Campbelltown Catholic Club community liaison and history buff Jeff McGill is catching up with a diverse selection of identities at ‘The Catho’. His latest face-to-face is with the newest member of our Board of Directors.

If you don’t recognise Julie Puckrin, you might recognise her maiden name.

She’s a daughter of Noel Burton, a long-serving and highly respected club chairman who died twenty years ago.­­

If his name doesn’t ring a bell with younger members: Noel’s the bloke who opened the big new-­look Club extensions in 1994, acquired historic Quondong, built the underground carpark, and then helped to plan for The Cube, Aquafit and Rydges.

Julie Puckrin and her father Noel Burton, former Club chairman

But the subject of this interview is Julie, so we met for lunch and I quickly discovered she is very much her own Burton.

It’s the little things you notice at first. Like how courteous she is to club staff. That, I suspect, is because she was once one of them, working at the bar, picking up glasses and cleaning ashtrays. So, when she talks about things like vision and heritage, they don’t come across as slick catchphrases but as something surprisingly grounded.

Her daughters, Olivia and Sophie, are sitting nearby with a group of other kids painting Easter eggs. It’s Sunday lunchtime and the place is packed due to the bistro being rebuilt, with large parts of it boarded up.

‘When we finish our redevelopment there will be another great area for kids,’ Julie enthuses. ‘So important for a family club, and the bistro sits at the heart of that — it will really freshen things up.’

We’re joined by Julie’s mother, Mary, a beaming club pioneer who insists on buying our drinks. She’s member 208 — and, to put that in perspective, the Club now has more than 50,000 members.

Mary tells us the power of the Club in the early days was bringing people together. ‘Campbelltown was opening up with its housing estates in the 1960s and a lot of us had moved here from other parts of Sydney, so we all had to support each other through the schools, sport — and club.’

Julie’s own Campbelltown childhood brimmed with happy memories.

Those were the days of the late 1970s and early 1980s when the Catho had an inground swimming pool and barbecue area. ‘The steaks would be going on the hotplate, our parents were chatting, and we’d be running around and jumping in the pool with fifty other kids. The pool was always warm,’ she laughed, ‘I don’t want to know why.’

Those glory days of pool and barbie ended in 1986 when Campbelltown Council resumed that spot and turned it into busy Kellicar Road. But the family focus of the Catho remained intact when the bistro area was delicensed to make it free for all family uses.

Julie — the only current board member who has young children — hopes to entrench that family vibe into the future. ‘I’ve been talking to our wonderful marketing people about different ideas, and more events for children. It’s such a perfect spot: you can leave home in a rainy day, drive into an underground carpark, and bring the kids into a safe area without getting wet.’

Sophie and Olivia bring over some of the Easter crafts they’d been painting, impressing mum and ‘Ma’ (Mary), and unknowingly reinforce the point Julie had just made.

Over lunch, some tasty pork rolls, our minds drift away from the food court to Smith’s Creek Reserve in Campbelltown East. Julie and I, we discover, grew up just a few streets away from each other and played in the same bushland wonderland as kids, nodding our heads to shared memories. Trees, hidden tracks, rainbow lorikeets and water dragons. ‘Such a free childhood.’ She smiled. ‘To think we’d spend a whole day in the bush and mum would come to the top and yell out ‘tea’s ready’ — most parents wouldn’t let kids roam like that today.’

Julie went to St John’s Primary School and then John Therry High School (now called College) and, as we chat, the names of old club identities pop up: Bernie McGrath, Bill Meehan, Paul O’Loughlan, Ron and Bruce McDonald.

Bruce’s son, Dave, is now the Club chairman but years ago he too worked at the bar. I asked Julie about her years as a staffer here.

‘It was when I was at uni,’ she said. ‘For five years. On the bar at first, but I wasn’t very good at pouring beers so I did everything from picking up glasses to working in the pokies. It was the other people I worked with, or got to know as customers, that made it so good. I didn’t really have a social life because I was busy doing a law degree and working every Friday or Saturday night, so that became my social life. Sometimes we’d have get-togethers after work and go out together… And the money I earned at the club helped me pay for travel overseas. My brother, Tom, also worked here and my sister, Emma, is still working here in the HR section.’

Julie remembers the introduction of the first official staff uniforms in 1991. (How many other long-time club members recall that original blue and white striped uniform with a red tie?)

After getting her law degree, Julie worked in the Crown Solicitors department in Sydney for many years, but when her daughters came along, she wanted to work closer to home and joined Caldwell Martin Cox at Camden. ‘I now work four days a week – Employment, wills, estates.’ The Elderslie house she shares with her family was almost flooded in the recent downpours. ‘The water came up to across the road, and the police came knocking telling us to prepare to evacuate. Luckily, we didn’t have to, and thankfully the rain has now stopped, at least for now.’ She added. ‘That’s why my husband hasn’t joined us at lunch today; he’s back home grabbing a sunny day to mow the grass.’

Ian Puckrin is well liked in club circles, known for loving a good chat. ‘My husband is a very good and supportive partner on the social front,’ Julie said. ‘My mum supported my dad in the same way for many years, and now Ian is in the so-called ‘wives’ group’ and waiting for me as I run off to attend meetings. The whole family is so supportive.’

As Mary grabs some ‘Ma’-time with her granddaughters, Julie and I pop up to the club’s boardroom. Here is where all the funding decisions are made: such as the recent one to donate more than $1 million to local schools and community groups despite all the recent lockdowns and trading restrictions.

Julie tells me about her course with the Australian Institute of Company Directors, so important in these days of strict corporate governance, but the emotional side of a proud ‘Catholic Club girl’ is clearly evident as she looks through old photos of club life, some with her dad.

‘I feel so honoured to be involved,’ she said. ‘I still feel the heartbeat of the club even though it has changed so much. Whatever contribution I can make through the board process I’m pleased to be able to do and try my hardest to keep that feeling going… I still love walking through the doors.

‘I also love being on the board with people like Dave [McDonald], we’ve come through the club, and have a deep love for the club — not just seeing it as a business, but a community space and a welcoming place to bring your families. Ideally, I would’ve loved to have served with Mary Ellen Bland (the first women director, who recently retired) but I’ll continue on her tradition and hopefully we’ll have more women directors.’

As we return downstairs, Julie gets chatting near the entrance.

‘The long hours I’ve spent sitting with barristers and waiting for courts has taught a love of speaking to people and talking about their lives,’ she smiled as she rejoins me. ‘I love hearing what people think about their club.’

We meet up with Mary and the girls and I grab a quick photo of them together outside the club.

The upshot? Although Julie is very much her own person, she’s also a chip off the old block with a lot of Noel’s passion. And a large dose of Mary’s welcoming embrace. And, once again, it’s the little things you notice: like her moist eyes as she looks through club archives.

Photos, from the moment they’re taken, belong to the past. But Julie also sees a future. A bright one. The best of both worlds.


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A Drink with Jeff | Peter Barron