Well over 100 years old as a male-only organisation; of historic origins; exclusive requiring proposers, seconders and admission procedures; a boom in post-war membership; boasted of leaders of society as members; hosted notables such as Earl Mountbatten and Field Marshal Sir William Slim (later Viscount Slim); moved from a splendid old premise to a new purpose built then modern building 1967; responded unsuccessfully to declining membership by cost cutting and eroding the original membership profile (almost anyone seemed to be able to join); remained inwards looking; lived in the past; seemed to have got into the hands of developers and property consultants and is now broke. Are we talking about Freemasonry? No, I refer to the 127 year old Naval and Military Club of Victoria (N & M).
It seems to have lost direction, its “new” building looks decadent to me and its fate was announced in the media in early January 2009. It was formed in 1881 as The Pipeclay Club and changed its name five times until adopting its present name in 1992. Before moving to its present premise it met from 1920 at 7 Alfred Place, a former German Embassy. To me, when I was a member, the signs of decline were evident 20 years ago. There are lessons here for us if your mind is not closed!
What happened? Did those with principally now a peace-time Reservist military prowess and the “camp followers” gravitate to the N & M with business leaders joining the successful Melbourne, Australian, Savage and Athenaeum Clubs? Does Freemasonry attract and utilize those with senior business acumen? How would our senior Masonic developer-aspirants explain how these clubs are successful in old but maintained buildings? Some would say that the grandiose ego driven projects seem to be preferred to the harder tasks of restoring relevance and rejuvenation. Despite pressures from the unaccountable social engineers and the Fourth Estate of today’s society, some clubs have retained their traditional membership profile. The élites do not wish to control the sex or sexual preference of your bedmate but want to do say who can be in your fraternity!
What is proposed? Surprise, surprise!! Would you believe a new high rise building on the site with a large commercial rental component and the Club somewhere on the higher floors, an uninspired developer’s delight? Why not join the RACV Club instead? What will be the equity of the N & M members in this development? Next to nothing? It is a hard world out there dealing with property advisors, consultants and developers. Where will be the history and the ambience essential to a successful club? Past Presidents Monash, Cheval, Blamey and the like will be turning in their grave.
Many of my readers will have been, or are still members of the N & M or have been a guest. The atmosphere used to be great, breasting the down stairs bar with the Streetons on the wall exclusively with people who have served their county as a Commissioned officer in one of the Services. Politics, religion, race and women were never discussed but you could fearlessly tell or hear a gentleman’s story. In this company a man’s minor indiscretions would pass without comment. It gave men a little “space” if they needed it. Using John Williamson’s words “ every boy needs a shed”. Before 1992 there was nothing to change the hormone levels and the behaviour patterns of the men present - no gratuitous health advice on menu selections, alcohol consumption and cigars. If you knew the cricket score, football (Rugby Union and Aussie Rules only of course), cars, wine and the movement of the major stocks you were well equipped for almost any social discourse. Properly attired lady guests were usually welcome in the main dining room upstairs. It was not a place for predatory unattached females. Unlike some other Clubs there was no name dropping eg “did you know so-and-so – he was the Chairman of……………”, “I went to school with him – you didn’t go to ……………... , did you?”, “he married my wife’s sister”, and so on. Most of the members of the N & M were real men and did not need to resort to this. You did not have to be an Anglophile to enjoy the Club atmosphere. Those days have gone.
Let us realise that new is not necessarily better. Seemingly small changes can destroy the essential ambience and environment. But the most important lesson is not to engage a property consultant until you really know your business and where you want to go. What are we doing?
Fraternal best wishes to all ,