Augusta Resorts managing director Jim Challis can remember the first time he had a drink – a soft drink, not a beer – in the hotel he now runs.
“I was about 8. Dad took me into the saloon bar, it was a nice little saloon bar, part of the original hotel, and it had a big open fireplace up one end.
“Dad told me to sit up beside the fireplace and be quiet,” Jim recalled.
The open fireplace is still at the hotel. However, these days the fireplace is no longer in the saloon bar and the Augusta Hotel is possibly the only hotel in WA with an open fireplace in its bottleshop.
The hotel is much changed today, but the thick limestone walls of the original building are still there. The foundation stone laid by Henry (Toby) Ellis and his sisters on August 31, 1912, in the wall beside the original front door, is still there under the veranda between the bottleshop and the hotel’s main entrance.
But while the hotel building and range of facilities offered has changed significantly in 100 years, there have only been five families who have run the hotel in that time.
The Ellis family built and ran the hotel until 1919 then sold it to the Stanes family who ran it for about 20 years. Then it was owned by Sam Percy and his family and business associates before Percy sold it to relatives, the Robinsons, about 1960 and his nephew, Jim Robinson, ran it until Jim Challis took it over in 1986.
Most of the changes to the buildings occurred during the Robinsons’ ownership.
The first four motel units were built in 1964, the original saloon bar was converted to the bottleshop and the original dining room converted to the lounge bar in the 1970s, and the restaurant added in 1977. In 1979 the lounge bar was extended to take in the views over the Blackwood River and out to the Southern Ocean.
Motel units were added progressively, including across the road from the hotel, and there are now 51 in the complex, plus the four Calypso Cottages below the hotel and next to where the town’s bowling green used to be until the mid 1970s – jugs of water and shots of Corio whisky used to be lined up along the lounge bar for the bowlers between ends.