The following was written by John Rourke, one of the co-founders of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Australian branch, back in 2002. He wrote this for our Vaults 1682 dinner menu for guests on the night. Here it is faithfully replicated for all to enjoy!
History of the SMWS in Australia, Part One
In the year 2001 having lived in London for the previous 11 years and being a member of the Society in the UK I wrote to them to enquire about starting a branch in Australia.
They replied that they had awarded the Australian franchise to Andre Tammes a former director in Edinburgh, the current Australian chairman, as he had acquired the whisky stock left over from the presentations they had conducted in the mainland capitals of Australia the previous year and was now living in Australia.
Interestingly I had heard of Andre as he had done some work on a hotel project I was managing at the time I was in London.
We met, had a few drams, and the concept of starting the Society was born.
In June 2002 we presented the business plan to Edinburgh and we were awarded the franchise.
Our first event was a complimentary tasting of the left over stock held at the Royal Automobile Society in Sydney and prospective members and those who had attended the previous tastings were invited.
The British Consul opened the event, which because of the IRA threats which were current at the time, meant that the Federal Police complete with sniffer dogs had to search the venue prior to his arrival. After this was done we were sorry that the dogs could not detect the difference between an Islay and a Speyside whisky, but happy that those invited had a good time and many joined the Australian branch of the Society.
We appointed a number of State Managers and gradually expanded to have a presence in all states of Australia. By 2006 we had 695 members from all state capitals and an active group in Wollongong and Canberra.
After one early meeting, which was attended by an elderly couple from the Mid Coast, I received a call from the wife to inform me that shortly after the meeting Fred had died, but enjoyed the tasting very much.
I commiserated with her and said that Fred had ordered $3000 of whisky on the night and it was with the courier at the moment, “Lovely” she said “When it comes I can have a dram and think of Fred every evening”. I thanked her for her call and wished her well she said “But that was not why I rang- Is it possible to Transfer Fred’s membership into my name please”. There’s devotion!
I stepped down from being Managing Director in November 1995 as the Society had reached the size which needed it to have a full time employee and I had family business overseas.
Suzy Tawse was appointed to manage Society affairs and Andre Tammes continued as Chairman.
Although retired from the Board I am still very much involved in the Society’s affairs and enjoy the whiskies.