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‘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. 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. 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.

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

The hotel 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 Australia 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.

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 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 professionals 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 (somewhat anachronistically), a 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.

The Commercial Travellers Club 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.

The Blue Angel, Guardian of Sydney

new angelSome of you will know Erica Vandeerzee’s famous statue of the Blue Angel in Federation Park, Kings Cross. The sculpture is dedicated to the 15 unidentified victims of serial killer Joseph ‘Cutter’ Ekin, the Darlinghurst Reaper, the Bastard from the Bush, who terrorised inner Sydney over three bloody months in 1909.

The Blue Angel bears the haunting inscription, ‘We shall ascend together’. It was carved by Vandeerzee in 1919 of unique Kimberley marble mined from an offshore reef.

Scorned by the churches, the Blue Angel has nonetheless become a guardian symbol of Sydney, patroness of the battler, the downtrodden, and the happy-go-lucky. Sometimes she is called Pacificus, the Guardian of the Harbour.

The Turn of Midnight Waters, Briefing 4: The Blue Angel

Pacific Civilisation: A Hidden History?


In April 1925, the disabled steam yacht Alert was towed into Sydney Harbour. The sole surviving crewman, Gustaf Johansen, told a fantastic tale of cultic piracy, a risen island, and a monstrous sea beast. A hideous winged idol discovered aboard the ship was delivered to the Australian Museum. A scholarly symposium was called to discuss its mysterious provenance and identity. The advertisement for the symposium was carried in various scientific journals and was much discussed in occult periodicals and other, even less public, circles. And the ships came.

Daz Studio and Photoshop. Click for full size version. Also available as a PDF (6 Meg).


close shave



Razorhurst, Gunhurst, Bottlehurst, Dopehurst – it used to be Darlinghurst, one of the finest quarters of a rich and beautiful city; to-day it is a plague-spot, where the sporn of the gutter grow and fatten on official apathy. By day it shelters in its alleys, in its dens, the Underworld people. At night, it looses them to prey on property, decency & virtue, & to fight one another for division of spoils. Truth, 23 September 1928.

Razorhurst, Sydney, 1926. That wild and haunted city. The Turn of Midnight Waters. Rendered in DAZ Studio and Photoshop. Click for full size image.

The Turn of Midnight Waters

Cthulhu idol

The idol in the Australian Museum



The crouching image with its cuttlefish head, dragon body, scaly wings, and hieroglyphed pedestal was preserved in the Museum at Hyde Park; and I studied it long and well, finding it a thing of balefully exquisite workmanship …. I thought … about the primal Great Ones: ‘They had come from the stars, and had brought Their images with Them.’
H.P. Lovecraft, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’.

Sydney, 1926, that wild and haunted city. There are gangsters on the streets of the Big Smoke. There is a mysterious idol in the Australian Museum. There is something nasty in the Harbour. And stone the crows, it’s coming ashore.

Check our our briefing page for The Turn of Midnight Waters, a two session Lovecraftian horror module to be run at Phenomenon, 10-13 June 2015.

(Idol model rendered in DAZ Studio and Photoshop).