From Pink Poodles to El Dorado: Exhibit breathes new life into motels of our youth

Aussie family holidays once included the obligatory stay at roadside motels, again popular for their retro chic cachet – something you can check-in to at Caloundra Regional Gallery

Jan 31, 2024, updated Jan 31, 2024
The California Hotel in suburban Melbourne was a favourite family holiday spot and it features among the photographs on display as part of Reception this way: motels – a sentimental journey.

The California Hotel in suburban Melbourne was a favourite family holiday spot and it features among the photographs on display as part of Reception this way: motels – a sentimental journey.

Remember the days when families embarked on long road trips in summer with the journey punctuated by stops at various roadside motels?

Reception this way: motels – a sentimental journey with Tim Ross is a National Archives of Australia touring exhibition showing until March 17 at Caloundra Regional Gallery.

It’s a nostalgia fest with photographic and promotional film footage taking us back to those days in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s when the motel was an integral part of the Aussie holiday experience – for better or worse.

The exhibition features flashback images of the Cherry Blossom Motel in Darwin, California Hotel in Melbourne and, among others, the classic retro gem of the El Dorado Motel at Broadbeach, to name a few.

The Gold Coast is a treasure trove of retro motels and everyone recalls The Pink Poodle, but there were plenty of others, some still standing.

Back then, motels were considered stylish and sophisticated and they revolutionised the road trip for families and business travellers.

With convenient car parking, mid-century architectural styles and a generous offering of designer mod cons, who could resist booking a motel for their summer getaway? And, of course, there were swimming pools, sun and surf, tiny packets of breakfast cereal, twin packs of biscuits and a radio in every room.

Our motel of choice in the 1960s was the ambitiously named Riviera Motor Inn, strategically located on the Gold Coast Highway on the edge of Surfers Paradise. In those days we lived in Hong Kong but would come home on leave to Sydney, hire a car and drive north – Mum, Dad and us three kids in the back with cries of “are we there yet?” echoing from the back seat.

The Riviera Motor Inn had a pool in the middle and was a five-minute walk to the beach where we would swim, dig for pippies and get horribly sunburnt. Calamine lotion was liberally applied to our backs in the evening.

Is any of this sounding familiar? If it is I have a feeling you will love this exhibition, which is not just a nostalgia trip. It looks at the value of motels as community businesses that also hosted weddings and birthdays. Some even had conference facilities.

And they provided employment. Often, they were small mum-and-dad operations, but by the 1950s larger chains, such as Travelodge, were starting to dominate the market.  At first, new motels modelled themselves on American designs.  Renowned Australian architect Robin Boyd lamented this and coined the term “Austerican” to describe the phenomenon. However, by the 1960s Aussie motels were developing their own identity.

Developed by the National Archives of Australia in collaboration with comedian Tim Ross (formerly of the duo Merrick and Rosso), the exhibition will revive memories of holiday experiences and give younger folk a fascinating peek into the past.

Director-general of National Archives in Canberra, Simon Froude, says Reception this way reminds us of Australian invention and entrepreneurship, and our place in the international tourism market.

“We are very pleased to have Tim Ross taking this nostalgic journey with us,” Froude says. “His passion for Australian mid-century architecture and exploration of the national archival collection was the inspiration behind the development of Reception this way.’’

Ross says the records at National Archives of Australia were richer and more diverse than many people would give them credit for.

“It’s a real treasure trove that deserves to be better known,” he says. “I’m really pleased that my earlier research and partnership with National Archives planted a seed that has blossomed into a great exhibition.

“The result is this pictorial love letter to a somewhat bygone era, capturing the glamour and convenience of the roadside motels, from the east coast to the west, during a time when Aussie families found the time to hit road and take a break.”

Reception this way: motels – a sentimental journey with Tim Ross continues until March 17 at Caloundra Regional Gallery. The exhibition is supported by the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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