How it all began
In late 1980 the founder and owner of the Sydney Star newspaper (which he had started the year before) the late Michael Glynn had a brain child, “to establish an association of business people to promote the interests of gay business”
“I was first introduced to the Gay Business Association (GBA) in 1983 and have been a member since 1984 so I am able to address you today with experience and first-hand knowledge of the organisation.”*
-* The author, Ian McLean, is a retired business man, Life Member of the SGLBA and was the founding director of Sound Affair. He is well known in Sydney’s gay and lesbian community with a long history as a DJ at community dances. This address was given on the 30th November 2015 at the Pride in Diversity Conference.
Interestingly, the “Star” was originally loaned seed money by the legendry Pollys club and it later became the Green Park Observer and finally as we know it today, The Star Observer.
It was his challenge to get people interested and bring the subterranean gay community to the surface and form an out and proud vibrant gay business community.
He advertised in his “Star” newspaper and invited interested parties to attend a dinner in a Restaurant in Albion Street Surry Hills.
Subsequently 30 – 40 attended.
Speakers included :
- The late Michael Glynn who chaired the meeting and spoke encouragingly of what might be achieved.
- The late Lex Watson who spoke on the Politics.
- Philip Chown who spoke on the potential of such an association to benefit the gay community.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Star Observer
The inaugural meeting culminated in Formation meetings the first in early 1981 and in July 1981 at the Albury Hotel.
A Constitution on which Philip Chown and John Marsden had collaborated was adopted at this July meeting.
- The Foundation President – Michael Glynn was elected
- Vice Presidents – John Marsden (Senior Partner of Marsdens Lawyer) and Lee Jennings – partner of The Albury Hotel
- Secretary – Tim Wilson (Lawyer at Marsdens)
- Treasurer – Phillip Chown – (a law student at the UNSW)
This was also at the time of the reign of the Labor Wran Government.
At this point in time in Sydney’s social history, it was about the beginning of the emergence of the independently owned gay hotels being the likes of the Albury, Flinders and Beresford Hotels and later the Oxford Hotel.
The Albury Hotel, owned by Lee Jennings and Nanette Theakstone was amongst the first independent establishments not run or controlled by Abe Saffron and Dawn O’Donnell.
Going forward it was decided that the format for future events would start off with a regular monthly meeting with an invited prominent guest speaker to be held on the last Monday of the month.
The subsequent first dinner meeting was held at the Albury Hotel followed by a meeting at a restaurant owned by two Lesbian women near the Balkan Restaurant in Oxford Street.
Other early venues for the regular last Monday of the month dinner meetings included a meeting room upstairs at The Round House at The UNSW and the Beresford Hotel.
It was at a meeting at the Round House that I saw Dawn O’Donnell who was not a member.
The 1982 elected Committee was:
- President – Michael Glynn
- Vice Presidents – John Marsden and Denise Coleman (Real Estate Agent)
- Secretary – Tim Wilson
- Treasurer – Phil Chown
In October 1982 the Gay Business Association launched the first Fair Day organised by Rob Cooper a former Councillor of the Sydney City Council. It was held in Shannon Reserve next to the Clock Hotel in Crown Street Surry Hills and was a very successful day and at the end featured “mud wrestling” much to the excitement of the large crowd.
The event subsequently outgrew the area and was moved to Green Park across from St. Vincent’s Hospital where the closure of Darlinghurst Road from Oxford to Burton Street provided a great atmosphere and area for street stalls.
A Gay Fair at the “Wall” – Very apt really!
Mud wrestling continued as a popular feature and at some stage became more sophisticated and was changed to “The wet Speedo” competition!
Apparently some participants later hooked up after such a basic opportunity of physical networking!
The Gay Business Association Committee found their limited resources were making it difficult to continue organising this very popular and growing annual event.
They negotiated with the Mardi Gras Committee who agreed to take it over and hold the annual event as a part of the February Mardi Gras Festival after which Fair Day really grew into what it is today, a focal point of the Mardi Gras Festival calendar.
The Mardi Gras Gay Fair was subsequently held at the large Park known as the Bicentennial Park at the end of Glebe Point road before it grew into Victoria Park and is still at this great location.
The Gay Business Association should be proud that the success of this Iconic Annual event is still a major part of the Gay Calendar after 33 years and of course something the SGLBA still actively support and participate in every year.
