After almost a decade of sitting idle, waiting for its moment to shine again, “the ugliest building in the shire” could be just weeks away from a new future.
The Hotel Australasia in the middle of Eden is in the process of being sold.
“I think you’ll see work commence in the next couple of months,” says Bega Valley Mayor Kristy McBain.
The pub served its last beer in 2010, despite the great affection for it and the stunning facade that lays hidden, the building was not on the Shire’s heritage register when developers moved in.
Community activism and the actions of shire councilors to buy the building in 2016 spared it from being bulldozed and turned into a supermarket.
Ever since, how and who should restore the old pub, nicknamed the ‘Snake Pit’ has occupied two councils, four mayors and many community members. All while the hulking building in the heart of Eden’s CDB was boarded up and crumbled.
The grand vision is to see the 1920’s facade shine again, a history that hasn’t seen daylight since the current facade was erected over it in the 1950’s.
“In my negotiations with the developer, I believe that work will commence as soon as settlement is completed,” Cr McBain says.
“If council was to retain ownership, I couldn’t guarantee when activation of the space would take place, and I think it’s important that that work takes place as soon as possible.”
At its most recent meeting, Bega Valley Shire Council approved the sale to an as yet unknown developer. The vote was carried with the support of Crs McBain, Fitzpatrick, Bain, Nadin, and Griff. Cr Tony Allen was absent.
Details of the deal will be made public once the full process has run its course.
Council spent $500,000 to purchase the building three years ago, saving it from the wrecking ball, however, the Mayor remains tight-lipped on the agreed sale price.
“What I can say is that you will see some community benefit from the activation of the site.”
Cr McBain says sale conditions including the need to restore the facade and maintain vehicle and pedestrian access in the adjoining laneway.
“It will be the grand old lady in the street once again when this development takes place. What I hope to see is people and businesses using the car park at the rear to come into town, walking around, sitting in bars or cafes in that space, and it becoming a real central hub for activity.”
Peter Whiter, President of the local interest group, ‘Eden’s Australasia Inc’ says the group was prepared to work with council on the restoration of the Australasia building right up until last week’s council meeting.
While disappointed the building won’t be in community ownership, he says, “we’d love to hear from the purchaser and have discussions, there may be ways forward for us to assist them.”
Mr Whiter says he is “unbelievably happy” to think works might start within a couple of months on what many see as “the ugliest building in the shire.”
“That would be a great thing to see happening in the main street,” he says.
Mr Whiter regrets the way the issue has become politicised within council and is “100% certain” that progress has been slow and messy because of that.
“The work that staff do at council – I applaud. I think they need to be given a bit more free reign.”
Cr McBain says input from the ‘Eden’s Australasia’ group has influenced the final outcome.
“I hope that community groups continue to assist council to ensure that the decisions we make continue to reflect some of their desires, we don’t always agree but we try our hardest to reflect their sentiments,” she says.
Cr McBain says the new owners have already been in discussion with businesses who might go into the old pub and that the town’s community radio station is perhaps one early tennant.
“The developer wants to get the facade done as soon as possible and then move inside straight away so that it can be leased out,” she says.
The Mayor says she is confident this deal will stick, and that as Hotel Ausraliaisa approaches its 115th year, that its new look and purpose will be one that is central to Eden’s character, appeal, and future.