6 November 2023

Meet the guy who’s trying to stop Canberra’s men from being 'boring'

| James Coleman
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David Murphy holding a book

David Murphy, from the Tough Guy Book Club of North Canberra, is opening this Wednesday, 1 November. Photo: James Coleman.

On the first Wednesday of every month, men around the world gather at their local pub. They’re not there to get the day’s work off their chest, escape chores at home, get sloshed, or just generally “be a d***head”. They’re there to talk books.

It’s the Tough Guy Book Club, an international not-for-profit organisation with a simple goal.

“We’re about reading books, hitting the pub with the goons and rowdy conversations,” Canberra member and bookworm David Murphy says.

“Our club is about putting real decent conversations back in the pub. For too long, the pokie machine, the cover band, and sports on the TV have left the men in our pubs a bunch of boring pricks with nothing to say. It’s time to change that. Let’s put heavy-duty discussion back on the table at the pub.”

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In 2016, the Australian arm of the club opened its first ‘chapter’ outside Melbourne, at the Old Canberra Inn in Lyneham. That’s where David first came across it.

“I love books and there wasn’t much else going on in my life,” he says.

The “sense of welcome” kept him coming back.

“I love the two rules. You’re not allowed to talk about work, and you’re not allowed to be d***head. Simple.”

After a year spent going between different local pubs, the club settled down at the King O’Malley’s Irish Pub in Civic. But this is now “bursting at the seams” with 15 to 20 members, so from Wednesday, 1 November, another chapter will open at Cypher Brewing Co in Gungahlin.

Gungahlin pub

Cypher Brewing Co is located on Hilder Street, Gungahlin. Photo: James Coleman.

David is now a club ‘officer’, and one of his jobs is to draft a list of questions for the “goons” to discuss on the night.

“We’re looking for questions that will draw the goons out and help them relate the book to their lives because we want them to talk about themselves,” he says.

“A number of times we don’t even make it through the list because there’s a really good conversation going on and we just let it go.”

The books are chosen and shipped out by the international Tough Guy Book Club office and only revealed on the night. They vary from Rumblefish to A Long Petal of the Sea Novel to October’s read, Open Water, by Caleb Zumah Nelson – a love story about a Nigerian British man and his girlfriend in London. The group also frequents work by American novelist Ernest Hemingway – the club’s “patron saint”.

“Every year, on the anniversary of his death, we read a Hemingway book.”

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The goons have a month to read so they can present their thoughts at the next meeting. The more diverse the feedback, the better.

“When everyone loves the book, the conversation is boring,” David says.

“I personally love going into book club having given up on a book because it’s shit and then going back and rereading it from a different perspective.”

So not only are the men learning new things, it’s also about the “social connection”.

“The number of men who come to us and say how they don’t have anyone to talk to – it’s not the way it should be.”

Tough Guy Book Club

October’s book was Open Water, a love-story by Caleb Azumah Nelson. Photo: James Coleman.

Part of David’s role is also to spot men who are struggling.

“This includes how to identify needs and how to steer goons who are having difficulties towards any assistance they need.”

Ages of members span from 18 to 78, and the reactions have all been “really positive”. Outside the monthly meet-ups, everyone is kept engaged via groups on social media and a variety of spin-off clubs like the ‘Tough Guy Blues Club’. Every year, there is also a camping trip in Victoria.

“Often goons can’t come to the club, but they meet up elsewhere, so we’ll meet up,” David says.

The invitation is open to anyone to “just turn up and say hi” at 7 pm, Wednesday, 1 November, either at Cyper Brewing Co or King O’Malley’s.

“You don’t have to drink beer. You don’t have to drink at all – we’ve got plenty of non-drinkers. You just need to be willing to have a chat.”

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