It wasn't Santa Claus but a would-be burglar that rescue workers found stuck up a chimney in central Australia on Friday.

Staff at the Gapview Hotel in Alice Springs heard a man groaning when they arrived for work in the hotel bar, and called the fire department.

The man had been stuck inside the chimney for about 10 hours with his knees jammed tightly into his chest, said local fire station officer Mark James. "He was like a grub in a cocoon when we found him," James said. "He was really wedged in there."

Firefighters and ambulance officers spent 90 minutes trying to free the man before finally removing part of the chimney with jackhammers.

"Imagine being in the tightest ball you can (make) and being in that position for 10 hours," James said. "He was pretty embarrassed and ashamed, so he didn't say much when we got him out. He was obviously feeling sore and sorry for himself."

The man's identity was not immediately released, and it was not clear if he would be charged with any offense.