The 1983 Elected Committee was:
- President – Ray Israel
- Vice Presidents – John Marsden and Moira Outterside.
- Secretary – Tim Wilson
- Treasurer – Phil Chown
It is interesting to know that the association established their “Good Works Fund” all those years ago when donations of only $200 were the order of the day.
At these initial meetings it was the policy for all guests to introduce themselves by rotation around the tables and announce their name and their profession – hence the dawn of the GBA networking initiatives.
In 1983 the first GBA Gay Business Directory was established by committee member Rob Wardell – some members and their businesses did not wish to be identified in a published gay directory.
Other significant members at this time were Geoff Quinn and Bruce Pollack, John Donahoe, Terry Goulden of the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service and his partner John Greenway and the late Don Smith.
For many years the firm of Marsdens in Paddington provided a telephone booking service for the monthly dinners –
“Phone Linda at Marsdens” until this was taken over by D. A. Coleman Real Estate in 1994.
Tim Wilson the solicitor in charge of the Paddington Office of Marsdens served for many years as the association’s secretary and ensured the smooth continuity of the monthly dinner meetings and Marsdens generously provided a place for the committee to meet in their meeting room.
It became obvious that the need for a regular central venue that could cater for the dinner meetings was very important.
The 1984 Elected Committee was:
- President – Phil Chown
- Vice President – John Schofield
- Secretary – Tim Wilson
- Treasurer – Bob Whyte
About 1984 a more permanent venue was found at Trethaway Gardens – a wedding reception Centre in Stanmore and that was the time I first joined the GBA as a member.
Later the Function Room off Pelican Street at The Koala Oxford Hotel became a more convenient venue and was able to cater for our larger dinners.
One of the largest dinner meetings held there was when David Marr addressed us and spoke about the biography he had published about his friend, the author Patrick White.
Other significant speakers but not in chronological order included,
- Dr Andrew Refshauge – Deputy Premier;
- John Hannaford – Attorney General;
- Michael Kirby – President of the Australian Law Reform Commission;
- Rodney Groom 1994 – Tasmanian Gay Rights activist;
- Fred Miller – Member for Bligh;
- Lesley Walford – interior designer;
- Professor Ron Penney – who broke the news at the meeting about a new mysterious disease that was related to the Gay Community and about the initial studies of AIDS in Australia;
- Dr Julian Goldberg – Albion Street Clinic.
The 1986 Committee was:
- President – Linda Pace
- Vice Presidents – John Donohoe and Harold Charmitz
- Secretary – Larry Vincent
- Treasurer – John Schofield
Various guest speakers over the many years of other Dinner Meetings included,
- David Marr – editor of the National Times newspaper in 1980;
- John Barraclough – member for Bligh;
- Clover Moore – Alderperson Sydney City Council;
- Bernard King – flamboyant gay television personality;
- Vic Smith – Mayor of South Sydney Council;
- Lord Mayor Frank Sartor – Sydney City Council;
- Andrew Refshauge – Deputy Premier of NSW;
- Michael Knight – Member for Campbelltown and later Minister in charge of the Sydney Olympic Games;
- Kathryn Greiner – wife of NSW Premier;
- Sheryl Kernot – after she defected from the Democrats to join Labor;
- Amanda Vanstone – Liberal shadow Attorney General.
The high Calibre of the Guest Speakers at our Dinners was significant and the “GBA”, as it was affectionately known and had a reputation as a safe forum for major business, community and political leaders to address the gay community in a friendly and welcoming environment.
We became the gay equivalent of the National Press Club with a broad range of people from all walks of life addressing members over dinner each month and often taking questions and answering them off the record!
Meet the Candidates
Another initiative of the Gay Business Association was to hold a dinner meeting to “Meet the Candidates” for forthcoming state and federal elections. These proved very popular and an excellent and challenging forum for candidates to get their policies out to the gay community.
This was eventually superseded when the Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby started doing this regularly.
A Dark Chapter
In the period between 1987 and 1989 there was no committee of the Gay Business Association and it had lost direction mainly due to the effect the onset of the HIV epidemic on the community and the large amount of time people were spending on the support infrastructure for HIV related community needs.
In particular the GBA suffered from the absence of an experienced committee and the organisational skills of Tim Wilson of Marsdens who had fallen ill with the virus.
