THE restoration of one of the best known homes in the Koroit district has revealed a piece of history.
Killarney couple John and Louise Nunn bought the old Southern Cross Hotel a year ago and have been working hard in what is a labour of love on a makeover of the historic building.
Part of this work includes stripping away four layers of paint on the exterior walls and it was while carrying out this task that Mr Nunn discovered the lettering of the original sign.
It was long-time Southern Cross resident Frank “Tuddy” Bowman, who brought the sign to Mr Nunn’s attention.
“I was using a pressure cleaner to knock off the paint and the render and Tuddy, who has driven past the place all his life, stopped and said he could see the letters. I hadn’t even noticed it, I was up too close, but when I stepped back I saw it and it was pretty exciting.”
The sign that has emerged in big black letters on the eastern side says “Coghlan’s Southern Cross Hotel”.
Some research from Mr Nunn discovered Michael Coghlan was the man who had the pub constructed in 1875 at the Mailors Flat-Koroit and Burrells Flat roads intersection.
He enlisted prominent architect of the day George Jobbins to design what was to become Coghlan’s Southern Cross Hotel.
Coghlan was an interesting character. Not only was he the licensee of the hotel until 1883 but he also leased the Southern Cross general store in 1881.
His business interests gave him a high profile which he used to become a Borough of Koroit councillor from 1870 to 1884, including a stint as mayor in 1877.
Licensees to follow Coghlan included Jeremiah M’Carthy, Harry Hall, T. O’Brien, Bridget Dunne, Katherine Phelan and Elizabeth Parkinson.
The hotel was stripped of its licence by the Licensing Reduction Court in 1918, citing the large number of hotels already in the district.
When the pub closed, the property was purchased by Thomas and Mary Curran, who converted it into their family home.
One of the Curran children, Lorna, married local football and cricket champion Jack Keane, and the house became where the young couple raised their own family of eight. Their home became famous for its big gatherings for music nights, cards and sing-alongs in the large front room.
That room is to play a big part in the Nunns’ future plans. It will be set up as a formal dining area to create high-end bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
Mr Nunn said he was working closely with the Moyne Shire Council and its heritage advisors in the restoration works.
The plans include knocking down wooden lean-tos at the back of the house and peeling back the exterior walls to the original grey render which covers the sandstone the house is built from.
An extension is then planned at the back with the possibility of going up a storey to catch ocean views.
A new roof has already been put on and much work done in the 10 rooms inside, the main task being stripping walls in preparation for fresh plastering.
Throughout the house the walls and the floors are still in good shape, while the cellar is also still accessible. The Nunns plan to return it to its original purpose.
“We have a lot of friends who are wine collectors so there is no shortage of people who will be ready to put the cellar to good use.”
At this stage the Nunns are looking at four rooms for accommodation and have not ruled out moving into the house themselves.
The renovations are happening between busy careers, so they have put no firm timeline on completing their grand vision. Mr Nunn is a real estate agent for Brian O’Halloran & Co while Mrs Nunn is head of Melbourne Polytechnic’s higher education equine program.
Restoration of the iconic building will be keenly watched by a curious public, many of whom have had a link to the property in some way over the years.
The discovery of the sign will remain central to the future plans with Mr Nunn confirming when complete the B&B will be called Coghlan’s Southern Cross Hotel.
“That sign is amazing. There is no one alive who would remember the hotel operating as a hotel and as far as I know nobody had any idea the sign was there.
“And when you think about the sign it is an incredible piece of work from the signwriter at the time — 140 years later it is still there and able to be read. He must have been brilliant at his craft.”