River House a finalist in Inland Tourism awards

July 22, 2013

Garry and Linda McDouall’s River House is a finalist in the Inland Tourism Awards, in the Unique Accommodation category.

“To enter, we had to put in a fairly detailed submission, giving similar information as you would put into a business plan,” Garry said.

Last year, the winner of the Unique Accommodation category was The Dag Sheep Station at Nundle.

Click to enter The River House websiteThe awards include 29 categories, including various forms of accommodation, marketing, destination tourism, festivals and events. This year, there are 38 finalists vying for awards.

As well judges who assess the documentation, Linda said, an inspector came and inspected the River House, and “got a feel for the place.  They need to check you are not next to a chemical factory and not just showing a nice view of the front,” she said.

The River House opened on Christmas Eve 2011.

“In unique accommodation, we are competing with people who are doing something that is really unusual, that might be people who convert railway carriages, or in the case of the Dag, they have a shearing complex that is converted,” Garry said.

Before submitting their entry, Garry and Linda looked at the various categories in the awards.  “The River House is five star, but could not enter in that accommodation category because it does not have a pool or concierge which five star requires,” Garry said.“Unique accommodation seems to be the right area, so the question is what is unique about it, apart from the fact it is beautiful in a beautiful location, with a garden which is a food forest, which is unusual.

Linda has been responsible for that garden, which particularly in the warmer months, looks amazing. It is a food forest which has everything you would hope for.”

“Eventually it will be just like a forest, and I have over 210 varieties of plants in there at the moment, eventually there will be 300,” Linda said.

“It’s been fantastic because it ties in with The Living Classroom, and we’ve had permaculture groups, gardening groups, the school kids just loved it, they came round one day and were told they could take one rockmelon or one watermelon or whatever, when they left, they had rockmelons, watermelons, pumpkins, beans, and they were just streaming out of it, and it was really lovely to just share that with the kids. That’s quite unique too, because a lot of those accommodations don’t really share their place with the community as well, but that is what we really wanted to do,” she said.

“One of these days we will live there, but we built it a lot earlier than we would have otherwise, to fill an accommodation shortage in town and compliment all the other things that are happening in Bingara,” Garry added.

“For us personally, in terms of the garden, here is an opportunity for us to demonstrate what can be done in growing food in a residential or domestic scale. The Living Classroom is all about what can be done on a community scale, and then our farm is broad acre, So there is plenty of scope to keep us busy for a long time.”

People who stay at the river house are encouraged to pick up their greens for the night.

The general manager of Willoughby Shire and his family, visiting Bingara for the Orange Festival, stayed at the River House, and took advantage of what the garden had to offer.

“Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier stayed recently and said it was lovely, they went off with mint for their mint tea, and chillies because they love chillies,” Garry said.

Linda loves to share her garden with visitors, and loves to give them plants from the garden.

Garry and Linda’s love of the River House is echoed by guests who stay there.

“If you read the guest book, it is just fantastic, people love it. It is much more than they expect. We have a really good website that Georgina (Sinclair) did, that tells you everything, and has the whole plant list on it as well,” Linda said.

Garry added “The feedback that we have had on the website is that it really accurately depicts what’s there, but people don’t expect it to be so good in a small country town, so when they get there, they say ‘Wow, this is just wonderful’.  www.theriverhousebingara.com.au

Occupancy, he said, is variable but steadily increasing.  “The success of the River House will be a combination of word of mouth and our being really proactive in other areas that develop business for the whole of the town.

“For example, the wedding venue initiative has potential. If we can hold 20 to 30 weddings a year, a significant proportion of them will book the River House for the bridal party, because it is just beautiful. Then they will hold the wedding in the Roxy or the Living Classroom, by the river or wherever,” Garry said.

“The more events you can bring to the town, the greater the benefit to everyone,” Linda added.  “There are a few courses, and they are using local accommodation including the River House and the living Classroom.”

Others who enjoy staying at the River House include professional people who need short term accommodation in Bingara, but do not want to stay in ‘yet another motel’, they can cater for themselves, and have privacy. Wedding parties, and families coming to Bingara for funerals also like to stay at the River House.

The river House consists of four lettable apartments. They are all separate, so no bedrooms are beside any other, and three areas have their own cooking facilities. The fourth is just like a motel room.

Garry used as an example the General Manager from Willoughby, who brought his extended family to Bingara.

“They have taken the whole Complex, they are there together, but they have independence between the family members. You can do that in any combination, it is very flexible,” Garry said.

Garry and Linda had not anticipated the ‘towns close by’ market, bringing professionals who do not have time to go far from their town, but need a break. Others who do regional work like to use the River House as their base.

“It’s been lots of fun to do,” Linda said.

The River House has also provided employment for local people.  “Our local builder, Brian Riley did an amazing job, and so did the other local tradesmen,” Garry said.

“All these things add to the economy, and that’s really important in a town of this size. The aspect with the Junction and the work that has been done there has enhanced the whole riverscape.”

“The cleaners just love it because it’s easy to clean, they often leave it until the end of their day, because they say it is a nice place to end the day. People like Tanya (Lanagan) regard it as theirs, so that is just wonderful,” Linda said.

“Every time we go there, we just get a buzz,” Linda said. Garry agreed. “We are so excited by it.”