What’s in a name? The name Cronulla inspires certain imagery: beaches, beer and brawls. With its vibrant social life and strong sense of community, Bondi’s brother from another planet provides the kind of rough-around-the-edges seaside fun that’s expected of Australia, just with less backpackers.
Which is strange, because there’s never been a shortage of places to stay and get tanked. If you weren’t a local (in which case, what were you doing there?), you were spoiled for thirst-quenching options after your day in the sun, and one such option was the Hotel Cecil.
Tell me this now: what kind of names do you associate with Cronulla? Mark, Kai, Tyler…Cecil? Has anyone named Cecil ever set thonged foot into the Shire, let alone Cronulla Beach?
The answer is yes. In 1927, Cecil J. Munro was the president of the local shire, and owned a block of flats by the beach. Needless to say, when you’re the president your ego can run a little wild. Don’t ask why his name is spelled Monro in the pics and not in the history…as we all know, when people get rich they lose their minds.
Munro/Monro converted his block of flats into the Hotel Cecil. By the end of the year, the 70-bedroom bungalow-style hotel was ready for action.
Holiday-makers and locals alike enjoyed the opportunity to cecil down so close to the beach (You’re fired – Ed), but a problem soon became apparent: where were the balls?
Never one to miss an opportunity to stroke that ego, Cecil had a ballroom and cafe built beside the Hotel Cecil, right on the beach.
Today, cafes strive to be as tiny as possible, so as to maximise the saturation of lattes throughout the land. Take a look at this, and revel in the decadence of another era:
For decades to come, the Hotel Cecil played host to debauched nights, hungover mornings, sandy feet padding across ratty carpets and vinyl flooring, and of course tall, cool schooners of Tooths.
That’s right – Tooths. The brewer purchased Hotel Cecil in 1936, and funded an expansion in 1940 that doubled the Cecil’s size.
By then, Munro/Monro was long out of the picture, but his enterprising spirit had ensured Cronulla was branded with all of his names. Just two streets away from Hotel Cecil is Monro Park.
All it takes to solidify an identity is a dip of the toes into the pool of popular culture, and for Cronulla, that process of galvanization happened in 1979, with the release of the novel Puberty Blues.
The novel, by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, depicted the suburb’s surf culture through the eyes of two teenage girls. It instantly struck a nerve, and acted as a kind of rite-of-passage for teenagers all over Australia – such was the broad appeal of the tenets of Cronulla.
A film version followed in 1981 to great success, cementing the sights and sounds of 2230 for all time. That image has persisted in the decades since, and will likely persist until the world ends, but Cronulla seems quite happy with that.
That said, the Cronulla of Puberty Blues doesn’t quite resemble the Cronulla of today. Like many of its residents, the suburb has undergone facelift after facelift, and certain corners are almost unrecognizable.
Like the Hotel Cecil, for example. It was neutered in the late 1950s, when the ballroom was demolished, and at some point along the way it swapped the words of its name around to suit the wider transition from hotels to pubs.
But the hotel didn’t completely close until 1988, when licensee (and Cecil’s descendant) Shane Munro (that’s more like it) sold it to a property developer. By then, Tooths was long out of the picture…but that’s another story.
Demolition began in the early 90s, and I think you know where this story is going.
I can’t help but think the final night of the original Cecil would have been a wild one. A balmy March evening when hundreds of people, each of whom had forged personal relationships with the hotel over the years, raised their Tooths (or equivalent) one last time. By the end it was, along with Joe’s Milk Bar and the Cronulla Workers Club, one of Cronulla’s landmarks.
Today, it’s that old, bland story so often told in the pages of Past/Lives…
Yes, it’s another one of those “Let’s give it the same name was what was once there to try to capture some of the spirit and let the legend live on” situations, but you’re not fooling anybody. It’s a completely different, impersonal building, and the only drinking going on here is when rich loveless marrieds drink alone.
But what’s in a name? Around the back, in the oddly named Ozone Street, is the sweet spot: the original facade incorporated into the new Cecil.
I know this sort of thing is always meant to be a respectful tip of the tam-o-shanter to the original, but look at the imagery.