Notorious nightclub owner John Hannay dead at 74
NOTORIOUS Queensland businessman and entertainment impresario John Hannay died in Brisbane on Friday night, taking with him some of the State's darkest criminal secrets to the grave.
Hannay, 74, had for years been suffering health complications and was largely confined to a wheelchair. He passed away on Friday evening at about 8pm.
It is believed Hannay died in the Fortitude Valley gay nightclub, The Beat, which he had owned and presided over for decades.
Friends said yesterday Hannay should be remembered for "the good, the bad and the ugly, but don't forget the good".
"Some people will remember John as the bad, bad, bad, ugly, and a little bit of good, but there was a lot of goodness in him and a lot of us wouldn't be where we are today without John's kindness," said one close friend.
During the 1960s and 70s, Hannay managed bands, nightclubs, bars and restaurants, and had a reputation for not paying artists and entertainers.
During late 1972 he was the manager of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in St Pauls Terrace in Fortitude Valley, before he was sacked amid allegations of theft and fraud.
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.
Two criminals, John Andrew Stuart and James Finch, were charged with the firebombing and jailed for life, but the rumour persisted that there were others behind the deadly fire, and that Hannay may have been involved.
He told police he was out of town when the firebombing occurred. However, a former staff member of Hannay's admitted recently she had seen Hannay in New Farm the morning after the fire.
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". According to the manager, corrupt police, like detective Glen Hallahan, and even the then police commissioner, Frank Bischof, were weekly visitors to The Cave.
According to sources, 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.
Hannay was often mentioned in Queensland parliament.
Former ALP state member Kev Hooper told parliament in November 1981: "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. In liquor, circles his nickname Is 'The Wild Duck' because he never settles.
"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... 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 payroll 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.
"John Hannay … is widely regarded as the godfather of corporate crime in northern Queensland."
One source said yesterday when Hannay and friends flew to the U.S. they were treated like celebrities on their arrival thanks to a phone call from Sydney crime boss Abe Saffron.
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.
Hannay was recently honoured by Brisbane's gay community 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 Hannay late last year, he quietly refused to answer questions about his career, and in particular the firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go. He did confirm that he had close contact over the years with several former government ministers and corrupt police.
He said he remembered nothing about the Whiskey because it was "too long ago".
Police said yesterday they had approached Hannay as part of their reinvestigation of the Whiskey tragedy following the government ordering a fresh inquest into the fire in 2017.
One officer said when questioned by police Hannay drifted off into a comatose state. He had form for not answering official questions. He was excused from being called as a witness in the 1973 trials of Finch and Stuart over the Whiskey deaths, claiming he had fallen off a horse and suffered brain damage.
The new inquest into the Whiskey mass murder is pending. But it will now have to go ahead without Hannay.
One officer said yesterday Hannay would "take his secrets to the grave".