“I’ll take any bid…”: THE HOTEL AUSTRALIA


This much loved watering hole was demolished in 1969 to make way for the MLC Centre, Australia’s tallest building between 1978 and 1992.

Listen in to the sounds of the Hotel being auctioned to the MLC in 1968. Television personality Shirley Abicair is also featured interviewing property magnate LJ Hooker, along with American Engineer Lynn Beedle extolling the virtues of ‘tall buildings’.

The once proud Hotel of the Commonwealth – an ‘oasis in the wastelands’.

The Hotel Australia
The Hotel Australia

The corner of Castlereagh and Pitt St is an intersection that has, historically, liked to show off.

Today it’s home to the MLC Centre, with its 67-story Tower and huge, spaceship-like ‘glass umbrella’ which until 1992 was Australia’s tallest building, stealing the prize in 1978 from the rival insurance provider AMP Tower down at Circular Quay. But many still mourn the irresistibly glamorous hotel that once stood here – The Hotel Australia.

The Hotel Australia was arguably the most elegant hotel that Sydney had ever seen. Completed in 1938 on the site of an earlier incarnation which dated back to 1891, the new Hotel Australia was an oasis of refined sensibility, offering comfort and service of an international standard.  Designed in the Art Deco style, the entrance foyer was a fantasy of black Carrara marble, black glass with silver etchings, mirrors and Doric columns painted red. Streamlined interiors were linked by a sweeping, elliptical stairway set against an enfolding wall of black glass, incised with fantastic birds and foliage etched in silver. With entrances from Castlereagh Street, Martin Place, and Rowe Street, the Hotel Australia was the showplace of the city, the place to be.

But the MLC Insurance company had designs on the site, and they weren’t of the amorous kind. The MLC Insurance Company purchased the building in 1968, first promising they’d look after it, but then coming clean a year later with their intention to raze the joint to the ground. This once-proud ‘Hotel of the Commonwealth’ was demolished in record time. With it went the much loved Rowe St.

Here’s what Harry Seidler, designer of the MLC Centre that replaced it, had to say about his work:

“Architecture is not like ladies hats – in one week and out the next. Good architecture is there for a long, long time, and it will survive all the moods of fashion that are about.”

Which, as the Hotel Australia reminds us, is in fact not always the case.

Recording sources:

-Professor Lynn Beedle, American Engineer, talks about tall buildings. ABC Radio (ABC Radio 1973)
-Shirley Abicair Interviewing Real Estate Magnate LJ Hooker from his offices in Martin Place (ABC TV 1966)
-Interviews with members of the Rowe St Society recorded by Nicole Steinke, for Radio National Hindsight Feature Remembering Rowe St: Technicolour in a Monchrome World, ABC Radio 2005.