Governor General Quentin Bryce has flattened many a gender barrier throughout her career –one of the first women admitted to the bar in Queensland, the second to be Governor of Queensland and clearly the first GG to a wear pink twinset and pearls — but she has yet to face the old boys club alive and well in Melbourne’s CBD.

Barry Everingham, who comments on all matters royal, has confirmed to Crikey the appointment of a woman as GG would pose a problem for the exclusive men-only Melbourne Club, home of Victoria’s wealthy and powerful gents. “It is a club tradition to offer honorary membership to the Governor General”, he said.

Bryce was sworn in as GG less than two weeks ago, her staff told Crikey: “The GG receives offers of a large number of memberships and invitations and she’s been too busy to consider them at this stage. We’re not aware of anything from the Melbourne Club.”

Sexism in the elite gentlemen’s clubs of Melbourne has recently been brought into the spotlight with the resignation of several prominent members of the Athenaeum Club after members voted to keep women out.

The Athenaeum Club describes itself as “Confident in its heritage and traditions, yet enlightened and contemporary in its outlook”, but members rejected Victorian Chief Commissioner of Police Christine Nixon on the grounds that she is a woman.

Senior diplomat and former Athenaeum Club member Ian Wilcock told The Weekend Australian he had lost heart, “I find I have very limited patience for trying to coax people into the 1970s.”

Gentlemen’s clubs originated in England in the 1600s, becoming popular in Britain and her colonies in the mid 19th century. Their initial purpose was networking for the elite power-brokers, intellectuals and nobility in times when women were not granted such positions in society. Many have changed with the times and women have been members of clubs in the United States and the UK since the 1980s — the original Athenaeum Club in London voted to admit women in 2002.

Australia has a fair share of such clubs including the Weld Club in Perth, the Australian Club in Melbourne and Sydney, the Savage Club in Melbourne, as well as the aforementioned Melbourne Club and Athenaeum — which has an outpost in Hobart — all only accept male members.

Women-only clubs and organizations, such as the Country Women’s Association, the Lyceum Club and Alexandria Club, do exist in this country but none serve the same social networking and power — brokering purpose as these elite gentlemen’s clubs.

The Athenaeum’s breakaway group of members who would like to see women admitted, wrote a discussion paper for the club, stating:

The Athenaeum Club was founded to provide a venue for civic, business, academic and political leaders of Melbourne. While such leaders may have been predominantly men in the past, this is no longer the case. Such leaders who also happen to be women should also be admitted. To do otherwise is to relegate the club to decreasing engagement with this city and country.

The Melbourne Club, whose ranks include Archbishop Denis Hart, Andrew Peacock, Barry Jones and Kevan Gosper, is much more private than the Athenaeum, lacking even a website. Crikey was unable to find out if any debate on s-x and membership has taken place there, or if the Governor General will be extended honorary membership this time.

Peter Fray

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