Mount Buffalo was Victoria’s first National park, and really where winter sports began in Victoria in the late 1800’s.
So popular was the park that in 1910 someone had a plan to build a hotel for skiers and summer walkers modelled after Alpine resorts in Europe.
There wasn’t enough money to build it all at once, but over the years bits were added on, new wings, tennis courts, ski hire and the rest, so that by the 1930’s it was large rambling wooden building and something close to the original dream of a European Alpine hotel in Australia.
At some time along the way it was acquired by Victorian Railways, who continued to run it in the grand manner with silver service and dressing for dinner.
But of course times changed, and the railways were privatised, and the by now rather run down hotel ended up with Parks Victoria, who not knowing what to do with it leased it out to various operators, the last of whom walked out in 2006, unable to make it pay.
And there it sat, neglected, rotting, and falling apart. There was talk of demolishing all or part of it, but eventually money was found to begin restoring at least part of the building.
So, for the last few years it’s been empty, and shrouded in scaffolding, but by this year, restoration works have progressed enough to allow visitors in to see progress.
A large part of the building is still fragile, with rotting floors, but the dining room, the ballroom, a few of the bedrooms and some of the lounge areas have been restored and the original 1930’s furniture put back.
The toilets still don’t work, there’s no heating, but the building is more or less weathertight, and there’s lighting in the restored part of the building.
As part of the Australian Heritage Festival, Parks Victoria were offering tours of the building, so we signed up.
Actually, we signed up twice.
The first time we underestimated the traffic up the mountain, arrived 5 minutes late to find that the tour had already set off and that there was no way to catch them up as they lock the doors to keep casual visitors from getting in to what is still officially a work site.
The second time we were more successful, arriving in good time in pouring rain, and joining the other heritage geeks trying to keep dry on the verandah.
Inside it’s very much like these large moribund timewarp hotels that you used to find in the highlands of Scotland, or indeed in such outposts of empire as the Queens Hotel in Kandy.
Large rooms, over stuffed armchairs, a billiards room for the gentlemen, a sitting room for the ladies and a definite air of waiting for someone to order a stiff whisky.
Upstairs they’ve restored some of the bedrooms and dressed them to give an impression of how they would have been in the 1930’s, but most of the bedrooms are awaiting restoration (and such luxuries as a new floor), but most of the ground floor area has been restored – well except for plumbing and heating.
Suggested uses are as a restaurant, as a location for ghost tours or even mystery evenings where people role play an Agatha Christie story, but truth be told it’s all a bit unknown, as to where the funding is coming from to complete the restorations, but it’s an interesting piece of Australian history, and almost a time capsule …