Guest Feature: How the Hydro Majestic inspired the Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale

I’m happy to introduce Julian Leatherdale to my readers today.  Julian Leatherdale’s first love was theatre. On graduation, he wrote lyrics for four satirical cabarets and a two-act musical. He discovered a passion for popular history as a staff writer, researcher and photo editor for Time-Life’s Australians At War series. He later researched and co-wrote two Film Australia-ABC documentaries Return to Sandakan and The Forgotten Force and was an image researcher at the State Library of New South Wales. He was the public relations manager for a hotel school in the Blue Mountains, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Palace of Tears is Julian Leatherdale’s debut novel. Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales it is a generational story of family, passion, secrets and vengeance.

Angie loved Mr Fox’s magnificent, absurd hotel. In fact, it was her one true great love. But … today Angie was so cross, so fed up with everybody and everything, she would probably cheer if a wave of fire swept over the cliff and engulfed the Palace and all its guests.
A sweltering summer’s day, January 1914: the charismatic and ruthless Adam Fox throws a lavish birthday party for his son and heir at his elegant clifftop hotel in the Blue Mountains. Everyone is invited except Angie, the girl from the cottage next door. The day will end in tragedy, a punishment for a family’s secrets and lies.
In 2013, Fox’s granddaughter Lisa, seeks the truth about the past. Who is this Angie her mother speaks of: ‘the girl who broke all our hearts’? Why do locals call Fox’s hotel the ‘palace of tears’? Behind the grandeur and glamour of its famous guests and glittering parties, Lisa discovers a hidden history of passion and revenge, loyalty and love.
A grand piano burns in the night, a seance promises death or forgiveness, a fire rages in a snowstorm, a painter’s final masterpiece inspires betrayal, a child is given away. With twist upon twist, this lush, strange mystery withholds its shocking truth to the very end.

My review is posted HERE, in the meantime, please read on to learn what inspired Palace of Tears.



Three years ago, I decided I wanted to write a family saga set in the Blue Mountains. I have lived here for over twenty-five years and never tired of its sublime and savage beauty. But I soon realised that my family saga needed something else besides poetic landscape and atmosphere. It needed a building at its heart that would be the family’s inheritance and keeper of all its memories.
Like many locals, I have long been fascinated by the Hydro Majestic, one of our best-known landmarks apart from the Three Sisters. As drivers head west through the tiny township of Medlow Bath in the upper Mountains, they still do a double-take at the sight of this grand Edwardian-era hotel that stretches for over a kilometre along the escarpment.

With its distinctive dome and crenellated wings, the Hydro has always struck me as a kind of madman’s castle. Perched on the cliffs high above the Kanimbla valley, wrapped in fog and snow in winter and blue haze in summer, what could be a more perfect setting for a tale of family secrets and Gothic mystery?

Mark Foy is probably best known for his luxury department store in Sydney but he had already taken a huge gamble back in 1904 with his Hydro Majestic, the first health retreat of its kind in Australia, modelled on the spa hotels of Europe. He spared no expense on lavish décor, a gallery of expensive artworks, a hydropathy clinic with a German doctor, and luxuries and mod cons such as Turkish coffee and a telephone in every room. The clinic was short-lived but the hotel itself thrived as a mecca for the rich and famous well into the 1920s and 1930s. Guests included the Russian Ballet and one of the world’s richest women, German armaments heiress Baroness Bertha Krupp.

The more I researched the Hydro’s past the more its imaginative appeal deepened. I did not want to write a fictionalised history of the hotel itself. Instead I wanted to use elements of its history to create my own opulent hotel in the bush, the Palace at Meadow Springs, and the story of its visionary owner Adam Fox and his wives, lovers, daughters and grand-daughter.


In October 2014, the Hydro Majestic was reopened, restored to its former glory under new owners and inspiring wonder in me all over again. While still writing my first draft, I was lucky enough to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the hotel still under refurbishment. Standing under the dome, it was easy to imagine the swank Edwardian balls and raucous jazz-age fancy dress parties held here, the society ladies gossiping on their lounges in Cat’s Alley while their husbands played billiards or retired to the smoking lounge.

Photos, memoirs, interviews and newspaper stories filled my imagination, suggesting fertile details or incidents for my own story. A visit by Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1921 inspired a confronting séance scene that reveals a dreadful truth for Adam Fox and his wife Adelina.
The filming of a silent movie (now lost) at the hotel with its erotic Spider Web dance made the perfect backdrop for Adam Fox to meet his young lover Laura.

In 1942, the Hydro became a US military hospital for wounded soldiers; it is where Adam’s daughter Monika sneaks in to meet ‘Yanks.’

With its own dramatic past, the Hydro was a gift for a writer but one that had to be handled with care, resisting the temptation to overwhelm my readers with wonderful oddities from my research. History always had to serve story-telling, not the other way round. As the story developed, the Palace, my fictional half-sister of the Hydro Majestic, became a character in her own right.
Writing is always a journey full of surprises. For me, one of the greatest joys of writing Palace of Tears was to rediscover the place where I live through the eyes of the past.

Every morning, as I drop my daughter off at her primary school, I drive past the ruins of a grand guest house on the corner of the highway. As part of my research, I now know the story of the fire that destroyed my daughter’s school and this guest house on one fateful day in December 1957.
I look at them both quite differently now and think of the people in my village who lived through that day. It is a humbling experience but also an uplifting one, a tribute to the power of stories.

Palace of Tears is available to purchase from

Allen & Unwin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AUvia Booko

Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greg Long
    Jun 12, 2015 @ 09:07:58

    I stayed at the Hydro Majestic a few times in decades past. Brilliant place. A superb choice of setting for a novel ☺



  2. Yvonnevonne
    Jun 12, 2015 @ 09:11:13

    It’s always interesting to learn what was the inspiration for a novel. Australia doesn’t have many old buildings compared to countries with much longer histories, so it’s great that the Hydro Majestic has been saved and is back in use. Palace of Tears is heading for my reading pile. I’m looking forward to reading your review.



  3. Brona
    Jun 12, 2015 @ 17:44:44

    I definitely have to check this one Shelley – thanks for the great background post.

    The Hydro Majestic is part of my romantic history with my husband. We were delighted when we saw that it had reopened last year.

    I will take a much closer look at this book now 🙂



  4. Trackback: Review: Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale | book'd out
  5. Deborah
    Jun 14, 2015 @ 10:28:24

    It’s be an amazing place to visit!



  6. gina amos
    Jun 14, 2015 @ 11:02:03

    So many memories of the Hydro Magestic. A great setting for your novel!



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