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New Year’s Day at the Hotel Australia

In the late 1930s an apprentice potter made a solemn pledge with some of his young work mates to meet up on New Year’s Day, in the year 2000, in the famous Long Bar of the Hotel Australia. But the reunion never took place because, while sixty years later the young man in question, the author’s father, was still going strong, the venue was no longer standing. The Hotel Australia, Sydney’s premier hotel throughout much of the twentieth century, had been demolished in 1972 to make way for the MLC Centre, a concrete skyscraper which was at the cutting edge of the city’s redevelopment as a global business hub.

Charting a course through modernist literature, popular fiction, rugby league, shopping centres, suburban kitsch and prefab concrete, this book looks at the impact of the ethic of progress on Australia in the middle of the twentieth century, and the way in which a particular version of masculinity – the self-made man – became enshrined as a new version of Australian identity. At a time when the average tradesman is now a media celebrity, and as property developers scour the urban landscape for profit as never before, New Year’s Day at the Hotel Australia looks back at the heyday of the self-made man, and the world he was busy building, even as forces much more powerful than he could muster were in the process of redeveloping it into something much bigger, blander and more corporate.

Lindsay Barrett is a writer, cultural historian and curator. He has written on a wide range of aspects of the experience of modern life, including technology, art, sport and politics. His book on the Whitlam Government’s purchase of the Jackson Pollock painging Blue Poles has been acclaimed as the definitive cultural history of the event. He was born in Sydney, and some of the things that make up the narrative of New Year’s Day at the Hotel Australia he actually witnessed, while others he has only read about in the newspapers.

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