Converted flour mill makes chic statement in Wheatbelt

Photo of Clarissa Phillips

History abounds in the Premier Mill Hotel, which was bought for only $1.

Katanning’s Premier Mill Hotel has been one of the most talked about hotel openings this year for two reasons.

Firstly, its location — smack bang in the middle of a sheep and wheat farming town, with a population of about 4200 — which people tend to pass through on their way to much bigger Albany.

Secondly, because of the price it was sold for — a mere $1 — and the subsequent restoration of the 127-year-old flour mill to become one of the finest regional hotels in the State.

While there’s seemingly nothing to do in Katanning and its surrounds (there is in fact plenty to do and see), the hotel itself is fast becoming an attraction since its July opening.

We arrive late on a Thursday evening and there’s plenty of buzz about the hotel, with all the rooms booked out, but I’m not too sure what to expect from the building. 

I knew it was used as a flour mill for years and the Dome Cafe Group spent millions of dollars turning it into a 22-room boutique hotel, but my knowledge of its history, and that of the area, is slim. 

On stepping into the inconspicuous lobby of the building, it’s hard not to be blown away by the attention to detail in the preservation of the parts of the mill’s inner workings.

This continues throughout the hotel, from the lobby, to the underground Cordial Bar, to the corridors and inside the rooms.

Although it could double as a museum with all the artefacts inside it, that’s not what the owners wanted. 

“We didn’t want to have a plaque on the wall to explain what each object or thing is,” Dome Australia’s head of product development and marketing, David Hahn, said.

“Instead, we’ve put together a book on the history of the place, like how the flour was milled, and you can walk your way through the mill doing a self-guided tour.”

If you start in the lobby, you’ll see a gantry suspended over the modern seating. 

But when you dig deeper, you’ll find that there was a teenager whose job it was to stand in a very specific spot by 2.30pm every day to catch the sacks of flour that would start falling at exactly that time.

Then there’s the Cordial Bar, which gets its name from one of mill founder Frederick Henry Piesse’s other businesses.

As well as building the mill, Piesse and his brother started an aerated water, or soft drink, business and the area where the Cordial Bar is now located was also once used as a bottling facility. 

And old flywheels from the mill’s operations run through it, too.

But it’s a mummified cat named Pharaoh that’s attracting plenty of attention in the bar. Builders found Pharaoh’s body in the cavity of a brick wall when they were demolishing part of it and assumed the cat fell into the cavity, got stuck and died. 

There is however another story emerging.

“We’ve been told it was common practice back then to build a cat into the wall when you were constructing a building for good luck,” Mr Hahn said.

Mummified cats up to 400 years old have been found in wall cavities of homes in the UK, so this could be true. 

Pharaoh, the good luck charm, now sits on a shelf in the bar, keeping a close eye on the gin. At the foot of the staircase that leads up to the first and second floors sits an old flour bag printer that dates back to 1906. 

When the mill finally closed in 1976, contractors were called in to decommission the place and sell off any old machinery for scrap.

“The townsfolk were pretty unhappy about that, because this place was the centre of Katanning,” Mr Hahn said.

“One night, before the scrap metal guys got here, a whole lot of equipment got nicked, including the printer. Nobody knew where it went, nobody said anything.”

In about September last year, six pieces of the missing equipment were mysteriously left outside the mill, which was about three quarters of the way through being turned into the hotel, and the printer was among them. It still works.

There are dozens of stories like these preserved in the Premier Mill Hotel and in Katanning. 

If you’re a history buff, it’s reason enough to visit.

There’s much more to look forward to when it comes to taking a step back in time with the Premier Mill Hotel. 

An app will give visitors a glimpse into its recent history.

“One of the really cool things that Nigel (Oakey, Dome Cafe Group managing director) did is he got some guys to come in here with one of those 360-degree virtual reality cameras... 

“Eventually you’ll be able to stand in the same corner of your room and look through the app to see what was there before we started building the hotel,” Mr Hahn said. 


Clarissa Phillips stayed at the Premier Mill Hotel courtesy of Taste Great Southern. They have not seen or approved this story.


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