Australian Hotels With A History

Australian Hotels With A History

Australian Hotels With A History


Issue 1/June 2013


From glitzy, glam hotels to blissful boutique stays and remarkable structures; Australia is full of historic hotels and each and every one provides a different kind of travel experience. These one-of-a-kind buildings vary greatly in size, era and what they offer. What they do have in common is a story. Here, Tatyana Leonov offers just a glimpse into four Australian hotels which have hosted and witnessed the development of our land. 


Hotel Windsor, Victoria

The Hotel Windsor is older than The Ritz and Savoy hotels in London, Raffles in Singapore and The Plaza in New York.

In 1883 shipping magnet George Nipper built his magnificent dream, then known as The Grand Hotel (designed by acclaimed architect Charles Webb). Only three years passed before it changed hands in 1886 to a lad named James Munro, a temperance campaigner. He had big ideas – he burnt the hotel’s liquor license and changed its name to the Grand Coffee Palace. But by 1897 the hotel began selling alcohol again. 

In 1923, the hotel was once again renamed, this time to The Windsor in honour of a visit from The Prince of Wales. 

Today the hotel is a historic landmark. The Grand Ballroom, along with all the remains from the original building, including the grand staircase are heritage listed (since 1980). 

It is and always has been the hotspot to stay in Melbourne. Newlyweds book in their wedding night at the hotel months in advance, locals recommend it to interstate and overseas visitors, and the list of notable guests is long. Vivien Leigh, Sir Robert Helpmann, Katherine Hepburn, Gina Lollobrigida, Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck, Muhammed Ali, Meryl Streep, Daniel Radcliffe, Kylie Minogue, Barry Humphries, plus a long list of Australian Prime Ministers are just some of the glitterati who have stayed a night or two over the years. 

The hotel is known as the place to be if you’re into scones and tea (plus a bunch of other sweet and savoury delicacies). In fact, in 2010, The Hotel Windsor served its two millionth afternoon tea. 

This year, The Windsor celebrates its 130th birthday, and although it’s undergone several changes and revamps (the major extensions being in 1888 – five years after the hotel was built – and then again in the 1960), it’s still an emblematic structure. 

111 Spring Street, Melbourne Victoria. 03 9633 6000.


Harbour rocks hotel, New South Wales

In 1887 George Evans, a local lawyer, purchased a block of land in The Rocks and designed a three-storey structure divided into four sections (to make leasing it easier). A dozen convict carpenters and 16 hired men began laying down bricks and sandstone, and in its first instance, the construction housed a wool store. As the decades wore on a bunch of colourful characters took up residence in what became known as the Evan Stores, but by the mid-20th century it was in a state of disrepair. In 1973 a local art collective, known as the John Ogburn Studio Club, took up residence and renamed it the Harrington Street Gallery, home of many local artists.

In the 1960s the revitalisation of The Rocks precinct began, and in 1989 the original building was transformed into aboutique hotel, eventually renamed as the Harbour Rocks Hotel. An extensive recent refurbishment has seen the building stripped back to its foundations, exposing its original sandstone and brick walls and its former working cottages. The finished result is a striking fusion of raw elegance, which blends old and new, featuring stunning European features throughout the building.

Following the redesign and refurbishment in April 2012, the Harbour Rocks Hotel joined Accor’s MGallery Collection, and today the 59-room property offers visitors the chance to experience the surrounding area while immersing themselves in the rich history. 

Upon entering, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are lined with tomes about the city’s past and present, including titles such as A walk in Old Sydney, Soul in the City and The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney. A section of the library is open to guests, parts of old maps of the area in the 1880s are framed and adorn each of the guestrooms, while at the Scarlett restaurant guests can dine on a Harbour Rocks Pie – a play on a dish early settlers enjoyed in the early days of the Sydney colony.

34 Harrington Street, The Rocks New South Wales. 02 8220 9999.


Woodbridge on the Derwent, Tasmania

Woodbridge is one of Australia’s oldest buildings, built by chief constable Thomas Roadknight in 1825 – that makes it 188 years old! Thomas Roadknight was jailed for shooting a servant soon after he built Woodbridge, and on his return (he was sent to Sarah Island) in 1831 he sold the building to George Lindley who used it as an academy for young men. A William Stanley then purchased it in 1833 and the building remained in the Stanley family till 1905. Thereafter the property passed from one owner to another and by 2003 it was a decaying mess.

Laurelle and John Grimely first noticed Woodbridge while holidaying in Tasmania in 2003, and were disappointed that such an historical house could be left in such a state. In 2004 (again holidaying in Tasmania) they saw the property was up for sale, so jumped in to purchase, revamp and restore the hotel. They consulted a German engineer who had experience with European castles, who agreed that ‘the bones were sound’ and that Woodbridge could be saved. Thus began a two year project under John’s direction, and later won the 2005 Tasmanian, and later the 2006 Australian HIA Renovation of the Year Awards.

Today the hotel offers an authentic and boutique stay for guests. There are no reproduction antiques, no dusty drapes, no doilies. Original hallways lead to a total of nine rooms and suites, each with their own unique character. The functionality of each room has been cleverly designed to fit the flow of the building without compromising the integrity of the original mansion. Woodbridge is situated on the banks of the beautiful Derwent River – and all rooms come with a lovely river view.

The name Woodbridge comes from the first (wooden) bridge spanning the Derwent River. The remains of the 1834 bridge and the bridgeheads (from the Victorian era and 19th century) still adjoin the Pavilion today.

6 Bridge St, New Norfolk Tasmania. 0417 996 305.


Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury, South Australia

The Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury is one of the oldest and most historically significant buildings in South Australia – this is, after all, where Australia’s first gold coin was minted during the Gold Rush. Designed in 1836 by George Strickland Kingston, the foundation stone was laid in 1839 by Governor Gawler. He used the opportunity to proclaim Adelaide as the capital city of South Australia, finally laying to rest all the rumours and controversy going around about where the capital was to be located.

The population surge of the 1850s saw the historic Treasury building demolished. It was then rebuilt over the course of 70 years to accommodate government offices. During the 1930s Depression, the Treasury site was where the Beef Riots took place (the demonstrations rallied against the exclusion of beef from food rations).

Restored today into an apartment hotel, the heritage-listed building features 80 apartments, all fit out with contemporary Italian furnishings. The historic exterior has been retained, and the charming garden courtyard that was established in 1840 is today used as a space for guests to relax with a drink or two (in the 1800s settlers slept in the courtyard as they queued for land grants).

The original 19th century sandstone walls, archways, cast iron column and famous underground tunnels provide a glimpse into the past. Further still, an on-site archaeologist discovered numerous historical objects including plates, cutlery, glassware and other treasures, and these artefacts are now on display in the Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury’s lobby.

2 Flinders Street, Adelaide South Australia. 08 8112 0000.

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