In heritage-rich Beechworth, Matt Pfahlert and Gina Bladon have restored a 150-year-old timber slab hut as luxury accommodation.
Story By Terri Cowley
As founder of Victoria’s Typo Station, a life-skills program for at-risk young men, Matt Pfahlert spent a lot of time in the bush. It was here that he came to appreciate the craftsmanship of Australia’s pioneering cattlemen, particularly their skills with wood. It was only natural then, that when he left Typo and started on his next life adventure, he’d want to take some of that craft with him. And that is how he came to own the 150-year-old timber slab hunt that he and wife Gina Bladon now let out for luxury accommodation with a difference, in heritage-rich Beechworth.
“The hut is particularly unusual, not only for its wide timber slabs, but also the way the slabs dovetail at each corner,” Matt says, caressing the wood. “The hut would have been built entirely by hand using just a few tools.” Matt first saw the hut, constructed from local mountain ash, on a friend’s farm. It was in a bad state of repair and in danger of being torn down.
Matt and Gina felt they had to buy it. “We thought, ‘Wow, what an amazing building, we can’t just let that fall into the ground,’” Gina says. They dismantled the hut piece by piece and with the help of carpenter Mark White rebuilt it over four years on their property at Beechworth. To say they’ve created something rather special is an understatement.
Restored using almost all recycled materials, the history of the building has been preserved without sacrificing any of the creature comforts. Jarrah floorboards came from old Army training barracks at Wangaratta, baltic pine for the ceiling was salvaged from an old house at Tungamah, a blacksmith bellows was saved on a farm at Yackandandah and turned into a coffee table, and even the mantle piece is an old railway sleeper. Not only do these items combine for an authentic look, using recycled materials appeals to the couple’s sense of environmentalism. Matt says they worked hard to reduce the building’s ‘embodied energy’ (the energy used in the making of something).
Named 1860 Luxury Accommodation, after the year it was built, the self-contained hut has rarely been vacant since it opened in 2007. Visitors enjoy a living room with open fire and full kitchen and a spacious and comfortable bedroom with king-size bed and double bath. A comfortable and private verandah looks out across a paddock that contains a massive oak tree that shades a small croaking creek. A bit further into the bush, and over the Beechworth Rail Trail – upon which you can cycle from Bright to Wangaratta – is Lake Sambell, a popular swimming spot that was once the site of the main operation for the old gold-mining town. 1860 is within walking distance of the main street with its historic tours and interesting shopping and out of town there’s a list of natural attractions such as Woolshed Falls and scenic drives.
The hut offers visitors complete privacy, with no need to engage hosts in “small talk”, as Gina puts it. Keys are left out for visitors and a generous breakfast hamper is in the fridge. The family lives just up the hill but there’s no chance you’ll be disturbed unless you want to be. All bookings are prepaid online.
This story excerpt is from Issue #68
Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2010