(By:Jim Smith)

About the series

Jim Smith has just released the first two volumes in his series of three books on the history of the Hydro Majestic. Jim is a trained historian and heritage consultant, who has lived in Wentworth Falls since 1974 and has Masters and Doctorate degrees. He has published 23 books relating to the cultural history of the Blue Mountains. He began researching the Hydro Majestic 30 years ago in association with the late Mary Shaw, Mark Foy’s granddaughter. He was given permission by Mary to copy thousands of pages of letters, diaries, photographs and other records relating to the life of Mark Foy and the Hydro. In addition, Jim has accumulated the largest private collection of postcards, photographs, menus and other memorabilia associated with the Hydro Majestic, amounting to over 1000 items.

Jim Smith’s determined research over the last few decades has now resulted in three books, two of which are currently available. These are:

The Life and Loves of Mark Foy. Creator of the Hydro Majestic Hotel.

The eccentric entrepreneur Mark Foy made his fortune in the Victorian era, with the profits from Sydney’s Mark Foy’s department store. Always a hypochondriac, he came to believe that all diseases could be cured by bathing in cold water. In 1904, he put most of his money into building a hydropathic treatment centre in Medlow Bath. Referred to as ‘Foy’s Folly’, it became known as the Hydro Majestic hotel. Described as ‘A Palace in the Wilderness’, the Hydro became known as a place where guests (like Mark Foy himself) engaged in adulterous affairs. Here, people felt safe to ‘let their hair down’, disguising themselves in masks and opposite-sex clothing, while acting out their fantasies during elaborate fancy-dress balls, guest and staff role-reversal nights and ‘mad hatters’ contests.

During the Edwardian era Mark Foy experienced a ‘midlife crisis’ and wanted to sell up everything he owned and live in Algiers. He had a ten-year relationship with the Hydro Majestic’s entertainer, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter. 

Mark Foy spend the rest of his life in restless travels, regularly avoiding his wife Elizabeth and their four children. His finances were often in a crisis and he embarked on many unsuccessful business ventures including land subdivisions, mining, cotton growing in America, horse breeding and patenting inventions.

Mark Foy may not have succeeded in his search for happiness, but the enduring monument to his life is the Hydro Majestic hotel, a place where millions of guests, over the last 116 years, have enjoyed escapes from their everyday lives.

The many facets of Mark Foy’s complex life include his obsession with hydropathic treatment of disease (which led to the building of the Hydro Majestic), collecting ‘Orientalist’ art, importing some of Australia’s earliest motor vehicles and his romantic affairs with glamorous singers. Previously untold stories include how Mark Foy managed to avoid scandal by arranging private unofficial adoptions of his illegitimate children, and the circumstances that led to Mark’s brother being charged with attempted murder. 

In addition to many other previously unpublished photos, the book includes a large foldout page with historic panoramas of the Hydro Majestic building complex before the 1922 fire which destroyed half of the original buildings. Vintage car enthusiasts will appreciate the photos of early model De Dion, Daimler, Panhard, Zebra, Stoewer, Franklin and Fiat vehicles.

Now available iin the HM Pavilion: RRP $40


The Curiosity of Melbourne Ward and his Great Barrier Reef and Blue Mountains Museums. 

For over 20 years, an unassuming shed in the grounds of the Hydro Majestic hotel offered visitors access to one of Australia’s greatest private collections of anthropological artefacts and biological specimens. Entering its dim interior, tourists would be greeted by the curator Melbourne Ward, a man as unusual as his eclectic assemblage. His ‘Gallery of Natural History and Native Art’ opened in 1943 and closed in 1965. A branch Museum at Echo Point called ‘Pyala’ stayed open until 1972, being run by Mel’s wife Halley after his death in 1966.

This book relates the curious story of Mel Ward’s life, including his early theatrical career, and recreates through photographs something of the experience of walking through his densely packed displays of arts and crafts from indigenous peoples in Australia, New Guinea, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. These were intermingled with stuffed and pickled fauna and Australian convict and colonial era artefacts.

Mel was fascinated by the mythology and legends of tribal people and was the first to publicise widely the best-known version of the Aboriginal legend of the Three Sisters at Katoomba. Mel Ward’s enthusiastic presentations and charismatic personality made a lifelong impression on those who were lucky enough to meet him.

‘Mel’ Ward is well remembered for his ‘Legend Walk’ tours and appearances on radio and television programmes.

Now available iin the HM Pavilion: RRP $25