Notorious hotels

The Lord Nelson Hotel at Millers Point claims to be Sydney’s ‘oldest continuously licensed hotel’ but what makes a hotel notorious? Hotels in New South Wales have been held up by bushrangers and the site of murders, riots and political intrigue, while others are famous for their architecture or for featuring in popular movies.

In 1879, Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne commandeered the back parlour of the Royal Mail Hotel in Jerilderie to hold employees of the Bank of NSW hostage while they robbed the bank and organised the printing of Kelly’s ‘Jerilderie Letter’. Bushranger Ben Hall's gang stayed at the Commercial Hotel in Collector in 1865 before the fatal shooting of Constable Nelson by John Dunn. In 1867 bushranger Captain Thunderbolt (Frederick Wordsworth Ward) held up the Bonshaw Hotel, which much later burnt down on New Year’s Eve 1988.

The Strand Hotel (cnr. William and Crown Streets, Sydney) was the site of gang warfare in 1929 – Frank Green of Tilly Devine’s gang murdered Barney Dalton from Kate Leigh's razor gang. The Milperra Viking Tavern was the scene of the ‘Milperra massacre’ of seven people on Father’s Day 1984, when rival motorcycle gangs had a shoot-out.

In 1942 there was a violent pub brawl between US servicemen and Australian soldiers in the Rose of Australia Hotel in Erskineville. On the last night of trading for the Star Hotel in Newcastle in 1979, an estimated 4,000 people fought with police after an attempt to close the venue at the usual time of 10 pm, leading to arrests, injuries and the burning of cars.

Notorious Sydney hotels include the Australian Hotel, corner of York Street North and Gloucester Street (where former boxer Joey Manners was killed in 1956), the Iron Duke Hotel in Alexandria (owner and convicted heroin trafficker Neddy Smith survived a murder attempt there in 1986) and the Newington Inn Hotel in Petersham (where ‘Ratty Jack’ Clarke was shot and killed in 1974).

Secret meetings between ASIO and Vladimir Petrov took place at the Kingston Hotel in Canberra before his 1954 defection from the Russian Embassy across the road. When the Australian Labor Party’s Federal Conference met at the same hotel in 1963 to decide the party’s election policy, the Labor Leader Arthur Caldwell and his Deputy Gough Whitlam were photographed outside, excluded from the decision-making by the ‘36 faceless men’.

The Silverton Hotel is probably the most easily recognisable outback pub in Australia, having featured in television advertisements and movies like Mad Max, A Town Like Alice and Wake In Fright. The Family Hotel, Tibooburra, one of the most remote, 1200 kilometres from Sydney and 300 from Broken Hill, features murals by Clifton Pugh and Russell Drysdale.

The Great Northern Hotel in Newcastle was rebuilt in 1938 in an American art-deco style, becoming one of Newcastle’s most distinctive structures. The Palace Hotel in Broken Hill with ornate lattice work and flamboyant murals featured in the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The grand Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath features both Art Deco and Edwardian architecture. Famous guests included Dame Nellie Melba on her farewell tour and Sir Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister, who died while on holidays there in 1920.