A renovator's reuse and recycle focus will bring much of the Hotel Australasia back to life not just as a restoration of the original building but also as items of interest with a story to tell.
The rear of the building has been largely deconstructed, while retaining key features such as the fireplace and core structure of the old stables in place for restoration.
Removal of walls and roofing from previous extensions on the first floor has allowed bright light and fresh air to stream through a window into the stairwell of the hotel, which had remained gloomy for decades.
Over the past three months, while many activities and businesses were halted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, builder Neil Rankin and his small team have been accomplishing an enormous amount "plugging away" at the Australasia building site.
Mr Rankin commenced restoration of the dilapidated hotel in March and plans for the hotel have continued to develop, with his intention to salvage and reuse original materials wherever possible remaining strong.
At the rear of the old hotel piles of timber lie waiting to be reused. It is a carpenter's dream come true with 8metre lengths of what used to be known as 4x2 (4 inches by 2 inches). As Mr Rankin explains, such lengths are simply not available any more.
"I can't even lift them!"
He points out the original fine lines from the saw mill, 'skip dress look' and explains they will be given a light sand and reused as they are.
Huge steel beams that were up in the ceiling will support parts of the new flooring and roof, old basins will be restored before refitting, and giant copper down-pipes from the exterior of the building will have the paint stripped off them and be polished and reinstalled.
As we speak, behind us one of Rankin's workers laboriously uses a small axe to remove mortar from clinker bricks originally fired in John Hind's kiln at Aslings Beach, and sandstone bricks will go on to be reused for a third time.
"Every single brick is getting saved," Mr Rankin says.
"We're stripping the ceilings and pulling the floors up which will then be relaid; there will be eight inches of sand and a concrete slab poured under the original timber after it's been reconditioned, this is an easy fix."
He has been delighted to uncover Australian cedar mouldings around the ceilings, "better than plaster which just breaks away".
While on a recent trip to Echuca to source timber for the new Welcome Centre at Snug Cove, Mr Rankin was thrilled to come across 13 sets of Australian cedar doors with slump glass matching the glass upstairs of the same era, large enough for the vast dimensions of the hotel.
"The remaining verandah posts will be transported to Chris Carter's shipyard as he's the only one with a big enough lathe - Lincoln will duplicate them there to get exactly the right look.
"This hotel was built really well, the rooms were soundproofed with lead between the walls as it works so well to stop noise transferring through - don't have much use for it now though, might just give it to everyone for sinkers," Mr Rankin says with a laugh.
The pub area, shops and brewery at the new Australasia will all be on ground level, with main access from the rear of the establishment and a recent disability grant has helped make it possible to install a lift towards the front of the building, ensuring full access to the seven upstairs rooms, which will be used for accommodation.
"The compliance, heritage and accessibility guys have all been working together, it's been great," Mr Rankin says.
One of the six upstairs rooms will be allocated to a resident to manage the accommodation and all but one room will have cast iron baths installed.
Some rooms were not large enough to incorporate bathroom facilities or en suites, so Mr Rankin has plans to take out sections of wall and combine smaller rooms, creating new entries off the passageway while retaining original archways.
One of the larger rooms was formerly a communal kitchen and contains a fireplace, now hidden behind some built-in shelving but soon to be exposed and restored.
"This will be a very special room," Mr Rankin smiles.
The scaffolding at the front of the building led up to the facade of the hotel, built in 1904 and never touched since, 80 per cent of which is still intact.
"I've still got that big kid in me who wants to touch everything," Mr Rankin says.
Latticework for solid hardwood handrails has been ordered since Mr Rankin located a founder in Sydney who makes the exact mould.
Mr Rankin makes it very clear he is a builder and has no interest in becoming a publican once he has completed restoration of the building, on a timeline for opening by Christmas 2021.
"It's all time and effort, months of chipping render off, we're doing it all by hand."