‘A pub most splendid’: The Australia Hotel

Sydney 1926

The Australia Hotel on Castlereagh is Sydney’s finest establishment. ‘The Hotel of the Commonwealth’ offers the refined atmosphere of classic London and European hotels to the city’s most distinguished visitors and residents, with an international standard of comfort and service.

The ‘Australia’ is situated in the very heart of Sydney, a modernist Art Deco building of black and silver glass, shining steel, Carrara marble and polished Australian timbers. Its opulent interior is a streamlined, padded realm of endless mirrors and sweeping elliptical stairways, bedecked with Australian landscape paintings, and in drinking areas, some rather racy nudes. A massive mahogany grand staircase complete with stained glass windows ascends ten floors for the convenience of guests yet to overcome their distrust of mechanical elevators. In the foyer, glass showcases feature Parisian perfumes and diamond wristwatches, as well as model mechanical harvesters and the very latest chemical sheep dips. Its that kind of place.

Beautiful, but drafty.

It’s a fancy pub, but a decent pub, a pub most splendid.

The Australia is the place to stay and be seen by the upper echelons of society. Here you will meet Viennese divas, Russian emigres, American actors, visiting members of the outback squattocracy, and the idle rich of every creed and nation. Some of them are not what they seem.

The hotel hosts some 200 bedrooms, ranging from suites on the lower floors to smaller single rooms on the upper floors. Apart from accommodation for guests, rooms are also provided in a separate wing for servants, who have their own dining room.

The Australia offers the very latest in civilised artifice, including electric lifts; telephones and international telegraphy; full plumbing; and electric lighting and heating throughout. Bedroom amenities include free-running hot water, electrical power, and asbestos fires for the winter comfort of guests.

It’s a fancy pub, but a decent pub, a pub most splendid.

With entrances from Castlereagh Street, Martin Place, and Rowe Street, the Australia is the entertainment and social showcase of the city, with a banqueting hall, several bars and more inmate rendezvous for the well-to-do and the wishing-to-be.

Located on the first floor, the glass-domed Winter Garden is a refined bar and tea room, famous for its morning and afternoon teas, light luncheons, and theatre suppers.

The Bevery provides a more intimate dining area.

The Moorish Lounge is the place for pre-dinner drinks; it leads into the Emerald Room, an ornate banqueting hall with a soaring ceiling and Italian chandeliers. The speakers dias rises above a white marble fountain and neoclassical statues, and the entire room is engulfed in palm court style shrubbery.

The Sportsman’s Bar, better known as the Long Bar, is famous throughout New South Wales. It has one long bar stretching down the length of the room, allowing patrons standing on one side discrete observation of those opposite. Frequented by the city’s business and political elite and white-collar workers, it is also popular amongst the city’s theatrical and homosexual communities. Regulars form polite cliques with little interaction. One entrance to the Long Bar discretely opens onto Rowe Street, a bohemian laneway and ‘camp ghetto’.

The luxurious Smoking Room has a resident tobacconist.

The Reading Room has a small library and recent editions of international newspapers and magazines.

On the ninth floor, the Nepal Room is a little-known meditation space, decorated with hangings and pillows and a metre-high bronze statuette of Shiva Nataraja. It contains theosophical and spiritualist tracts, and discrete notices for theosophical meetings, seances and private readings.

Next to the Australia, across bohemian Rowe Street, stands the famous Theatre Royal, with a number of other theatres nearby.

The department store David Jones Limited maintains a small branch in the hotel, providing luxury goods for visitors, hampers for sending to Old Blighty, and tasteful souvenir Australiana. There is also a barber shop and beauty salon.

The luxurious Commercial Travellers Club of New South Wales is situated on Castlereagh Street directly opposite the hotel’s main entrance.

Hidden from guests, the Australia’s basement contains electricity generators, the hot water supply, lift mechanism, laundry, bakery, staff dining room, beer and wine cellars, cold storage rooms, an ice room and baggage storage.


John Hughes.

Rowe Street: Sydney’s Bohemian heartland

Sydney 1926


Flappers tapping along on stilt heels: message boys carrying their parcels as blithely as they wear their rakish caps; men of affairs walking by with the sobriety befitting their niche in life; women sauntering idly past….

A primrose path of dalliance, where people loiter by the way to brood over wares which, fascinating as those of an Eastern pettah, beckon from behind shop windows…. The milky sheen of ivory gleaming among the disorder of an art shop, the exquisite example of the dressmaker’s art, lying supinely across a gilded chair, which arouses the worst possible instinct in feminine breasts, the fragrance of massed flowers, the allure of rare books wooing with voiceless magic from behind plate glass—these are some of the temptations lying in wait for the unwary.

