MELBOURNE PRESS CLUB
Unlike Sydney, Melbourne never had a full-time licensed Journalists’ Club. Those who worked at the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) would congregate in the back bar of the Oriental Hotel in Collins or the Phoenix Hotel in Flinders Street. Those at the Age would go for the Hotel Australia in Collins Street or Hosies in Elizabeth Street.
Just after World War II, there were some serious attempts to begin a club. There was no problem renting premises, but how could journalists exist in a club without a drink—or two or three? In wowser-ridden Melbourne, this was a hopeless quest. Any mention of liquor was electoral disaster, and no government wanted to issue a licence to a bunch of journalists.
When the 1956 Olympic Games were in the offing, the journalists appealed to the Victorian Premier Thomas Hollway, arguing that hundreds of journalists were coming to town there. The premier agreed to ‘look into it’, and nothing further happened.
That situation continued until 30 November 1971, when a group of journalists met at Leon’s Bistro in Prahran. Well-known figures included Geoff and Nan Hutton, Stuart Sayers, Lyle Tucker, Tony Whitlock and Patrick Tennison. Tennison was elected the founding president of the Melbourne Press Club, with Jim Dickinson chosen as the secretary. The first meeting was on 15 February 1972, when the editors of the three dailies—Harry Gordon of the Sun News-Pictorial, Graham Perkin of the Age and Cec Wallace of the Herald—were invited for lunch at the Southern Cross.
So the Melbourne Press Club became a lunch club, always with a speaker. It was not easy finding members—particularly among young journalists. The inevitable reaction was, ‘I get paid to hear guest speakers ranging from parliament through to Templestowe Rotary. Why should I pay to hear people blab during my time off?’ The committee responded by throwing the club open to all: clergymen, accountants, lawyers and (after some opposition) a flock of public relations types.
Rohan Rivett became president and the club steadily picked up prestige. There were speakers like Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Peter Ustinov and John Mortimer. At first the major newspapers showed zero interest. They even expected the club to give free lunches when they sent along a reporter. However, eventually John Fairfax & Sons became sponsors, followed by the HWT.
In 1976, the club started the Graham Perkin Award for Australian Journalist of the Year, the first winner of which was Denis Butler of the Newcastle Herald. Today, the winner receives $20,000. The Quill Awards began in 1995, recognising a range of achievements. They covered news, features, cartoons, photographs, sports, columns, Young Journalist of the Year, and a top award that stood above all the others: the Gold Quill. The inaugural winner was Terry McCrann of the Herald Sun.
After four decades, the club now has 500 members and attracts prestigious speakers—including, in recent times, Nelson Mandala and the Dalai Lama.
REF: K. Dunstan, Informed Sources (2001).