Basically all activities had ceased and interest was waning.
Eventually the previous treasurer, Phil Chown who was still a signatory of the GBA Bank account and in conjunction with John Schofield who was the association’s honorary accountant, arranged a meeting with several other ex-committee members and they decided to donate the residue of funds (under $2000) to an HIV charity.
Fortunately, they changed their mind and decided instead to give the association one last shot.
A cocktail party with the balance of the funds to provide refreshments and finger food was planned to be held at the Midnight Shift inviting people who may be interested in the future of the Gay Business Association.
Over 100 people attended and superb catering was enjoyed by all with many previous members re-joining and keen to participate in the ongoing success of the organisation.
A new committee was elected.
- President – Warren Curtis
- Vice President – Graham Earp
- Secretary – Phil Chown
- Treasurer – John Schofield
The rejuvenated GBA recommenced its monthly dinner meetings.
Over one hundred members and Guests attended a dinner meeting at the Raddison Hotel that is now the Holiday Inn in Victoria Street Potts Point when Leo Schofield was our guest speaker.
The rebuilt Kings Cross Rex Hotel provided an up market venue when we were once again addressed by Michael Kirby who pointed out the window across the park to the El Alamein Memorial Fountain and told us that was where he had met his life-long partner!
Another memorable night was when we were addressed by the legendary bar owner Dawn O’Donnell at The Southern Cross Hotel in Goulburn street.
On that occasion she explained that she never ever achieved licensing concessions for her venues by any cash changing hands.
In each case she explained that she did her own investigations and simply sought and found the name of an amenable influential officer who could be assisted with the likes of say – his mortgage payments.
Guests found it hard to restrain their laughter!
Other memorable speakers at that venue also included Michael Kirby, who on a later return visit suggested to one of our committee members that he thought it may be a good time to “come out” publicly.
The committee member boldly suggested no – not yet wait till you are appointed to the High Court!
Kirby of course was subsequently appointed to the High Court of Australia and did in fact come out publicly whilst serving on the High Court of Australia which is Australia’s highest appeals court and our constitutional court.
Michael Kirby is today regarded as one of Australia’s 100 living national treasures.
Gay Business & Lifestyle Expos
In 1992 under the stewardship of the President Warren Curtis, the Gay Business Expo was launched.
The Inaugural event was held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Double Bay and the following year at the Hyatt Hotel in Kings Cross.
This was a very well attended event with businesses having the opportunity of marketing, displaying and discussing from allocated stalls, their business activities with members of the Gay Community and public.
Subsequently the event was held at the Centrepoint Convention Centre.
A few years later in August 1994 with a plebiscite, members the GBA changed its name to the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Business Association (SGLBA).
With a new constitution required, it took until 11th June 1998 at a Special General Meeting at the “Y” On the Park Conference Centre in Oxford Street, for the name change to be formally adopted.
At the 1994 AGM Jeannie Little was the Post Dinner Speaker and also provided “Jeanie Little Style “ entertainment with a rendition of Cole Porter’s “I get a Kick out of you” performed in wild leather and chains which was received by rapturous applause.
In 1994 the elected committee was,
- President – Geoffrey Williams
- Vice Presidents – Rosemary Hopkins, Andrew Dobson & Graham Earp
- Secretary – Grant Galvin
- Treasurer – John Hull
At the October 1994 Dinner, Carol Anne King addressed the gathering and spoke about the history and the work of The Luncheon Club which she had established for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
The Association presented her with a cheque for $1000 being the proceeds of a charity screening of The Flintstones that Vice President Graham Earp had organised at the Bondi Plaza Cinema where he was the manager.
The 1994 SGLBA Christmas Party complete with a cabaret show, was held at the Tilbury Hotel Woolloomooloo which was owned by the President Geoffrey Williams with $20 per head going into the Associations Fund Raising initiatives.
Since that time the SGLBA has gone from strength to strength and around that time Vicky Brackenreg who was later to become President joined the association.
Fruits in Suits
In 1996 Fruits in Suits a monthly cocktail party was launched at the “Sol Bar” which is now the Gym above Café Cabano on Taylor Square. 60 attended the first event, 80 the second and 100 the third. By early 1997 Fruits was attracting 150 + which was too many for Sol to handle comfortably.
The event was moved to the Banana Bar also on Taylor Square. At that time Globe in Melbourne launched its own “Fruits in Suits” using the SGLBA format.
