The Brisbane Club may only be 115 years young, but we are one of the longest-standing mixed gender private clubs in Australia. In December 1998 President Mr Dean Prangley hosted the Extraordinary General Meeting that saw eighty-five percent of the Membership vote to welcome women into our Club. Since then, our Club has undergone a few changes. We spoke with Mr Prangley and one of our very first female Members, Dr Cherrell Hirst, about our most significant anniversary being celebrated this month, 20 years of women’s Membership, and how the club has transformed since opening our doors and welcoming women as Members.
“At the time we realised, yes, there are a number of fine business women in town and being a business club, we had to consider it seriously,” said Mr Prangley, on why his Committee chose to have the vote. “It was obvious there were a lot of extremely competent women, it was silly not including them. We had to sneak Sallyanne Atkinson in through the back door to have lunch!”
“I could only attend the Club as a guest of the Vice-Chancellor, because I couldn’t host a lunch in the Club in my own right,” said Dr Hirst, who was Chancellor of QUT at the time.
The Club was unsure if women actually wanted to join as Members. However, the EGM was an opportunity, rather than a risk, for the Club to grow with women who felt they could gain benefit from a business professionals club, to enjoy and to network. Remarkably, the vote was eighty-five percent in favour. The Members’ Dining Room was filled to the brim with Members showing their support, but also expressing their concerns. Some Members were worried they wouldn’t be able to use the Club as a sanctuary anymore, afraid they would no longer be able to relax and swear with women around.
“The concerns weren’t based on any real strength,” said Mr Prangley. “Even one of the most prominent objectors brought his secretary to lunch here the next day.”
“I found the Club very receptive to having women join,” said Dr Hirst. “We felt very welcomed as the Committee asked the female Members for advice on how to make the Club friendlier for women.”
The new women Members initiated the business centre on level 2, broadened the menu choices, and ensured better quality coffee was served. However, despite the physical changes of the Club, women joining did not affect the premise of the Club one single bit.
“Blokes could still be blokes, the ladies did their own thing, but we all mixed in and we still do,” said Mr Prangley.
The result of female membership worked out more successful than Mr Prangley’s Committee expected.
“It has been good for the Club and good for Brisbane because it gives a lot of women the opportunity to join our networks, to learn and give back to our community through mentoring, and it has made our Club more financially stronger than ever before.”
Twenty years on, we have a lot of very active women Members in our Special Interest Groups who are making a big contribution.
The Club was represented by President Ms Bronwyn Morris, and currently by Dr Sally Pitkin and Ms Theresa Moltoni OAM in our present Committee. Our Women’s Network of the Club interest group is growing with popular topical lunches each month, and our range of other interest groups organised by female convenors and sub-committee members feature guest appearances of the country’s business, government academic and community female leaders.
“Women see the Club as a function that adds to their quality of life,” said Dr Hirst. “I’ve also used the Cellar room for numerous personal and company meetings since I became a member. I love the familiarity, convenience and location.”
Looking to the future, the Brisbane Club aims to stay relevant in our progressively technological work environments. We are the only Club that represents what began as a place for leaders in workplaces to meet.
“There will always be women with corporate ambition who see great value in our Club,” said Dr Hirst.
“The Club will survive through our tradition of fellowship,” said Mr Prangley.
“Even if the idea of business changes. This is where successful people are Members, and we can’t avoid face to face business – that will always be important; working from home, from tablets and computers, that will never take away the experience of our Club.”
The Club are celebrating 20 years of women’s Membership along with 30 years in our current Clubhouse and 115 years since formation with a Cocktail Gala on Thursday 29 November, open to all Members and guests. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register your attendance.
Introducing women or men whose values align with ours into Club Membership is welcome at any time. Please contact our Membership Officer, Rachel, for more information on proposing new Members.*
*Proposers and Seconders must be an active Club Member of two or more years.