History in Brief
The Advance Australia Hotel was the predecessor of what is still known today as Soden’s Hotel Australia. Although there is some suggestion that the original hotel was established in 1854, records show that James Layton opened the hotel as Advance Australia Hotel with eighteen rooms in 1857. James Soden purchased the hotel in the 1890s and extended it to provide accommodation for rail and road travellers. The wrought-iron porches were added next and later extended to become a unique verandah around the hotel. By 1924 it was expanded to a sixty room hotel and by the early 1960s it had reached a hundred rooms. The hotel was used as a police barracks for some time but it generally operated as a trading hotel. The hotel has retained the same basic structure over the years.
Soden’s Hotel History
In the early 1850s a gentleman named James Layton, had amassed a small fortune from the Royal Hotel in Albury and decided it was time to set about some expansion. In the year 1854 he had erected for him the Advance Australia Hotel on the corner of Wilson and David Streets. Adams and Bulmer, or ‘Coffin’ Jones, so known since he combined his building business with that as the local undertaker, built it. Little is known of the first 30 years of the hotel’s existence, except that being built so far away from the center of the town’s business district it was not really well frequented by the local population.
However, in 1857 it did host the first Agricultural Show held in Albury, for the display of local produce such as “peaches, grapes, ‘fine quinces’ and ‘tolerable’ grain.” It was not long after this that the hotel was ‘de-licensed’ and taken over as Albury’s Police Station and Barracks, until 1859 when it’s license was restored and once more it performed the function of a hotel, for which it was originally built.
The hotel seemed to continue not doing very well, until the advent of the Irishman James Soden, who purchased the ‘Old Building’ in 1894. At that time it was reported as having 12 very poorly furnished bedrooms and very little stabling for the horses that at the time, of course, was the principle mode of transport, apart from the railway and walking. Soden was an optimist, but one who knew his business and who excelled as a caterer.
It is reported that not long after the turn of the century, the Hotel, now renamed ‘Hotel Australia’ was a “Palatial residential Hotel” comprising of over 60 rooms, with magnificent Parlour and Dining rooms, a modern kitchen with storerooms and every possible convenience. The place was famous and well sought after by country people, commercial travellers and the horseracing fraternity. New and large stables were constructed, with some 30 “Loose Boxes”, which were spacious and included electric light and with all of the conveniences required by the owners of the many Champion racehorses, who stayed there. Even today there is still a small gateway in the upper balcony of the courtyard (now a beer garden) through which the luggage was unloaded from the Cobb & Co Coaches. Many country people on their way to seaside holidays would leave their horses to be cared for until their return. It became famous as a rest-over stop for race horses travelling in both directions between Sydney and Melbourne, the two racing capitals, because the owners and trainers considered the long journey too wearing on the horses to go straight through in one long hop.
A glance through the list of some of the great horses who were stabled there is almost a catalogue of the outstanding History of Horse Racing in Australia. Melbourne Cup winners alone include Prince Foot, 1909; Piastre, 1912; Windbag, 1925; Statesman, 1928; Pharlap, (no less) 1930; peter Pan 1932 and 1934; Hiraji, 1947; Foxami, 1949; Delta, 1951. It seemed your chances of winning the Cup were greatly enhanced if you had spent a night or two staying at Soden’s Hotel Australia, as it was known by then and still exists today.
There were other Champions for ‘Old Timers’ to remember, such as the great mare Flight, whose battles with another great mare in tranquil Star were the things of which legends are made. There was Viancello; amorous; Grey Boots, second in a Melbourne Cup. Any wonder there was anything up to a dozen Private Detectives on 24 hour duty to guard such valuable property. In 1924 it was reported that Jim Soden was “probably known personally by more owners, trainers and jockeys (city and country) than any other hotel keeper in Australia.” By now the hotel was classed as a “standing monument to the industry, energy and foresight of the general proprietor.”
Apart from the racing fraternity the hotel was a place for commercial travelers to display their wares, which were carried in wicker baskets, in those days and who generally travelled by train or sometimes by stagecoach in earlier days. Shopkeepers and other business persons would come to the hotel to inspect the goods and place their orders, thus making the hotel and important centre of commerce and trade.
In the early days accommodation cost four shillings (40 cents) a day for a room, with meals at one shilling (10 cents). Beer we are told was never less than sixpence (5 cents) a pot, even though some other hotels sometimes sold under that price, Jim Soden would never discount.
James Soden carried on the hotel until his death, in 1944, aged 83 years, when the hotel was inherited by one George Carter, who had started work at “Soden’s” in 1907 at the age of fifteen, working for a ‘Bob’ (shilling) ($1.50) a week as an assistant Barman. The Carters carried on the same tradition of excellence until selling out to ‘Viscount Holdings’ in 1963. We do not seem to have any recorded history of the ‘Establishment’ beyond those early years. But it is known that George Carter and his wife resided at the hotel, after its sale, until his sudden death, while on holiday in Brisbane in 1968, aged 86 years. Thus severing a continuous link with the past dating back some 75 years.
Today the hotel has again changed hands and stands as a reminder of an elegant past with its wide verandah and stained glass lead light windows. The hotel building is regarded with such significance that it has been placed on the Register of the National Trust. The accommodation in its 50 rooms, some of which have been converted into Motel-style, with ensuite, is still cheap, clean and comfortable, with the meals coming from the kitchen being hearty and served at a very competitive price. What has not changed is the service and friendliness of the staff. Many business representatives and travellers still use the hotel as their stopping place when in Albury. Many older people still come for a week at Soden’s, either for a rest or to explore the many places of interest in the area and have being doing so for many years.
Horses no longer stay overnight on the way to and from Sydney and Melbourne. A motel stands on the area previously occupied by the stables, but the “Stable Bar” is still a busy and congenial place for a drink in the beer garden during the warmer months. There are still many people who break long journeys at Soden’s. There is a great array of attractions through the week, with many groups using the facility as a meeting place as well as the social gathering spot for a number of local sporting clubs.
In the new ‘millennium’ Soden’s hotel is once more undergoing widespread changes in décor and other renovations. Under a new management team there is a new enthusiasm to retain the kind of friendly service, for which the hotel has always been famous. A new dining room is being created and a function room added to the other facilities. Once again Soden’s will be the ‘place to go and stay’ as it was in the ‘Old days’.