There’s something amazing about staying at a hotel that’s part of the very history of the destination you’re visiting.
Canada’s great railway hotels like the Chateau Lake Louise or the Chateau Frontenac in old Quebec City are good examples, as is the French colonial Hotel Metropole in Hanoi or the iconic Savoy in London. And while our history here in Oz may be short by comparison, that doesn’t mean we can’t weave a little historic hotel magic all of our own. Welcome to the Hotel Kurrajong Canberra.
In 2014 the Hotel Kurrajong underwent an extensive renovation and refurbishment (a joint venture between TFE Hotels and the NRMA), following almost a century at the very heart of federal politics. If these walls could talk, they would no doubt tell tales of clandestine political deal making and breaking.
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The hotel began life in 1926 as a hostel for public servants coming to work in the nation’s brand new capital for the first time. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) had come into existence back in 1911 and the laying out and construction of the city of Canberra continued in earnest over the next two decades.
As the need for temporary public servant digs declined, the Kurrajong was converted into a hotel. It hosted the who’s who of Aussie politics over the decades, and today the hallways are lined with portraits of notable former guests — including Sir Robert Menzies — our longest-serving Prime Minster.
With his wife preferring to reside at the family home in Bathurst, Ben Chifley — Australia’s 16th PM — actually called the Hotel Kurrajong Canberra home for eleven years, preferring it to the austere surroundings of the Lodge. If you look left as you enter the foyer, you’ll see a replica of Chifley’s favourite leather chair. The hotel’s restaurant is named in his honour.
There’s another enduring memorial to Chifley at the hotel. After his electoral defeat by Menzies in 1949, Chifley continued to reside at the Kurrajong. He suffered a fatal heart attack there two years later. His suite has been largely maintained in its original condition.
The ageing hotel eventually closed to the public and was used as a hospitality training college, and later as parliamentary offices. It reopened as a hotel in the nineties, but remained in desperate need of modernisation. It was finally sold in 2013 and closed for a full restoration.
Today, as you pull up outside, the first thing that strikes you is just how unassuming the building is. It’s a low-rise affair of just two levels and we see so few hotels like that these days. But somehow, it actually makes for a much more personal stay.
The building was designed by John Smith Murdoch — chief architect for the Commonwealth of Australia from 1919 to 1929 (who also designed Old Parliament House) — and is firmly in keeping with the Stripped Classical style that is reflected in much of Canberra’s early architecture.
Inside the hotel, many of the amazing period features have been retained. From the Art Deco elegance of the foyer lounge with its open fireplace, to the supremely comfortable guest rooms and suites, the hotel is endlessly charming. For something extra special, request one of the 26 rooms and suites in the Heritage wing.
The terrace overlooking the garden courtyard (which was laid out in 1926 by then Commonwealth horticulturist Thomas Charles Weston) is the perfect spot for an evening tipple. It’s well worth staying on for dinner at the hotel’s aforementioned Chifley’s Bar and Grill, which offers a comprehensive menu of steak cuts. The accompanying wine list is seriously impressive.
All in all, it’s easy to understand why Ben Chifley chose to spend eleven years of his life at the Hotel Kurrajong. Even a one or two-night stay will connect you with the political history that has shaped our nation.
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Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.