The ripple effect from Tuesday’s historic vote to maintain the men-only membership rules of the Australian Club is causing some awkward introspection within several high profile Sydney families.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been a member of the 183-year-old club for 36 years and declared himself a “lifelong feminist” on Tuesday as he headed to the Macquarie Street institution to cast his vote, presumably in support of allowing women to become members.
However, within the Turnbull household, the recent debate over the elite institution’s membership policy, beyond just gender but also the issue of racial diversity, has become a cause of concern.
Mr Turnbull’s wife, successful businesswoman, philanthropist and former Sydney lord mayor, Lucy Turnbull, revealed to the Herald the issue had become a very personal one for her, with both her father and grandfather from the prominent Hughes legal and political dynasty, having been long-term members.
“I have been to the Australian Club only occasionally. It has some really good art and worth going to see it for that reason alone. But it does not represent contemporary mainstream Sydney. Demographically or otherwise. But it never did. That was kind of the point of ‘gentleman’s clubs’. They can make or change whatever rules they like, it’s a free world,” Mrs Turnbull said on Wednesday.
“But what worries me about this controversy is to think that neither of my granddaughters could ever be a member of this club with the current regime. They can aim to be premiers, prime ministers, High Court judges … whatever, but not members of the Australian Club.
“Both because of their genders, of course. But one is also Eurasian. Which is like a double obstacle in a nation that strives for, or claims to and certainly should, gender and racial equality. So it is a bit of an anachronism and seems like it will remain so for a little while at least.
“Those who vote for female membership are probably keeping their membership, so they have a voice and a vote in the future. Which is completely logical and reasonable.”