It wasn't so long ago that Australia's gentlemen clubs were regarded as havens of privilege, power and money. As late as 1994, the Liberal Party anointed its new leader in a private room at the Melbourne Club on Collins Street, where party president Tony Staley told Alexander Downer the job could be his.

Not that the blue-blooded South Australian, who belongs to the exclusive Adelaide Club, was able to hang onto his prize for long.