By Sunny Liu
Tucked away in CBD laneway Sutherland St is a little-known gentlemen’s social and charitable organisation, the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB).
The RAOB, or as the members fondly call “the Buffs”, is an ancient fraternal club originated in the UK in the 1820s with the idea of working-class men coming together “to assist a brother in need”.
Its Victorian headquarters was established at its CBD location in the 1960s and once had more than 1000 members across the state.
But today it only has around 40 active members in Victoria and is moving out of the CBD after the club sells the property at 22 Sutherland St, which is to be auctioned by CBRE on March 16.
Victorian Deputy Secretary Graeme Boden said the two-storey CBD building, home to the RAOB’s Victorian Grand Lodge, has become too large for the club.
“We simply don’t need this much space for our lodges anymore. I still remember the old days when the lodges used to be packed with people and there was barely enough standing room,” Mr Boden said.
The club has leased out the upper floor and only uses half of the space than several years before.
Mr Boden said membership and attendance had been declining over the years largely due to lack of interest from the younger generation and loss of members by death.
He said the average age of current members was around 65 and some members were well into their 80s.
“We have lost a lot of the members. Many members have died or have got very old and some just got out of the habit of attending the lodges,” Mr Boden said.
“Also changes in licensing laws, drink-driving laws and the difficulty in finding car parking in the CBD have affected attendance,” he said.
The RAOB has donated money to a range of underfunded charities, such as Make A Wish Foundation, Aussie Helpers, National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Heart Foundation.
The club has also helped relieve financial distress from its members, such as the time when a member’s house was burnt down and received financial support from the club.
The Buffs is known for its formality and ceremonial traditions at meetings.
Members are required to dress up in grand costumes covered in badges and go through a range of formal processes such as chorus at each fortnightly gathering.
Many of the RAOB’s Victorian chapter members are former tradies, who have helped with the headquarters’ renovation some years ago.
But as time goes by, the hundred-year-old building on Sutherland St has become difficult to maintain.
“Because of the age of the building and the ageing members, we don’t have the ability to maintain our Grand Lodge,” Mr Boden said.
He said the Buffs is now looking to relocate to a space in the suburbs, potentially Caulfield or Oakleigh.
“It has got to the point where we have to make the move. It’s now better for us to sell this building than to maintain it,” he said.
Mr Boden said he was concerned about the sustainability of the Buffs, as very few new members had been recruited.
“It’s very difficult to recruit new members. We need people of good character and sign-ups are referral based,” he said.
“Also we have strict dress codes and many young people don’t like the formality.”
Mr Boden said he hoped the Buffs could go on just like it had for the past two hundred years.
“We’d like for it to continue. We hope to pick up more members once we relocate. But because of the age of our members, unless we get new members, there will come a time when the Buffs can’t continue on,” he said.
The RAOB has appointed CBRE to auction the building at 12.30pm on March 16.
CBRE’s Alex Brierley said: “We are currently witnessing a generational change of ownership across the city as private families and not-for-profits alike are electing to capitalise on the strong market conditions.”
The future sale of the Buffaloes Order’s building follows recent sales of Melbourne legal families the Gallbally and O’Bryan’s office headquarters at 259 William St and the former Kozminsky Jewellery building at 421 Bourke St.