Advance Australia Fair was launched here in 1878

A little more on the birthplace of the Australian national anthem Advance Australia Fair (expanding on my feature article published here). The Australian Workers Union Building is at 238-240 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, opposite the fire station between Bathurst and Liverpool Streets. It first opened its doors as the Protestant Hall on 9 November 1877 – not 1878 as the City of Sydney Council and the National Trust believe.

Just over a year later, on 30 November 1878, Advance Australia Fair enjoyed its first public airing at the Hall during a NSW Highland Society concert. The song was an immediate hit, but anthem status was a long time coming. Another early highlight came in September 1895, when American author Mark Twain did four shows, filling the venue to capacity with audiences of 2000-plus.

In April 1891 the nascent labour movement held meetings at the Hall to enrol members, so it has some claim as the (or a) birthplace of the Australian Labor Party. The Australian Workers Union had an office at or next door to the building from the same year. A radical bookshop, McNamara’s Book & News Depot, patronised by such luminaries as Henry Lawson, was also on the premises in the 1890s.

The building was renamed Empire House in 1924, following renovations. In 1938 it was taken over by the AWU as the headquarters for the New South Wales union movement. The Hellenic Club bought it in 1979 and the current plan is to turn it into a bar, although the facade will be preserved.

How about a name for this bar reflecting the building’s fascinating story? The possibilities are boundless but I vote for Girt, from AAF’s most distinctive line. At the very least the city council ought to stick a plaque on the front. What do you say, Clover?