For decades to­bacco kilns punc­tu­ated the thriv­ing to­bacco in­dus­try across the North East, but a decade on from the lo­cal in­dus­try’s demise, some are now find­ing a new pur­pose in life.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Justin Jen­vey

The demise of the lo­cal to­bacco in­dustr y a decade ago left to­bacco kilns idle, but some have found a new pur­pose in life.

FOR nearly three quar­ters of a cen­tury cor­ru­gated iron to­bacco kilns have been a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the Ovens Val­ley.

To­bacco for a long time was one of the re­gion’s ma­jor in­dus­tries and kilns scat­tered the to­bacco grow­ing prop­er­ties of the area.

The first to­bacco cul­ti­vated in the Ovens Val­ley was by Chi­nese, Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans who had come for the Gold Rush.

How­ever, dur­ing the 1920s many Ital­ian mi­grants ar­rived in the dis­trict and es­tab­lished them­selves in the in­dus­try which even­tu­ally boomed fol­low­ing a sec­ond in­flux of Ital­ians after World War II.

While many of those kilns still stand al­most 10 years after the in­dus­try ceased when share­hold­ers ac­cepted an in­dus­try pay-out on Oc­to­ber 26, 2006, their use now is for noth­ing more than stor­age.

How­ever, there have been those like Clare and Jim De­lany who have taken the iconic struc­ture and made some­thing of it.

In 1998 Clare, an aca­demic at the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne, and Jim, a Mel­bourne QC, bought a for­mer to­bacco grow­ing prop­erty in Pore­punkah to es­tab­lish their Alpine An­gus cat­tle stud.

How­ever, it would be years later that the two would have the idea to build luxury ac­com­mo­da­tion in­side a kiln struc­ture.

Clare said see­ing the old kilns and other farm sheds up close was the in­spi­ra­tion for the de­sign of their three houses.

“Be­cause we had these struc­tures on the farm we were able to go in­side them, look up, and think wouldn’t these make a great space for liv­ing,” she said.

“When we first bought the farm most of our at­ten­tion was to­ward get­ting the cat­tle stud up and run­ning but we had three ti­tles to build on and we even­tu­ally thought we bet­ter use them be­fore we lose them.”

The first, Cave­don’s Kilnhouse - named after the prop­erty’s pre­vi­ous own­ers - was built in 2006 and in­cludes two to­bacco kilns as sep­a­rate liv­ing spa­ces.

Three years later Chi­na­man’s Kilnhouse, dis­tinc­tive by its Chi­nese hat which is perched on top of the one kiln, was com­pleted.

And fi­nally after 10 months of work The Sort­ing Shed was fin­ished in 2012.

While not a kiln struc­ture, it is in­stead based on the shed used to sort the to­bacco after it was cured - and is com­pa­ra­ble to a ware­house apart­ment.

“We were think­ing about what type of house we could build and this was a point of dif­fer­ence...i think if we had only looked at the kilns from a dis­tance we might have never de­cided on the idea,” Clare said. >>

Just 15 min­utes up the road in Myrtle­ford is where the kiln de­sign is also be­ing used in a dif­fer­ent way.

The Lupo fam­ily, like many Ital­ian fam­i­lies, made a liv­ing off to­bacco.

And when Er­manno and Michelle Lupo de­cided to open a café that looked dif­fer­ent to most, a kiln was the an­swer.

With to­bacco kilns on their prop­erty be­hind the café the idea to build some­thing that rep­re­sented the town’s his­tory was quickly set­tled on.

Even more in­ter­est­ing is how other old farm­ing ma­te­ri­als have be utilised to com­plete the venue.

Ta­bles are made with ir­ri­ga­tion pipes as legs while the bot­toms are old plough­ing disks.

Even wooden boxes used to hold to­bacco seedlings are mounted on the wall to house glass­ware.

And then on the out­side decks mist sprays give an ef­fect sim­i­lar to steam leav­ing a to­bacco kiln dur­ing the cur­ing process, some­thing Michelle says makes the build­ing even more au­then­tic.

“We ob­vi­ously had planned most things but the mist sprays were some­thing we didn’t in­ten­tion­ally mean, it cer­tainly pro­vides a lit­tle nos­tal­gia though,” she said.

pho­tos Justin Jen­vey, Earl Carter

SEE­ING OP­POR­TU­NITY / Michelle and Er­manno Lupo have turned their old to­bacco kiln into a vi­brant and in­ter­est­ing cafe.

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