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Our doors are open

Almost 150 years after it opened its doors and nearly 30 years since it allowed women to become members, the Masterton Club has appointed its first female [and youngest ever] president.

Abby Esler’s election – and that of female vice president Sandee Lidbetter – mark a new era for one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s oldest member clubs, which Esler acknowledges might still be viewed by some as a “gentleman’s only club”.

“The committee is really passionate about the club continuing,” Esler said. “And a big part of that is having a younger demographic come along.

“So they are all for young people joining the club and becoming members.”

Esler’s rise to president comes after a relatively short time as a member but a lifelong association with the club.

“I’ve had so much of my life here,” she said.

Her grandmother’s funeral, her 21st birthday, her wedding party, her dad’s 60th and her brother-in-law’s 50th – Esler has witnessed these significant events and more at the Masterton Club.

Lidbetter has been a member for over a decade and on the committee for about three years.

“Abby wanted to stand and I had her back,” Lidbetter said about her decision to put herself forward for vice president.

The arrival of Esler and Lidbetter to the top committee posts are the latest developments at a club with a long history of changing with the times. According to the club’s history published in its 1977 centenary year, it moved from “cramped, unhygienic, smelly, badly lighted and inconvenient” premises to its present site on the corner of Chapel Street and Renall St in 1905.

The total estimated cost of the relocation was £5000 [equivalent to just over $1 million today].

It weathered the Great Depression, survived the dry years of prohibition [1909 to 1946], came through relatively unscathed during the 1942 earthquake and in 1998 welcomed women members.

Women in the club’s governance can “bring a different point of view”, Esler said.

“There was a bit of a perception that the club was an old man’s club and having a younger, fresh set of eyes perhaps can be useful and help drive towards that younger demographic to keep the club going.”

For Lidbetter, her and Esler’s appointment “brings balance” to the club.

“We bring a different view to things. There’s always another side to everything and we bring balance to what’s been there for a long time,” she said.

Having women in more prominent leadership positions at the club is already having a positive impact on the demographic and diversity of the club’s membership.

Esler has “signed up a majority of my girlfriends and their husbands”, and in June, the club welcomed Georgie Green, who at 22 is the club’s youngest member.

Green, who is a laser and nail technician at Isme Permanent Cosmetics, was introduced to the club by her boss, Nicole Brown, who invited her to a casino night.

“So, I walked in and thought, ‘This is cool, I really like it’,” Green said.

“I get to talk to people I wouldn’t normally get to talk to, meet people I wouldn’t usually meet.”

Knowing Esler was president “definitely made it more comfortable” for Green to join, she said.

“As a young woman, you can feel pretty intimidated going into those kinds of situations.

“But, knowing that Abs is the president and that she is a woman and that she has her own business and she is just as capable as the others. Yeah, it definitely made it enticing to join.”

Esler also appreciates that feeling of safety at the club.

“It’s just a magic place. It’s such a little community. As a female you feel very safe in the club, everyone is friendly and you can leave your handbag on a table and it’s still there when you get back.”

Membership costs $200 a year, or $100 for those under 40 and spouses of members can join for half price.

The club boasts four full-size snooker tables, a pool table, a full bar, outdoor seating areas, and “an excellent chef,” Sharon Campbell.

For Esler, the club offers members “a place to land, a place to socialise and just catch up and debrief”, Esler said.

Green agrees: “So we go on a Wednesday. Yeah, we just go and catch up. It’s a nice time to put aside in your working week, to wind down and catch up with your mates.”

While Esler and Lidbetter are at the helm, the Masterton Club message is clear: “Our doors are open. Come and check us out.”

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