gap Home Help Scotland Speyside West Isles Search
Navigation toolbar
Home | Help | Scotland | Speyside | West Isles | Search

The Gillies Club - Australia

The Gillies Club comprises six branches throughout Australia with a couple of members in the UK. They import whiskies, meet, eat, enjoy each others' company and assess the whiskies they have sampled. Peter Boon hopes to be able to make this sizeable body of information available on the Web; meanwhile here is the story so far - JHB]


In February, 1977, a group of interested men in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, assembled together one Saturday afternoon to taste a few malt whiskies. There were nine tasters, and they tasted nine malt whiskies. At the end of the tasting, one of the tasters suggested that there should be more of these meetings, and that it should be an on-going event. He suggested that a club be formed and that the name of the club should be The Gillies Club. All were in favour, and a sub-committee was formed to look into the formation of the Club. All those present were to be foundation members. The sub-committee came up with the following suggestions:

  1. The name of the club shall be The Gillies Club - Australia (not The Gillies Club of Australia, as this might restrict future activities)
  2. The Gillies Club - Australia shall have but one rule, and that should be "There are no rules".
  3. Members of The Gillies Club - Australia are gentlemen (as distinct from "men", as there are no rules, and, therefore, ladies may become members.)
  4. Meetings will be held every so often.
  5. There shall be one accepted law (as distinct from "rule"), and that shall be "No member may drive a motor vehicle away from a Gillies Club meeting".

One of the foundation members (Mr. William Peascod, dec'd) happened to be an artist, and he was commissioned to draw a logo. He presented the logo which we still use: Gillies Logo The still was copied from the still which appears on bottles of Auchentoshan and the medallions at each side are two small examples of Celtic knotwork. The script is ancient Gaelic from the Book of Kells.

Much time and effort was spent in deciding on the correct spelling of the word "gillies". Dictionaries were consulted, and we even went so far as to contact the Professor of Celtic Languages at St. Andrew's University, who told us that if we spelled it "ghillies", the "gh" should be pronounced as a soft "g", and not hard, and that the word would then mean "young girls". We immediately decided that the word should be spelled "gillies". The first meeting of the Club, as such, was held in March, 1977. The Club is now (August, 1998) 21 years old, and we believe it to be the oldest malt whisky tasting club in the world (but we are willing to be corrected on this)

Since that original meeting, some members have gone to that great distillery in the sky. Others have moved away from Wollongong, and have started branches in new locations. It was decided early on in the history of the Club, that there would be no office bearers, but that there had to be an organiser, and that person would be known as "The Laird", with The Laird of the parent Club in Wollongong to be known as "The Laird, Himself".

At present, there are 6 branches, as follows:

Parent Branch (Wollongong) Peter Boon (The Laird, Himself)
Highland Branch (Orange, N.S.W.) David Oliver (The Laird)
Van Diemen's Branch (Hobart, Tasmania) Ronald Sutherland (The Laird)
Free Settlers' Branch (Adelaide, South Australia) Bob Culver (The Laird)
South Antipodean Branch (Dandenong, Victoria) Frank Hofmann (The Laird)
Macquarie Branch (Sydney, N.S.W.) Peter Duly (The Laird)

It was decided very early on that The Gillies Club should import casks of malt whisky for distribution to members, although our first import was 8 dozen bottles of 18 year old Highland Park. Since then, over the years, The Gillies Club has imported around 30 casks of various malts - all single malt, single cask whiskies. All the work of importing has been carried out by one of the members, Mr. Norman Case, who also has kept a collection of each and every one of the imported malts.

Each branch is completely autonomous, but all follow roughly the same routine for their meetings. About 4 meetings are held per year at each branch, and the meetings are held in the homes of the members (except for the Free Settlers' branch, where meetings are held in the Professorial Dining Room at the University of Adelaide). The meetings are held on Saturday, and usually run from about 1.00 p.m. till about 6.00 p.m. (or so). Anywhere from 3 to 6 malts will be tasted, and records are kept as to the points allotted to each malt. The Gillies Club has now tasted about 250 malts of varying ages and proofs. When members arrive at the meeting place, they partake of some snacks, and usually a beer or two, particularly if the weather is hot. The tasting then follows, and each member is asked to comment on the malt, and to allot it points out of 10. The points are averaged, and that average is allotted to that particular malt. During the afternoon, a substantial hot meal is provided by the host.

Every so often, a combined meeting of all branches is held, but these meetings are usually not overly well attended by the far-flung branches, bearing in mind that it is 600 miles from Wollongong to Danenong, and over 1000 miles between the other branches. However, at the combined meeting to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Gillies Club, there were members from each and every branch present, some members having come from Hobart to the venue of the meeting - a distance of some 1200 miles, and some had come the same distance from Adelaide.

In 1979, and again in 1983, a few members made the pilgrimage to Scotland to visit some of the distilleries. There have been no visits to Scotland by a group of members since 1983, again bearing in mind that such a trip is over 12000 miles there and 12000 miles back again. Many long-lasting friendships were made on these two trips.

The Gillies Club - Australia now has around 80 members, spread throughout its 6 branches. We have not actively tried to enlarge our membership, reckoning that about 14 members per branch was an ideal number. To become a member, it is usual for the candidate to attend, by invitation, a couple of meetings, and members then decide whether or not to ask that candidate to become a member.

There are 2 members resident in the U.K. Mr. Sid Downie, who is a member of the Parent branch, moved to semi-permanent residence in London a couple of years ago, and Mr. Brian Morrison of Ayreshire was elected to membership of the Highland branch whilst he was on a visit to Australia some years ago. Mr. Morrison has been of enormous benefit to The Gillies club, as it is through the warehouses of the Stanley P. Morrison company that we import our casks of malt.

Each branch circularises its members at regular intervals via a newsletter, and the parent branch sends out about 4 newsletters per year to all members. These newsletters are usually fairly light-hearted, though couched in serious language. They usually convey news of the most recent meetings and news of future meetings. The most recent newsletter from the Parent branch states, amongst other things: "The next meeting of The Gillies Club - Australia will be held on Saturday, the 19th day of September, in the year of Our Lord one thousand, nine hundred and ninety eight, at the home of Mr. Robert Bolger, at 26 Conrad St., in the suburb of North Ryde, Sydney Town. The meeting will commence at 1.00 of the clock, post meridian. Bonnets will be worn, and there will be sufficient food. Whiskies to be tasted have not yet been finally decided upon, but will consist of malts acquired by Mr. Bolger on recent trips to Scotland."