Unlocking the Past | A look back at the Cessnock Municipal Younger Set and Kit Kat Club dances of the 1930s

Young people have always sought to distance themselves, their music and their culture from those of their parents and it was no different in the past.

In May 1935 the Cessnock Municipal Younger Set formed with the aim of organising their own dances and other functions and at the same time raising money for the Children's Ward at Cessnock District Hospital. Their venue of choice was the Soldiers Memorial Hall, which still stands in Vincent Street.

The Younger Set's first dance was Monday, July 22, 1935. The mid-week night and the mid-winter temperatures were no deterrent to the large crowd which came along to dance the night away to Chris Callaghan's Orchestra. At the end of an evening of dancing, just as patrons were hungry, an 'excellent supper' was provided.

The event's success saw the Cessnock Municipal Younger Set put on regular, fortnightly Monday night dances. There was an MC, a live band, novelty games and prizes, specialised dances, finishing with the now traditional supper provided by the Ladies' Hospital Committee.

As the years went by the dances became progressively more theme-based, with ''Grand Easter Carnival Night' and 'Sports' styled parties inspiring patrons to come in fancy dress. It's tempting to ask now "How many people would regularly attend a Monday night dance in mid-winter?"

VENUE: The Soldiers Memorial Hall, now home to Cessnock Kids Preschool and Early Learning Centre, hosted the dances. Picture: Coalfields Heritage Group

VENUE: The Soldiers Memorial Hall, now home to Cessnock Kids Preschool and Early Learning Centre, hosted the dances. Picture: Coalfields Heritage Group

Around the same time the Kit Kat Klub, sometimes spelt Kit Kat Club, had started. Ken Oliver ran this Klub, with its name was most likely inspired by the wild London nightclub of the same name, which had been making waves in that city since the 1920s.

Our local version seemed to have been much tamer though, with the Kit Kat Klub's ads promising 'modern and old-time dancing'. The Klub also ran its dances at the Soldiers Memorial Hall and Chris Callaghan's Orchestra was a fixture at their Saturday night dances too. The Kit Kat Klub kept going well into the 1940s before fading away.

It was assumed by the community that behaviour at dances met a certain standard. And if it didn't? There were consequences. In the early 1930s a dance was underway at the Soldiers Memorial Hall when at the rear of the building two young men, Clifford Parker and Thomas Henderson were heard using 'indecent language'. The police were called, the men were charged, found guilty and fined £1 each in default of two days in gaol.

Kimberly O'Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library. Email kimberly.osullivan@cessnock.nsw.gov.au.

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