Stars with shine
Sue Wallace settles in for cheesecake and tea at an opulent bed and breakfast.
If there’s one place that’s always intrigued me in Beechworth it’s a grand building that was once the home of the Oriental Bank, where more than 5,000 Chinese put their savings in the 1870’s.
As a child, I was spellbound by stories of gold-miners and the Chinese who flocked to the area to make their fortune.
As I step through the front doors of the former Oriental Bank, that in another life was also Australia’s second convent for Brigandine nuns and then the home of the State Savings Bank of Victoria, nostalgia comes flooding back.
The facade of the historic two-storey building, now Beechworth’s first and only five-star bed and breakfast, has been well preserved. It was designed by architect Leonard Terry, who built the Melbourne Club, Lazarrs and Trinity Chapel at Melbourne University.
Freeman on Ford features four upstairs Victorian-era rooms that were completed in 2002 and retain an old world charm, and the latest addition, two luxurious new guest rooms inspired by the 1930s golden age of Hollywood, were opened in October.
We are in time for a sumptuous afternoon tea of home-made lemon cheesecake, with ripe strawberries and cream, and tea served from a silver teapot, complete with flowery china, linen napkins and tiny crystal encrusted teaspoons.
It’s served with style as we site on the veranda overlooking the new granite pool and manicured grounds adorned with Grecian-style statues and classic urns. Finally it all proves too inviting and we change and cool off in the solar-heated pool and test the spa.
There’s a massage room near the pool area and a masseuse available but I am happy to return to my elegant bedroom with its Hollywood feel.
There’s a bed to sink into and the fine linen, quality furnishings, sparkling chandelier, large mirror and ope fireplace are opulent.
The bed and breakfast is owned and run by Heidi Freeman and Jim Didolis who have worked meticulously since 2002 to ensure standards are equivalent to their city counterparts.
As well as the new bedrooms, a spacious living room has been added with arched windows, comfortable leather couches and polished floors.
It is a perfect place for reading a selection of magazines or enjoying some quiet time.
Breakfast is served in the formal dining room and there’s a great menu selection ranging from Didolis’s big breakfast with eggs, sausages, tomatoes and fetta to fresh fruit, muffins, thick toast and home-made jams.
I soon discover some nostalgic touches with a quaint nod to the past. Mannequins saved by Freeman, from her late father’s well-known shop, Freemans the Draper, which opened in Beechworth in 1952, are displayed in several corners.
Michael Isaac Freeman sold everything from furniture to knitting needles and haberdashery in what was Beechworth’s biggest shop with four separate departments.
The mannequins are dressed in period Victorian costume with cute hats that still display a price tag of 26 shillings and 11 pence.
There is also a commanding 24-metre-high bronze and copper statue of bushranger Ned Kelly near the entrance of the bed and breakfast. Crafted by a local artist, it’s a talking point among all who pass. Freeman on Ford is well positioned in the heart of the town close to the information centre and the museum where you can discover all you want to know about the town’s flamboyant gold rush days, which all started when two shepherds unearthed a gold nugget in 1852. Throughout the 1860s more than 20,000 people lived in the town where you could quench your thirst at 61 pubs.
There are lots of wonderful stories of the past such as when parliamentarian Daniel Cameron had golden horseshoes made for his mount and rode down the main street followed by 80 men.
The event evolved in to the Golden Horseshoe Easter Festival attraction thousands each year.
Walk the main streets and you probably won’t get far; there’s a line-up of cosy cafes and quaint shops selling everything from old fashioned sweets to jewellery and fashions. But just make sure you return in time for afternoon tea at Freeman of Ford, it’s a treat you don’t want to miss.