The History Of The Rose Of Australia In Erskineville

February 3rd, 2023 - by Brad Gillespie

Pubs have always been great meeting spots for a beer and a chat.

And while Erskineville’s Rose of Australia has served pints to the locals for over 140 years, it’s also been the site of some more unusual gatherings.

There’s been a pub on the corner of Swanson and George Streets in since the 1870s. Back then, the locals were largely working class, and tanners, brickmakers, and even farmers would have met at the Rose at the end of the working day. But over the years, people have gathered here for all sorts of reasons.

Meeting for more than a beer

Politics has long been debated in pubs, and in 1898 the NSW Federal Association met at the Rose to discuss the upcoming federation of Australia. At the meeting, a Mr F.S. Boyce argued against Sydney becoming the new nation’s capital: “New York, he remarked, was not the federal capital of the United States, but it was the most important and populous city; and so Sydney must become the New York of Australia”.

Ten years earlier, the Rose had hosted what today we might consider a particularly odd meeting for a pub. Coroner Henry Shiell held a magisterial inquiry at the Rose on 5 October 1888 into the death of 11-year-old William Privett, who had drowned at a waterhole at Drain’s Brickyard in Alexandria. Why wasn’t the inquest held at the Coroner’s Court? In those days, that was a tiny building at Circular Quay, known as the Dead House, for its cadavers and stench. The smell was apparently so bad that jurors often couldn’t stomach it, so inquests were commonly held elsewhere.

Anyone for a game?

In the early 1900s licensee, William Phillips set his sights on making the Rose the home of a rather niche pursuit: quoits.

According to the Sydney Sportsman, in 1906, Phillips planned to open “a new ground in the up-to-date style, close to his hotel at the Erskineville Station, and offering trophies and cash prizes”. The article added that the playing area would “eclipse anything we have yet seen in the line of quoit playing” and would be lit by gaslight. Phillips instigated the Rose of Australia Club, with competition continuing for a number of years.

A brewing giant and a beer-fuelled brawl

Brewing Company Tooth & Co. bought the Rose in the 1920s, adding to their ever-expanding empire of hotels throughout Sydney. They eventually demolished the original building, and in the mid-1930s, a brand new Art Deco hotel, designed by architects Prevost and Ruwald, made its debut.

A few years later, World War II erupted. As the war progressed, US servicemen flooded into Sydney on R&R leave. Softball games, woodchopping and vaudeville acts were held at Erskineville Oval to entertain the troops. They drank at the Rose, too, but it wasn’t all good times: in 1942, American soldiers were involved in a violent brawl with Australian troops at the Rose, which must have tainted their reputation in the community.

Today’s Rose

Come to the Rose today, and you can still talk politics and more over a friendly pint. The building’s Art Deco exterior remains, while inside, the original features are mixed with contemporary design. The island bar encourages guests to socialise and reflects the pub’s role at the centre of local life.
Upstairs is the relatively new Howard’s Cantina, named after Howard Leach, father of the current licensee, Scott. Functions can be held in the Vineyard, the Rose Garden or the Terrace, and like any good Aussie pub, there’s trivia on Tuesdays and a Sunday roast special.

Visit The Rose of Australia at 1 Swanson Street Erskineville.

Photo credit: The Rose of Australia Facebook page