A casual remark over a glass of good dry red, naturally that was how it all started.
In Adelaide, twenty members of the wine trade had fallen into the cheerful habit of lunching together on Fridays. They met at the Imperial Hotel, a landmark for eighty years, on the corner of King Wi1liam and Grenfell Streets. Host Des Leahy granted them the honour of a special place in the dining room, a raised dais at the eastern end. This few inches of elevation was to have an effect on history. One day in 1954 Dick Clark was sitting next to David Crosby. Let Dick tell the story in his own words:
'David was in a contemplative mood and remarked that the diners below were envious of us, for our knowledge of wines and the obvious enjoyment we were getting from our luncheon and glass of wine.
'I said something should be done to give them this opportunity. We could form a club.'
As John Dryden put it in Sixteen-hundred-and-something, mighty things from small beginnings grow.
The following week David Crosby called to see Dick Clark, and said, 'How's the club coming along?'
Dick recalls: 'We then and there drew up a list of people and arranged to invite them to lunch at the Imperial.'
Those who sat down to a good steak and a glass of burgundy with David and Dick were Tom Hardy, Ray Drew, George Fairbrother, Bob Clampett, David Cleland and Jack Edwards.
Much later, when the ripples from that luncheon had spread across Australia and to other countries, they became known as the First Eight. Their aims were simple and sensible. No club should have more than thirty members. (Even then they foresaw a possibility of branches!). If the members were to be close friends, thirty was enough.
They believed that a little understanding of wine helped in its greater enjoyment as one who knows a little choreography loves ballet the better for it.
The club would be unpretentious. None of the 'brave little berry, one admires its temerity' stuff. In this club it should be possible to call a claret a burgundy without drawing scorn, assuming that claret and burgundy are different.
Though all the First Eight were winemakers or wine marketers, there should be nothing commercial about the club. The rules should be delightfully simple. (The Constitution as originally drafted ran to exactly fifty-six lines).
There would be no thought of membership drives or urgings to form branch clubs. One of the great successes of the idea was that all of the clubs since then have been formed by a groundswell of people wanting to get together in friendship and a shared affection of wines.
The name Beefsteak and Burgundy Club was Dick Clark's brainchild. It was a natural, and probably contributed to the remarkable growth of the movement. It has a simple, honest ring about it. At the next meeting, Tom Hardy was elected President, and Ray Drew the first Secretary.
It had been agreed that a club whose objectives were to learn about wine should have an excellent Winemaster. Dick Clark had in mind one of Australia's most senior wine judges, George Fairbrother.
One of the First Eight recalls: 'George said he couldn't take on the job, but Dick was not to be sidestepped and kept niggling away. Finally, in self-defence, George said he would find a Winemaster. When he lined a man up, he said 'Dick, you can start your club, your Winemaster is OK'.
Dick no doubt deliberately misunderstood, went ahead with the formation of the club and dubbed George in as the first Winemaster. Not what George had intended, but a successful fait accompli and the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club was off the ground.
Whether or not the story is true, George held the office for eight years and was still very active twenty-five years later. In 1970 he was accorded an extraordinary distinction. The Club had dies made, and struck one single gold medal recognising George Fairbrother as 'Master of the Cellars Ex Honoris Causa.' It is unlikely that any other man in any facet of life has received such a heartwarming recognition of his services.
The next step taken by the infant Beefsteak and Burgundy Club was to hold an inaugural luncheon at the Ambassadors Hotel, at which each member was permitted to bring a guest.
Dick Clark remembers: 'Without exception, the guests were intrigued and all asked to join.
'It was fortunate we had set a limit of thirty, or we would have been swamped.'
At the first committee meeting, 6 September 1954, the size of the club doubled. All guests who were at the luncheon became members. A key man in those early years was Ray Drew, whose knack of organisation and attention to detail did a lot toward getting the club well established.
After that, Beefsteak and Burgundy just grew, somewhat haphazardly; the little Victorian country town Nagambie elbowed Sydney out of the way to become Club Number 6.
The first branch charter was given to Brighton, an Adelaide seaside suburb. It was quickly followed by Lockleys, Burnside and Edwardstown, all suburbs of Adelaide. Hobart became Number 13, Perth was 14, Cygnet (WA) 16, Melbourne 18.
Then a big leap to London (Number 55), Wellington (60), Tokyo (126), Canada (193), Beijing (212), St Francis-USA (214).
The distinctive Beefsteak and Burgundy tie design was settled upon in 1957 and 300 were ordered in French material! (They are now woven in Australia.)
The formation in 1965 of the London Club was considered a landmark in the history of Beefsteak and Burgundy, so much so that the charter should be presented by someone whose long service would allow him to represent all other clubs.
