Leary Contracting has to build it--the tallest hotel Sydney has ever seen. At 55, John Leary employs both his sons in his construction company, but the one he favours is his first-born, Richard. Meanwhile Richard's half-brother, Brendan, gains the respect of the Leary workers because he has 'bricks in his blood'.
John begins the massive hotel project, overcoming city red tape and the jabs of his fiercest competitor. The Imperial dwarfs all around it, with hundreds of workers busting their guts to finish the brutal program. Richard, charming but unreliable, marries well and dazzles the Sydney society of 1885, while Brendan proves himself tougher than he looks whenever real work is required.
John must choose which of his sons will lead Learys into the next century. Only after the Imperial is completed does he make his decision.