History puts punch into our grand hotels

There's an incredible story behind some of our grand hotels: Q Station in Sydney was used for 150 years to quarantine migrants suspected of carrying contagious diseases

When Canada’s sporting hero Tommy Burns, checked into the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney late in 1908, he breathed in the crisp, clean bush air unaware he was on his last gasp as the toughest man in the world.

Burns, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, set up a training camp at the plush resort built by Sydney retail baron Mark Foy and began working out for what would be one of the most importing sporting events of all time – an extravaganza that would strike a mighty blow for racial equality around the world.

The event took place before a huge audience at the newly built Sydney Stadium at Rushcutters Bay, appropriately on Boxing Day 1908, as Burns staked his world title against Texan Jack Johnson, the son of former slaves, and the first black man ever to fight for what was then regarded as the greatest prize in all of sports.

Burns had set up his training camp at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel in the suburb of Botany and though the accommodation was more modest than Burns’ palatial headquarters, the fight was a mismatch with the black man battering the white champion to a pulp, the first time a black athlete had crushed a white hero in such an international event.

Most of the construction of the Hydro Majestic took place in 1903 and it included a steam-driven generator imported from Germany, which produced electricity for the resort and the neighbouring township of Medlow Bath, four days before electricity was turned on in Sydney.

The Hydro Majestic is just one of Australia’s many hotels with a rich history.

Australia’s first Prime Minister Sir Edmund Barton actually died at the Hydro in 1920.

While many Australian hotels have been used for COVID quarantine over the last year and a half, Q Station in the Sydney suburb of Manly was used for about 150 years until 1984 to quarantine people migrating to Australia who were suspected of carrying contagious diseases.

The staff rooms have since been transformed to 4-star hotel status and, in the heart of Sydney Harbour National Park, Q Station now offers a peaceful and romantic retreat with stunning views across Sydney Harbour.

It is also Sydney’s only hotel with a private beach.

The Hotel Kurrajong Canberra first opened in 1926 for the birth of the nation’s capital, as Australia’s parliament moved north from Melbourne.

The hotel was designed by the Commonwealth Chief Architect, John Smith Murdoch, who also designed Canberra’s Old Parliament House. The corridors are steeped in the capital’s political history and Prime Minister Ben Chifley lived at the hotel throughout his parliamentary career until his death in 1951. He preferred the Kurrajong’s comfortable, down-to-earth confines to the Prime Minister’s official home, The Lodge, enjoying the 700m walk each morning to Parliament House.

Last year the hospitality group Black Rhino paid more than $12 million for the historic Craig’s Royal Hotel in Ballarat

In addition to the hotel’s 37 rooms, coffee shop and restaurant, the sale also included a lucrative gaming licence.

Craig’s Royal was built during the Victorian gold rush and in 1867 hosted Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred.

Other famous guests included cricketing legend Don Bradman, American writer Mark Twain and opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, who famously performed from the hotel’s balcony.

The Hotel Windsor, named in honour of the British Royal Family, opened in 1884, and is Melbourne’s only surviving purpose-built “grand” Victorian era hotel.

Notable guests have included King George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (as Duke and Duchess of York), General Sir John Monash, Meryl Streep, Anthony Hopkins, Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Nureyev, Dame Nellie Melba, Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Margot Fonteyn, and “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali.

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Peter Hook
Peter Hook
2 years ago

Excellent article and while Australian hotels might not have the history of Eurooean hotels, our hotels need to incorporate stories of their past into their narrative. Let’s call it ‘modern history’.

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