The Tradies... more than just gay friendly
Trading the old for the new at The Dickson Tradies
When I opened my invitation to the inaugural meeting of OUTBIZ, Canberra's LGBTI Business Network, I was stunned to find that it would be hosted by The Dickson Tradies. In my mind, as in the minds of many others, The Dickson Tradies was a subset of a bygone era of blokey- ness, cheap beers and football. But something has changed about the tune The Tradies is singing; since a $10 million dollar refurbishment and the launch of the ‘What a Difference’ campaign, The Dickson Tradies has become more inclusive, classier and more exciting as a local venue.
From humble beginnings as the CFMEU’s office and meeting place,: The Dickson Tradies has slowly established itself as a pillar of the Canberra community since the 1960s. What’s different now is that the community that The Tradies club supports is expanding beyond its origins and the parameters of any other sports club in Canberra and The Dickson Tradies has changed with it. That change includes the welcoming of the Canberra gay and lesbian community. I met with one of the Dickson team to find out why the formerly blue-collar and stubble territory of The Tradies is now at the forefront of diverse entertainment venues in Canberra.
The change came about three years ago, when the team at The Dickson Tradies realised that they were missing one of the most rapidly expanding demographics in Canberra; the gay and lesbian crew. Missing that demographic went against the mission statement of the club; which is all about community and inclusion. It was time for both a physical and cultural change, and the building underwent a facelift and so did the clientele. Many of those patrons who had sat on tall barstools, staring into their pints of cheap beer for twenty years or so moved on when the club undertook major changes in its layout and décor, and a new crowd began to move in. The team at The Dickson Tradies revamped the wine list, which includes the best of local regional drops.
They took up supporting micro-breweries and designer beers, as well as keeping familiar brews on tap, and the bar staff undertook cocktail training. In further practical changes, the club is in talks to sponsor and host events for Springout Pride and have implemented a zero tolerance policy for discrimination which applies to both staff and patrons. They also diversified their hiring, taking on young staff and ensuring that everyone who joined the team was on the same page when it came to welcoming any member (regardless of sexual orientation) through the door. Curious, I asked the team member I spoke with if any particular incident (violent or otherwise) of anti-gay discrimination had prompted these changes. I was assured that no gay person had ever been assaulted at The Dickson Tradies club because of their sexuality, and in the few instances in which hateful remarks had been made, the guilty party had been removed and banned from the club.
All sounds pretty good, right? But, cynic that I am, I wanted to know what the club got out of this deal, apart from a brand new crowd spending money of course. The spokesperson I chatted with was honest about the perks of welcoming the gay community to The Tradies; they’re social, they spend more money and they don’t just come to drink cheap beer, get drunk and throw things at the plasma TVs showing sports games. They’re also social media savvy, and ‘check ins’ via foursquare and Facebook have sky-rocketed. With the gay and lesbian community comes a thriving and social young community, one that fits with The Tradies ongoing goal to connect with as many members of the local community as possible. But it’s not just the drinking habits and social media perks of the LGBTI crowd that are attractive to The Dickson Tradies, it’s their sports people. Being open to the LGBTI community has opened doors for The Dickson Tradies to further connect with the women’s sports teams they sponsor. Despite not wanting to be labelled a ‘sports club’, The Tradies is one of the most generous supporters of women’s sports in Canberra, and plenty of those sports clubs have lesbian members.
So, when The Dickson Tradies hired an all-girl (and all-lesbian) band to play at their ANZAC day celebrations this year, and invited the participation of the sports-women they cheer on, they found a fresh new element in traditional celebrations. This is not to say that The Dickson Tradies is simply the new lesbian hot spot! In fact, the team insist that they aren’t looking to be ‘the next gay and lesbian club’, they just want Canberrans to know that no one will get left behind when it comes to finding a venue in which they can be comfortable. However, when I enquired as to whether The Tradies was ready for a drag queen or an intersex person to walk through the door, the team were honest saying that even though any person of any orientation is always welcome, they cannot guarantee the culture has changed enough yet in the outside world, let alone within the club environment. But they did assure me that if a Trans or intersex person signed up as a member, they would be granted the same rights and protections as anyone else by the club.
What’s truly amazing is how quickly this major shift in culture and clientele has occurred. Since the refurbishment, the club has gained almost 20,000 new members and the demographic has changed from being approximately 80% male five years ago, to 62% male, 38% female. As if those numbers didn’t speak for themselves, the feedback the team have been receiving about the changes has supported their efforts to continue evolving. For example, after the OUTBIZ meeting (which was sponsored and hosted by The Dickson Tradies) many of the participants mentioned to staff members how pleasantly surprised they were at the welcoming environment and the appeal of the new sophisticated look of the club. Some of the board members may still be the same as when the club opened in 1964, but the entire organisation has shown that it is capable of positive change while maintaining its core values.
The Dickson Tradies is located at 2 Badham Street, Dickson and is open 6:30am- 4am on weekdays and 7:30am-4am on weekends.