Paddington pub punching above its weight

The Paddington, formerly the Paddington Arms, and before that, the Hotel Canberra. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection


Frederick John Kay boxing
Fred Kay in 1914

LIKE footballers, it seemed it was once a right of passage for boxers to turn their hand to a pub career after retiring from their sport.

One pugilist who swapped his gloves for a publican apron was Frederick John Kay.

Kay was host of the Hotel Canberra on Oxford Street, Paddington from 1945 to 1955. Today it trades as The Paddington.

Kay was a professional boxer from 1913 to 1920, winning the Australian welterweight title in a career of 62 bouts. A south paw, his reputation as an outstanding boxer was demonstrated by his defeats of five high class American boxers, including Jim Clabby and Joe Chip in 1923.

Kay would only recognise the Hotel Canberra from the outside these days, with the three storey building resembling more a restaurant than a pub. It was bought by Sydney bar and restaurant tsar Justin Hemmes for $5.5 million in 2014.

The once typical tiled, men’s only bar, has disappeared, and Hemmes has transformed the pub into an upmarket eatery downstairs, with a cocktail bar on the second storey.

The current hotel was built in 1913, although the site has supported a pub for over 140 years.

Hotel Canberra, Oxford Street, Paddington, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Newly married couple, James and Sarah Bohan established the Tradesman’s Arms on the site in the mid 1860s, and the pub remained in the family for half a century.

The Tradesman’s Arms was demolished and replaced with a three storey brick structure, named after Australia’s newly proclaimed capital city.

On March 13 1913 the capital was officially named Canberra, an Aboriginal word thought to mean ‘meeting place’.

Pubs are natural meeting places so it seems only appropriate that a flurry of hoteliers around the country named their pubs after the nation’s new capital around this time.

The new Hotel Canberra’s first publican was Daniel Minihan, who gained the license in May 1914.

After a succession of publicans, former professional boxer, Fred Kay took the license of the Hotel Canberra in 1945. He replaced Jim Normyle, who had lost his wife in a tragic accident in the upstairs bathroom of the pub.

The retired boxer would also lose his wife through an accident less than five years after gaining the license of the hotel.

Jim Normyle and his wife, Florence took over the Hotel Canberra in 1936 and they were at the pub for eight years when tragedy struck the hosts.

Florence, 50, was found dead in a bath at the hotel about 9pm on Thursday June 29 1950.

Jim was passing the bathroom when he saw water flowing under the closed door. Hot water from the bath-heater was still running when he discovered his wife’s badly scalded body.

Police believe she either collapsed and fell into the bath or was overcome by fumes.

Jim left the pub the following year, and Tooth and Company, who purchased the pub in 1938, appointed popular boxer, Fred Kay as the new host in 1945.

Canberra Hotel Paddington 1960 ANU
Hotel Canberra 1960. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
FRederick John Kay and wife Catherine
Fred and Cath Kay

Five years later, Kay also lost his wife in a dreadful accident. While at the helm of the pub, his second wife, Catherine was running a boarding house in Riley Street, Surry Hills.

Catherine, 60, was found dead on the floor of her flat in January 1950.

Detectives found a superficial cut on her head and residents of a flat above told police they heard an argument in her room.

The Government Medical Officer found that her death was though coronary occlusion and a coroners report declared there were no suspicious circumstances.

Kay remained as host of the Canberra Hotel until 1955 before taking on a number of other inner-city pubs, including the Golden Grove at the corner of Alma and Raglan Streets, Darlington, before his death at the age of 76 in 1966.

The Hotel Canberra had a name change in the 1980s, and was known as the Paddington Arms when it underwent a major renovation by new owner, Joe Saleh in 2013.

The Paddington Arms’ renovations reportedly failed to deliver customers to the pub was sold to restaurateur, Justin Hemmes in 2014.

Hemmes’ pub company, Merrivale re-badged the Paddington Arms, ‘The Paddington’, transforming it into part-pub, part-restaurant and part-cocktail bar.

Frederick John Kay
Fred Kay as an older man

I wonder what ex-pug, Fred Kay would think of Hemmes’ upmarket pub today, with his emphasis on food.

Kay during his decade at the Hotel Canberra never sold meals to his customers, preferring instead to focus his efforts on the bar.

The Sunday Telegraph in 1947 found 20 of 33 Sydney pubs visited by reporters did not serve meals.

Hotels which refused to serve meals blamed shortage of staff, strict rationing of foods, and lack of dining-room accommodation.

But Kay, at The Canberra, was a little more straight-forward when asked by the reporter: “No lunches here. But I’ll tell you where you’ll get a good one — over the road at Mike’s Hamburger.”

Oh, how times have changed.

The Paddington, Paddington. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2018 

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Categories: NSW hotels, Publicans, Sydney hotels

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1 reply

  1. The pub went through a phase as Kitty O’Sheas – an Irish pub after Canberra. Locals always pronounced the name as Can Ber Ra (Ber as in bear) – none of that Canb’ra nonsense.

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