MILESAGO - Venues

CHEQUERS

Location:
Gouldburn St, Sydney

Owners:
Keith and Dennis Wong

Managers:
Edward Chan and others

NOTES

Chequers was one of the top cabaret venues in Australia from the late Fifties until the early 1970s. It was located in Goulburn St, Sydney, between Pitt and George St ,close to both the Mandarin Club and to the notorious Goulburn Club, one of the major illegal casinos of the period.

The nightclub was owned by restauranteurs Keith and Dennis Wong, whose family "... maintained a high profile in entertainment, restaurant, nightclub, wholesale toy, travel, Chinatown and racing circles since the 1950s." (Hickie 1986)

As a cabaret venue for international performers, Chequers enojyed the reputation of being of the best in the world; according to David Hickie the Wongs spared no expense importing the top acts.

"For 20 years Chequers was a rich source of gossip for Sydney's columnist. Dita Cobb tipped an ice bucket over Ward 'Pally' Austin's head there, and Prime Minister John Gorton caused a sensation when he went backstage there with Liza Minelli. During the mid-1960s Chequers was the grandest nightclub in Sydney. Morris Landbergh, the Miami and Las Vegas hotel millionaire, visited Sydney in 1965 and said Chequers was better than either the Copacobana or the Latin Quarter in New York. Another American authority on international fleshpots rated it sixth-best in the world.

"Where other leading clubs of the era (the Silver Spade Room at the Chevron, Tabou, Spellson's, the Latin Quarter, the Emperor Room at the Menzies) rarely paid more than £600 a week to artists, Chequers paid fees like £7500 a week to Sarah Vaughan, £6000 to Tony Martin and Shelley Berman, and £5000 to Frances Faye. Other star attractions included Shirley Bassey, Leslie Uggams, Nelson Eddy and Gail Sherwood."

"At Chequers in its heyday a staff of 120 served a room that held 550 patrons at a time."

"In 1964, while Chequers was at its height, the the Wong family and their closest business associates started the Mandarin Club. The first secretary was Peter Wong, foloowed by Alex Choy, Dennis Wong and Edward Chan, who was also a manager at Chequers. Keith Wong regularly appeared on the club's board of directors."

"Also in 1964 the Wong brothers teamed up with John Harrigan in the Whisky-Au-Go-Go at Kings Cross. Harrigan's family had been involved in running nightclubs in Sydney since the 1920s, although Harrigan, like the Wongs, had also spent his early childhood in Shanghai in the 1940s ... Harrigan also bought an interest in Chequers ... "

Comedian Joe Martin was the club's regular MC for many years in the Fifties and Sixties. Martin also made regular TV appearances and at one stage hosted his own 'Tonight' show on commercial TV.

In 1963 the Wongs formed a partnership with New Zealand born entrepreneur Harry M. Miller, forming the promotional company Pan-Pacific Promotions. They successfully promoted a number of concert and cabaret tours between 1963 and 1967, after which the company was wound up due to the contraction of the touring market.

Chequers' connections with the Sydney underworld were numerous. It was one of scores of premises listed in the diaries of notorious Sydney underworld figure Richard Gabriel Reilly, who was shot to death by gangland rivals on 25 June 1967 at Double Bay. In February 1969 the club hosted a now-infamous party held in honour of visiting Chicago mobster Joseph Dan Testa which was reportedly attended by some of the biggest names in local organised crime including the so-called "Mr Big" of Sydney, Leonard Arthur "Lenny" McPherson, and other leading underworld figures including George David Freeman, Arthur "Duke" Delaney and Milan "Iron Bar Miller" Petricevic. The party, which allegedly marked the formalising of links between the Sydney underworld and the American Mafia, was the factual basis of the Australian feature film Dirty Deeds, directed by David Caesar.

In the 1980s Keith Wong was charged with 38 counts of fraud involving more than $4 million defrauded from various banks and financial houses.

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REFERENCES / LINKS

David Hickie
The Prince and The Premier
(Angus & Robertson, 1985)

Harry M. Miller
My Story
(Macmillan, 1983)

Thanks to Rosemary Fassbender for additional information.

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