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Myriam Robin

Australian Club’s young fogeys flex their muscle

Tensions between the relatively young and older members of these stuffy but decidedly elite establishments have been a common thread throughout much of the past few months.

Myriam RobinColumnist

Something’s in the water at Melbourne’s most exclusive private establishments.

First, at the bohemian Savage Club, a coterie of young turks teamed up with a pedigreed artist to wrest control of the presidency and several other roles, after a, well, savage AGM in which concerns about sloppy food, overpriced gin and tonics and early closing times sparked a revolution.

This appears to have inspired others. At the legal district’s Australian Club (not to be confused with the Sydney establishment of the same name), a contested election also looms.

A contested election at the Australian Club?! Heaven forbid.  James Davies

This isn’t routine. See, for most if not all the past 145 years, the club’s former presidents, commonly called The Cardinals, have anointed a promising member to eventually join their ranks. Smoke signalling a member’s elevation to the presidency is normally spotted before Christmas, and formally confirmed at the AGM the following April.

At next year’s AGM, outgoing president (and Melbourne Airport chairman) Peter Hay was expected to pass the torch seamlessly to lawyer Justin Lethlean. But the club’s prodigious rumour mill holds that there’s been another nomination, from Albury farmer and long-term member Hugh Patterson.


The prospect of a head-to-head contest has some reaching for the smelling salts. It’s “an egregious breach of the club’s customs” and “one of the most divisive things I have seen in my decades there”, one member fumed. Mind you, it’s all within the rules. The club is, technically, a democracy.

Figuring out precisely what grouping of members is behind the highly unexpected presidential bid is naturally the subject of fierce speculation.

Fingers have quickly pointed at the Young Fogeys, a rough grouping of members 45 years old and under that coalesces around the Young Members Committee chaired by investment banker (and Smedley family scion) Nick Smedley. Others fiercely dispute this faction’s role in any contest.

Whatever the truth, tensions between the relatively young and older members of these stuffy but decidedly elite establishments have been a common thread throughout much of the past few months.

As well as at the aforementioned Savage Club, the Athenaeum Club on Collins Street has shown evidence of a generational divide. Though, in that case, it is one exemplified by attitudes to female members rather than the price of a G&T. And no, it’s not what you think.

It was the Athenaeum Club’s Millennial members who were decidedly cool on the idea of admitting women; the pensioned-off retirees (with impressive daughters) were all for it.


Shortly before, the Australian Club revealed the results of its own internal survey on the question, in which a “clear majority” were against admitting women.

Many of the lawyers and older members were keen. Youthful professionals, to generalise, were not. Hence, the “Young Fogeys” moniker, which has stuck ever since.

Myriam Robin is a Rear Window columnist based in the Financial Review's Melbourne newsroom. Connect with Myriam on Twitter. Email Myriam at

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