• Loddon Herald

New Heights in accommodation


WHEN Michelle and Bruce Hargreaves converted part of the old Korong Bush Nursing Hospital into boutique guest accommodation, they opened the door of their home to visitors from around the world.

Michelle still remembers the first booking, 10 years ago last weekend.

It was the Burke family from Sydney who were visiting Wedderburn for the 90th birthday party of Campbell Holmes.

Campbell lived in the hospital cottage from 2000 until his passing in 2014. The cottage had at times served as a doctor’s surgery.

“Campbell made it his home and cared for the grounds for the hospital committee. When we took over it was a delight to have Campbell as our neighbour,” Michelle said.

“He would have been 100 at the weekend and we’re pretty sure the success of Kurracaburn Heights would have put an extra smile on his face.“

“Campbell was a wonderful man, a member of the famous Wedderburn Oldtimers dance orchestra too playing his trombone.”

The Hargreaves moved into the former hospital in September 2007 after a formal handing over of the keys the previous month by hospital committee president Peter Norman, secretary Bonnie Curnow and long-time committeeman Bob Steel senior and an open day for the community to have one last look at the building.

“After living in part of the building, we decided to generate an income to cover some of the maintenance and running costs,” Michelle said.

“The renovations began to convert the 1964 surgery extension into family living areas with the northern end and sunroom to be dedicated as the guest end,”

News of the Great Victorian Bike Ride coming to town in December 2011 was the motivation to be open and ready for guests.

Michelle thought short-term accommodation would be achievable. “Bruce laughed saying ‘Who would stay here’ and thought we might get five bookings a year, so I don’t get my hopes up,” she said.

“In the first 12 months we had 20 bookings, way beyond Bruce’s expectations. Since then the bookings have continued to increase averaging two bookings per week at one stage.

“Surprisingly, in the last 12 months we have still had 28 bookings even though we have been shut down for a number of months with COVID.”

Michelle says the old hospital’s new era had seen almost 450 bookings in 10 years – more than 1000 people.

“That’s a lot of beds to be made,” she said.

And it’s not just Australians enjoying the outlook over Donaldson Park and Nardoo Creek to the historic main street with guests also hailing from Britain, Java and Croatia.

Among them have been the family of Mary Willis who served for many years as Korong Bush Nursing Hospital matron until 1976, assisting at the births of local children.

Michelle says: “We feel we have a connection to the place as Bruce was born here along with his four brothers.

“His father Ted was involved with many of the extensions of the building and Bruce assisted with the kitchen/nurses’ room extension in the early 80s.

“One day we were renovating and Bruce was under the floor and saw a screwdriver on the floor joist, one Ted had left there 30 years prior. Ted chuckled when we presented it to him.

“Our children all attended the maternal and child health services here for many years.“

“And Ted was on the hospital committee for 50 years and his wife Shirley on the ladies’ auxiliary committee for many years raising funds for the hospital.”

Michelle and Bruce say refurbishment of the hospital had been a labour of love. “Nearly every room had a sink that had to be removed and patched.”

The main building opened in 1938 as a six-bed hospital and had several extensions over the years to be 13 beds when it closed. A surgery and delivery room were added and more wards were added, patient bathrooms in the 1970s, kitchen and nurses’ overnight room the next decade.

Today, these buildings are home for the Hargreaves and visitors to the region.

And like Campbell Holmes, the Hargreaves see themselves as “caretakers of this beautiful building”.

“Going forward we are looking at more changes to continue to improve our business,” Michelle said.

“The cottage after Campbell left was completely renovated and has housed long-term renters; we are now investigating pet friendly short-term accommodation for the cottage. We have met some many wonderful people. Some people like to keep to themselves and others love to chat and hear the story of our home.

“We hope this continues for many more years,” Michelle said.

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