Only in a post-Covid world could Australia’s most exclusive charity event be held an airport hanger – and the red carpet in the departure lounge.
Airports have been relatively dormant in 2021, with borders expected to be closed for another year, and travel between states frequently interrupted by Covid shutdowns.
But Sydney’s airport became a hive of activity on Thursday evening as 500 of Australia’s most prominent film, television and business personalities attended the $1,500-a-head ‘Gold Dinner’ to raise money for the Sydney Children’s Hospital.
The dinner has been a highlight of the social scene since 1997, and has raised more than $30 million for charity. The event was cancelled in 2020 because of Covid, so the event’s chief organiser, Westfield shopping centre heiress Monica Saunders-Weinberg, had set the fundraising bar above $4 million.
She succeeded in that ambitious goal, with organisers announcing a haul of $4.6 million for the night compared to $3.3 million at the 2019 event.
‘I was personally blown away by the genuine enthusiasm and willingness to give back,’ Ms Saunders-Weinberg said.
To collect that sort of money on the coldest Sydney night in 37 years, you need plenty of star power, and the Gold Ball had that in spades.
Liam Hemsworth, left, with girlfriend, Gabriella, Matt Damon’s wife, Luciana Barroso (centre) and Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky (right)
Front and centre were Hollywood royalty, Chris Hemsworth and wife Elsa Pataky, with his brother Liam and his model girlfriend Gabriella Brooks, as well as accomplished actor Rose Byrne. There was also glamour from the otherside of the film industry, with author and director, Matthew Reilly, attending.
There were also television heavyweights Karl Stefanovic and his wife Jasmine, Hamish Blake and his entrepreneur wife Zoe Foster Blake, Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli and wife Lisa.
Those from the business world included billionaire Afterpay co-founder Nick Molnar, Aussie Home Loans founder and director John Symond and wife Amber and high-powered executive Hamish McLennan, who is part of the charity’s fundraising board.
The novel decision to hold such an exclusive party at the airport was fitting given the strong Qantas connection on the Sydney Children’s Hospital board: the airline’s general manager of strategy and fleet and head of Frequent Flyer program Simon Hickey is deputy chair of the hospital’s board while CEO Olivia Wirth is on the fundraising committee.
The Gold Dinner did its best to live up to the ticket price, with guests served a special Italian menu courtesy of Crown Sydney’s a’Mare restaurant and head chef Alessandro Pavoni.
Chef Guillaume Brahimi, who is also on the charity board, posted photos to Instagram showing the intricate process to prepare for such a star-studded group of guests.
The Gold Dinner was an extravagant affair, with guests experiencing a decadent Italian menu courtesy of Crown Sydney’s a’Mare restaurant and visionary head chef Alessandro Pavoni
Chef Guillaume Brahimi posted a series of photos to his Instagram Story showing the lengthy preparation process that went into help cater the star-studded event
All food was complemented with Bollinger champagne, Four Pillars Gin and wines from Australia’s finest vineyards
A behind the scenes look at the gala was posted on several guests’ social media accounts
The most high-profile arrivals skipped the red carpet, which was held at the departures terminal, with guests then whisked away to the venue in the middle of the airfield
THE WHO’S WHO OF SYDNEY IN ATTENDANCE:
Chris Hemsworth and wife Elsa Pataky
Liam Hemsworth and model girlfriend Gabrielle Brooks
Former foreign minister Julie Bishop and partner David Panton
Fashion designer Alex Perry
Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorpe
TV presenter Richard Wilkins
Billionaire Afterpay co-founder Nick Molnar
Musician Ben Lee
Comedian Hamish Blake and wife Zoe Foster Blake
Footage from ‘backstage’ in the airport’s kitchens showed dozens of chefs working away as waiting staff prepared for the attendees.
The menu included local burrata, veal tenderloin with tuna mayonnaise, baby capers and pine nuts, crudo of tuna, kingfish and salmon with a citrus dressing, risotto parmigiana – with 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano, wagyu beef cheek and braised chiati – with dessert of a classic tiramisu.
There was plenty of drinks, with vintage Bollinger champagne, Four Pillars Gin and wines from Australia’s best vineyards.
The leftovers were donated to OzHarvest trucks waiting outside the event to be shared with the needy.
The most high-profile arrivals skipped the red carpet and went straight to the event in the middle of the airfield.
A vintage Royal Mail plane was displayed to guests on the tarmac, which was drenched by rain as Sydney’s temperatures dropped to just 8C overnight.
