Canberra entrepreneur Mark McEwen is reviving the romance of rail at Goulburn’s old railway barracks.
Mr McEwen has restored the 15-bedroom barracks in historic Goulburn, replacing wiring and plumbing and every nail in the old corrugated roof. He even plans to add a jewel to the rail-themed venue, a first class carriage from the iconic Southern Aurora train.
The stainless steel Southern Aurora train became Australia’s most important intercapital service between Sydney and Melbourne in 1962. The last service ran in 1986.
But the Canberra Railway Museum, where the carriage is kept, went into liquidation in November, stalling the Goulburn project.
While awaiting liquidators Deloitte to sort out financial issues, Mr McEwen is putting the finishing touches to the barracks, which will become a community venue, available for hire for weddings and corporate functions.
Ultimately the carriage will sit alongside a replica railway platform as a restored piece of railway history.
Mr McEwen said community halls and wedding venues were becoming scarce these days. He hopes the old barracks will fill a void.
Some people desperate for a place to marry were using garages.
“They don’t have to do that, they could hire this whole venue out for things like weddings, or corporate Christmas parties,’’ he said.
The south Goulburn barracks began as small separate cabins. A 10-bedroom building was constructed in about 1935. In 1941 six more bedrooms were added.
In The Railway Heritage of Goulburn author Dr Stuart Sharp says the barracks’ 32 beds in 16 rooms remained in use until 1977.
They stood empty for many years. NSW rail chief David Hill had the building upgraded in the mid-1980s for recovering alcoholic railwaymen.
The government later sold the barracks, which became a bed-and-breakfast. Mr McEwen bought the property in 2007, and wants its links to the city’s rail history recognised. He has spent more than $550,000 on substantial restorations and memorabilia to create the atmosphere of an old railway station.
“It is almost like restoring a vintage car, we are interested in all its assets, including the past tenants, although it is colourful, we want to record its history,’’ he said.
Mr McEwen arrived in Canberra 2001, worked for multi-national IT companies, and pursued community projects, including work with dance enthusiasts and Rotary to stage STOMP.
“I run the STOMP each year, we have raised more than $130,000 for Greening Australia and other charities, for planting trees, humanitarian work,’’ he said.
An old demountable building with east-facing arched windows adjoining the barracks has been turned into an events room. A timber deck has been added outside.
Some years ago one of the bedrooms was changed into female toilets.
Double bunks with lights and curtains will fill the 15 bedrooms, carpet in traditional railway green will cover the floors, lanterns, brass fittings and rail maps under glass will adorn the walls.
A Piccadilly Circus sign will decorate the men’s bathroom, and signs elsewhere in the building will replicate a London subway setting.
Architraves have been painted high gloss coal-black as part of a black and white theme throughout the premises.
Mr McEwen hopes a cafe tenant will occupy the barracks in the future.
Captions: Top: Zia Attenborough and Mark McEwen with a Piccadilly Circus sign. Front row Will McCabe, Ben Brilliante, Jamie Booker and Kris Starridy. Photo: John Thistleton.
Above: interior view of the events hall. Photo: Mark McEwen.