The pub in the Dandenong Ranges with an unusual name: The Dolce Domum Hotel

Dolce Domum Hotel, Olinda. Picture: Rose Series postcard, undated.


IN the heart of Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges in the charming town of Olinda is the Mount Dandenong Hotel, an hour’s drive from Melbourne and a favourite weekend dining destination for city dwellers.

The Mount Dandenong Hotel opened on its current site in 1934, although the pub’s history goes back a lot further to March 1908 when it was first licensed, about a mile away, as the Dulce Domum.

Distance had an important part to play in the pub’s establishment.

The Mount Dandenong Hotel’s license almost never came to be because of its proximity to the Royal Hotel at Upper Ferntree Gully.

In 1908, under the Victorian Licensing Act, a roadside inn could not be licensed within eight miles of another on a public road, causing Elizabeth Grant’s legal team to come up with some creative thinking to get around the law.

Grant had to go back to the drawing board after she applied and was rejected a roadside victualler’s license for ‘Dulce Domum’ in December 1908.

Giving evidence against the application, the Ferntree Gully Shire Council surveyor stated that Mrs Grant’s house was seven miles and 58 chains – about a kilometre within the required distance – from the Royal Hotel at Upper Ferntree Gully.

Grant though was determined. She made another application for a license in March 1909, and this time brought evidence to prove that Dulce Domum was more than eight miles by public road from the Royal hotel at Ferntree Gully.

Royal Hotel, Ferntree Gully, 1920. Picture: State Library of Victoria.

Grant argued that the distance between Dulce Domum and the Upper Ferntree Gully pub was measured along a private road, and not the public road – as required by the Act. She engaged a surveyor from Melbourne, who measured the distance along the public road, and who came to a distance of eight miles and 30 chains – Phew!

As a consequence, the license was granted, allowing Mrs Grant to open a pub in her already established guest house. The bench held the opinion that her pub was necessary in the popular tourist destination.

Dulce Domum, a Latin term, meaning ‘sweetly at home’, and likely named from a tune composed by Robert Ambrose in 1876, was opened as a guest house by Elizabeth Grant in 1906. The Melbourne Punch reported in January 1906:


‘Dulce Domum’, under the management of Mrs. E. Grant, is a prettily-situated residence-resort upon the heights of Mount Olinda, and is reached via Bayswater, thence by Dodd’s coach. ‘Dulce Domum’ contains over twenty newly-built rooms, furnished in the most modern and complete style, has shower and plunge baths, and is an ideal place in which to spend a mountain holiday. The table is a good one, and the tariff of charges reasonable, special arrangements being made for families. Although this is Mrs Grants first season for the retention of guests ‘Dulce Domum’ has been crowded during the holidays…  

Grants’ application for a roadside victualler’s license was granted for the 26 room guest house in March 1906. She remained licensee and host of the Dulce Domum for eight years before retiring.

Located about a mile out of town along a rough dirt track, bar business was difficult for a series of owners and licensees following Elizabeth Grant’s ownership.

In 1920 when Ethel Rixon was licensee of the pub, she struggled to make a living from the business. A civil case, when the owner of the hotel, Rene De Groot, summoned Ethel Rixon to court for not paying her rent, revealed the details of the fading fortunes of the pub:

“The hotel was not on the main road, but was approached by a bush track, and in winter time was almost inaccessible…Evidence was given by Ethel Rixon, who said there was practically no local trade at the hotel. Some weeks the takings from this source did not amount to more than 15 shillings a week. There were about seven local customers, and they were not frequent attendants. When they did go to the hotel they did not spend more than a couple of shillings each…”

The writing was on the wall for the pub known as Dolce Domum, despite a number of licensees attempting to make a success of the business. The Richmond Guardian reported on April 12, 1924:

