Taste of Dutch in WA

The landmark windmill at The Lily with the Stirling Range in background
On the drive South from Perth on the Albany Highway, I’m taking in the scenic views and reading signboards.  I read William, Arthur River, Kojonup and start to notice a curious pattern of how names of surrounding towns like Muradup, Tambellup and Kendenup – all end with the letters, “u p.”  After leaving the city suburbs, the terrain changes from bush to rolling hills and then to a mosaic of fields upon fields of gold and green created by tiny blossoms of yellow canola flowers waving in the wind.

My nephew Andrew and his wife Val, who planned this trip, reminded his mother and me to wear good walking shoes because we are going bush walking in the Stirling Range National Park to scale the 1095-metre Bluff Knoll, the highest peak in the southern half of West Australia.  I’m geared up for adventure and new experiences and I’m feeling more relaxed as we cruise along the scenic route.  After about 5 hours drive with several stops in between, I see in the distance dark silhouettes of mountains and we start to look for the sign to our accommodation booked with The Lily.

Tennis ball [Left] wet with Ted's saliva
from our game of Fetch!
I have no idea what it is but I’m guessing it’s probably a bed and breakfast stay in a farmhouse.  As I join them to look for that sign, I overhear them talking about a windmill.  “What?”  I wonder in disbelief, thinking I must have misheard their words.  After driving a few more kilometers, we almost miss the turn into The Lily because our eyes are glued to a towering windmill, standing majestically in the rural plains! 

As we walk to the reception, I’m still staring at the stunning sight of the windmill when the door opens and a bundle of fur bounds towards me and I soon realise it’s a border collie.  When it stops in front of me, a tennis ball held in its mouth drops to the ground and I understand that it wants me to throw the ball for it to fetch.  I’m absolutely charmed by the adorable dog and when I throw the ball, the dog races to fetch it, only to bring it back and drop it at my feet again – and we have much fun repeating this in an exhilarating game of Fetch! 

Country Comfort

Our cosy room with wrought iron beds and handmade quilts
At the reception we meet the Dutch couple, Pleun Hitzert and his wife, Hennie who created The Lily with self-contained cottage accommodation and are formally introduced to Ted, the world’s friendliest border collie.  Escorted by Hennie and Ted, we walk a short distance to the Miller’s Quarters and when the door opens, I hear the subtle strains of saxophone playing softly within.  Later I discover that Pleun is not only a designer, builder, restaurateur and photographer but also a composer and musician, as he recorded this CD of jazzy tunes in the upstairs room of this very cottage in 1995!

Façade of the Miller's Quarters that has a workshop at rear
As Hennie shows us around the cosy cottage designed in a farm building with a front hall linked to a kitchen-dining area and bathroom downstairs, she told us the Miller’s Quarters was their home for nine years since 1988 while the windmill was being built.  The two rooms upstairs overlook a workshop in the rear and I can imagine how Pleun used to tinker around here, maybe to assemble the sails for the windmill.  In the corner of the hall I spot a supply of logs and kindle next to a little wood-burning stove and am reassured that its warmth will keep us in toasty comfort during such wintry weather.

Our breakfast packed in a wicker basket - at Left is a
brown paper wrapped loaf of bread made by Pleun,
from The Lily's spelt flour

The white-washed attic rooms, slanting ceilings, muted lighting and bright designs of the handmade quilts on the wrought iron beds all add up to the comfort in the country cottage and I can’t wait to snuggle down to sleep tonight.  That evening, Pleun sent over a wicker basket with our breakfast – fresh eggs, cereal, yoghurt, milk, juice, spreads and a loaf of bread wrapped in a brown paper bag – ready for us to enjoy at our convenience tomorrow.  The fairy tale charm of this basket is simply captivating and as I think about how the bread ingredients are grown, harvested, milled and baked here, I wish for morning to come quickly so that I can taste a slice of West Australian sunshine!

