Bringing our industry together for 42 years

Look back on the triumphs and tribulations over four decades of The Property Congress as we chat with Jill Mason, who was there when we kick-started Australia’s number one property conference in 1977.

Held for the first time in Sydney, The Property Congress has always been the property industry’s marquee event. That year was a tough one, characterised by high inflation, low credit availability and rising unemployment.

Speaking to the 250-strong audience, then president Peter Barrington emphasised our industry’s central role as one that reshapes our cities and makes them anew – a theme that would not be out of step with our program today.

That Property Congress formula – one which has been embraced by other industries around Australia – was firmly established under the direction of long-time employee Jill Mason.

Mason was there from the early years, joining what was then the Building Owners and Managers Association in 1977. She oversaw that first conference and was to create a template for networking that remains industry-defining to this day.

“It was an awful lot of hard work, but I was hooked from the very beginning,” she admits.

Mason recalls the trials and tribulations of conference organising: rerouting helicopters and restaging fireworks after heavy storms put paid to “the best laid plans” or booking a hospital lecture theatre across the road from the conference after an extra 100 delegates arrived unannounced.

The Property Congress has always attracted an avid audience, Mason says.

“In 1989, a pilot’s dispute happened to coincide with our conference in Melbourne, but it was considered important enough for a group of Western Australian members and their wives to make the journey in their cars.”

That same year, the welcome cocktail party was held in Centre Court of the Rod Laver Arena. “Our rather ambitious theme, ‘Midnight at the Oasis’, required us to transform the venue into a desert oasis, have a party, and hand it back in its original condition, all within 36 hours – which we did.”

Floor coverings were laid and truck loads of sand spread. The bleachers were covered with fine black netting and twinkling lights suggested the starry sky. There was a water hole and palm trees, free-ranging goats, chickens and camels. National president Brian Pollock made a grand entrance perched on a dromedary’s back.

Ask anyone who has attended The Property Congress and they’ll have a favourite story to share. It may be of the packed Sydney conference room rising as one to cheer Australia’s victory in the America’s Cup. It may be of ‘shock jocks’ moderating panels of property legends, rock stars upbraiding a willing audience to do more for society, or lectures from former prime ministers. But everyone will talk of the after-parties where deals were struck and lifelong friendships sealed.

“Even in the early days, The Property Congress was successful because it was so inclusive – and it was a lot of fun,” Mason reflects.

The Property Congress has been a platform to drive debate, test conventional thinking and spark new conversations for four decades.

Next week the property industry’s most revered leaders and rising stars, thought leaders and trendsetters will gather on Hamilton Island for the 42nd annual conference. This year’s sell-out event once again confirms The Property Congress as the industry’s favourite forum.