Gaol kicks off National Trust 'hotel' brand

Old Melbourne Gaol will open its cell doors to accommodation.
Old Melbourne Gaol will open its cell doors to accommodation. Photo: Angela Wylie

The public will be able to sleep overnight in Old Melbourne Gaol cells, with the National Trust starting to throw open its properties as hotels.

Up to 30 people a night will each pay up to $250 to doss down in 15 cells that in grittier circumstances once housed the likes of bushranger Ned Kelly and gangster Leslie ''Squizzy'' Taylor.

The Trust’s state commercial manager, Drew Grove,✓ said a trial would operate at the Gaol from December to February. 

Guests would sleep on trundle beds, have basic facilities, hear stories of famous inmates and dine in the adjacent City Watch House or at a table on the Gaol’s ground floor.
Guests would sleep on trundle beds, have basic facilities, hear stories of famous inmates and dine in the adjacent City Watch House or at a table on the Gaol’s ground floor. Photo: Angela Wylie

It would be an ''‘immersive experience'' inspired by sleepover programs at Melbourne and Werribee zoos, using upper floor cells currently empty or used for storage.

Guests would sleep on trundle beds, have basic facilities, hear stories of famous inmates and dine in the adjacent City Watch House or at a table on the Gaol’s atmospheric ground floor.

The Gaol is one of two Trust-owned properties kicking off its ambitious new boutique hotel brand, expected to list 50 Victorian Trust and non-Trust properties in the next 12 months.  It is a potentially lucrative long-term revenue-raiser for the not-for-profit Trust. 

Squizzy Taylor.
Squizzy Taylor. 

The second confirmed Trust property is Mooramong, an 1870s homestead and 5000ha farm in the Western District, 50 kilometres west of Ballarat. It will operate from mid-September, 

It was left to the Trust in the 1970s by former Hollywood silent screen actor Claire Adams and her husband, grazier Donald ''Scobie'' Mackinnon, son of Victoria Racing Club chairman L.K.S. Mackinnon.

Three former worker’s cottages, each sleeping up to six people, are being fitted out with heating, air conditioning, new furniture and appliances. 

Ned Kelly.
Ned Kelly. 

Guests will pay $175 to $250 per night, per cottage, and have access to the gardens, tennis court, Hollywood-style pool and historical tours.

Mr Grove said the ship Polly Woodside, and mansions Como, Barwon Park and Labassa were potentially Trust-owned candidates for the accommodation scheme, although he emphasised there were no plans at present.

''I suppose none of the [Trust-owned] properties would be off the agenda, but they’d need to fit certain stringent controls,'' he said.

''And if a property was deemed that it was able to be sensitively managed in that way, there could be potential adaptional re-use of any of our properties.''

Mr Grove said the National Trust ''hotel brand'' was the first in Australia, but the National Trust in Britain ran a successful accommodation program listing 400 properties, from cottages in the highlands to magnificent estate manors.

In Victoria, about six Trust-owned properties will be among the first sign-ups, with more to join later. The remainder of the first 50 will be non-Trust owned buildings run by business partners, including independent boutique hotels.

The non-Trust owned places would be not necessarily Trust-listed but must have heritage value. ''It cannot be just a room for the night,'' Mr Grove said.

The scheme is part of an increasing National Trust drive to become self-sustaining.

Mr Grove said the hotel scheme was ''for revenue generation'', but any profit would go into ''restoration and custodianship of our properties''.

The Old Melbourne Gaol venture would be ''a viable opportunity for us'' and ''a unique experience that will be a landmark development for Melbourne and Melbourne tourism''.

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