Art oasis in the heart of the Alice
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