And in keeping with the times, guests were able to donate using cryptocurrencies for the first time in 24 years.
Philanthropist Skye Leckie, a long-time ambassador for the gala, said the buzz generated around this year’s event has been greater than previous years due to the pandemic.
‘So many charities (are) battling to get back to where they were (before Covid lockdowns). Everyone is feeling ‘I want to help, I want to do something’ because they’ve been stuck at home. We’re finally back together, doing the right thing and hopefully raising a lot of money,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Other guests spotted at the event included Lucciana Barroso – the wife of actor Matt Damon – and Nine presenter Lauren Phillips.
Stars of the show: The most high-profile arrivals – including Chris and Elsa – skipped the red carpet, which was held at the departures terminal, and were whisked privately to the venue in the middle of the airfield
Hollywood A-list: A who’s who of entertainment, business and politics attended Australia’s most exclusive charity event, the Gold Dinner 2021, at Sydney Airport on Thursday night. Pictured (left to right): Lucciana Barroso, Lauren Phillips, Elsa Pataky, Chris Hemsworth, Gabriella Brooks and Liam Hemsworth
Rugby league power couple Terry Biviano and Anthony Minichiello, former foreign minister Julie Bishop, swimming great Ian Thorpe and Nine’s veteran showbiz reporter Richard Wilkins were also spotted at the event. .
Deborah Symond O’Neil, the daughter of Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond, also enjoyed a date night with her husband Ned O’Neil. The Sydney society darlings are expecting their second child.
Date night: Liam, known for his role in The Hunger Games trilogy, was joined by his girlfriend, model Gabrielle Brooks
Show-stopper: Gabrielle, 24, oozed sophistication in a backless black dress
All that glitters: Other guests included Lucciana Barroso (left) – the wife of actor Matt Damon, who was not present despite currently being in Australia – and actress Rose Byrne (centre). Right: Elsa Pataky
Elite: The Gold Dinner saw the worlds of entertainment, government and business collide to raise funds for the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation
Also in attendance Crown Sydney CEO Peter Crinis, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edwina McCann, and Australian fashion icon Alex Perry.
Today show anchor Karl Stefanovic served as MC and did a good job of bringing the worlds of entertainment, government and business together to raise millions.
Androgynous chic: Rose Byrne turned heads in a red pantsuit featuring gold floral detailing and a matching pink cravat
Power players: The whole Gold Dinner 2021 committee is shown here, including Karl Stefanovic (third from left)
Hamish Blake and wife Zoë Foster Blake were in attendance at the star-studded event
Man of the hour: The event was emceed by Today show anchor Karl Stefanovic (left, with Hamish Blake)
Stars: Nova FM radio presenter Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli looked suave alongside his glamorous wife, Lisa Wipfli
Business scion: Deborah Symond O’Neil, the daughter of Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond, was joined by her husband, Ned O’Neil. The society darlings are expecting their second child
Socialite: Francesca Packer Barham (right), the niece of casino mogul James Packer, was seated with a well-dressed friend
Monkey-makers: Billionaire Afterpay co-founder Nick Molnar cuddled up to his wife, Gabrielle
Glamorous: Rugby league power couple Terry Biviano and Anthony Minichiello were on the guest list
Beauty in black! Former foreign minister Julie Bishop looked sensational in a long black gown. Pictured with her partner, property developer David Panton. Ms Bishop wore a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace
Going swimmingly: Decorated Olympian Ian Thorpe looked dapper on the red carpet
Mogul: John Symond, the founder of Aussie Home Loans, posed for photos with his wife, Amber Symond
Guests enjoyed an array of musical performances, starting with Ilan Kidron and Reigan welcoming guests in front of the vintage aeroplane to an old-school crooner vibe.
This was followed by indie success story Ben Lee, who is back on home soil after spending many years in Los Angeles.
An inspiring performance by 18-year-old Indigenous artist Budjerah Slabb was followed by the Masked Wolf who performed his global hit Astronaut in the Ocean.
Legendary dance music group Sneaky Sound System saw guests through to the end of the evening.
Razzle dazzle! Nine entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins (pictured with his partner, Nicola Dale) rounded out the guest list
Performer: Indie musician Ben Lee, who is back on home soil after spending many years in Los Angeles, performed on stage
Sensation: The Masked Wolf, whose real name is Harry Michael, sang his global hit Astronaut in the Ocean
Stirring; There was also an inspiring performance by 18-year-old Indigenous artist Budjerah Slabb, who is fast becoming the next rising star of the Australian music industry