Architecture nerd and comedian Tim Ross has trawled through the National Archives to find these gloriously daggy photos of Australians on holidays between 1950 and 1989. They form the basis of Motel, a new book and a series of live shows Tim is currently touring around the country. To celebrate the book's release, we're publishing its introduction along with just a smattering of its nostalgia-inducing images.
Oakleigh Motel from Motel: Images of Australia on Holidays. Images courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.
It’s the quintessential Australian experience.
The family car is expertly packed to the brim and the backseat is a wriggling hotbed of elbowing siblings. Mum and Dad are in the front doing their best to keep a lid on things as you finally hit the highway and the holiday actually starts. After hours of Eye Spy, sweaty sandwiches, recycled stories and fart blaming, the flashing light beckons, the neon sign promising “In-room colour TVs”.
“Does it have a pool, Dad?” the familiar and all-important question is asked. The answer is in the affirmative. A cheer goes up as you pull into the motel.
In a land where the car has provided us with the ultimate freedom to hit the road and explore, it is no surprise that Australians wholeheartedly embraced the American concept of the motel. When they began springing up here in the 1950s, they represented a stylish and sophisticated way to travel. In a country where travelers typically stayed in pubs with shared bathrooms, driving right up to the front door for a nightly sojourn in a room where your breakfast magically appeared through a hatch was an absolute revelation.
An unkown motel in Alice Springs. From Motel: Images of Australia on Holidays. Images courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.
Family holidays form some of our most cherished memories and many of mine centre around classic Australian motels. Some, it must be said, were better than others. The tray full of rubbery poached eggs, a tumbler full of pineapple juice with Glad-Wrap over the top, cold toast in a paper bag and variety packs of cereal were seldom seen on my family’s trips. My Mum came prepared, with a stack of plastic bowls, a pack of Weet-Bix and a litre of milk put into the mini fridge. The only concession to the romance of motel travel was when we used the satchels of sugar that came with the room to pour over our Weet-Bix.
The lure of in-room colour TVs was huge for us in the late 1970s, given we were still stuck with a black-and-white number in the lounge room at home. On one trip to country Victoria we stayed at a 1950s-looking motel that was built in the late 1960s. It was the middle of winter and the decorative swans fashioned from white tyres were struggling to be seen through the unmown grass of this establishment, ideally situated on the main road going into town.
Eldorado Motel fom Motel: Images of Australia on Holidays. Images courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.
After checking in, Dad drove the Kingswood up to the powder blue-coloured door. We poured out of the car and excitedly ran into the room, flinging open the door of the bathroom. My brother checked the cupboard under the bench for the biscuits while I discovered two empty glasses in the fridge. After a quick bounce on the bed my other brother stood on a chair to turn on the small Pye TV that sat on a lone shelf bolted on to a white, painted concrete wall.
At the sound of the click of the dial, our heads automatically tilted up so that our eyes were laser-focused on the screen, like ’roos stuck in the headlights. As the tube took an eternity to warm up, the sound faded in first and we listened to an indistinct ad for a farm product that is now undoubtedly on the banned chemical list.
Astor Motel fom Motel: Images of Australia on Holidays. Images courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.
The white dot appeared on the screen and we waited in keen anticipation until – to our massive disappointment – the screen brightened to the greyish hue that was all too familiar to us. It wasn’t colour.
Deflated, that night we lay in bed and watched black-and-white Rumpole of the Bailey while eating Premium biscuits smeared with Meadow Lea and Vegemite. When it was over we tried to fall asleep to the sounds of the trucks rumbling by outside, their bulk rattling the wafer-thin windows and their headlights sneaking through the top of the nylon curtain to dance across the motel room ceiling.
Riviera Motel fom Motel: Images of Australia on Holidays. Images courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.
This is an edited extract from Motel: Images of Australia on Holidays, out now. Tim is also touring Motel: The Live Show around the country. Dates below:
Alexander Motor Inn
Riverfront Motel and Villas
Art Gallery of Western Australia