Less than a mile from the main street is situated the now well-known ‘Dulce Domum’ Hotel, perched on a shoulder of the mountain and commanding some of the finest scenery to be found in any district. From the four sides of the house four distinct types of view can be enjoyed, but the view the writer most enjoyed was that which looks through the opening in the mountains right across Lilydale to Mystic Lake. This view must be seen; it is impossible to do it justice in mere words; it beggars description. But one cannot exist on views alone, and Mrs. Jessie Allen, the genial hostess of the hotel, has foreseen this and made provision to meet the exigencies of the case. A few months ago Mrs. Allen took over this hotel, and the transformation she has worked both inside and out shows that she is a past mistress in the knowledge of arranging for the comfort of her guests. The whole of the interior has been redecorated and brought up to date; a fine spacious dining room, with a tastefully decorated drawing-room attached; light, airy bedrooms and broad, comfortably-furnished verandahs are among the alterations she has made—but, with it all, sensible woman as she is, she has devoted her main attention to that department which is sure to reach the heart sooner or later, the kitchen; first-class chef is in command, and the final touch is here added to the visitors’ enjoyment. Mrs. Allen might well adopt the motto of ‘Satis’, and she deserves the popularity which she is gaining week by week. When Mrs. Allen first took over the hotel she arranged for signs to be affixed to certain trees along the road side, and these are without doubt of great assistance in guiding tourists; apparently someone locally has objected to this; but why, passes our comprehension. If the hotel were in the township there would, of course, be no need, but without these guides, provided thoughtfully by Mrs. Allen, the weary tourist might wander for hours about the numerous mountain roads and finally go hungry and thirsty back to town. It is the tourist trade that makes it possible for many to get a living in this district, and the tourists’ comfort in the matter of proper direction should be among the first thoughts.

A 1930 advertisement for the Dolce Domum Hotel, Olinda. Picture: Supplied.

One of the last owners of the Dolce Dolum came to a tragic end while at the hotel in 1930. Henrietta Frainett bought the hotel and arranged for her brother, Andre Damesin to take the license. Damesin was awakened by his sister about 3.30am on January 30 1930. She was in extreme pain and told him she had taken a powder to ease a stomach pain.

The publican noticed that the powder in the glass from which she had taken the dose looked different. In the cupboard in which the powder had been kept there was also a similar jar containing arsenic to kill white ants. His sister was taken to a hospital at Fern Tree Gully where she later died.

During an inquiry into her death, the coroner said it was ‘”mad to put arsenic in a jar labelled Kruschen Salts, and similar to the jar in which was a powder she had been taking as medicine”. The Coroner found that her death by arsenic poisoning was accidental.

Despite the hotel’s picturesque location, and multiple directional signs, the Dolce Domum remained difficult to find, and business continued to suffer. There’s little wonder that the new owner of the hotel, Vincent Nolan applied to remove the license to a new purpose built hotel in the town of Olinda in 1933. The Melbourne Argus reported on October 25, 1933:

New Hotel at Olinda

Plans for the erection of an hotel at Olinda, at a cost of £4,500 were submitted to the Licensing Court on Monday. Application was made on behalf of the owner and licensee of the Dulce Domum roadside licence at Olinda for permission to remove the license to another site on the Ferntree Gully Croydon road where the new hotel would be erected to plans prepared by Mr R. H. McIntyre. It was stated that the hotel would be of brick and accommodation would include rooms for tourists, nine bedrooms, three parlours, and a lounge…

An advertisement for newly opened Mount Dandenong Hotel, Olinda. Picture: Supplied.

A the Licensing Court on January 22 1934 an application by Harry  Morcom, who had taken over as host of the Dulce Domum Hotel from Andre Damesin in 1931, was given approval to officially change the hotel’s sign to the Mount Dandenong Hotel.

The old de-licensed Dolce Dolum, comprising of a weatherboard building of about 18 rooms, with spacious verandahs, and sitting on about six acres of land, was advertised for sale. However, within two months it was destroyed by fire. The Melbourne Herald reported on May 25 1934:

The old Dulce Domum hotel, situated on a back road a mile from the Olinda township, was burnt to the ground early today. It is not known how the fire started, and efforts to save the big wooden structure were futile. Recently the hotel was offered for auction, but there was no bid. Its licence had been transferred to a new hotel nearer the Olinda township.

How the Mount Dandenong Hotel, Olinda, looks today. Picture: K Bob Rushton

The new Mount Dandenong Hotel opened for business with Nellie Carmody taking the license in May 1934. The hotel continues to trade in Olinda to this day.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023

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