John Hannay was president of Magpies Rugby League Club during the late 1970s.
John Hannay was president of Magpies Rugby League Club during the late 1970s. Contributed

How John Hannay was connected to Mackay

DESCRIBED as a rogue, a shonky hotelier, an entrepreneur, notorious, a slick talker and a go-getter - John Hannay left a strong impression during his time in Mackay.

He owned hotels, was president of a rugby league team, a bookie and even put up his hand to be mayor.

Mr Hannay died on March 1 this year, aged 74.

He had suffered health complications for a number of years and was largely confined to a wheelchair.

It is believed Mr Hannay died in the Fortitude Valley gay nightclub, The Beat, which he had owned and presided over for decades.

During the 1960s and '70s, Mr Hannay managed bands, nightclubs, bars and restaurants, and had a reputation for not paying artists and entertainers.

Later in the 1970s he had many dealings in Mackay.

He owned the Oriental Hotel, Oriental Function Room, the Eungella Chalet and a catering business.

Before arriving in Mackay, he was the manager of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in St Pauls Terrace in Fortitude Valley during late 1972.

He was sacked amid allegations of theft and fraud.

 

Blaze at firebombed Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Brisbane on March 8, 1973, where 15 people died.
Blaze at firebombed Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Brisbane on March 8, 1973, where 15 people died.

Shortly after his sacking he was badly beaten in a Valley alleyway as part of a series of reprisals for allegedly stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the Whiskey.

Then on March 8, 1973, just months after the beating, the Whiskey was torched, killing 15 innocent people. It was up to that point Australia's worst mass murder.

 

Mackay historian, Terry Hayes, remembers the "hullabaloo" and "fanfare" of Mr Hannay coming to the area.

A number of Mackay residents had heard of his reputation through Brisbane-based business connections.

"He held a special dinner for notable people, a meet and greet," he said.

Mr Hayes doesn't know about Mr Hannay's hotel dealings, but knew him from his time as president of Magpies Rugby League.

"He had an engaging personality," he said.

Mr Hannay's go-getter persona and connections allowed him to bring new sign-ons to Mackay including the New Zealand player, Robert Orchard.

During his president's message of 1978, Mr Hannay discussed how proud he was to have four teams in the grand final and to take the premiership in both the senior and reserve grades.

He was also a bookmaker and could be found at the Ooralea Racecourse on Saturdays.

During the early 1980s he flagged his intention to run for the position of Mackay mayor.

Former Mackay mayor Gordon White recalls that period of time. He understands Mr Hannay was unable to run for the role after it was discovered he was not on the electoral roll for the Mackay area.

Mr Hayes remembers Mr Hannay talking of wanting to stir up community city pride and inspire people to have more vision on how to run a town.

He bought the Eungella Chalet in 1976 and later passed it on to the Faux Brothers in the 1980s. The Oriental Hotel was later destroyed by fire on Sunday, January 18, 2001, after Mr Hannay's ownership.

 

RUGBY LEAGUE SUPPORTER: John Hannay is presented with a Western Suburbs guernsey by secretary of Western Suburbs, Sydney, Gary Russell.
RUGBY LEAGUE SUPPORTER: John Hannay is presented with a Western Suburbs guernsey by secretary of Western Suburbs, Sydney, Gary Russell. Contributed

He also had an interest in the Hook Island Underwater Observatory, which had been run by the Heiser family until Mr Hannay, under the name Oriental Express (Transport) Pty Ltd, purchased the lease in December 1980.

Whitsunday Regional Council's Local Heritage Register reads: "The island's resort facilities were expanded, and the observatory continued to be a major tourist attraction. However, financial difficulties saw the management change hands a number of times between 1981 and 1990s".

Mr Hannay was born in central western Queensland and worked in the men's department of the Myer department store in Fortitude Valley in the 1960s before managing bands and clubs.

He would open and close clubs and restaurants at a whim, trying to keep ahead of his creditors.

In the mid-1960s Hannay opened The Cave milk bar for teenagers in Elizabeth Street in Brisbane.

A former manager of The Cave said she suspected the milk bar over time became a "hangout for pedophiles".

 

John Hannay with Mary Woods who was voted in senior vice presidency for the 1979 Magpies Rugby League season.
John Hannay with Mary Woods who was voted in senior vice presidency for the 1979 Magpies Rugby League season. Contributed

According to the manager, corrupt police, like detective Glen Hallahan, and even the then police commissioner, Frank Bischof, were weekly visitors to The Cave.

Sources said Mr Hannay had "powerful connections" with a number of Cabinet Ministers in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen regime in the 1970s and 80s, including Russ Hinze and former police minister Tom Newbery.

