I’ve been travelling again! It’s only been three days, and I haven’t left Western Australia. In fact, I haven’t gone very far from home. Because of Covid, my travel remains restricted. WA is a massive State with vastly varying climates, landscapes and experiences. I could feel caged in with WA’s tough Covid border rules. But what a gilded cage it is as I found on my latest little journey of discovery this week.
My road trip took me inland where heavy winter rains have filled Western Australia’s largest inland lake – Lake Dumbleyung. It’s a salt lake in the heart of WA’s southern wheat and sheep belt and it’s rare for it to be full of water. The Lake became world famous in 1964 when Britain’s Donald Campbell set a new world water speed record on it in his futuristic boat Bluebird.
Lake Dumbleyung is often bone dry, particularly in summer. To see water in Lake Dumbleyung is a treat. To see the Lake full is a unique opportunity. How could I miss out when it is only about three and a half hours drive inland from where I live.
To make the trip a little more interesting I combined my visit to the Lake with a two night stay at an unusual high class hotel developed in an 1800’s flour mill in the Great Southern wheatbelt town of Katanning. Not just any flourmill. One that produced flour that won gold medals for quality in London and Paris around the 1900’s.
Katanning township was established in the late 1800’s, and today has a small population of around 4200 people. Remarkably this tiny town is the most multicultural regional community in Western Australia, with around 40 nationalities.
You’ll find Katanning in the State’s Great Southern, about 3 hours drive south-east of Perth. Katanning is principally a wheat and sheep farming town, extending to other crops such as canola (rapeseed). It also has the largest livestock sale yards in WA, and a large abattoir. For me though, most interest centred in its wealth of beautiful 1800’s buildings, including the one I stayed in on this visit.
Many of the old buildings are still in use, repurposed for more modern establishments. Some are a little surprising, like the old church that now serves as a Chinese restaurant! Others serve as a canvas for colourful murals.
Some buildings lay derelict, awaiting new life – like the old town train station. Suggestion here: a great Arts and Crafts centre? Grain trains still roar on through the town, but they no longer carry passengers.
THE PREMIER MILL HOTEL
The hotel I stayed in is in the repurposed Premier Roller flour mill, and it’s remarkable. The architects and owners have done a superb job maintaining the integrity of the original mill, built in the 1891. Your ensuite room might be in the old grain silo or a packing room. Mine was in the old boiler area – some might say appropriate for me!
The hotel is 4 star ultra modern with all the conveniences, yet it doesn’t ignore its past as a building that produced flour of top international standard! There are reminders of the old mill in every step around the hotel.
In the cellars where the flour mill owner once had a cordial factory, there is a very cool bar – appropriately named ‘The Cordial Bar’. Although these days the beverage is local boutique wines on tap!
The history of this building surrounds you like a warm coat. An expensive hotel for regional Western Australia, but worth the experience.
Lake Dumbleyung is 13 kilometres long and about 6 and a half kilometres wide, covering around 52 square kilometres. This remote salt lake became world famous when Britain’s Donald Campbell set a new water speed record on it in 1964 in his boat Bluebird K7. The Lake, so often dry, is now at similar levels to when Campbell took Bluebird onto it.
Earlier this year the local Shire President said the rare occurrence of a full Lake Dumbleyung had lifted community spirits. The tiny little nearby rural town of Dumbleyung relies on the Lake to attract tourists, and they are well prepared for them.
They have a life size model of Bluebird on display under cover in the town, and crossing the road I could access plenty of information about Campbell’s successful world record at an interpretive centre.
THE G.O.D.I. – or the old Dumbleyung hotel
Another highlight of my trip was the Dumbleyung hotel – or the Grand Old Dumbleyung Inn – known more fondly by locals as the G.O.D.I. Ok .. ‘Tavern’ was another former name. The sign hasn’t been taken down yet!
The beautiful old building originally opened in 1911, and unlike my hotel in Katanning, it is still waiting for someone to win the lottery and bring this shabby old girl back to her former glory. However – she is still alive and kicking and the current owner is doing her best to restore her.
You can stay in the upstairs rooms (very basic with share facilities) and you can relax on the first floor verandah. The hotel definitely has seen better days – much better ones. But she still provides a good hearty pub lunch at a reasonable price. Apple crumble with custard was on the menu when I visited. What fancy, new age expensive desert can better that!
You can ever stay at the G.O.D.I if you are happy to settle for very basic, old fashioned hotel accommodation with share facilities and a share lounge. Or you can simply take up the G.O.D.I.’s offer of a free camping spot behind the hotel!
When I dropped in for a lunch of lamb chops and mash, the publican gave me free reign to wander throughout the hotel with my camera. A beautiful old jarrah staircase took me to the accommodation level and out to the old verandah with a view to the centre of town. So many old hotels in Australia have lost their verandahs because of safety reasons. So to go out onto this one was a treat.
In the bar, a whole wall has been dedicated to Campbell’s World Record on Lake Dumbleyung. I presume he popped in while he was in the area!
The formal dining room has had an upgrade, and is looking good. But a full upgrade would cost millions. It’s a dream right now, but will it happen?
I loved visiting the G.O.D.I, though I’m glad I’m not in charge of this old Dame’s restoration. There’s such a lot of work to do, and no big bankroll to achieve it. So hopefully more people will visit and add some much needed coin towards the work. Beautiful old hotels like this should be loved and cherished.
I feel like I’ve been away travelling – even though it was just three days. It’s amazing what a little backyard holiday jaunt can do for the soul. It was almost a joy to lug my luggage from the car to the hotel and back. Like old times! Travelling times. This trip certainly fed my travelling soul well.