August 4th, 2023The Old Heppy to become someone’s home
Words: Kevin Childs
LOVED by many for its music, eccentricity and atmosphere, the Old Hepburn Hotel upset many locals when the taps were turned off and doors shut three years ago.
Now, one of the new owners of the hotel and its land, local businessman Eddy Comelli (pictured above) says the hotel will become a house. “It’s zoned as residential and is to be sold soon,” he told The Local.
Bare soil around the heritage-protected hotel signals seven building blocks, plus three dwellings, making 11 residences, including the hotel, in a horseshoe- shaped area. The homes will be around the hotel that served the community almost continuously for 165 years.
Mr Comelli said a company had been formed but declined to name his partners. When the Old Hepburn shut it was threatened with demolition, but the Hepburn Shire Council obtained protection in the face of some locals saying the place should be pulled down. One suggested just a memorial plaque.
Using expert advice, the council found that the hotel “is of local historical significance as an example of the vernacular timber stores and hotels which sprung up along the principal routes to the goldfields around Hepburn and Daylesford in the mid-19th century”. Other local examples are Daylesford’s Beppe Restaurant, the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Trentham and the Swiss Mountain Hotel at Blampeid.
The Old Hepburn was the site of the first licensed store in 1854, serving Swiss Italian and Chinese goldminers digging in the nearby Breakneck Gorge until the late 19th century. As the rush ended, the village of Hepburn, and the Old Hepburn, emerged as a centre for the agricultural, horticultural and service industries.
Rebuilt in 1911 after it burnt down in 1906 and 1909, the hotel has a design that still resembles the 1860s building, incorporating fabric from the Victorian brick chimneys.
Included in the protection order is a requirement for external paint colours to either suit the building or be reinstated. Heritage Victoria says the hotel meets its threshold for listing and will be consulted on any work undertaken.
The council hoped that allowing further use of the building could contribute to its restoration and conservation.
In protecting the hotel, the council also said: “The application of the heritage overlay on a permanent basis may have an adverse economic impact by constraining development of the site. However, this would only apply to part of the property, with opportunities to develop the balance still able to be explored.”
As well, retention and conservation of the hotel could lead to “highly resolved and innovative architectural solutions.” Rather than someone’s home, as is now happening, the council believed that the old hotel would be “making opportunities for small business with benefits through tourism”.
“It is considered that economic effects will be offset by the contribution that the heritage place offers to the broader community and economy.”
Keeping a watchful eye on this is Cr Lesley Hewitt, who says one of the key conditions is protection of the cellar. Already, an ancient and unprotected pear tree behind the hotel is gone. Having twice arisen from the ashes, the pub that refused to die will now play host to new owners, their relatives and friends.