Transforming a Trawool treasure

By Jessica Ball

The year was 1989; Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, Madonna's Like A Prayer topped the charts and The Trawool Estate was the place to be.

A younger Wes Old remembers it as a thriving oasis.

“It was the duck’s guts coming out here,” Wes said.

“Trawool is one of those places where people feel like they own a little bit of it and I was one of those.”

Fast forward to four years ago, when Wes and his father Terry returned to Trawool to find it a remnant of its former glory.

“I was ashamed,” he said.

“In my head it was still this amazingly beautiful space — which it is when you sort of peel back all the warts off it, but it had a lot of warts.”

Wes Old.

In 2018 the iconic building was on track to become a drug rehabilitation centre before VCAT stepped in.

The sale fell through and it went up for auction.

“Dad put his hand up and we ended up buying a hotel,” Wes said.

“It was a great opportunity to do something impressive and to bring something that everyone loved so much back to life, as corny as that sounds.”

Trawool hadn't been touched since it opened in 1989 until demolition began in February 2019.

“I think we honestly spent nearly five months just gutting and ripping,” Wes said.

“I thought it was a fixer upper but it was a derelict building.

“We’ve had to do wiring, water, every tile, every piece of flooring — just everything you can imagine, it needed to be done.”

Removing the warts, the holes and the mould, Wes and his team have beautified the space with respect to its history and the area.

Now it is a minimalist boutique hotel with a 100-seat restaurant.

“We're trying to do everything to respect but we have gutted a lot of the building — the avocado floor tiles, coupled with light pink wall tiles and the maroon edging and shiny brass shower screens and taps,” Wes said.

Throughout the design process every detail was highly considered.

From the luxurious green carpet and sphere lighting that leads to the the accommodation in the main building to the curve of the bar and its porcelain bench top.

Where possible original gems like windows, fireplaces and bar fridge doors have been retained and this is most evident in the Granite Bar.

Tired motel rooms have been transformed into budget-style two-bedroom units with kitchenettes, with funky details like retro glass.

“We did a really good job of turning something that probably should have been demolished into some really, really beautiful accommodation and more importantly those rooms have the absolute best views — it’s just all Trawool Valley,” Wes said.

In the restaurant, Wes and his team have curated a relaxed atmosphere with a menu that focuses on local produce.

“We're not a pub but we're absolutely not fine dining,” he said.

“Every menu in Australia has a chicken parma so make sure the chicken parma is good; it's doing those things like wings and ribs and things you get your hands into and then also do things like ceviche.

“We want it to be that place where the menu is changing all the time and when it does the food is still good, not just changing for change's sake.”

And while Trawool doors opened earlier this month, there is still much to be done.

Wes says in the future the "pièce de résistance" will be a deck opening out from the restaurant, while a cellar door is just a few months away.

The bowels of the expansive building won’t even be touched until 2021.

What is currently a store room of hoarded furniture and home to a filthy sauna that reeks of sweat and shame, will eventually become a moody adults-only bar and wellness facility, while private dining areas and conference rooms are also in the works.

“Events is a big part of what we want to do here. This is a beautiful place, it’s a great place to have parties — it was built for weddings and business conferences and getaways,” Wes said.

“We're taking our time with everything to make sure that everything is done right because we could have slap-dashed something together, but it's the little things that make the difference.”