A house converted from an old boxing gym where fighters like Tony Mundine trained is due to go to auction but it has an older history as a hall for Druids.
A house converted from an old boxing gym where fighters like Tony Mundine trained is due to go to auction but it has an older history as a hall for Druids.

Gym turned house with bizarre link to secret society

A Newtown hall once used by a secret society of druids before becoming a legendary boxing gym and a nut factory could be starting a new chapter as a unique residence after it sells at auction.

The Wilson St property originally known as Oddfellows Hall was built in the late 1800s and will go under the hammer tomorrow with a price guide close to $2m.

The property was used as the meeting point for The Ancient Order of Druids from 1903 and was sold to boxing trainer Ernest McQuillan decades later.

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Mr McQuillan trained and managed 38 national boxing champions, including Tony Mundine, father of Anthony "The Man" Mundine.

The gym went up in flames in the 1960s and the property was later split in two, with part turned into a nut factory.

The property is now a home.
The property is now a home.

That half is currently set up as a rental home but selling agent Kate Webster said there was a strong interest from architects to transform the property into a more significant home.

"It's an architect's dream," she said. "A lot of the interest we are getting is from architects wanting a Grand Design-type project … It will be interesting to see what the next chapter will be."

The druids group were understood to be a secretive society similar to the freemasons - they were deeply involved in charitable work.

They were reported to have had 130 members when they first began using the Newtown hall and later grew to nearly 400 members.

Ernest McQuillan (right) used the property as a training gym.
Ernest McQuillan (right) used the property as a training gym.

Little has been recorded about their activities but a resident of a town in the Hunter Region later recounted an experience with local druids in her area during the 1880s as "weird".

Mary Anne Davis of Minmi near Newcastle described a night time procession of druids as walking "two abreast, all with long white beards, faces turned green with some sort of powder, and carrying flaring scrub torches."

The Newtown site was one of many friendly society lodges established in Sydney during the 19th century.

In its heyday as a boxing gym, the hall was adorned with photographs of all the successful boxers who had trained there.

Modern day Druids still practice old Celtic customs. Picture: Getty Images
Modern day Druids still practice old Celtic customs. Picture: Getty Images

Apart from Tony Mundine, who fought for a world title in Argentina in 1974 but was beaten by Carlos Monzón, some of McQuillan's other boxers were Bobby Dunlop, Jack Hassen and Clive Stewart.

The current owner - who purchased the property in 1988 for $155,000, according to property records - said there were still signs of the gym in the property today.

"You can see the old rings where they would hang up the boxing bags," she said.

The owner added that she had purchased the property in strange circumstances in the 1980s.

She had driven past the property and, noting "for sale" signs, called the agent to say she wanted to buy it thinking it was a different property.

Tony Mundine, with son Anthony, trained at the Newtown gym. Picture: Peter Wallis
Tony Mundine, with son Anthony, trained at the Newtown gym. Picture: Peter Wallis

"I thought it was the burnt out property next door," she said, adding she only discovered it was a different property after the purchase.

She established Chip-n-dale Nut Shop at the property until it closed in 2005.

Ms Webster said the rich history of the property was on full display across the two levels.

"It really is an eclectic mix of styles," she said. "There are original doors from the Commonwealth Bank Building in Martin Place, a granite benchtop from the original Star City Casino bar."

The property as it looks today.
The property as it looks today.

The property will go to auction at 3pm on Saturday. Close to 100 groups of buyers inspected it in the lead up to the auction.

Originally published as Gym turned house with bizarre link to secret society



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