Soden’s Hotel Australia gained legendary status for its equine guest list – a who’s who of Melbourne Cup winners. Today, its popularity relies on old-fashioned hospitality and live entertainment.

Story by Kirsty McKenzie and Photos by Ken Brass

Although they might have the odd bouncer on the door when big name bands are performing at Soden’s Hotel Australia in Albury, on the NSW/Victorian border, this security is nothing compared to the pub’s heyday when it was common for a dozen private detectives to be guarding the celebrity guests. But instead of movie stars or even prime ministers that were being protected, they were racehorses. From the early 1900s right through to the 1950s, Soden’s hosted the cream of the Australian thoroughbred industry, including a virtual race book full of Melbourne Cup winners.
Built as a Cobb & Co. stagecoach stopover in 1854, Soden’s is the oldest surviving hotel in Albury. The grand corner block building, with its crenellated parapets and iron lace-encrusted awnings, began life as the more modest Advance Australia Hotel. In the early days, the hotel was considered a bit remote from the town centre and, apart from a brief moment of glory in 1857 when the town’s first agricultural show was held there, it appears that the pub struggled for business.
All that changed when Irishman James Soden took over in 1894 and ran it until his death 50 years later. James was an innovator and supervised a renovation of the hotel that included extending the accommodation from 12 to 60 rooms. Along with an impressive verandah and leadlight windows, James was responsible for introducing electricity to the hotel’s newly constructed, larger stables. This meant the 30 looseboxes could be both heated and lit without the risk of fires, and earned the hotel a big following with owners and trainers travelling between the racing capitals of Sydney and Melbourne.

This story excerpt is from Issue #49

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2006