26 June 2020

"Magic" renovation underway at Eden's Hotel Australasia

| Elka Wood
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Scaffolding outside Hotel Australasia.

Scaffolding covers the facade of Hotel Australasia in Eden, with renovation work on the building in full swing. Photo: Elka Wood.

As Neil Rankin, owner of Eden’s Hotel Australasia, shows me around the old building – which is currently hidden behind scaffolding – he can’t hide his excitement, stroking the faded, apricot-coloured 1920’s facade.

“Before it came down a month ago, no-one had touched it since it was covered up in the 1950s, but it’s still in great condition,” explains Neil.

His grand vision is to see the facade shine again, including the hotel’s name in brickwork and a central orb, which will bring the building up by a further three metres.

Builder Neil Rankin leaning on wall outside Hotel Australasia.

Builder Neil Rankin has taken on the Hotel Australasia restoration as a personal project. Photo: Elka Wood.

The original moulding was made it situ and trowled in wet concrete. To restore any damaged moulding, Neil will make tools in the same pattern and have his builders mimic the original trowling techniques.

Neil is even matching the facade paint colour, deepening it slightly to account for fading.

The long-term plan is to have an onsite brewery, a residence and seven rooms upstairs, with most featuring an original clawfoot bath and balcony access.

The current rooms are quite small by modern standards, so two rooms will become one to make space for queen beds and ensuite bathrooms.

People standing outside Hotel Australasia in 1920s.

The historic facade of Eden’s Hotel Australasia in the 1920’s. Photo: Eden’s Australasia Facebook.

Neil won’t be running the hotel though, claiming he’s more comfortable “on the other side of the bar”.

“I’ve made it clear I’m restoring it to become lettable space,” he says. “I’ve got enough going on.”

Bega Valley Shire Council sold the building to Neil late last year, and he and his team of builders – which includes his two older brothers, cousin Steven and a revolving crew of interested friends and family – have been working at it ever since, aiming to reuse onsite materials as much as possible.

Aerial view of demolished kitchen at Eden's Hotel Australasia.

The plan is to transform Hotel Australasia’s old kitchen into a brewery. Photo: Elka Wood.

“It’s all labour; all the work needs hands and time, not necessarily money,” says Neil, showing off original copper plumbing, sloppily painted over, which will be restored to become shiny downpipes.

The COVID-19 lockdown has been a boon for the project, as Neil and his builders weren’t travelling to other building jobs, including two supermarkets in Narooma and a big job in Goulburn.

“We’ve really been smashing into it during COVID-19 restrictions,” he says.

Literally, in some cases, as brickwork bound with horsehair is taken down brick by brick to be restored and floorboards ripped up, finished and replaced.

Hotel Australasia original hotel room, with in-room sink and ocean view out window.

One of the original hotel rooms, complete with in-room sink. Photo: Elka Wood.

Even the pressed tin ceilings, long since painted over, will be painstakingly taken down and restored.

Walking around the majestic hotel, with crumbling brick underfoot, holes between the floorboards, crude graffiti on the walls, dusty glass and broken furniture stacked downstairs, it’s clear how much work is ahead.

But you also see gracefully curved doorways, a grand staircase and windows that open out to the blue sea. The place is pulsating with history and potential.

Wooden stairwell at Hotel Australasia.

Neil and his crew will refinish and reuse much of the building’s original timber. Photo: Elka Wood.

Even at this stage of the renovation, Neil is discovering new things, such as a carefully plastered over fireplace in the upstairs kitchen, which will become a hotel room.

“I saw the fireplace in old photos but couldn’t work out which room it was in until we started taking out walls,” says Neil. “This will be a very special room.”

The downstairs lobby, with broken banister, of Hotel Australasia.

The downstairs lobby of Hotel Australasia. Photo: Elka Wood.

Even after the bones of the renovation are finalised, there will be months of finish work but Neil says that although he hasn’t had time “to come up for breath”, he’s enjoying every stage of the project.

The development application allows nine months for planning and a further two years to finish the build. Neil hopes to reveal the facade later this year and finish the project by Christmas 2021.

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I am soooo excited about the restoration of this iconic landmark. I first came to Eden around 1990, and the Australasia was a massive part of Eden’s culture back then.I personally hated seeing it boarded up and sitting there going to waste.

Rhonda clulow11:06 am 30 Jun 20

Hi Neil
I grew up in Eden and the Australasia was a beautiful part of my memory.
I have visited back to Eden and found myself so concerned of what would become of her
I just found your beautiful plan of to rebuild the Australasia
You have eased my heart so much to rebuild such a historical part of Eden
Thank you so much for having the love to want to keep a beautiful place

I just wanted to say thank you

Regards Rhonda ☘️

It sounds like he us doing a great job. My heart was in my mouth some years ago when I learned council had not heritage listed it and it had been sold to a developer who planned to demolish it and replace with a supermarket and bottle shop. The community rallied. We fought off the demolition and I am very proud to be part of that. The next step was to get it heritage listed and that too was successful. Over the years Eden’s Australasia Inc worked hard to ensure the Australasia was saved and restored. It is great to see Neil Rankin doing such a wonderful job.

Janice de Jager9:43 am 27 Jun 20

BreathtAking! So good to know it is being restored with care and passion. I will be booking in fir a special weekend once it is all open! Congratulations to Neil and his team.

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