He would often "visit" the ministers personally to sort out any licensing or other problems associated with his clubs.

During his time as an entertainment impresario, he ran Prestige Artists out of an office in Brunswick Street in the Valley.

Former ALP state member Kev Hooper was vocal about Mr Hannay's role in hotels and his money dealings when speaking at Queensland Parliament on Tuesday, November 10, 1981.

"In the few minutes I have left to me tonight, I draw the attention of honourable members to the uncanny number of times that corporate rogues in our community escape justice, and I instance John Hannay of Mackay," the Hansard record reads.

"He is a shonky hotelier of the worst order.

"He is better known in Brisbane as the proprietor of the Whisky Au-Go-Go Night Club that was burnt down in 1973.

"Last week Hannay sold his Eungella Chalet for a reported price of $350,000.

"I hear that he is once more in the news for being robbed - or so he says - of $40,000 from a locked safe in the Oriental Hotel in Mackay.

"It would be interesting to know how many times Hannay has been burgled or robbed, no doubt for the purpose of insurance and as an excuse to defer showdowns with his creditors.

"In liquor circles his nickname is 'The Wild Duck' because he never settles.

 

Inspector L Bardwell of CIB Forensic Science inside bombed Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub, Brisbane in 1973.
Inspector L Bardwell of CIB Forensic Science inside bombed Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub, Brisbane in 1973.

"After only a few years in Mackay, Hannay has fiddled his way through business ventures such as Daydream Island, the Oriental Hotel in Mackay, the Oriental Hotel in Rockhampton, the Oriental Reception Lounge in Mackay, the Baysvillle Zoo In Mackay and the Eungella Chalet.

"I am told that he is now casting his greedy eyes on a department store with a liquor licence offered for sale in Mackay.

"I point out that not so long ago this shadowy businessman, who does not pay his debts - including, I am told government charges such as pay-roll tax, stamp duties, workers' compensation premiums, and, no doubt, licensing fees - big-noted himself shouting members of his staff a free trip to the United States of America.

"Recently the Auditor-General, on advice given to him by the State Treasury, disclosed that government departments lost $8m in the past two years, perhaps as a result of writing off bad debts.

"It would be interesting to know how many of the debts written off in past years, or how much of this $8m, can be traced to the corporate business dealings of John Hannay, who is widely regarded as the godfather of corporate crime in northern Queensland."

Another member interjected: "A fairy godmother."

Mr Hooper continued: "She is sitting beside the honourable member".

 

John Hannay
John Hannay

"It would also be interesting to know how much John Hannay owes in government charges at this very moment, as he has sold his Eungella Chalet and looks to new ventures, all of which involve profiteering and trading in government licences," he said.

"I am sure that honourable members would agree that it is remarkable that a man such as Hannay can accumulate huge debts, seemingly flaunting his contempt for government authority, and at the same time, with merry abandon, buy and sell property in which the main point of value is a government licence.

"While I have been speaking, I have watched the Minister for Justice and Attorney-General writing furiously.

"Instead of using his time in reply in giving me, to use a parliamentary term, a bucket, I think he should make it his ministerial duty to order an inquiry into this northern corporate crook.

"I urge the minister to consider a full inquiry into the corporate activities of John Hannay and all the ventures with which he is associated, some of which I have listed and others that I have been unable to find."

Mr White said Mr Hannay had been known in Mackay for his liquor dealings.

"He would ship it up in semi-trailers, park in the grounds of the Oriental and sell it to the public," he said.

Mr Hannay would, over the years, be charged on dozens of occasions with fraud and financial impropriety. He was imprisoned in Townsville but won favour with prison officials by using his skills as a caterer and helped host official jail events.

Brisbane's gay community recently honoured Mr Hannay for his lifelong contribution to the local scene.

In the final months of his life, he spent most days sitting in his wheelchair in the back of The Beat nightclub's many bars and lounges, and would remain there well into the evening.

When The Sunday Mail tried to interview Mr Hannay late last year, he quietly refused to answer questions about his career, and in particular the firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go.

 

FILE - Mar 1973  Whiskey Au Go Go Nightclub - file pic 03 apr 1973 - fires qld buildings- crime firebombing murder interior James Finch & John Stuart were jailed for life
FILE - Mar 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go Nightclub - file pic 03 apr 1973 - fires qld buildings- crime firebombing murder interior James Finch & John Stuart were jailed for life

He did confirm he had close contact over the years with several former government ministers and corrupt police.

The new inquest into the Whiskey mass murder is pending. But it will now have to go ahead without Mr Hannay.

One officer said Mr Hannay would "take his secrets to the grave".


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