An Annual Affair
By Kristina Kukolja & Sandy Rogulic
When the owners of The Gatwick Private Hotel in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda opened doors for business in the 1930s, they boasted of its ‘beautiful’ accommodation.
80 years later, when its detractors successfully howled for its closure, they spoke of it as a sordid centre of drug use, violence and crime.
Twin sisters Yvette Kelly and Rose Banks, just into their 60s, have worked at the ‘Gatty’ since they were 14 – when it was owned by their Maltese migrant parents. They took over running the place after their mother’s death in the late 1990s.
They acknowledge that the glory days of the three-storey building at 34 Fitzroy Street had long since passed, but they argue its unsavoury reputation was undeserved.
For years, the Gatwick had effectively been a boarding house, with a good proportion of long-term residents, but thousands of other people stayed for shorter periods, sometimes only a week or two or even a few nights.
Many were people in temporary crisis, sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes circumstantial, but all desperately needing somewhere to stay, with scant other accommodation options.
Some were just people who didn’t quite fit society’s norms, and who could find nowhere else to go.
For many, the walls of the grandiose Art Deco building provided a refuge, and the sisters who ran the Gatwick were not only landladies. They were confidants, counsellors and surrogate mothers.
In this audio documentary, produced in the six months leading up to its closure, we hear about life at The Gatwick Private Hotel in the words of those who knew it the best.
"It's pretty poignant that I do this song, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", because a lot of people knock on a lot of doors looking for places to live, and Rose and Yvette have done a lot for the community in that case. It's a song that goes with the whole history of The Gatwick." - Jennifer