Most people would not stumble upon a rundown holiday village in Esperance, Western Australia, over 3000 kilometres from their home and think, ‘I should buy that and bring it back to life,’ but most people aren’t Fiona Shillington.
Fiona was working in the media and living in Manly, Sydney when she decided to move back to her hometown and give this very tired camp a major facelift. Clearly, it was love at first sight. ‘We were completely smitten,’ she says, upon discovering the site with her family by chance five years ago. ‘It resembled an overgrown and very gloomy scout camp, with mozzies the size of small cars.’
Having grown up in the area, Fiona immediately saw the potential of the location and land, being close to town and set on eight acres with a creek. ‘Esperance is a thriving little tourism destination, with some of the best beaches in the world, and to have 17 rooms sitting vacant, we knew with hard work we could turn it around.’
Upon taking ownership, Fiona and her husband moved into the main A-frame house on the property with their four children. The family set about updating the entire village, making small changes that would make a big impact. ‘We really had to work with what we had – certainly the A frames had me stumped in the early days. Small spaces are challenging. But once we’d painted, built in some furniture, and ditched the bunk beds, we could see the transformation,’ says Fiona.
The first summer of Esperance Chalet Village saw the family’s home turn into village HQ for the 35 children who were staying on site with their families that summer. ‘They were everywhere!’ Fiona says. ‘My kids thought it was the best thing ever. They didn’t want to leave the village – just hang out with all their new mates.’ While some of those families became friends who return every year, Esperance Chalet Village now caters predominately to couples seeking a weekend escape. ‘We’ve got the balance a little better now, with four family rooms, says Fiona. ‘Guests love the privacy and tranquillity… The chalets are like being in a comfy and romantic cubby amongst the trees.’
Esperance Chalet Village remains a work in progress, with Fiona’s husband, a builder, doing most of the construction works to continue improving and maintaining the place. The couple is currently looking to develop the village’s communal space in order to cater for larger groups and weddings, and maybe (a big maybe), buying the local pub! Fiona says, ‘There has been lots of love go into this place over the years, and we are merely continuing that, slowly bringing the old girl back to life.’ Stay tuned!
Explore the Esperance Chalet Village here.