Australia Hotel

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Australia Hotel
Hotel Australia 1932.jpg
The Australia Hotel, 1932
General information
LocationCastlereagh Street, Sydney, New South Wales
Coordinates33°52′05″S 151°12′35″E / 33.86806°S 151.20972°E / -33.86806; 151.20972Coordinates: 33°52′05″S 151°12′35″E / 33.86806°S 151.20972°E / -33.86806; 151.20972
Groundbreaking1889 by Sir Henry Parkes
Opened1891 by Sarah Bernhardt
Closed30 June 1971 (1971-06-30)
Demolishedc. 1971 – c. 1972

The Australia Hotel is a former hotel that was located in Castlereagh Street, Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. From its opening in 1891 until its closure on 30 June 1971 and subsequent demolition, the hotel was considered "the best-known hotel in Australia",[1] "the premier hotel in Sydney"[2] and described itself as "The Hotel of the Commonwealth".[3] The hotel was situated in one of Sydney's important thoroughfares in the heart of the city.


The foundation stone was laid by Sir Henry Parkes in 1889, and the opening of the new establishment was performed two years later by Sarah Bernhardt, whose name was first in the new hotel's register, subsequently displayed in a glass showcase in the main foyer. The Sydney Morning Herald reported "French actress Sarah Bernhardt arrived in Sydney, bringing with her 100 pieces of luggage. As hundreds of fans flooded onto Redfern railway platform as her train approached, she was whisked away from the platform to the Australia Hotel where hundreds more excited fans wanted to catch a glimpse of the glamorous celebrity. Her expensive flower filled 2nd floor suite played host to pets including a large St Bernard, a smaller pug dog, a native bear and several cages containing possums and parrots. Theatergoers, many of whom had paid up to £2 for a seat, were genuinely moved by Mme Bernhardt's performance in Dumas' La Dame aux Camillias at Her Majesty's Theatre. After the show, drama critics called her a 'woman of genius' saying she had held the audience spell bound." Next to the hotel, across Rowe Street, stood the famous Theatre Royal.


Martin Place in the 1950s. The building on the corner to the left is the Commercial Travellers Club Building and the 'modern' twin-wings of the Australia Hotel next to it were demolished in 1971-2 to make way for the MLC Centre.

The hotel had a large entrance onto Castlereagh Street in polished granite, the stairs grey and white marble, the doric columns red. The squared columns in the entrance foyer were imported Italian marble, and the magnificent neo-classical staircase which led from the main foyer to the first floor was completely in multi-coloured Carrara marble. From that floor to the 10th a massive carved and highly polished mahogany Victorian grand staircase, with stained glass windows, led to their rooms those guests, who, in the early days of lifts, still preferred to walk.

The first floor contained a pillared corridor with various reception rooms, in addition to the Winter Garden - "famous for its morning and afternoon teas, light luncheons, and theatre suppers", and the Moorish Lounge, leading to the huge dining room - the Emerald Room, with its highly decorated ceiling some 6.1 metres (20 ft) above the guests, Italian chandeliers, and a dais at the west end containing a white marble operating fountain and other statues, engulfed in palm court style shrubbery.[4]

In the late 1920s an extension was constructed to the north of the main hotel which fronted onto the city's historic Martin Place. A highlight of this block was its circular art deco black glass staircase.

A small branch of department store David Jones Limited was located in the hotel, which provided goods for visitors, hampers for sending to Great Britain and Australiana souvenirs.

The hotel also contained a number of very fine paintings of Australian scenes including eight watercolours by the famous artist, Gladstone Eyre.[4]


The hotel boasted international standards of comfort and service. The Australia became "the place to stay and be seen by the upper echelons of society".[5] The hotel remained an oasis for those who scorned modernity and sought the more refined atmosphere of the classic European hotels. Apart from the accommodation for guests, rooms were also provided in the Rowe Street wing for their servants, including the children's nurses, who had their own dining room with their charges. Robert Helpmann had a suite permanently reserved; Marlene Dietrich stayed there several times (thereafter her suite, rooms 707-708, was named after her)[4] and one lady lived there for 31 years.

Notable events[edit]

A patron stands on the marble steps of the doomed Hotel Australia. The closure notice is pasted on a column.

The hotel hosted many famous events.

  • The hotel was the venue for the first meeting for the establishment of the Wireless Institute of Australia in March 1910.
  • Later in 1910 Australasian Wireless Limited obtained a licence from the Postmaster-General's Department to run telegraphy tests, from the hotel's 6th floor, with ships at sea, on 27 August. It was subsequently permitted to handle commercial traffic in 1911 – the first in Australia.[6]
  • 5 December 1915 a fire broke out at 11.30 am in the northeast corner of the roof and quickly spread, eventually gutting the upper three floors, but without loss of life.[7]
  • In January 1941 Cabinet Ministers gave a dinner at the Australia for Mr. Robert Menzies who was about to leave for Great Britain.[8]
  • In April 1949 the hotel had the historic importance of being the venue of the first successful television demonstration in Australia, when the State Governor, Lieutenant-General John Northcott was televised in the hotel's ballroom as he opened the demonstration.[9]

Closure, demolition, heritage[edit]

In 1968 the Hotel Australia was purchased by the MLC Insurance and Finance group who, amid mounting concerns, announced their intention of refurbishing and maintaining the hotel, one of the city's landmarks. However the following year they announced its impending closure [10] and closed it on 30 June 1971. They demolished it in almost record time, to erect a modern $200 million, 68-storey office block/skyscraper in its place; the MLC Centre. (MLC was later purchased, in 2000, by the National Australia Bank).

The Royal Australian Historical Society who fix their famous Green Plaques to historic buildings and sites, placed their 39th plaque on the MLC Centre in memory of the Australia Hotel.


  1. ^ "Fire in Hotel Australia". Singleton Argus (NSW: 1880 - 1954) . National Library of Australia. 18 June 1954. p. 4. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
  2. ^ Sunday Times, Sydney, NSW, 2 July 1916 p.25.
  3. ^ Sydney Harbour Bridge Official Souvenir & Programme, NSW Government Printer, 1932, p.128
  4. ^ a b c Auction Catalogue. F. R. Strange Pty. Ltd. July 1971. pp. 24, 28, 50.
  5. ^
  6. ^ History of broadcasting in Australia#Coastal_network_Tranche_0
  7. ^ "BIG FIRE. AT THE HOTEL AUSTRALIA. EXCITING SCENES". The Sydney Morning Herald (24, 309). New South Wales, Australia. 6 December 1915. p. 10. Retrieved 20 April 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ The Argus, Melbourne, Victoria, Saturday 25 January 1941 p.17.
  9. ^ "Television in N.S.W." The West Australian (Perth, WA: 1879 - 1954). Perth, WA. 11 April 1949. p. 14. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
  10. ^ Daily Mirror, Sydney, Monday, 31 March 1969, p.22

Further reading[edit]

  • Sydney Harbour Bridge Official Souvenir & Programme, NSW Government Printer, 1932, p. 128.

External links[edit]