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April 2021

Harry Guinsberg: Brisbane Menswear Manufacturer, Former Gaolbird

When his photograph appeared in the papers, the Brisbane men’s shirt manufacturer Harry Guinsberg always looked spruce tending to flamboyant: slicked-back hair, immaculate white collar, wide-lapelled jackets, sometimes with a cigarette at mouth, others times with dark eyebrows arched.

It is not clear whether Guinsberg picked up sartorial cues while riding as a jockey and spending a year in Goulburn Gaol for receiving stolen harnesses in his young adulthood. He certainly honed his style after his release from gaol in 1921. Over the next decade, he became a tuxedo-clad champion ‘adagio’ dancer renowned for his agility and panache.

Guinsberg spent a second stint in prison in Queensland in 1934. This term was for continuing in business after being declared a bankrupt. Guinsberg had been made bankrupt in Melbourne in 1930, but immediately afterwards he headed north to partner with his brother Israel in the latter’s Brisbane fruit-and-vegetable business. He also opened footwear shops in contravention of his order of bankruptcy.

By the time he was in his forties in the 1940s, Guinsberg had moved out of footwear and fruit-and-veg. He was now the owner-manager of a Fortitude Valley shirt-factory and various shirt and millinery shops in Brisbane’s Queen and Adelaide Streets, joining other Jewish Australians as a player in the clothing and fashion industries. Guinsberg was also a racehorse owner and big-time punter with the money to dress with as much spruce flamboyance as he pleased.

In 1945, Guinsberg was the star witness in the prosecution of a pawnbroker who had fraudulently sold him what he thought was a seven-and-a-half carat ring. Guinsberg had wanted to replace the five-and-a-half carat diamond he was already wearing with a stone of even greater quality.

Guinsberg had also made an accessory of his glamorous wife Mimi before their divorce in 1940. They had run millinery shops together until Mimi caught him womanising and went to court. No doubt the pair had made a splash in provincial Brisbane before their split: Guinsberg in dapper tailoring and diamond ring, Mimi in elegant pantsuits and platinum-blond hair.

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Select References (in chronological order)

‘Criminal’, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 30 March 1920, 8.

‘Return of Prisoners Discharged To Freedom Or On Licence’, NSW Police Gazette, 19 January 1921, 42.

‘Poetry of Motion’, Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 July 1928, 18.

‘Bankrupt Imprisoned… Champion Dancer’s New Record’, Courier Mail, 27 April 1934, 11.

 ‘Pyjama-ed Husband…: Wife Saw Them On Bed’, Truth (Brisbane), 2 June 1940, 14.

‘High Stepping’, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 28 January 1940, 5.

‘Harry Guinsberg Now Big Gun Owner’, Truth (Brisbane), 12 March 1944, 3.

‘Queensland Racing Man Must Keep Ring He Paid £1400 For’, Truth (Brisbane), 9 July 1944, 23.

‘Wealthy Turf Man Fell For Sales Talk’, Truth (Sydney), 9 July 1944, 14.

‘“Man of 70 Lost His All”, Guinsberg Says’, Truth (Brisbane), 14 August 1946, 22.