‘Sunset Strip Motel’ 199-203 Boundary St, Coolangatta QLD

In our continuing tradition of motel alerts comes this textbook example of Mid-Century-on-the-road family accommodation now sadly facing demise. Much like earlier options we have listed, we believe (perhaps more than any other) that this classic U-shaped motel, in a beach-tourism mecca, centered around a large pool courtyard with incalculable retro charm has the chops to be reborn with sympathy and celebration. One only has to look at accommodation sensations like the stunning Beverley Laurel Motor Inn in Los Angeles or The Burrard in Vancouver to see just how a considered rebirth of a central motel can add intangible cool and immediate desirability to solid Mid-Century foundations, which this particular motel has in spades (starting with their very name ffs!). We’d assure anyone with the backing and nous who gives Sunset Strip Motel a bold and Modern flavored rebirth, perhaps with an Aussie twist (A welcome pack of twisties and XXXX 6-pack in each room maybe?) would see the hipsters and the nostalgic of all ages come running from across the country. C’mon Southern Queensland – show us you can be more than bland 90s interiors and 4 star aspirations!*

*Brisbane’s Hotel Callie a singular exception here.

Thanks to Alistair of Dr Retro Housecalls for the historical images and Christ Osborne at Brisbane Modern for the current day ones (check our Rolodex for the links to both!), it’s even better than we imagined!

105 Nicholls St, Broken Hill NSW

Many thanks to Alistair over at Secret Design Studio, one of our most excellent professionals on the MA Rolodex who provides a pre-renovation advisory and design service including personalised (Dr Retro) Housecalls to many an MCM homeowner seeking direction on the sympathetic renovation. Alistair highlighted this one earlier in the week and we are smitten with not only the astounding Mid-Century public building architecture on display here (architect unknown as yet) but also the potential to a more eccentric mind. To our way of thinking those soaring arches, entry, driveway internal spaces and surrounds leaves only one clear option: a Howard Johnsons-esq roadside, super Googie, motel and restaurant complex (yes, we’ve suggested this before). We propose a slimline, double story complex of motel rooms outside, overlooking a pool, with the current building host to booths, window seats, burgers, shakes and rosy waitresses called Marlene. Call us crazy or even old-fashioned, but it’s certainly more visionary than the empty shell it is now and just the kind of landmark tourism we know many of you would go all the way to Broken Hill for. There are only so many tiny mining museums one can peruse in outback Australia after all. 
Better get your phone bids in kids as this one is selling (well, maybe) this morning. 

Hospo Inspo

Every couple of years or so, amid endless residential offerings online we chance upon something more substantial, a specifically more commercial proposal than a domestic one in the form of a classic Mid-Century motel. The recognition and romance of the Australian motel has been creeping up for many years (generally in the minds of those reaching a certain middle age who now find themselves unnervingly the responsible adults in the room) and has been duly enjoyed in recent events such as the Ok Motels mini-festival (5 stars – would go again) and the current Tim Ross show and new book, ‘Motel’, mining similar cultural bedrock. 

Image from ‘Motel’ by Tim Ross pub. 2019

We at MA, in our tireless goading of you all, have oft championed the idea, much embraced in the USA, of taking a potential though perhaps rundown, Mid-Century Motel and breathing new life into it – celebrating its past, its design, its invariably holiday-esq location and spinning a hip narrative within a hospitality venture. You cannot deny that The Saguaro Palm Springs or Austin Motel (for example) aren’t onto an easily exportable and attractive variation for our own Australian stockpile of untouched 50s/60s motels just sitting offside the M1. And indeed there are a few intrepid Aussies getting their game on here with the Warburton Motel Yarra Valley and The Sails Motel Brunswick Heads for starters, but there is always room for more!

The Austin Motel, Austin TX

So today, for your consideration, we propose The Blue Dolphin Motel on Mid-North Coast NSW. Not to be confused with Robin Boyd’s Black Dolphin Motel in Merimbula,  this unadulterated classic 1960s motel with incredible beach/river location, impeccable Mid-Century lines and 22 rooms is just gagging for someone to seize the opportunity and transform a dormant business with a sketchy recent past (you can goog that yourselves) into a MCM infused wonderland. You need bucks. You need a plan. You need an exceedingly catchy eye. And you need to set a hospitality standard which will keep the kids Instagramming and coming back time after time, but as Brian Wilson asks – wouldn’t it be nice?

