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Australia Hotel: Erased from the face of the earth to erect a $200 million skyscraper

Nikola Petrovski

On the corner of the mile-long Castlereagh Street, Sydney stood Australia’s most well-known hotel, sadly no longer standing. Construction began in 1889, with the Australian politician Sir Henry Parkes laying the foundation stone.

Photographic Collection from Australia – CC BY 2.0

Photographic Collection from Australia – CC BY 2.0

The process of erecting the hotel took two years, and on completion, French Actress Sarah Bernhardt had the honor of being the first name in the hotel’s guest register: a register which, years later, would be placed in a glass showcase in the entrance hall.

Hotel Australia alternative angle. Author: Powerhouse Museum Collection – No restrictions

Hotel Australia alternative angle. Author: Powerhouse Museum Collection – No restrictions

The arrival of Bernhardt was an event that attracted hundreds of people. She brought with her a number of pets, including a small pug dog, a number of parrots, a cage of possums and even a bear. She also had a vast amount of luggage, summating 100 different pieces.

Next to the hotel was the remarkable Theatre Royal, which was to suffer the same fate as Australia Hotel. The stylish design of the hotel was much admired. The entrance was constructed in highly-polished granite, and the marble stairs were adorned with Doric columns.

Sarah Bernhardt.

Sarah Bernhardt.

 

 Inside the main foyer stood two more columns, constructed of Italian marble. The main staircase that led to the first floor was a feature in colorful Carrara marble, and once on the first floor, the guests were welcomed by a gigantic Victorian-style mahogany staircase surrounded by stained glass windows. At the time, the elevator was a relatively new invention and many of the guests preferred to take the stairs instead of using this apparatus.

On the first floor was an exquisite pillared corridor, as well as the elaborate Winter Garden. Well known for its tea parties, suppers, and luncheons, the Winter Garden was also remembered for its ornate, 18-foot-high ceiling hung with Italian chandeliers, which swung high above the marble fountain, statues, and guests. The hotel was adorned with a cornucopia of paintings, including work by notable artist Gladstone Eyre.

Hotel Australia.

Hotel Australia.

During the 1920s, the hotel received an extension on the north side of the hotel, with an entrance facing Martin Palace.

The hotel included the David Jones Limited store, which sold all sorts of goods and souvenirs. The lavish interior gave this hotel an international reputation, and people came from far and wide to experience it.

The Australian actor and choreographer Robert Helpmann had an apartment that was reserved and used only by him. One lady called this hotel her home for three decades. Marlene Dietrich was also a returning visitor.

The hotel in 1932.

The hotel in 1932.

Where the Hotel Australia once stood. Author: Wpcpey – CC BY-SA 4.0

Where the Hotel Australia once stood. Author: Wpcpey – CC BY-SA 4.0

A number of notable events were held at the hotel before it was sold to MLC Limited, who announced that their plan was to redesign it. But a year later, they changed their minds and decided instead to have it closed, which they did on 30th June 1971.

A closure notice posted on a column.

A closure notice posted on a column.

 

MLC Centre Sydney. Author: Adam.J.W.C. – CC BY-SA 2.5

MLC Centre Sydney. Author: Adam.J.W.C. – CC BY-SA 2.5

With this, a major landmark of Australia was gone. Soon the hotel was completely demolished to make room for a new $200 million skyscraper, the MLC Centre.

Today, the only remaining evidence on the site of the famous Australia Hotel is a plaque, attached to the side of the skyscraper.