While spending time in Botany yesterday, I walked past the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel on Botany Road, turned down Waratah Road, and found myself staring at…the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel? What?!
This bigger hotel stood in front of a large park, so I’ll fill you in as we explore the park. It turned out that this hotel was the original Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, built in 1844. In 1920, the second Sir Joe was built on Botany Road, and the pub license was transferred to it, leaving the original free to become private units, which is how it is today.
That’s the dull part out of the way. The interesting part of this place is the garden, which has provided Sydney with a few major firsts since 1850. Here, at the garden’s running track, foot racing events were *yawn* held throughout the 1880s during the… professional running boom…I know, I know. We’ll get there.
Also held at this running track was Australia’s first game of representative rugby league, in which the South Sydney Probables clashed with the Possibles. I’m guessing the Likelies played against the Maybes the week after.
Okay, now, the most interesting thing about this park is that it was home to Australia’s first zoo. The site’s owner at the time, a timber merchant named William Beaumont, improved the hotel and created the ‘Pleasure Gardens’, which is a more scandalous and giggle-inducing name today than it would have been back then. The gardens included the private zoo.
It’s hard to imagine tigers and elephants wandering around the grounds these days, so to assist you, the City of Botany Bay has erected a series of life size animal statues. In a way it helps, but in another way it’s kind of creepy. Judge for yourself.
It’s interesting to note just how few of these brand names are widely visible today. Ampol and Esso were both absorbed by their parent companies, proving once again that no one is safe from the Big Oil Killuminati. Maxwell Chemical Corporation, which is just the kind of name you want to see emblazoned on your pleasure garden, has moved offshore. Seagram seems to have disappeared from the corporate environment in New South Wales, at least. Even Pascol Paints has been absorbed by Wattyl, going against all advice you were ever given about mixing paints.
The most striking thing about this place is how secluded it feels. It’s off the main road, but the whole suburb of Botany feels a world away from Sydney as it is. I suppose in that regard, it was the perfect environment for a zoo. The most important feature of the garden today are the series of ponds that form protected wetlands. The whole park sits on land reclaimed from Botany Bay, so some attempt at looking after the marine life there is better than none at all.
Meanwhile, up at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel Pub Edition, you’d never know any of it was there. Here, they just sit, and drink, and smoke, and bet, and watch the millionth game of rugby league played since the days of probability vs possibility.
I think about it this way: the goings-on of the Sir Joseph Banks Pub on Botany Road are indicative of all that’s probable, but the Victorian wonderland and colourful history of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel and Pleasure Gardens are all about what’s possible.
Opening in 1923 and closing in November 1958, the Paragon No. 1 Theatre had a longer life than its twin.
Starting life as a picture theatre serving the undemanding entertainment needs of Belmore, the Paragon replaced a shed that stood on the Bridge Road site previously. Was the shed the suburb’s previous entertainment hub? Who knows. The Paragon No. 2 opened further up the road in 1928, and throughout the 30s and 40s, business was good.
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs rugby league team had been formed in 1935, and as early as 1939 the club was holding its annual meetings at the Paragon Theatre. The Paragon staff must have slighted the club somehow, because what goes around comes around. In 1957, the Canterbury-Bankstown League Club was formed to support the football club, and took up residency in a reconditioned naval hut built by club volunteers in nearby Collins Street.
By 1958, the Paragon was floundering, struggling against the introduction of TV and a decline in suburban cinemas. Meanwhile, the Canterbury-Bankstown Leagues Club was growing rapidly, and had already outgrown the naval hut. The club bought out the Paragon, and by 1960 had converted it into the spiffy new club premises seen above.
UPDATE: Courtesy of reader Tony, we’ve now got a look at the brochure handed out at the grand opening of the rejigged Leagues Club in 1960. Big thanks, Tony!
Incidentally, Mr. Frank Stewart, M. H. R., was a World War II veteran and ex-first grade Bulldog who went on to become the Minister for Tourism and Recreation in the Whitlam Government. It was Stewart who leaked info to the Federal Opposition regarding the Loans Affair, which ‘kicked off’ (heh) the chain of events that eventually brought down the Whitlam Government, but he also played a crucial part in the establishment of the Australian Institute of Sport. Oh, and he also presided over the opening of the Canterbury Leagues Club, but you knew that already.
It’s easy to imagine that the further growth of the club over the next 50 years into the behemoth it is today is indicative of the growing enthusiasm in the suburbs for RSL and Leagues clubs, which provided myriad entertainment options the Paragon could only have dreamed of. Realistically, the growth is probably also indicative of pokie profits.
The idea of a suburban cinema now seems quaint in comparison. In honour of its fallen homie, today’s Canterbury League Club features a ballroom named the Paragon Room, and there’s a Paragon Lane that runs beside the Club. No tributes to that naval hut, though.
A HUGE thanks to Lea Thomas at the Canterbury League Club for her generosity and assistance!