On Thursday 6 February, Politics in the Pub (PinP) returned to its original home at the Harold Park Hotel, Glebe, after an absence from there of 12 years. The speaker for this return evening was Gordon Weiss, journalist and former United Nations official, who spoke about the last days of the civil war in Sri Lanka and considered the Australian government’s relationship with the Sri Lankan government at that time. The evening was a great success in every way.
PinP was launched on the first Friday in April 1988 in the original Harold Park Hotel. The format was the same as it is today: two speakers, expert in their field, followed by 45 minutes of Q & A. The topic that night in 1988 was ‘Where is Labor Going?’ Speakers were Senator Arthur Gietzelt, then leader of the left in the Parliamentary Labor Party, and Professor Julian Disney from the Centre for Policy Development at UNSW. It is sobering that this topic is just as relevant today. The meeting was packed to the rafters and this encouraged us that we were delivering a much needed service to the community.
PinP was established by a small group of independent left academics and social activists who wanted to hold a weekly program – open to all members of the public – where expert speakers would present informed analysis of the key issues of the day. We drew on academics, representatives of not-for-profit organisations, journalists, parliamentarians, social action groups such as environmental and refugee support groups.
We also wanted a congenial physical setting where people attending the meetings could socialise and network over a drink or dinner before or after the meeting and so facilitate the growth of a community of better informed people.
The Harold Park Hotel, which was then the cultural hub of progressive Sydney, was the perfect location for us. In the 12 years of our time with the hotel, we did deliver on our aims in a most harmonious relationship with the hotel and we became known all over Sydney. We also expanded our aims to support those social organisations who fight for justice for the disadvantaged such as refugees, Indigenous Australians, the poor and the unemployed, as well as the environment.
All involved with the program do it on a voluntary basis, supported only by a modest non-obligatory entry donation. This means no one is excluded because of finances and we preserve our independence. We have now been conducting meetings for over 26 years, only taking a break during the Christmas holiday period.
In 2001, totally without warning, the Harold Park Hotel was sold to developers to build serviced apartments. With only a few weeks’ notice we had to find another home. We moved four times to short-term venues until we were accepted by the Gaelic Club in Surry Hills. We had a happy stay there from mid-2004 to November 2013. History repeated itself when the Club said their policy had changed and they needed every night to be available for income-generating music gigs; and, with a few weeks’ notice, we left the club at the end of our 2013 program in late November.
I approached William Ryan, owner and mine host of the wonderfully built Harold Park Hotel with a new welcoming interior, and enquired whether we could return. William immediately welcomed us back. William has a vision for the Pub which is in alignment with our philosophy of the hotel again becoming the cultural hub of ‘non-corporate’ Sydney; with different nights devoted to PinP, comedy, poetry and, perhaps, philosophy.
The next PinP is on Thursday 6 March. All details of forthcoming programs, plus detailed information about the Committee, how to contact us and archives of past programs are on our website: www.politicsinthepub.org.au/. Up-to-date information is also on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/politicspub.
Coordinator, Politics in the Pub