Sydney once boasted of one of the world’s wildest and wooliest Journalists clubs. Unique in Australia, the club owned its own city building which served as a centre for strikes, union meetings, offered literary awards, held a star studded guest speaker series and a library founded by one Australia’s leading poets and featured, lets admit it, a good deal of drinking.
Memorabilia from the Sydney club, which closed in 1997, is informing a major research project on Australian contemporary journalism history by the University of Technology Sydney.
Club members included a who’s who of Australian journalism, as well as movie stars like the iconic Chips Rafferty and Academy Award winner, Peter Finch and Prime Ministers, Robert Menzies and John Curtin.
According to veteran artist, George Sprod, the Journalists Club was “the liveliest place in Sydney at the time”. “Journalists were a gregarious lot, full of fun and games…on account of their boozing tendencies.
Arguments were frequent, sometimes erupting into beer slinging and fisticuffs, while as for the Fruit [poker] Machines…on more than one occasion a frustrated investor had been seen to lift up the offending contraption bodily and hurl it through the window into the street below.
In an attempt to show a semblance of respectability, a strict dress code was enforced by the stewards. In the early days, male journalists were told they should not wear hats inside or expose their braces outside, which apparently made them look like gangsters. In latter years they were made to wear ties. The irascible Paddy McGuinness was, as a result, once denied entrance. Paddy produced a tie and with a flourish, tied it around his head, Geronimo style. “Right,” he said” I’m wearing a bloody tie! Let me in!”.
The club was established in 1939. It closed its doors in 1997, merging with the Sydney Sports Club. This year the Sports Club closed its Journalists’ bar.
Where did it all go?
The Journalists club opened its doors with less than $140 in the bank. Forty years later it owned property and fittings worth $1.5 million and an investment portfolio worth $180,000. The building is now a block of flats.
Today all that is left is some books, photos and a few damaged paintings.
- The 1959 Archibald Prize winning painting of club president, Ray Walker
- Archived photographs including a signed portrait of Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton
- A rare framed newspaper post proclaiming “The relief of Mafeking”
- Original cartoons by Bernier, Mercier, Rafty, Sprod, Reilly and Glover
- The club wine cellar, which was founded with a carton of Hill of Grace (We’re not too hopeful here!)
- The entire Kenneth Slessor memorial library of first edition books
- The Club’s VIP visitors book with its galaxy of celebrity signatures from a Pope to director, Alfred Hitchcock