by Virginia Simpson-Young, 2 August 2020
The Glebe Point YHA at 262-264 Glebe Point Rd closed on 5 July, ending the YHA’s 45-year involvement in Glebe. The first Sydney YHA was established in Forest Lodge in 1976 followed by Glebe Point YHA in 1987, then Hereford Lodge YHA in 1988.
As nearby residents will no doubt attest, the Glebe Point YHA was busy (at least until COVID-19 hit). So why did it close? Silke Kerwick, Public Affairs Manager for YHA Australia, told the Glebe Society:
It is a strategic imperative for YHA to regularly review what the backpacker market wants in terms of accommodation, and to keep pace with their ever-changing expectations. Properties such as Sydney Harbour YHA in The Rocks (with all ensuite rooms) have raised the bar in catering to today’s youth travellers, and Glebe Point YHA, being an older property, was unable to offer this level of amenity. YHA has long-term strategic plans to increase budget accommodation of high quality in the Sydney CBD, including additional capacity at Railway Square YHA, to be developed over the next few years.
The site of the Glebe Point YHA, the former Glebe Motel, ‘surpassed anything in the folklore of hostelling. It had once been used as a brothel and required an incredible amount of renovation before its decrepit exterior and interior were fit for its new purpose as the 160-bed Glebe Point hostel.’1 Once established, the hostel was seen as a drawcard by the Glebe Society: ‘For a large proportion of young people visiting Sydney from interstate and overseas, their strongest memories will be of the Glebe area’ (Bulletin 5/1985).
The Glebe Point YHA opened in 1987 and indeed drew many young travellers to Glebe. Not all stayed at the hostel, however, with some spending the night in their vans near the waterfront. The Glebe Bushcare Group was very concerned about the environmental damage caused by backpackers ‘living in the parking area near the wetlands adjacent to Chapman Rd; seeing as many as 16 camping vehicles parked there’ one Saturday in March 2015 (Bulletin 2/2015). This practice was significantly curtailed when parking restrictions were introduced by Council (Bulletin 3/2015). Despite this and some other downsides, backpackers have been an integral part of the Glebe community, supporting local businesses, including small supermarkets and ‘cheap and cheerful’ restaurants.
The Glebe Point YHA was sold on 5 June. Adam Droubi from CBRE Sydney told the Society that the building sold for $7m. The undisclosed buyer is ‘in the business of running hostels’ and plans to re-open it for that purpose.
YHA is part of an international movement which began in 1912 in Germany when the first Jugendherberge, or youth hostel, was established in the Altena Castle. The international organisation, now known as Hostelling International, was formed in 1932. Hostelling arrived in Australia in 1939 when the first youth hostel was established at Warrandyte in Victoria.2 Fifty years later, the biggest YHA hostel was in Glebe, the Hereford Lodge YHA.3
The Forest Lodge YHA was where it all started in Sydney. During the 1960s and 1970s, YHA saw increasing demand for Youth Hostels in city regions. Many earlier hostels were sited in country areas, but YHA wanted a foothold in capital cities with hostels that would function as ‘gateway’ hostels for the state or territory.
A history of the YHA in Australia4 reports that, in the early 1970s, the ongoing search for a potential hostel in Sydney intensified. Even the former showboat Sydney Queen was considered. … Inner-city Glebe was reconnoitred for a hostel site and a suitable property was found on the corner of St Johns Road and Ross Street. …YHA NSW bought the property at auction for $88,000 on 22 February 1974. It comprised three buildings, two of them being factories ready for demolition to make space for rebuilding.
The third property, which still stands, was built in 1870s by the Reverend George Sutherland as a manse, and boasted wrought iron verandahs, timber shutters and iron railings. The Society will bring you more information about this building in a future edition of the Bulletin.
The building was in very poor condition, but YHA NSW could not afford to restore it to its former glory. Instead, ‘a clinker-brick wall was built and trees planted’.5 The Bulletin noted the purchase of a ‘fine house’ by YHA and reported that the Society had been ‘asked for ideas on renovation.’ (Bulletin 9/1974). The hostel at Forest Lodge was known as ‘Sydney Youth Hostel’.
In a letter to the Glebe Society published in the Bulletin (8/1976), R. B. Willis, Secretary of YHA and a Glebe Society member, extended to members an invitation to the Sydney Youth Hostel’s Official Opening by the NSW Governor, Sir Roden Cutler on 30 October 1976.
After a year of operation, Willis provided Bulletin readers with an update: ‘When the Association purchased the building it had deteriorated into almost a wreck, which was being used as a doss house. A vast amount of work had to be done on the building to bring it up to the required standard’ (Bulletin 2/1978). He included a breakdown of the origin of ‘overnighters’ for the first year:
The Glebe Society held a coffee morning at the hostel on Saturday 2 September 1978, ‘by kind permission of the Warden, Pam Seibert. Members will have a chance to see how the building has been restored, and to find out something about the Hostel’s aims and achievements’ (Bulletin 9/1978).
The YHA hostel in Forest Lodge closed in 1992.
Spurred by the tourism associated with the Bicentennial in 1988, YHA opened its ‘flagship establishment’ in Sydney at 51 Hereford St – ‘Hereford Lodge’. The building cost YHA around $6 million (Bulletin 6/1996). Opening this hostel was part of YHA’s strategy to ‘concentrate’ its city hostels in the Glebe area to ‘deliberately avoid going down-market’, making an unfavourable comparison with Kings Cross commercial hostels.6
Hereford Lodge YHA opened its doors on 7 October 1988 and ‘offered 27 serviced accommodation rooms and up to 250 hostel beds in ensuite bedrooms spread over three floors.’ The hostel touted its rooftop garden, spa and pool in its advertising.
Locals were not happy with the large number of travellers who descended on their residential street. Bob Connolly, who lived on Hereford St, across the road from the YHA, describes his first experience of the relatively new YHA in the early-1990s: ‘at about half past five in the morning, these two huge busses turned up and spent about 20 minutes disgorging 100 people, kept their motors running for about 40 minutes’. (See below for an extract from an interview with Bob). The outcome of resident protest was that Leichhardt Council and the Land and Environment Court required that the number of beds be reduced to minimise the hostels impact on local residents.
In 1996, the Glebe Society’s Planning Convenor expressed concern about a DA by the building’s new owners to convert the building into a 90-unit block, ‘including 80 very small, single room units of 23 m2. Each will contain a new kitchen, and seem to resemble a London bed-sit, a form of accommodation which I am sure many of us have experienced’. The Society was particularly concerned about insufficient parking. Planning convenor, John Hoddinot, conceded, ‘I do not have an easy solution as to how to increase the number.’ (Bulletin 6/1996). Council rejected the new owner’s DA largely on the basis of insufficient parking, but the DA was upheld by the Land and Environment Court (Bulletin 2/1997).
The hostel closed in 1998 and is now private apartments (mostly studio apartments) and is called Hereford Court.
Hereford Court still stands, and is a stark reminder of the need for vigilance to prevent bad planning decisions. In 1982, the Bulletin reported that ‘the 47-51 Hereford St site development application went to the Land and Environment Court where No. 47 was saved but the rest lost to unsatisfactory development.’ (Bulletin 07/1982). I doubt anyone looking at the façade of Hereford Court could disagree with this assessment.
Notes: 1. John McCulloch and James Murray, Beds, Boots and Backpacks: The Story of the YHA in Australia, Playright Publishing, 1997; 2. https://www.yha.com.au/about/yha-organisation/; 3. McCulloch & Murray; 4. op.cit. 5. op.cit; 6. op.cit.