History of Chamber
Whenever something of significance was to occur, the Chamber of Commerce swung into action. In 1928, it organised a reception for Bert Hinkler to commemorate the first solo flight from England to Australia and in 1929, the Chamber was instrumental in having Parramatta proclaimed a city.
In 1930 it arranged buses to bring people to town from outlying districts. Some old-timers even cheekily claim that Parramatta carnival events were the forerunners of the Mardi-Gras. In 1933 the chamber hosted a ‘back to Parra’ week being a procession with floats observed by thousands and described in the Sydney Morning Herald as an occasion where everyone had a, ‘gay old time.’ The Chamber was incorporated in 1947. In the 1950’s it actively campaigned for the construction of an Olympic Pool in Parramatta Park and it successfully lobbied to have the Lord Mayoralty bestowed on the city. Ultimately this was done by the Queen in 1988. Alan Hyam was the first Lord Mayor with that honour.
But the real meaning of the proverb, being, different paths can take one to the same goal, might be said to have guided the Parramatta Chamber of Commerce in its 104 years of operation.
Whoever has not heard of Parramatta certainly must surely not live in Sydney or more likely, on the Eastern Seaboard. The famous Parramatta Eels four premierships and six times runners-up, as recently as 2009, give us a break!
Juxtaposed just thirty five minutes by train from Central and one and a half hours by ferry, along the Parramatta River from Circular Quay, it could be a world away for all its autonomy and unique disposition.
And the Chamber of Commerce is rightly proud of its stewardship in making Parra the cornerstone of Greater Western Sydney even if not quite ‘the hub of the universe’ a phrase coined for Parramatta in the early twentieth century when the river was its commercial lifeline to and from Australia’s largest city.
Conceptualised in 1911, the inaugural meeting of the Chamber was in February 1912 and its first President was Walter Jago, who then held office as the Mayor of Parramatta.
Fundamentally the Chamber of Commerce strives to preserve free enterprise protecting the interests of business people in the community and encouraging its members to do business with each other.
But throughout the years it has expanded its subsidiary roles in a community sense. Over a twenty year period in more recent times, it has raised nearly half a million dollars, $20,000 to $30,000 per annum for the “President’s Fund”, out of which are grants made to worthy charities.
The Chamber has never depended on government grants or funding, a matter of great pride to its members and of course has kept the Chamber on its toes knowing that each buck starts and continues with their enterprise in raising it.
The Chamber’s history involves a fascinating exegesis. Just think of it for a moment. It arranged the first shopping week in Parramatta in 1912. That was not accomplished by a Town Crier walking down Church Street ringing a bell to summon anyone who happened by, or even the President of the Chamber acting in that role.
No, this was social media early twentieth century style as in face-to-face persuasion rather than Facebook chatter and, as in major papers when people feasted on local news. It was the forerunner of many such successful ventures attended by thousands.
Many businesses have had a long association with the Chamber. For example, Jackson Optical came on board in 1965.
The first paid employee joined the Chamber in 1992 and its first female President Betty Barrie, was elected in 1993.
Des Kennedy at 91 is probably the oldest surviving past President. His son-in-law, Norm Owens, was a Vice President and through his initiative, and the Chamber’s support, he developed a multi award winning program called, “Australian Business Week” a 100 per cent Parramatta concept.
This was not the only ‘family dynasty’ with which the Chamber has been blessed. Paula Roden has stepped down after eighteen committed years as secretary and executive officer.
This association became a great success over many years propelling the Chamber into significant prominence at all levels of government, Federal, State and Local.
The development was a welcome change, after a period where there was a perception that the Chamber was anti-council. Ultimately, this led to an improved relationship with the Council, greater cooperation and a better scope for improving services for members.
There have been many challenges over the years especially at times when government action has impinged on the costs of doing business. One notable issue was the parking levy introduced by the State government in Sydney and extended beyond the CBD.
The Chamber fought the levy tooth and nail because of the costs imposed on its members with the levy flowing through from the Council, into the rental agreements and down to the lessees. Ultimately this issue was lost in principle although the Chamber strived for and secured a reduced rate.
On the local political front the chamber has lobbied for the election by popular vote of the Lord Mayor and the extension of his term beyond one year which it is at present. Along the journey, there have been many significant initiatives of the Chamber, all calculated to inspire confidence in its members, provide opportunities to ‘meet and greet’ and to be informed.
The Awards for Business Excellence is another project that has played a significant role in allowing the Chamber to take on other projects and provide extended services.
Business After Fives was established and remains to this day one of the most popular events in the Chamber’s calendar.
Another very important event fostered by theChamber bringing the business community and the council together is the annual Lord Mayor’s “State of the City”, address. In 2015 this function was attended by over 300 business people keen to hear of what had been achieved and future plans at Local and State level for the city of Parramatta.
Past President Roger Byrne reflects on the last five years as a Board member and two years since taking on the role as President “Our attitude has been to position the Chamber as the ‘go to’ place for businesses thinking of coming to Parramatta
and keeping those that are here. We advocate and lobby on their behalf to all levels of government.”
He cited Business After Fives as still one of the most popular events on the calendar, the last such function attracting 185 attendees.
The first female president of the chamber Betty Barrie was strongly behind the return of focus to the river as was the previous Lord Mayor Councillor John Chedid.
The Chamber’s website has been a tremendous initiative providing members with instant access and a veritable wealth of information at their disposal.
At Circular Quay there is the Parramatta Ferry, a rich source of tourism potential there and on hand for anyone visiting Parramatta, yet strangely, an observer might say that it seems a little under utilised in that respect.
Keeping Parramatta buzzing was and remains the theme running through every activity of the chamber and its worthy servants of many years. That is the challenge for the Parramatta of the future, one that the Chamber of Commerce recognises and is happy to work harder to address.