In Travel

This Sleek Five-Star Hotel Is WA’s Most Surprising Stay

Katanning, Western Australia is your quintessential country town. It’s an agricultural hub where small business still flourishes, and locals love to stop for a yarn. It’s also home to what is, arguably, the most beautiful heritage hotel in the state.

Premier Mill Hotel has been the talk of the town since the day word of its construction got out. Once a dilapidated old factory, the stunningly refurbished hotel now boasts beautiful interiors that seamlessly blend old and new.

Suffice to say, the hotel has become a destination stay that is putting the small town of Katanning on the map.

The story

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From a flour mill, to a soda factory, a power plant, and everything in between; the walls of the Premier Mill Hotel have seen an incredible breadth of businesses.

“It’s a significant building,” says Nigel Oakey, managing director of Dome Café Group and visionary behind the Premier Mill Hotel. “I think the state heritage office called it the state’s most significant heritage industrial building.”

Built in 1891 by Frederick Piesse, the original factory was one of the pioneering flour mills in Western Australia, before becoming the site of the very first commercially supplied electric light in the state. Somewhere in there, it also became a cordial and soda factory, a vibrant string of shops and even a tourist bureau.

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“It just abounds with stories; and it is an incredible, special building that – when we saw it – was at the risk of dereliction.”

“[The building] was left in the shires hands and they thought ‘well, what are we going to do about this’. So, they threw it out there for expressions of interest, hoping to get some innovative ideas if they were prepared to give the building away for a nominal sum of one dollar. And in we came,” says Oakey.

The hotel

The fact the hotel was purchased for such a novel sum, is just another story to add to the many the building already tells. But after the initial $1 investment, the restoration and revitalisation of the run-down site took another $5 million plus, and six long years to complete.

Working with Fremantle based architecture firm Spaceagency, and their own team of historians, Oakey and the Dome Cafe Group managed to preserve a great portion of the original build in the final product.

“We’ve kept, restored, and retained a lot of the industrial machinery. We’ve had some fun. We’ve animated a few of the bits of machinery, so as you walk around, you can see how things moved and how things worked. And, together with the information we give you in the rooms, you can actually work out how the old flour mill worked to produce flour,” says Oakey.

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Sleeping under remnants of mill machinery hardly sounds the stuff of a 5-star hotel, but the team behind the Premier Mill Hotel has managed to transform the mundane into something truly magical.

Guests are greeted by the original, towering steel boiler in the lobby, and pass under turning shafts in the hallways. In the basement – woven between the wooden pylons, grain pits, and shafts of the machine room – is Cordial Bar. Here, the wine list is as local as the regular clientele, with a strict Great Southern focus.

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In the rooms, retained elements of the mill give each room its unique character. There are rooms with machinery jutting out of the roof, rooms with sliding barn doors, and even rooms entirely clad in the original wood from the grain silo.

Everywhere you turn, you are artfully reminded of the rich history of the building.

Though the hotel doesn’t have all the traditional markers of a 5-star hotel – a pool, a gym, a 24-hour room service – it doesn’t feel anything less than its five stars. The sleek black, white, and sage colour palette oozes sophistication, while offering some softness to the harsh industrial features. Little luxuries like the hand-crafted brass tap wear, and in-room Bang and Olufsen sound systems, don’t go unnoticed either.

The region
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Why the regional wheat belt town of Katanning? It’s a question Oakey is presumably sick of hearing.

“It does look like a punt from the outside, until you actually begin to take a look at a whole range of things – not least is the geographic positioning,” says Oakey.

From the hotel, guests can embark on any number of exciting day trips. Art lovers can wander the art trail in town, before heading out on the public silo trail to the silo murals in Pingrup, Newdegate, Ravensthorpe and Albany.

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The coastal towns of Albany and Bremer Bay are both within a 2-hour drive south of the hotel, with award-winning wine regions, mountain hikes, and Aboriginal cultural sites easily accessible along the way. Inland, you can reach the picturesque Lake Dumbleyung, and remnants of the famed rabbit proof fence, in under an hour.

Katanning and the wider region, while full of appeal, is still seeing nowhere near the volumes of tourism that the Margaret River region gets. According to Oakey, this is where the value in the Premier Mill Hotel lay.

“We all know Margaret River and the west coast has built an incredible brand. Just because [Katanning] is inland, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the same massive potential that our coastal attractions have had for a long time.”

(All images: Premier Mill Hotel / supplied) 

Published 15 August, 2019