A natural choice was George Fairbrother, and this idea was so well received that members throughout Australia set up a fund to help pay George's travelling expenses.
Later, reports from London confirmed what we in Australia had known already, that George was an excellent ambassador. Up to 1966 the somewhat loose-knit affairs of the many clubs had been co-ordinated through the committee of the founder club, Adelaide. In that year a central secretariat was set up, and a General Secretary, E. (Toby) Clay was appointed to take care of general administration. He retired in 1981 and was succeeded by Bill Russell who held the position until his untimely death in December 1994 when Bill Dand was appointed.
In the year 1966, to be precise on 13 July, charters were presented simultaneously in Australia's national capital and in that of our neighbour, New Zealand. Former President Clive Lecher handed a charter to Canberra Club (Number 59), while Past President Rodney Robertson did the same job in Wellington (Number 60).
Only two years later after the Foundation of Beefsteak and Burgundy, the SA clubs decided that it would be a good idea to run a convention. This was held in 1956. Next year, another was held, this time with eleven clubs represented, including Nagambie, Victoria (Number 6).
The first truly representative convention was in Adelaide in 1968, the second with Manly (NSW) as host in 1970, in Adelaide again in 1972, and a milestone: the twentieth anniversary in 1974 with Coolangatta- Tweed Heads as host and the first presentation of a written history of the Club.
A further milestone came in the following year with the issue of Charter No 150 to King Island Beefsteak and Burgundy Club. Toby Clay made a special trip to the island to present it.
For the 1976 convention in Adelaide, the highlight was a memorable and magnificent gourmet dinner attended by a capacity gathering of 252. For the first time, no smoking was permitted during the nine-course meal, an innovation that even some well-kippered members were heard to grudgingly approve.
Other customs were changing too, and on 8 November 1976 the first Humble Petition presented by ladies only was received, and Charter No 167 was issued to Alexandra Beefsteak and Burgundy Club, Adelaide. It was not long (11 July 1977) before the second 'ladies only' club was formed: the Bayettes of Adelaide, Charter No 169 and a number of others have followed.
In the silver anniversary year, several clubs had mixed memberships.
Since that time a number of new clubs have been founded with a mixed membership and several existing clubs have elected to extend membership to include the other sex. Sometimes it helps to take turns at being the driver for the homeward journey.
Another 'first' in 1977 was the election of a past president, co-founder David Crosby, for his second term as President. Before the 1978 convention in Melbourne, the First Eight were photographed as a group, an historic picture now well guarded in the club records. The ensuing luncheon was historic in that it was the first time for very many years that they all had lunched together.
They could have been forgiven a feeling of wonder that their original luncheon had caused so many ripples.
2003 saw the re-election of another past president for a second term in office, none other than the grand old man of Beefsteak and Burgundy, foundation wine maker and Master of the Cellars, George Fairbrother.
The Beefsteak and Burgundy Club never has had one of those uneasy things called a Membership Drive.
It has never seemed to be necessary. Charter petitions have arrived from places which astounded members of the founder Club: the little-known (till now) Sudbury and Stonetown in Ontario, Canada; Beijing in China; Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia.
During a personal world tour in 1993, Keith Gramp visited seven overseas clubs and presented Charter No. 229 to Miri (Sarawak, Malaysia) and welcomed Club No. 227, Stonetown (Canada) to B&B.
Many of the steady flow of new clubs had names which reflected the originality and humour of their members: the all-ladies Blumers in Queensland; Bundles in Victoria; Black Swan (cheekily, in South Australia and not in the bird's home state, Western Australia).
Among the most unusual were Erewhon and Law 'n Order (that's right, police, security officers and other keepers of the peace) in SA. One the Adelaide committee still doesn't quite believe is the all-girls club, the Never-Never Ladies at Katherine in the Northern Territory.
In July 1994 Charter No. 232 Troppo Femmes (Ladies) in Darwin was presented by Bill and Ros Russell whilst on holiday in the N.T.
New clubs chartered since the last booklet are listed separately. The inevitable conclusion: Pearl S. Buck got it right when she said, 'Growth itself contains the germ of happiness'.
Now to sum up all these years.
Each member will have his own memories of wines, good and bad; of people; of friendships made; of laughter across the table (such as the time when Tom Hardy, an Adelaide Winemaster, put on the same masked red as 'Number 1' and 'Number 2' and fractured himself as members pointed out the many differences).
Most of all, as a chance to know a little about wines, to make mistakes in uncritical company, to know the truth of John Gay's comment -
'Fill ev'ry glass, for wine inspires us and fires us with courage, love and joy.'