Many Victorians have fond memories of visiting Mt Buffalo Chalet as a child or an adult. It is a place synonymous with recreation and leisure, holding a very special place in the Victorian psyche. Yet, since closing its doors back in 2007, the Chalet has been sitting empty and neglected, very much at the mercy of the harsh alpine climate. The Chalet complex is recognised on the Victorian Heritage Register as one of the largest chalet complexes in Victoria, for its historic significance with the history of leisure in Victoria and the development of the Mt Buffalo National Park, and for its social significance and connection to various sections of the community in their pursuit of recreation. As such, we believe this “demolition by neglect” is unacceptable. The future sustainability and preservation of this enduring landmark depends on community engagement and substantial governmental recognition and financial contribution. As a landmark owned by the state on behalf of the people of Victoria, it is important for all Victorians to stay engaged and fight for its future preservation and use.
The Story so Far…
As reported by on the Trust Advocate blog back in 2014, the National Trust has been supportive of the State Government’s plan to restore the Chalet, but voiced serious concerns regarding a proposal to undertake widespread demolition which was purported to make the Chalet more ‘economically viable’, a speculative claim made without the development of a masterplan for the site. As reported by The Age in January 2014, the tennis court, former staff quarters, the suite of rooms aptly nicknamed ‘Siberia’, the garage, and steam generator house were all proposed for demolition. The main lounge, entry lobby, drawing room and ballroom were all that were proposed to be saved, essentially preserving only the original ‘postcard’ front section of the Chalet. In response to this proposal, we submitted that this would undermine the established significance of the site which includes a multifaceted collection of buildings. The map below indicates the proposed demolition (highlighted in orange):
By the end of November 2015, as reported in the Weekly Times, the demolition plans (approved by Heritage Victoria) were put on hold as ‘tenders for the proposed redevelopment works were more than $3 million over budget’. In March 2016, the Mount Buffalo Advisory Group was formed to work with Parks Victoria to explore future tourism options for the Chalet, and a $4.1 million maintenance and preservation project was announced (reported by The Age). This proposal included ‘re-stumping, replacing and painting weatherboards and preserving the eye-catching facade’, with loose stonework at the base of the historic timber buildings to be re-set, the buildings ageing water supply line to be replaced, and rotten window frames repaired (and replaced). In August 2016, it was reported by the Myrtleford Times that this allocated sum was closer to $2.8 million, and in October 2016, work on the Chalet ‘to make all of the existing buildings weatherproof and safe‘ were announced to include the following:
- fixing and replacing the weatherboard facade;
- re-cladding the external walls of the billiard room;
- fixing leaking ceilings;
- assessing structural repairs and footings;
- upgrading fire and security systems, and;
- repairing and replacing windows.
Parks Victoria recently posted an overview of the proposed external maintenance works on their website:
‘The heritage-listed Mount Buffalo Chalet is currently undergoing substantial external maintenance works to restore the facade of the building and the gardens to their former glory. This is the most significant restoration work at the Chalet since it was closed in 2007. The works aim to make the 100-year-old timber building safe and secure, and give the building a foundation. There is not demolition as part of these works. It is expected that the works will be completed by winter 2017.
The contract for the external chalet maintenance works has been awarded to Browns Wangaratta, within the overall commitment from the Victorian Government of $2.8 million.
As recently as November 5th 2016, a Parks Victoria Ranger posted an update on the ‘Visit Mt Buffalo’ website, informing the public that access to the Chalet verandah would be restricted for 2-3 weeks as painting commenced on the front of the building, and just yesterday (17th of November), the Facebook page ‘Community Action for the Chalet’, posted before and after shots of the Right Hand Wing of the Chalet (towards the Dining Room and Mansfield’s Café), showing the installation of new weatherboards and insulation, refurbished window frames, and a new paint job. The top image was taken on May 29th 2016, and the bottom image was taken on November 17th 2016 (all images by David Jacobson):
National Trust Site Visit August 2016
The National Trust undertook a site visit of the Chalet in August 2016 with Parks Victoria. It became apparent as the tour progressed that: a) the building did appear to be under the constant supervision of Parks Victoria Rangers; but b) clearly the harsh climate is beginning to cause serious structural issues for the building, and c) the original ‘postcard’ section of the building is in the best condition, while the rear wings are clearly languishing from neglect. As outlined above, the State Government have developed a plan to ensure the preservation of the exterior façade and front rooms of the Chalet, including ongoing landscape maintenance, yet have made no clear commitment to ensuring the preservation of any of the rear wings/buildings. This is of great concern, and we fear that if the rear wings continue to be neglected, the argument for wide-spread demolition will become increasingly unavoidable.
How you can get involved:
As some of you may have seen on social media in the past week or so, a change.org petition and a pozible.com crowd-funding campaign have been established for the Mt Buffalo Chalet. While the two campaigns are being run independently, both are dedicated to finding a sustainable and viable option for the future of this historic site.
Essentially, the change.org petition is calling on Premier Daniel Andrews and his government to make a substantial financial contribution and commitment to the Chalet to have it restored back ‘to its former glory’, and re-opened as a hotel/function venue. The passionate community campaigner who created this petition runs the very popular Facebook page ‘Mount Buffalo Chalet’, which has almost 4,000 active and keen supporters.
Meanwhile, the Pozible crowd-funding campaign is asking for public pledges to undertake initial weatherproofing works to ensure the Chalet is able to endure another cold and harsh winter, raising approximately $8,000 to date. The crowd-funding campaign has been developed as a staged approach, aiming to raise $1 million to completely weatherproof the building within the next few years. This campaign has been created, and is managed by, the Mount Buffalo Destination Advisory Group (MBDAG), a local community group established by the Victorian Government in March 2016 to work collaboratively with Parks Victoria and to ‘provide strategic recommendations about the future of the Mount Buffalo National Park to Parks Victoria’s Chief Executive’. In mid-December, the MBDAG will deliver a ‘community-led proposal to the government that could propel the restoration and revitalisation of the Mt Buffalo Resort and Village through an ongoing community owned model’. Money donated to the crowd-funding campaign will be returned if the group does not raise $100,000 by December 31st.
The National Trust strongly encourages anyone with an interest in restoring and supporting the reopening of the Chalet to both sign the petition and donate to the crowd-funding campaign. Community support is vital to ensure that Mt Buffalo remains on the government’s agenda. Be sure to follow the ‘Mount Buffalo Chalet’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the MBDAG Facebook page ‘Community Action for the Chalet’.
If you have any questions or ideas for the Mt Buffalo Chalet, please send us an email at [email protected].