The demise of Sydney’s inner-city hotels, and the rise of the 1950s suburban ‘Super Pubs’

Pagewood Rex Hotel, Maroubra 1960 ANU
Pagewood Rex Hotel, Pagewood, 1955. The Pagewood Hotel opened on November 16 1953 after the transfer of the license of the College Green Hotel at Chippendale. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

IN an effort to spread evenly the number of pubs around a rapidly expanding Sydney in the late 1940s, the NSW Government began encouraging the removal of inner-city pub licenses out into the suburbs.

One of the first so called “Super Pubs” was at Pagewood, when The Rex Hotel opened there on November 16 1953. The license was removed from the old College Green Hotel at Chippendale.

Golden Grove Hotel Maroubra Junction 1960 anu
The Golden Grove, Maroubra Junction 1960.  The Golden Grove Hotel officially opened on October 25 1954 after the removal of the license of the Golden Grove Hotel at Darlington. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Grove Inn Hotel Kingsgrove NSW 1960 ANU
The Grove Hotel, Kingsgrove 1960. The license was removed from the Robert Burns Hotel at the corner of Sussex and Bathurst Streets in Sydney on September 30 1954. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Bennelong Hotel Beverley Hills 1960 ANU
The Bennalong Hotel, Beverley Hills, 1960. The pub officially opened on November 1 1954 after the license was removed from the Metropolitan Hotel, Paddington. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Caringbah Hotel January 1955 ANU
Caringbah Hotel, Caringbah 1955. The hotel officially opened on November 11 1954 after the removal of the license of the Royal Oak at Pyrmont. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
Cammeray Rex Hotel 1960 ANU
Cammeray Rex Hotel, Cammeray 1960. The hotel officially opened on May 31 1954 after the removal of the license of the Sunbeam Hotel, Redfern. The Rex later became the San Miguel Hotel in 1972. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian national University.

The year 1954 saw the opening of five “Super Pubs” in Sydney’s suburbs – The Golden Grove at Maroubra Junction, the Bennalong at Beverley Hills, the Grove Inn at Kingsgrove, the Rex at Cammeray, and the Caringbah Hotel at Caringbah. Many more licenses were removed from the “crowded inner-city market” to the growing outer suburbs during the 1950s. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the “Super Pubs” in the following story on Saturday 27 November 1954:


Distribution of Sydney Hotels is Uneven, Outdated


hotels in sydney 1954

THE introduction of 10pm closing is expected to bring about a considerable increase in the bar and lounge trading of suburban hotels. It is believed that many city workers, who previously took part in the 5pm to 6pm rush in town will in future go to the “locals” in their respective suburbs, after the evening meal. But if this is to be the case, then unless more suburban hotels are built, or existing premises greatly enlarged, the amenities and reforms which should accompany later closing may be spoiled or handicapped in some districts by congestion.

An alternative is the mushroom growth of suburban clubs for the purpose of meeting the demand. There is considerable anomaly in the number of hotels in certain areas.

Old-established districts are comparatively well served. For example, Marrickville municipality has 17 hotels for a population of 78,340, which has decreased in seven years from 88,721.

Rockdale (population 75,994) has seven hotels. Sutherland shire, which has increased its population in the last seven years from 29,184 to 65,608, has eight.

On the other hand, Warringah Shire, which has increased in population from 33,176 in 1947 to 60,043 this year, has only four hotels. Bankstown has three for a present-day population of 102,193.

Hotels in older districts were established when the issue of licences was not as restricted as it is to-day. As population has moved, or new areas have flourished, it has not been possible for hotels to spring up with them.

It is the new “dormitory suburbs” which have the fewest hotels. And it is in these suburbs that the demand for evening drinking facilities will be greatest.

The City of Sydney’s boundaries enclose 406 hotels, most of which cater for the people who work in the city but leave it in the evening. The City of Sydney’s population is 192,869, a decrease of about 10 per cent on the 1947 figures.

Since 1911, when New South Wales had 11 o’clock closing of hotels, the population of metropolitan Sydney has increased by approximately 1,194,500.

But there are 747 fewer licensed hotels to-day than in that year. In 1911 the proportion was one hotel to 229 persons in the city.

