Art oa­sis in the heart of the Alice

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HO­TEL art can be so of­fen­sively in­of­fen­sive that you want to de­clare, as the dy­ing Os­car Wilde did to his Parisian ho­tel wall­pa­per, ‘‘ One of us has to go.’’ In most cases, the pic­ture (a framed yawn fea­tur­ing boat, beach and poached-egg sun­set) and you both sur­vive the stand-off, per­haps with the vis­ual cliche turned to the wall. Then again, in other ho­tels, you find art so smart it tempts you to steal it right off the wall (or, more prop­erly, to make an of­fer).

At Vatu Sanc­tu­ary, the concierge may ac­cept your bid be­cause the prints and paint­ings — in­tel­li­gent, un­pre­ten­tious and orig­i­nal — are in­deed for sale. Which is not sur­pris­ing since this three­a­part­ment hideaway in a quiet, sub­ur­ban Alice Springs street is run by the owner of the town’s long-es­tab­lished Gallery Gond­wana.

Roslyn Pre­mont’s oa­sis of art, ponds, whim­si­cal sculp­ture, bright colours, sala beds and come-hither so­fas lives up to its sanc­tu­ary tag. Close Vatu’s gate be­hind you and you find your­self in a tran­quil zone that’s so homely you might wish your own home were as sane. Even be­fore you reach the front door of your apart­ment, an orange tree dan­gles a lush temp­ta­tion. Yes, you can pick them. Step into a fully rigged and well-stocked kitchen and a juicer awaits the plun­der. The re­sult is sweet, fresh, fan­tas­tic: the best orange juice I’ve had in years and I’m hardly in the door.

The one-bed­room Bure apart­ment has a long din­ingroom ta­ble, air­con­di­tion­ing, sound sys­tem and television. There’s a good, wide bed with plenty of cush­ions, a scat­ter­ing of DVDs, maps and use­ful books on mat­ters Cen­tral Aus­tralian and bright kil­ims on the floor.

The art on the walls is em­i­nently live­able-with, not to men­tion for sale. The bath­room’s pokey, but who spends their hols in the shower stall? The Bure sleeps two com­fort­ably and, if you’ve packed them, chil­dren or a crasher on the lounge-room dou­ble couch. The term apart­ment might sug­gest a block of flats. Vatu is any­thing but; it’s a very large, sin­gle­storey, cor­ner-block home that has been di­vided into three gen­er­ous, self­con­tained apart­ments of one and two bed­rooms that can sleep from two to six. Each has its own gar­den area and sep­a­rate street en­trance.

As well as the one-bed Bure, there is a pair of twobed­room apart­ments. The smaller, the King­fisher, has a queen-size and two sin­gle beds, open-plan kitchen, din­ing and lounge rooms. The largest, the Pond, is suit­able for longer stays and has two queen-size bed­rooms, of­fice, lounge and din­ing ar­eas, kitchen, laun­dry and large veranda. The kitchen and lounge ap­point­ments are all up to date and good qual­ity, but the com­bi­na­tion feels like home rather than an in­te­rior de­signer’s check­list. Ba­li­nese furniture and tapa fab­rics, along with con­tem­po­rary Cen­tral Oz art, are crea­ture com­forts agree­ably be­yond the call of mere dec­o­ra­tion.

Step into the court­yard and there’s at least as much cre­ativ­ity hap­pen­ing out­side. The Bure’s gar­den of­fers a spa­cious, shaded wooden pavil­ion like a Ba­li­nese bale that’s be­decked with carved crocs, wind chimes, fig­urines and Sepik masks, plus ham­mocks and so­fas for sloth and snooze.

Fur­ther on, there’s a small, so­lar-heated pool, ponds of carp and wa­terlilies, painted totemic poles, green­ery ga­lore and a cor­ru­gated-iron dog bark­ing voice­lessly at an un­per­turbed bud­dha. Each apart­ment has an out­side bar­be­cue, great for those long Alice twi­lights.

Mean­while, the Vatu’s ex­te­rior walls have eyes: your own. Pre­mont’s part­ner, Fi­jian painter Ru­si­ate, has turned bor­ing walls into truly at­ten­tion-grab­bing works of art. His vivid, play­ful sur­faces look like Mon­drian gone to Me­lane­sia, with Ubud and the Alice along for the fun.

‘‘ It’s a love af­fair,’’ art dealer Pre­mont says, look­ing around her Vatu gar­den. ‘‘ Since 1992 it’s been a work in progress and will con­tinue. It’s my own art project, you might say.’’ John Borth­wick was a guest of North­ern Ter­ri­tory Tourism. Check­list Vatu Sanc­tu­ary, cor­ner of Knuckey and Bab­bage streets, Alice Springs. Phone 0413 094 530; www.gallery­gond­wana.com. au/va­tu­sanc­tu­ary. Tar­iff: Rates vary ac­cord­ing to length of stay and sea­son. (High sea­son is from April 1 to Septem­ber 30.) The Bure, from $159 a night or $820 a week; King­fisher, $180 a night, $980 a week; the Pond, $220 a night, $1150 a week. Get­ting there: 15km from Alice Springs air­port. Check­ing in: Trav­ellers en route to Uluru and other parts of Cen­tral Aus­tralia, par­tic­u­larly those stay­ing in Alice longer than two or three nights. Bed­time read­ing: Song­lines by Bruce Chatwin and ATown LikeAlice by Nevil Shute. Step­ping out: Old Tele­graph Sta­tion (walk­ing dis­tance); Todd Mall gal­leries, restau­rants and art shops (a five-minute drive). For longer driv­ing ex­cur­sions: Stan­ley Chasm, Simp­sons Gap and Na­matjira Drive. Bou­quets: Concierge on call, creative spa­ces, per­fect or­anges in the gar­den, con­ve­nient dis­tance from town cen­tre. Brick­bats: Sound­proof­ing be­tween units could be bet­ter; small bath­room in the Bure.

Play to the gallery: Homely Vatu Sanc­tu­ary in Alice Springs

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