Gay History: Remembering A Forgotten Sydney, Growing Up Above The Green Park Hotel

In the 56 years since Deirdre Cusack called the Green Park Hotel home, she has never forgotten the brown paper that covered the cellar windows.

It had been there ever since the Japanese tried to invade Sydney Harbour in 1942, carefully placed to block out lights across a city fearing submarine attack.

The Green Park hotel in 1954.
The Green Park hotel in 1954.

The image feels a world away from the vibrant inner city watering hole the “Greenie” has become in 2020. Today it is both a haven and a refuge for Sydney’s LGBTQI community – “more than just a bar,” as one columnist said.

On Sunday night the 127-year-old hotel will call last drinks, after it was sold to the surrounding St Vincent’s Hospital to become a mental health clinic.

Hospitality group Solotel, which has owned the pub for more than 30 years, finalised the $5 to $10 million sale to the hospital trustees last month.

It caught the eye of Mrs Cusack, who was just one year old when her parents Sam and Fay McIntyre leased the Darlinghurst pub from Tooth’s Brewery in 1941. She would live above the corner pub –through a side door, past the ladies’ parlour and up the stairs – for 23 years until she married in 1964.

Deirdre Cusack at her home in Ormoston, Queensland.
Deirdre Cusack at her home in Ormoston, Queensland.CREDIT:PAUL HARRIS

Sydney felt different then. By law, publicans were not allowed to live off premises and the beer came in wooden barrels (the rum, too).

The pub closed at 6pm and never opened on Sundays. Across the road from the Green Park was a paper shop, a flower shop and a butcher with sawdust on the floor.

Darlinghurst was a place where everyone knew everyone,” Mrs Cusack said. “I can still remember the SP bookies. They had a place down in one of the terrace houses and you’d see this trail of men going to down to put a bet on the horses and coming back to the pub to have a beer.”

Until 1931 Australians were only allowed to bet on horse races with an on-course bookmaker, before radio and television gave rise to “starting price bookies”, who hung around the city’s pubs and clubs.

“I didn’t have any outside playing space, so I used to play out in the lane behind the pub and hit a tennis ball up against a brick wall with my friends,” Mrs Cusack said.

“Kings Cross then was not as bad as it became. My mother had no problem letting me and a girlfriend walk up to the Cross on Saturday night, when the [first-edition] papers would come out for Sunday.”

She still recalls the mouthwatering burgers she used to eye off at the Hasty Tasty diner under the Coca-Cola sign. “God, they looked delicious.”

When her father Sam died in 1952, Mrs Cusack said there was never any question that her mother would carry on managing the “drinking pub”.

“It didn’t have meals or anything like that. And the main bar was for men only, mainly doctors from the hospital.”

The ladies sat in the parlour. It was their meeting place, like going out for coffee, Mrs Cusack said. “One lady used to always wear a hat with a short veil over her face as she sipped her sherry. Another shelled her peas before going home to prepare dinner.”

And then there were the steel troughs under the beer taps, filled with gentian violet (a purple dye), “so when the beer overflowed, you couldn’t reuse it.”

When the Queen came to town: The royal tour drives past the Green Park hotel in 1954.
When the Queen came to town: The royal tour drives past the Green Park hotel in 1954.

Nothing stands out in Mrs Cusack’s memory quite as much as a 27-year-old Queen Elizabeth II arriving in Sydney on the Royal tour of 1954; a trip five years in the planning and the first televised event in Australian history.

But never mind the telly. “Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip drove right past the hotel, decorated with all the flags. Every time there was a Royal visit everyone came out. To think they went past our place, it was very exciting.”

Less exciting were the years after Mrs Cusack returned from living in the UK, aged 20, and her mother put her to work in the pub, “a gruelling job”.

“I remember, she said to me one day, ‘for goodness sake. Go and get a job – the look on your face would turn the beer sour.'”

She didn’t wait a second, running out to grab the paper before finding a job in the office at Qantas.

Hotel licence plates of Mrs Cusack's father, Sam McIntyre.
Hotel licence plates of Mrs Cusack’s father, Sam McIntyre.

From her home in Queensland, Mrs Cusack said it was sad to see the Green Park serve its final drinks, although she was glad the facade and features will be protected under heritage laws.

“In Australia they knock down too many buildings,” she said. “We go to Europe and we admire all the old buildings. In Australia, often all you’ve got is concrete and glass.

Reference

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