“My wife is happy that there are no other women here,” claimed one younger member speaking against women members, while a more senior one reflected his difficulty in answering questions he had faced in recent times about “what goes on here that men need to do only with other men … being boorish after a few drinks perhaps?”
But several long-term members of Sydney’s oldest and most elite private gentleman’s institution said they would leave The Australian Club if women were not allowed to join them “shoulder to shoulder” as fully-fledged participants in an organisation they say still “has many merits” in the 21st century.
“I don’t think I will have any choice but to cancel my membership, that is not something I want to do. But really, how could one continue to be involved in an organisation that refuses to reflect the standards of society around it?” one member, who would only speak anonymously, told the Herald shortly before Tuesday morning’s historic vote.
Members are actively discouraged from speaking about their membership. However, its secretive policies have been thrust into the spotlight since moves began two years ago to push for women to join.
Another member, who has been at the club for over a decade, expressed concerns not only on male exclusivity, but also the racial profile of membership, which remains dominated by Australians of Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Race was also raised in an extraordinary letter circulated among a large portion of the club’s estimated 3000 members sent out a fortnight ago by former Federal Court judge Peter Graham, a staunch advocate for maintaining the men-only status quo.
However, other members have since described his letter as an “embarrassment”.
“You don’t see a lot of Asian faces … just look at the names of the members …. Howard, Hughes, Packer, Turnbull …. you don’t see many Lis or Zhangs,” another member said in relation to that letter.
“My wife and sons do not hold my membership at that club in very high esteem … if the Australian Club can’t take a great leap into the 20th Century at least …let alone the 21st Century … then I don’t think I will be able to continue with it,” he added. “And that will be a great pity because it is still a very good club for people who have achieved a level of success … and you won’t get a better steak or oysters anywhere in Sydney.”
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