A 134-year-old hotel in Western Australia’s wheatbelt that was restored by a group of farmers has been recognised with a heritage award.
The Imperial Homestead in York, just over an hour east of Perth, had been empty for almost five years when 10 local friends decided to buy it.
After a 14-month restoration, the pub reopened in late 2018 and was acknowledged this year with a runner-up gong in the heritage tourism product category at the WA Heritage Awards.
Co-owner Joanne Russell, who joked that the decision to buy the pub together was made after “we probably drank too much wine and beer”, said receiving the commendation was “wonderful”, even though the usual awards night couldn’t go ahead this year because of COVID-19-related restrictions.
Ms Russell and her fellow co-owners – husband Don, and friends Laurie and Jenny Fairclough, Ross and Riki Lister, Garry and Melanie Lawrance, and Mark and Shelley Fairclough – carried out most of the restoration themselves.
While they brought plenty of practical skills and experience to the job from working on farms, none had restored a heritage pub before and this meant a steep learning curve.
Ms Russell says the women all brought their A-game to the project. “We’ve all learned to tile and grout and pave.”
The Homestead’s grand facade offered plenty of charm but the interior of the two-storey building needed to be completely redone.
A new kitchen was installed, as were two bars – one downstairs and the balcony bar upstairs – with the bar tops and dining tables hand-crafted by Don Russell, a long-time timber craftsman and stonemason.
The extensive beer garden area also needed attention. Pavers were pulled up, cleaned and re-laid. Stone was brought in from the owners’ farms and used as the material for a boundary wall, a performance auditorium, and personalised posts to support shelter for the outdoor tables.
“Each owner had to bring in their own rock from their own farm and build their own rock pillar, and there’s little plaques on each, [naming] each farm,” Ms Russell said.
For visitors staying in York, the Homestead offers accommodation of a rare type. Back in the hotel’s early days patrons were divided according to class, and “second-class citizens” were sent outside the main building to smaller rooms lining the courtyard, which have now been restored for guests.
Ms Russell said the four units were some of the last remaining examples of that accommodation style in use in Australia. Refurbished and repainted, they’re “not so second-class now”.
The owners had hoped the revamped Homestead would be a drawcard for visitors to their small town (York’s population was 2548 in the 2016 census) and Russell says so far, it has.
“Prior to COVID we had people from all over the world coming and staying with us – and coming back.”
After restrictions enforcing a period of takeaway food and beer only, business picked up again with many West Australians travelling locally. Ms Russell said the pub had been “inundated with travellers wanting to flock to the wheatbelt. Every day has been an influx of people coming – locals and tourists.”
WA heritage minister David Templeman said in a statement that he was “delighted” at the number of historic tourism destinations recognised in the WA Heritage Awards this year.
“Places such as the York Imperial Homestead Hotel have been a catalyst for attracting new visitors to regional areas and providing a unique tourism experience,” he said.
The awards have run since 1992 and highlight the people and projects contributing to conservation, preservation and interpretation of West Australian heritage.
This year’s winner in the Heritage Tourism Product category was the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse Precinct, where a new interpretive centre has been developed through which visitors can hear stories about the lives of lighthouse keepers via interactive exhibits, films and kept artefacts.
The lighthouse, the tallest on mainland Australia, is located south of Augusta, on the state’s south-western coastline.
Joint runner-up alongside the Imperial Homestead was TIDES: Swan River Stories, an exhibition that explored the historical importance of Perth’s Derbarl Yerrigan Swan River to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other cultural groups over time. The exhibition was held at Council House in Perth.
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