The trend in hotel building since the war has been towards bigger hotels with lounge and beer-gardens, for the reason that the present number of hotels, which has not increased since 1929, must cater for a larger number of drinkers than ever before.

However desirable the smaller, intimate English-type of “pub” might be, it is impossible to introduce them in Sydney under existing legislation.

The number of hotel licences in the metropolitan licensing area is limited by law to the number operating within the same boundaries 25 years ago – in 1929. This number was – and still is – 618.

Before a new hotel can open for business – and, in practice, before its construction is even started – the licence of another one must be transferred to it by authority of the Licensing Court.

In 1920, when the Licences Reduction Board was inaugurated, there was one hotel to every 1,693 of population in Sydney. Today there is one hotel for every 3,305 of population. The NSW average is one hotel to every 1,687 persons.

The law which restricts the number of Sydney’s hotels was a Liquor Amendment Act passed in 1929 under the sponsorship of the then Minister of Justice, Mr. J. T. Ley, who, in 1947, was found guilty of murder in England and committed to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane, where he died later that year.

Mr. Ley intended the legislation as an anti-drink measure, calculated to reduce intemperance. It did not specifically limit the number of hotels at a certain number; but it ruled that no more petitions for new hotel licenses would be received by the Licensing Court – which had, of course, the same effect. There could be fewer hotels, but not more.

One effect of the present “no new licence without surrendering an old” is that a licence has become one of the most valuable documents in the Commonwealth.

When it is proposed to transfer a licence, application is made to the Court, when residents of the new district, or any other interested parties, may support or oppose the move.

A licence for transfer is worth at least £20,000. On a transfer being granted a new manager is usually appointed by the purchaser, subject to the Licensing Court approving the character of the applicant as the new licensee.

A large number of city hotels are owned by the breweries. These hotels no doubt would be “expendable” for suburban development, when and if the large capital outlay necessary to exploit the licenses in the suburbs was seen to be justified.

Last year the Licensing Court agreed to the transfer of 20 licences in New South Wales. In Sydney most transfers went to new and expensive hotels in the outer residential suburbs.

Only two transfers have been applied for this year, though 11 more applications are pending.

However, the 1954 list of new hotels opened, or to be opened, in Sydney represents a greater investment than in any previous year. Most are “super-hotels” built for the patronage of hundreds of people at a time. And almost every one provides some facility for outdoor drinking.

They are: The Benalong, at Beverly Hills; The Grove Inn, at Kingsgrove; the Rex, at Cammeray; the Golden Grove, at Maroubra; and the Caringbah Hotel.

Communal hotels are exempt from the restriction on licences, and a new licence may be issued to a municipal project without entailing the surrender of another hotel.

However, Sydney’s first municipal hotel, a Randwick Council project, has yet to be built.

The removal of inner-Sydney’s hotel licenses to the growing outer suburbs, meant the loss and eventual demolition of many of the city’s historic pubs.

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Categories: NSW hotels, Sydney hotels

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2 replies

  1. Great article 👍 lifted and plagiarised buy I grew up in mortdale 👎

  2. You couldn’t cross King Georges Road in front of the Bennalong with a stroller and two kids in tow now! Goodness this takes me back. Moorfields Rd turn off is a quarter mile up from that shot and I lived their not long after this photo; in fact my father probably sold that FB in photo. The Bat and Ball, the Maroubra incarnation of the Golden Grove; mum was from Maroubra. I was born in Avalon right about when this lady crossed King Georges Road and have seen nearly every one of the Pubs in theses shots growing up in an Ambulant family in Sydney except the Darlington Golden Grove and one or two others.
    The Grove my local as a KNOB until 75 when I moved back to Avalon but Bexley North and the Bennelong were popular as was the George up on the corner of Canterbury Rd & Kingsgrove Rd; Dave McGrath’s dad managed it in the early 70’s. I think I’m going to get all misty.
    Do you have any shots of the first Newport Arms when it was the light blue corrugated Iron joint before the fire and they built what’s there now? That used to have the best beer garden in the World and the fools turned it into a McDonalds. The Boganvillia had grown into a huge cave network with the tables in there and people would come from all over the world just to sit in that beer garden. Man they butchered that beer garden…

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