‘The Blue Dolphin Motel’ 6-10 Fraser St, Nambucca Heads NSW – MA listing


‘Aberdeen Motor Inn’ 9 Aberdeen St, Geelong VIC

Let your imagination run free with this splendid example of a pure Mid-Century motel (c. early 1960s) Though savaged by some prior refurbs (firebomb that whole reception area and start again perhaps?), you don’t have to peel back too many layers to find the joy. In another life and another income bracket t’would be the perfect property to transform into a retro- modern funhouse and pit-stop for the discerning G-town tourist (hear us out now!) with the cool kid enclaves of Captain, Union Street Wine, Get Shorty and Igni all within 1km walk.

**Update** Since listing this marvel this morning the doyen of all things learned MCM, Simon Reeves (well known for his soft spot for the Mid-Century motel – hear him on ABC radio, just last month, waxing lyrical on the very topic!) has dug up more about the Aberdeen originally known as The Kingsway Motel and we have nicked a photo of his to show you in full 60s flight. Check out his ripping run-down of this Motel’s past lives here, including its architectural provenance; Edward Billson & Partners (BTW does this not make it a candidate for some form of heritage protection?) As always a post of rich history and high hilarity in equal parts.

Everybody go: hotel, motel…

When following the beat of Mid-Century Modernism in all its philosophy, incarnations and quirks so often the metronome first swings by the love of a retro motel. Is there a structure which more so encapsulates the western 20th century experience? Cinematic, functional, sentimental, anonymous, fun, seedy, home to all on the road.


In a post war glow, the drive in motel popped up all over the globe, always within the design paradigm of USA at it’s peak – victorious, commercial and living the dream of a poolside banana lounge with a bikini blonde besides.  Australia in the 1950s and 60s, joyfully bouncing at the heel of the ascendant empire and awash with new wealth and constant sunshine, was always going to embrace the motel.


And so they serviced this country for years until crashes of confidence, finances, tourism, the family unit,  you name it – made motels a sometime necessity but not a destination to be anticipated on your long drive to QLD or Perth. Many of these originals have been lost, dozed or ‘renovated’ beyond saving for another more lucrative enterprise. But in scattered locales around the country a few Googie gems remain as unwitting showpieces of a time gone by, lifting the spirits of those who love them and making us think – if we only had the money (and the desire to get into hospitality) to bring them back to glory, surely people would love a bit of old timey motel fun?



Which brings us to Mildura and the Kar-Rama Motel (c’mon, who can even go past that name?). What we seem to have here is a close to perfectly preserved specimen. We have a centrepiece pool, we have the neat angles of modern, car-centric design and a flat roof, utilitarian layout with external walkways and a courtyard at it’s heart. We have manicured lawn and dotted greenery, feature stonework, dynamic signage, parquetry in the reception and mosaic tiles in the bathrooms. What makes this one special is what it lacks – no ugly facelifts from the 80s, no painted over wood or stone (nothing major anyway), no removal or change of any character at all. Delightful all round.


What we hope and we suppose is required is someone – or perhaps a group of likeminded individuals – to take the reigns of this classic. Restore and polish her up (perhaps the yellow-on-everything scheme could be relaxed?) and then open up for business and pleasure. Well, mainly pleasure.

Now although it pains us to say it, we sadly cannot envisage a small motel within the Mallee jewel that is Mildura becoming the next rainbow-tinged party mecca or hipster destination but then again, stranger things have happened. So the impetus to drop everything and follow this particular dream all the way to a distant Victorian country town has to involve a party with obsessive love of the motel, drive and deep pockets – any sun-loving David Walsh types out there? Of course if the town burghers had any sense they’d realise that rainfall patterns suggest a move away from intensive farming and into a Palm Springs, well okay, a Daylesford variety tourist development. But again, these things always kick off best organically and in private hands.


The question is – in whose hands will the Kar-Rama in all it’s potential glory end up? We can only hold our breath and see.