Fruits continued to grow at the Banana Bar and to prevent overcrowding it was held twice monthly. This helped but didn’t detract from the events cache so it was decided to move again.
The newly renovated Kinsellas would not agree to accommodate the event.
Given there were no suitably sized venues that could and would handle Fruits in the City precinct, it was moved to the “W” Hotel in Woolloomooloo. Fruits exploded and despite its remote location attracted 400 + attendees each month.
After that, the event briefly moved to the Avillion hotel, now Rydges and moved around on a monthly basis including locations such as the Royal Automobile Club in Macquarie Street.
The Mars Lounge in Wentworth Avenue was home to Fruits for some time and was too small so it moved to Slide in Oxford Street.
This venue proved to be also too small for networking and Fruits moved to the newly renovated upstairs function room at the Beresford Hotel.
This was a perfect location but became unavailable on the traditional regular third Thursday of each month so the event relocated to the Arthouse Hotel in Pitt Street.
A brief move back to the “W” Hotel then known as the “Blue” in Woolloomooloo occurred before the a move to the Green Peppercorn Hotel in Pitt Street.
By 2017, Fruits in Suits moved back to The Beresford “Upstairs” after a short stay at Cruise Bar at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay in the last half of 2016.
In 1998 the elected committee was:
- President – Geoff Whytecross
- Vice Presidents – Lisa Bradley, Simon Davies & Rob Wardell
- Secretary – Gina Machado
- Treasurer – Peter Fussell
A memorable function in February 1998 under the stewardship of President Geoff Whytcross was when 250 guests attended a memorable Cocktail Party hosted by the Lord Mayor Frank Sartor and The City of Sydney Council in a first floor function room at the Sydney Town Hall – as part of the month long Mardi Gras Festival.
This was the first time a head of Government had attended an Association function.
It was well known Lord Mayor Sartor was not keen on wearing his Mayoral gown but just the Mayoral Chains. He arrived at the function wearing his gown escorted by two of his minders and announced, “Last time I wore this was for the real Queen so I decided I had better wear it again today”
On cue his minders lifted the substantial gown off his shoulders much to the delight and amusement of his guests.
The Guest Dinner Speaker in March 1998 was Dorothy McRae McMahon at the Canteen Restaurant in Taylor Square.
At another high profile dinner, the Police Commissioner, Peter Ryan addressed us at The Sebel Town House in Elizabeth Bay.
He made headlines at that meeting by announcing that he would permit serving gay policemen women to march in the Mardi Gras – in uniform.
Lemons with a Twist
Friday the 1st of October 1999 under the presidency of Simon Davies, board member Vicky Brackenreg launched Lemons With Twist at the Nova Cocktail Bar which was on the first floor above what is now Café Cabano at Taylor Square.
By 2005 this regular Friday night event which had moved across the road to the Oxford Hotel was struggling to attract sustainable numbers.
The Event was then taken over by a new Committee Member, Kate Semken and shortly after moved to Slide.
She introduced the right format for the women guests and the numbers swelled to capacity levels still enjoyed today at the same venue 10 years later.
In 2001 The Governor Marie Bashir was the Guest of Honour at the 20th Anniversary Black Tie Dinner held in the Ballroom of the New Rex Hotel.
She became the first Vice Regal Representative at a gay and lesbian event.
Original life members were:
- #1 Michael Glynn
- #2 Philip Chown
- #3 Warren Curtis
- #4 Graham Earp
In 2006 after Michael Glynn’s passing as Life Member no 1, I was honoured by being presented with Life Membership 1 by the Governor Marie Bashir at a Gala 25th Anniversary Dinner held at the Regent Hotel.
There are too numerous activities of the Association to mention in the time available today but it would be remiss of me not to mention two significant regular events that are a major part of today’s SGLBA
1981 Michael Glynn
1983 Ray Israel
1984 Philip Chown
1985 Linda Pace
1989 Warren Curtis
1994 Geoffrey Williams
1997 Geoff Whytcross
1998 Gina Machado
1999 Simon Davies
2001 Vicky Brackenreg
2003 Joseph Mifsud
2004 Stephen Peoples
2007 Scott Quine
2008 Christopher Brookes
2009 Paul Lee-Maynard
2012 Mark Haines
2017 Katherine Maver