms Gray said her mob are holding up their own financially. 

After an enforced Covid-19 closure, memberships, functions, bar sales and Fremantle council’s Hidden Treasures music series have helped keep the Buffalo’s head above water. But with older members starting to disappear, Ms Gray admits the club needs to bring in a younger demographic.  

“We’re trying to get younger members in, but at the moment they don’t seem to be interested because we’re not a night club,” Ms Gray told the Herald.  

Which is where Mr Dell, a multi-skilled merchant seaman comes in, already donating voluntary maintenance to bring the club back up to scratch as his first presidential act.

to trial a few things to give the younger generation a bit more incentive to be here,” Mr Dell told the Herald. 

Part of this trial will be to refurbish the upstairs of the club, which Mr Dell has already begun. 

Mr Dell plans to replace the Buffalo’s infamous green awning with a light grey version more in keeping with the building’s heritage. 

“The upstairs has sat empty for at least 20 years and has pretty much fallen apart. Part of my goal with the upstairs is to renovate the function area and the dance floor.” 

The Buffalo social club is a not-for-profit organisation, relying heavily on the time and efforts of the committee and its members to keep running.

Mr Dell is looking to introduce more tradesman-skilled committee members to assist with the renovation of the club’s upstairs area. 

The committee is also hoping to revive the club’s social media platforms (its last Facebook post was from a very distant 2013) as well as bring in a chef to revive the closed kitchen. 

Ms Gray has also squashed rumours the top floor of the club had been sold, although it’s been closed to the general public for some time.

“We could possibly lease the top as it definitely has potential as a unique space for functions, but we’re not selling it,” Ms Gray said.

“We’ve had potential buyers in the past, but we’ve made the decision to start doing something with the place by doing it up.”  

Ms Gray reiterates a strong desire to maintain the club’s family feel amongst the introduction of a younger demographic. 

“The members here are on the older side and to them being here is like being with family. This is their home.  

“Everyone knows everyone and as soon as a member walks in the girls behind the bar know their drink order straight away.” 

Recently, Eskimo Joe filmed an interview using the unique character of the club’s upstairs, which brought in some revenue.

A film crew also used the space as a backdrop for a short documentary to showcase the retro style of the long bar.   

Mr Dell hopes to make a positive impact on the club despite some current members’ nervousness about change: “I’m here to represent the members, if they have any issues or want to raise something they can come to me. I’m very approachable. “I’ve got a vision for the Buffalo Club. It’s time to move forward and make this place better.” 

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