THINGS have been vanishing from the old Lake Hotel.
A wrought iron railing, brass garden taps, a cast iron mailbox, and even the kitchen sink taps — all sawn off and taken.
It appears strangers are helping themselves to what remains of the vacant and fire-damaged family home.
But the old Lake Hotel is not as abandoned and it appears, and each opportunistic theft is a cruel blow to a family spread thin between work, life and hospital.
For the past two years the owner, Cheryl Fry, had been battling stage-four cancer in Bendigo.
Four months ago the 74-year-old was watering what remained of her garden at the old Lake Hotel when she fell.
She died on February 8.
For her daughters, Kat and Bridgid Fry, the casual disregard for their mother’s most beloved possession has brought them to a breaking point.
Now the police are being involved, and the two women are out for answers.
It was front page news when the old Lake Hotel burnt down.
Printed across the McIvor Times on April 18, 2018 were the words “history goes up in flames”.
The big story was that an 1850s house was reduced to charred walls — the small story was of the owner.
Five months before a faulty electrical wire turned her house into an inferno and incinerated nearly all her worldly possessions, Cheryl was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
For the past 13 years she had been carefully and meticulously restoring the old Lake Hotel, painting the walls herself, hand-selecting antique furniture to fill its 13 bedrooms — choosing the perfect taps, railings and mailbox.
Cheryl lived in the old Lake Hotel largely on her own, but later Kat moved into the semi-detached studio bedroom.
“We had a very good arrangement, she had all the hotel and I had the studio, we practically lived separate lives outside dinnertime,” Kat said.
Kat said her mother, who was an artist by trade, adored the old Lake Hotel.
“She loved heritage, she loved putting things up and creating,” she said.
It wasn’t Cheryl’s first heritage house, and it wasn’t the first house she had lost.
After her husband’s death, estate development forced Cheryl out of her Melbourne blue stone home.
Her youngest daughter lived on a farm in Pyalong, so Cheryl shifted to Bendigo.
Her Bendigo house burnt down in the Black Saturday fires.
When Cheryl bought the old Lake Hotel it was in a sorry state, stripped back to its foundations by a failed attempt to start a cellar-door business.
“It was magical even when it had no walls,” Kat remembered.
“She loved it so much, she even went to council and got it heritage-listed, which not a lot of people do because it can be a headache if the building burns down, for example.”
After the fire Cheryl wanted to rebuild the old Lake Hotel only to discovered “headache” was an understatement.
The house was classed as too far gone by council, and Cheryl was forced to demolish the main two-storey section of her home.
Only a patio, semi-detached kitchen and Kat’s studio bedroom survived.
Even if Cheryl wanted to build a replica hotel, she couldn’t.
One, the insurance payout wasn’t enough to cover a new hotel, and two, the heritage listing on the land meant nothing could be built where the Lake Hotel once stood.
The first theft occurred almost instantly.
“Mum was the one who found it,” Bridgid said.
Before the house was stripped of its surviving fixtures and demolished, a three-by-three-metre section of irreplaceable Baltic pine floorboards went missing.
“In the bar room someone cut a big square out of the floor, just to add to the violation — I know it was going to be demolished but it still wasn’t help yourself,” Bridgid said.
Kat remembers being shown the section of missing floor by her mother.
“They cut a big hole to check for money or previous belongings under the house, I think,” Kat said.
“The wood came out on the ships when the Civil War was still happening in America; how can you replace that?”
It was the nail in the coffin for Cheryl — there could be no rebuilding.
Bridgid said the thief cut exactly where the old bar used to stand.
“It wasn’t help yourself, it was our mother’s hotel, it was called the Lake Hotel and she restored it as the Lake Hotel, but it was her house,” Bridgid said.
“Mum put so much time, love and care into the house — for it to be torn apart when she was ill has been really rough, as if things aren’t hard enough.”
Before Cheryl and Kat moved full-time to Bendigo they filled the kitchen and studio bedroom with old doors, furniture and personal belongings.
Enough furniture was saved from the fire to fill a sea container, which they padlocked and left on the property.
By now, all locked rooms and the locked sea container have been broken into.
“This doesn’t feel like kids,” Kat said.
“Things have been taken from the locked sea container but we’re not sure what, that’s the problem. We’ve been so busy concentrating on Mum, and when she was really sick they keep on stealing and it’s like ‘my god!’ the next time I come here the damn door won’t be on it.”
They haven’t taken the doors but they took the next best thing – the paddock on the container and the locks on the studio bedroom.
“People kept saying ‘why didn’t you put cameras up?’ ‘why didn’t you put cameras up?’ Well, we were a bit busy with our mum dying,” Kat said.
“We didn’t think people would do this.”
Bridgid Fry said what they have noticed missing is probably “just scratching the surface”.
“You don’t even know exactly what was saved from the fire, and what was stored where,” Bridgid said.
“The police are taking it seriously, a neighbour saw someone coming out recently, it turned out to be a builder, but the police were here in five minutes.”
Currently a new house is going up on the property, funded by the old Lake Hotel’s insurance payout.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do with this property yet,” Kat said.
“But the builder was just telling me he’s had wood stolen from his worksite as well.”
The women were not willing to speculate on who the thieves were, but Bridgid said crimes like this were often committed by people “closer than you think”.
The family are appealing to the public to call the police immediately if they see any suspicious activity around the old Lake Hotel.
List of taken items:
Section of Baltic Pine floorboards
Cast iron mailbox
Iron patio railing
Brass garden taps
Sea container padlock
Undetermined furniture items from sea container
Studio bedroom locks
Undetermined personal items from studio bedroom
Six car batteries