by Martin Field
Maybe it was 20 years ago. ‘How about I take you to lunch at the Melbourne Club?’ My eye specialist, a generous, learned gentleman of the old school and also the father of a friend, wanted to repay me for fine-tuning his office PC.
Never having been there – they have an invisible brass plaque by the front door saying ‘No women, no lefties, certain religions are a bit suss, and definitely no riff-raff!’ – I accepted. ‘You’ll have to wear a suit you know,’ he smiled, gazing at my public service uniform: Miller shirt, Lee jeans and Blundstones.
When I arrived at the club, I certainly didn’t look like a member – longish hair, beard, baggy tan suit, a ridiculously narrow dusty pink leather tie and tan R.M. Williams Cuban-heeled boots (to match the suit, you understand). However, after the business with the rubber gloves, some pointed interrogation and upon showing my passport and letters of accreditation, they let me in.
Clutching pre-luncheon G&Ts we strolled into a grand dining room full of well-coiffed, mostly grey haired men in grey suits. Oh, and a few women: the wait staff.
The fare was traditional so I ordered roast beef and trimmings. The honourable member asked me to choose a red from the extensive wine list. Penfolds St Henri (I think it was the 1982 vintage) looked good – so we had that.
Later. ‘Some cheese?’ ‘Stilton would be fine’ I said. Next thing, up wanders a geezer with a wheel of Stilton the size of the bottom tier of a wedding cake. ‘All pour moi?’ I asked modestly.
He handed me a sterling silver brickies trowel (that’s what it looked like) and I started, in a genteel sort of way, to dig out a soupçon. My host grabbed the trowel, muttering ‘Don’t stint!’ and cut me a wedge that would have served a table of four. I scoffed the lot.
We adjourned to the smoking room for a glass of port. I thanked him and went back to work.
He invited me back to the club a few times and I enjoyed each occasion. Though at one of their wine dinners I recall a sniffy, winemaking member of the Victorian squattocracy, asking me, ‘How the hell did you get in here, Field?’
‘I’m up for membership,’ I replied. He walked away frowning, no doubt to lobby for a blackball.
While my friend was alive, I never did write about dining with the Melbourne Establishment. On my first visit, he had warned me, ‘The Club frowns upon that sort of thing, you know.’