— Jessie Urquhart, 1931.

Do you want a messenger boy or a racing tip? An exquisite bibelot, or jazz garters or a jewelled lipstick case? Discreet companionship or entertainment? An elegant chapeaux perhaps, or a brass nymph, or a new play, or purchase of a book in defiance of the Censor’s ban? You should journey to Rowe Street.

Rowe Street is hardly a street at all, but rather a quaint ruelle, a narrow laneway running between Pitt and Castlereagh Streets parallel to Martin Place and proximate to the Hotel Australia. It is a shaded and secluded slice of Bohemia, a world apart, the Beau Brummell of the city, Sydney’s answer to Montmartre.

For fifty years now, Rowe Street has been the centre of Sydney’s bohemian life. Called ‘the most picturesque street in Australia’, its narrow footpaths offer respite from the noise and bustle of the surrounding city. Rowe Street is a place of poets, painters, actors, bohemians and dreamers. It is an arts quarter. It is a gay ghetto. The precinct’s cosmopolitan speciality shops, garret studios and tea rooms offer a brief respite from urban madness.

Down this laneway you will find mix of tiny refreshment rooms, restaurants, tea shops, coffee houses, hairdressers, florists, boutiques, and small art studios and galleries. There are several bookshops and lending libraries (including Sir Owen Aherne’s Wedgetail Press), ballet and tap dancing schools, tailors, bootmakers, a detective agency, the offices of several printers and publishers, antique dealers, importers of fine goods, shoe box theatres and shops selling Parisian hats.

Several bookstores carry discrete stocks of banned Australian and European books in defiance of the Censor. With discretion and a little effort, you might obtain modernist novels, political tracts, erotic fiction or advice on family planning and contraception.

Here too you will find the Fleet Fliers Messenger Service, and Jim de Lac, an SP bookie who operates from the back room of a barber’s shop. Artist Lionel Lindsay keeps a difficult-to-find garret studio.

In from the crowded, noisy streets,
To this thread of thoroughfares.
You feast on windows, fairie-sweet,
New frocks, old, priceless wares….
An Indian scarf, some priceless jade.
Gifts from the ports of Han:
An English Doulton milk-maid pair
A faded print of Pan!
—Mary Roach.

Intriguing stairways lead upward into mystery: a secret society perhaps, or a theatre group’s rehearsal rooms, or the elegant salon of a male milliner.

The great Theatre Royal on Castlereagh and Rowe offers diverse entertainments including dramas, comedy, and musical, and ensures a constant presence of actors, musicians, dancers and those who follow them. Rowe Street also houses the tiny Playbox Theatre, a sparkling-new venue for avant-garde plays.

On the corner of Pitt and Rowe sits Millions House, home to the exclusive Millions Club, a luxurious meeting place for politicians and businessmen. The Club is political in nature, and lobbies on immigration, development and municipal issues. (Its title derives not from its millionaire members but from its original purpose in promoting migration to New South Wales).

Ah, Rowe Street. It might seem that with a few steps you have left this enchanted quarter to fall back into the noise and rush of the inner city. Behind lie those few moments snatched from mundane reality, which offered moments of temptation and wonder.

Rowe-street lives within itself
In an old tale-laden dream.
—J. K. Phillips.

John Hughes

Pan[ic] game background and character drafts

Bohemian Sydney, 1926: the pubs, wine-bars, coffee shops, scandal, gossip and sensuality of the street. Starving artists, poor musicians, writers scratching for a living, bit actors, and people with all sorts of strange jobs. The men seek the verities of beer, women and mammon. Mostly the beer. The women seek something a little more complex and indefinable. Led by Jack Lindsay, the Vision group seeks to defend True Art against the barbarities of modern life.

But something has entered this antipodean arcadia, something beautiful and terrible. Something deadly.

A Machenesque horror game for Phenomenon Silver. Check out the game background and characters!


The Sorceress

A DAZ Studio/Photoshop study of J.W. Waterhouse’s ‘The Sorceress‘. in which Circe looks a little like another woman with an identically-sounding name.

The Ravens

Cecilia Winterbloom was courageous, sharp as a pin, and unwavering in her passion for the truth. We all knew it would end badly.

DAZ Studio and Photoshop. Adapted image is Ahasuerus at the End of the World (1888) by the pre-Symbolist Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl.