Sydney’s first beer garden

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The front garden of Petty’s Hotel on York Street provided a perfect place to establish Sydney’s first “beer garden” in 1938. this photo was taken circa 1910, before the beer garden was established.

SYDNEY’s first beer garden was established facing York Street outside Petty’s Hotel at the corner of  Jamieson and Clarence Streets late in 1938.

While beer gardens are now common in the yards of Sydney pubs, they were difficult to find prior to the 1950s.
Beer gardens were much welcomed by women, who up until that time had been either confined to cramped, musty parlours, or in the 1940s and 50s forced to sit in cars and have their husbands or boyfriends bring them out their drinks.
Although it would be another 20 years before women were accepted in public bars, the beer gardens provided a refuge when they slowly began to appear in the yards of Sydney’s pubs from the late 1930s. They allowed a civilised area where woman could gather at a pub for a drink. More importantly though, beer gardens allowed mixed drinking, and arguably provided the gateway for women to eventually enter the men only public bars.
A women’s column in the Sydney Sun on November 20 1938 reported; “At last we have a beer garden… opened yesterday at Petty’s. Bright umbrellas and lacquered chairs alongside the street… later there’s to be a special section for women only”.
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In the new beer garden at Petty’s Hotel. Misses Joan McGrath, Veronica Donovan and Bunty Broadway, busy committee members, discuss plans for the New Year’s Eve Dinner Dance to be held at Petty’s Hotel in aid of the Food For Babies Fund – The Sydney Sun December 18 1938.

The Sun reported in October 1938:
BEER GARDENS FOR SYDNEY
Sydney’s first beer garden is now being constructed at Petty’s Hotel, York-street.
The garden, which will be modelled on the latest Continental lines, will be divided into two sections, one for residents and one for the public. It will be situated on the York-street frontage, which for over 100 years has been occupied by lawns and paths.
The garden has been planned by the manager of Petty’s, Mr. L. Pearce, who recently arrived from England.
Seating accommodation will be provided for approximately 200 people at tables shaded by colorful awnings.
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Judge and Mrs Stewart in the beer garden of Petty’s Hotel, Sydney 1941.

Beer gardens took a while to catch on around Australia, with Sydney hotels leading the way. The Launceston Examiner reported on 6 November 1947:
CHANGE IN DRINKING HABITS URGED
Larger Australian cities could well afford to experiment with beer gardens, according to people in many walks of life interviewed yesterday.
Their main complaint against existing drinking facilities was that most hotels made no effort to provide the club-like atmosphere found in English Inns.
“Australian drinking habits are appallingly primitive,” said a city business man recently returned from Britain.
“Australian hotels provide no incentive for sane and moderate drinking.
“The daily five o’clock beer swill is little better than barbarian.
“Beer gardens would give Australians a chance to drink like civilised beings.”
Other opinions –
A clergyman: “I don’t favour drinking in any form, but if Australians insist on drinking they should be given better conditions than exist in hotels today.”
A clerk: “By all means let us have beer gardens. I’ve had the pubs.”
A doctor: “Why not give it a go?”
A tram conductor: “If you’d been handling six o’clock drunks on trams as long as I have you’d welcome any change in Australian drinking habits.”
A housewife: “Beer gardens are good enough in Europe – here we haven’t the culture to go with them.”
By the 1950s beer gardens were opening all over Sydney, and since then they have become an important part of Australian pub culture.
Petty’s Hotel was a Sydney landmark. It opened in 1842 and traded for over a century as a hotel, before closing on September 1, 1950, having been sold to the Red Cross. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday 2 September 1950:

 

Goodbye To Petty’s Hotel

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Mr. T. T. Archer, manager of Pettys, cuts a cake in the saloon bar when the old hotel served its last drinks yesterday

NOT even drinks “on the house” could disperse the gloom in Petty’s last night, when the 118-year-old hotel closed its doors for the last time. It has been bought by the Red Cross, which will turn it into a blood-bank headquarters.

The atmosphere was thick with nostalgia in the lounge and on the terrace, where a polite burst of clapping followed an announcement by the manager, Mr. T. T. Archer, that the drinks were “on the house.”

The same announcement in the public bar was the signal for a roar of approval, which brought in two policemen at the double. (They retired to a corner, looking relieved, and accepted the hospitality pressed on them by two old dockers.)

As 6 o’clock approached, Grace, up in the saloon bar, administered her last reproofs and advice to the city managers and clerks. “I’ve got the most exclusive clientele in Australia,” said Grace. “I don’t mean for money or anything like that, but they’re all nice and never any trouble.

“I like to see men behave themselves properly, especially if they’re drinking a beer. And that’s one thing you can say about Petty’s: there is never any of this ungentlemanly conduct here.”

“First time in a century they’ve closed the doors, they tell me,” said a truck driver in the public bar.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day when free beer made me feel sad. I suppose the pub’s being sold in a good cause. But where am I going to go? That’s what I want to know. Why, I’ve been coming here since 1908.”

The saddest touch of the evening came just after closing time, when a taxi drew up and decanted a very old gentleman. He came up to the reception desk and said, “I am just passing through Sydney, but I shall be back on the fifteenth. Could you please let me have a room then for one week?”

He appeared stunned to learn that Petty’s was sold to the Red Cross.

“But I always stay here,” he cried. “I had no idea of this: it’s four years since I came to the city, and I had no idea. Why, I’ve always stayed here, and so did my father. It’s the only place I could stay. Where on earth can I go, then?”

And so, to the bewilderment of a past generation and the sorrow of its present users, passed Petty’s Hotel: a place of countless pleasant memories and one of the few Sydney hotels where the tradition of civilised drinking still lingered on.

 

The building, fronting York, Clarence and Jamison Streets, was previously the residence of Presbyterian minister, John Dunmore Lang, who supervised the construction of the first Scot’s Church on Church Hill. Lang sold his home to another hotelkeeper before it was bought by Thomas Petty in 1836. Following two and a half decades of use by the Red Cross, the elegant colonial structure was sadly demolished in 1976.


Categories: Sydney hotels

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4 replies

  1. Hi Michael,
    I am particularly interested in the story of Petty’s Hotel, at what used to be Number One York Street, Sydney, and enjoyed reading you article about the building’s days as a smart hotel – with Beer Garden.

    In the early 1970s I worked there, on the NSW Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service’s staff, and just loved my office with beautiful French doors onto the front verandah!

    But there is a puzzle: when the building was demolished, what happened to the stunning cedar staircase between the ground floor and the middle floor (the Ballroom, or nurses’ tea-room), and the enormous mirror (probably 8′ high) which had once graced the Ballroom, and was in ‘my’ days positioned over the staircase??

    There was also a very old watercolour painting of the building, and I have a photograph which I took back in 1973. Maybe the painting still resides in the HQ of the current Red Cross offices, but I do wonder…. I have never seen a copy of it reproduced on the ‘official’ sydney history websites, and the NSW State Library’s website knows nothing about Petty’s Hotel.
    I would be happy to email you the image if you think it might be useful for your ‘Time Please’ website.

    (Although I was with the secretarial staff, my last job there was to make drawings of the building, on a greeting card sent to all the blood donors with the details of the BTS’s change of address.)

    Thank you for your very interesting article,
    Christine

    • Thanks for the interesting message, Christine. I would indeed be
      interested in the photo of the
      painting of Pettys. It would be such a Shane if those features, like the staircase and mirror, ended up on the tip. I’ll do some digging around to see if I can find the fate of the painting you mentioned. Regards. slackyflat@hotmail.com

  2. Christine, it seems the red cedar bar ended up in a pub in Orange after the hotel’s closure in 1950. No news though on the painting and other fittings from when you worked there for the Red Cross.

  3. At one time Pettys Hotel was owned by William Gannon son of Michael Gannon – Mary Parsonage, Michael Gannon builder of lots of House’s and Hotels in the rocks – Mary Parsonage Daughter of convict horse thief Thomas Parsonage and wife convict Mary Jones , in the year 1886 William Gannon owned the Melbourne cup winning horse Arsenal – So this family have the gran-son of a horse thief winning the Melb cup – – Mary Parsonage is the sister of my G.G.G. Grandfather Edward Parsonage – – just a little bit Trivia with the cup being on next week – regards Bill Turner.

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