19 October 2023

Three decades and counting for Albury entertainment centre chief

| Vanessa Hayden
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Brendan Maher

Brendan Maher, Albury Entertainment Centre’s venue manager, has just celebrated a 35-year career milestone. Photo Vanessa Hayden.

It’s not often these days you meet someone who has lived, and loved, a 35-year career.

Let me introduce you to Brendan Maher, the venue manager at the Albury Entertainment Centre.

It wasn’t so much a career in event management he had in mind when he fell into it in the 1980s, but it was going to help pay some bills and set up his dream of running a corner store.

“I didn’t have an arts bone in my body when I first started,” he said.

“I had no intention whatsoever of making a career out of it.

“My background at that point was in retailing with Coles New World in Melbourne and I had returned to Albury with the dream of buying my own corner store.”

With his first attempt at buying a store going awry, it was a casual conversation with a good friend while out horse riding that planted the seed for a future that would see him rubbing shoulders with Australian icons and hosting hundreds of delegates at the region’s biggest conferences.

“A week after that ride I had virtually forgotten the conversation when I got a phone call and was asked, ‘Can you pour a beer?’ ‘Yes’, I said. ‘Well, can you start tonight?’ they asked.”

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Maher, 64, had no idea that his first few $8 an hour shifts at Albury’s Civic Centre, as it was back then, would see him in future years chairing the NSW Performing Arts Centre Association and holding executive positions on industry related boards.

“I had a goal to buy an old store, do it up and get it going and sell it after four years,” he said.

“I did buy a corner store and my mum came and helped and I worked at the centre at the same time doing all the night functions.”

With the corner store dream soon realised, Maher continued on as houseman at the centre and in 1997 was appointed manager.

It’s the variety of events and the challenge of working in a very competitive industry that keep him engaged.

In any given period there could be a debutante ball, a business conference, live theatre, musical performance, comedy, a special function and community events to plan, prepare and pull off.

“It’s been an incredible journey. There’s no doubt it’s hard work but I love talking to clients and giving them all the options we can offer to get an event or function across the line here.

“It never gets boring. Because they are all so different it keeps you motivated – yes, there are some difficult ones but a lot more great ones.”

He cites some of the more stressful moments in his career including being shouted at by a Russian ballet performer, Julie Anthony stopping mid performance and questioning his spotlighting skills and having to handwash, in a hurry, silk curtains that had been stained with clay after unexpected rain at an offsite function.

But the role has seen him travel and work with the likes of AC/DC, Julie Anthony and Simon Gallagher in the early days to Jessica Mauboy, Guy Sebastian and Jon Stevens more recently.

Brendan Maher with Rockwiz legend Julia Zamiro.

Brendan Maher’s career has seen him rub shoulders with some iconic Australian performers and celebrities; he is pictured here with Rockwiz legend Julia Zamiro. Photo: Brendan Maher.

“One of the most rewarding things is when you have a full-house and you see 800 people who have all switched off and gone on the journey with the artist. They come out smiling and have forgotten about everything else for a while.”

His biggest working week he recounts as being 101 hours. His favourite performances were Opera Australia doing La Boheme and Much Ado by Bell Shakespeare. The best advice he was given?

“Never say it’s not possible,” he said.

“I learnt early that you don’t say a flat-out no to a professional conference organiser [PCO]. We had a function in the early days and didn’t have enough skirting for the tables so we hired more up from Melbourne and they weren’t the right fit.

“The PCO said, ‘We’ll just have to cut it up and resew it’ and I said, ‘We can’t do that!’

“She pulled me aside and said, ‘I never want to hear you say we can’t do something again – there’s always a solution and if the client is happy to pay for replacement, repair or whatever then we need to do it’.

“And I’ve stuck by that mantra ever since. You want a beach volleyball court in the banquet hall? I’ll get you one if the cheque book is big enough!” he laughed.

Things, of course, have changed in working nearly four decades in the game.

“Back then you had to learn on the fly, there were very few staff and it was not as sophisticated as it is now.

“There were no mobile phones in those days so if something went wrong you had to just work it out yourself because you couldn’t ring anyone.

“There was certainly no work, health and safety assessments – you just got in and did it!

“Technology is the biggest change; we’ve gone from giving a manual ticket and ticking off a seat map to an online ticketing system. Everything we do is changing – the way we market, our lighting systems, we can now live stream … the challenge is keeping up with it.”

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He said these days clients had higher expectations and sought state of the art facilities, the best equipment, quality service and food.

“And after that, here they can walk out into fresh country air,” he said.

He believes Albury already has no trouble competing against capital cities, however the new $30 million redevelopment planned for 2024 means the region is set to be able to deliver a world-class experience.

It also means there’s no immediate retirement plans for Maher who is keen to see a plan he has been heavily involved with for seven years through to fruition.

He says the expansion will be a game changer for Albury and will attract a lot more business due to the greater capacity and a fresh new building.

“Things might change again after I’m gone but at this stage I’ve still got a few years left in me,” he smiles.

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