1960 Australia’s first revolving restaurant

Three Sisters Fountain outside the revolving restaurant, Photo: Blue Mountains Library

Just one year after the world’s first revolving restaurant opened in Dortmund, Germany, the Hammon family opened the Skyway restaurant in Katoomba. It was Australia’s first revolving restaurant, with views to Blue Mountains landmarks like the Three Sisters.

Three Sisters, Katoomba

Revolving restaurants are not generally renowned for the quality of their food. Let’s face it – you’re there for the view. At least the operators of Skyway got that right. The revolving restaurant was an addition to their “nature meets theme park” tourist attraction, Scenic World, overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery in the Blue Mountains. The mechanism was designed and built locally.

If you can believe the online reviews it seems that Skyway, at least in recent years, maintained the proud revolving restaurant tradition of mediocre food. It also ceased revolving – at least at lunchtime when the tourists were there. The full rotational experience was only available for special functions in the evening (hopefully in the twilight hours before the scenery vanished into the gloom). The restaurant has since been renamed EATS270. It’s unclear whether it can still revolve.

The Age 7 November 1963

The next Australian restaurant to embrace the novelty of rotation was Rob’s Carousel, on the shores of Melbourne’s Albert Park Lake. The scenery wasn’t up to much: the lights of the cars on Queens Road, a rather uninspiring stretch of weedy water and a golf course. Then the same again.

Recollections of Rob’s are varied. It has been called “the most appalling restaurant in Melbourne’s history”. For others, it was “the grooviest, funkiest thing in the 60’s when everyone else was being deadly serious…(with) swizzle sticks, fancy matchbooks, saucy waitresses in leotards offset by patrons in grey cardigans and patent shoes.” Rob’s was the Hard Rock Café of its day, along with its near neighbour McClure’s, where you ordered your meal from a telephone in your booth.

Rob’s was strictly ground level, but it’s not surprising that most revolving restaurants sit atop tall buildings. Central Sydney has two. The Summit, on the 47th floor of the Australia Square building, opened in 1968. It persisted as a fine diner until 2012 when it morphed into O Bar and Dining. The Sydney Tower, formerly the AMP Tower, also boasts a revolving restaurant, now called Infinity Dining. Public access to this tower began in 1981. Both are expensive. Both offer amazing views of the city. But the Australia Square venue currently seems to have the edge in terms of outlook (you can see the Opera House) and food.

The Summit c.1971

On another level altogether, we head west to Sydney’s other revolving restaurant. It’s in Blacktown, on the fifth floor of the Workers Club, with great views of…Blacktown.  Or, as one writer rhapsodised, “On a clear day, you can see Rooty Hill!”  Belatedly catching up with a 1970s trend, Hi-lights opened in 1994.

Sadly, it didn’t appeal to everyone. “PLEASE NO. DON’T MAKE ME EVER HAVE TO COME BACK HERE AGAIN,” wailed a diner who was dragged along to celebrate his in-laws’ ruby wedding anniversary. The Sydney Morning Herald included the restaurant in an article on “Surreal Sydney” finding that the time-warp extended to the menu. Since 2013, Hi-Lights has gone through a few name changes, for a time becoming La Ruota, the only spinning Italian restaurant in the country. It also spent a spell as Cucina Locale, but has since reverted to its original Hi-Lights name.

1980 Black Mountain tower

Most Australian capital cities can boast at least one rotating restaurant. Some brave people are trying to visit them all. One Australian family recorded their visits, here and abroad, faithfully noting the speed at which each venue rotates. They did The Point at Wrest Point in Tasmania, HiLite 33 (now the C Restaurant) in Perth, the Four Winds at Crowne Plaza in Surfers Paradise, and Top of the World in Perth.  They also visited the now-defunct Kangaroo Café, at the Cohunu Wildlife Park in Perth and the restaurant at Black Mountain Tower in Canberra, most recently called Alto, which closed in 2013.

As far as we can see, they never discovered Blacktown.

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