Hotel Kurrajong Canberra
There’s something amazing about checking into a hotel that’s part of the history of the destination you are 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.
The Hotel Kurrajong Canberra recently reopened its doors following an extensive renovation and refurbishment program undertaken by TFE Hotels and the NRMA. During that process the hotel was fully restored, following almost a century at the very heart of Australia’s political landscape.
If the hotel’s walls could talk they would no doubt have some serious stories to tell of clandestine political deal making and breaking.
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 ACT had been declared back in 1911 and the laying out and construction of Canberra continued in earnest over the next two decades.
Our first Parliament House officially opened a year after the Kurrajong in 1927. Today – with its location just a stone’s throw from now Old Parliament House – the hotel is an easy walk for guests to everything the parliamentary precinct of Barton has to offer – including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library and Questacon (the National Science and Technology Centre).
As the need for temporary public servant digs declined, the Kurrajong officially opened to the public as a hotel. Over the following decades however it continued to play host to the who’s who of Aussie politics, and today the hallways are lined with portraits of former guests – including Sir Robert Menzies – our longest-serving Prime Minster of 16 years in total.
With his wife preferring to reside at the family home in Bathurst, our 16th PM – Ben Chifley – 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, and the hotel’s restaurant is named in his honour.
But the memorial doesn’t end there. After his electoral defeat by Menzies in 1949 Chifley continued to reside at the hotel, where he suffered a fatal heart attack two years later. His suite in the heritage wing of the hotel has been maintained in its original condition to this day.
As the hotel aged and gradually declined it closed to the public and was used as a hospitality training college and later parliamentary offices. It reopened as a hotel in the nineties, but in desperate need of modernization it was finally sold in 2013 and closed for the 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 Garden Pavilion style that is reflected in much of Canberra’s early architecture.
Inside the Hotel Kurrajong Canberra 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 – 26 of which are located in the heritage wing –the hotel is endlessly charming.
One of the nicest ways to pass the time is an evening tipple overlooking the garden courtyard, which was laid out in 1926 by then Commonwealth horticulturist Thomas Charles Weston.
Stay on for dinner at the hotel’s aforementioned Chifley’s Bar & Grill, which offers a comprehensive steak-bar menu, and an a la carte menu, with a strong emphasis on local produce. 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 here, and even a night or two will connect you directly with the political history that shaped our young nation. It’s what makes the Hotel Kurrajong Canberra such an interesting place to stay.
Adam travelled as a guest of TFE Hotels and VisitCanberra.
Have you stayed at the Hotel Kurrajong Canberra? We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave us a comment.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a Melbourne-based travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He 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. Adam also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. 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.