The Windmill

The Lily is a labour of love for Pleun and Hennie Hitzert
The Lily, the windmill Pleun single-handedly built, is named after its identical windmill De Lilie, the local windmill that used to supply flour to the villagers for centuries in Puttershoek, a small village in south-west Holland where he was born.  In West Australia, the Hitzerts grow spelt, an ancient grain with a distinct nutty flavour that has a broader spectrum of nutrients than wheat, to offer customers and guests a healthier choice of flour and bread.  To pick up the finer points of milling, Pleun returned to Holland to work alongside flour millers and now at The Lily, he even sells their own brand of stone-ground wholemeal spelt flour. 

Pleun showing us the inside of
his working windmill
Building The Lily is a labour of love for this Dutch couple and while Pleun researched the project and started to lay the windmill’s foundation in 1992, Hennie worked at the Albany hospital to support their project.  Pleun roamed the countryside to find recycled material to build the 5-level windmill and found beams from Albany’s old deep-water jetty that was demolished in 1994 that he used to support the top floor while recycled telephone poles were used to construct the floors. 
He salvaged bricks, handmade locally by Samuel Taylor of Tambellup about 100 years ago, from the Co-Op building in Broomehill after it was destroyed by fire in 1991 but they had to be cleaned before use.  Pleun carefully hand-cleaned each brick and used them to build the sloping sides of the windmill.

When Pleun takes us on a tour of the windmill, I carefully climb the steep stairs that link the various levels within the windmill because they are virtually wooden step ladders.  He said before its internal machinery and grinding mechanisms were installed, The Lily was first opened as a restaurant in 1997 and shows us the basement which Hennie turned into her kitchen.  When the first two levels were used as a unique restaurant inside a windmill, Pleun would help to serve meals.  As I gingerly pick my way from one step to the next, I wonder how they could climb up and down, holding trays heavy with porcelain plates but 66-year old Pleun gamely gives us a demo on how he glides hands-free, up and down the stairs in perfect balance!

Useful Restoration

The former railway station is now rebuilt at The Lily
As the restaurant in the windmill gained a reputation for good food in a novel site, the Hitzerts thought about replacing it with a bigger place.  When they saw the 1924 Gnowangerup Railway Station that was idle for many years, looking derelict and ready for demolition, they also saw its potential to be restored and used as their Railway Restaurant.  
Pleun decided to rebuild it at The Lily but before the building was dismantled, he took photographs and measured and numbered the main structural components so that he could rebuild it precisely.

Stone-ground spelt flour grown and produced at The Lily
While Pluen replaced the station’s ceilings and added a fireplace, The Lily’s reception desk and a lounge are set up within and their living quarters is linked to the rear of the ex-railway station. When the restaurant opened, diners enjoyed splendid views of the Stirling Range while dining on the station platform shelter which is comfortably enclosed in glass walls.  Their restaurant is now closed but Hennie says she will cook in the weekends and for special events hosted at The Lily and sometimes, if the mood is right, Pleun may even play his saxophone to provide live music entertainment!

The insides of this DC-3 Dakota warplane is being
refurbished as guest accommodation at The Lily!
Before leaving, I walk round to the Hitzerts’ living quarters to bid farewell to Ted and I’m pleasantly surprised to see a 1943-built DC-3 Dakota warplane resting in the backyard.  Curiosity brought me to the foot of a ladder leaning against an open door and I hear Pluen inside, working on his project to refurbish the fuselage into guest accommodation. 
Pluen, an aviation enthusiast, tells me that the vintage plane was once owned by the Dutch East India Company and with the plumbing done, it should be ready for her first guests in a few months.  With two runways, The Lily is the perfect stopover for pilots but I’m sure non-pilots will also get a kick out of staying inside a plane.  And then Pleun tells me that he already has advance bookings for his unique suite in the plane!

Fast Facts

The Lily Dutch Windmill is located on Chester Pass Road, 90km north of Albany between the Stirling Range and Borden in West Australia.  Self-contained accommodation is offered in four cottages tastefully furnished with décor items in Rooster, Elephant, Frog and Pig themes. 

Pleun with Andrew and Val at the reception of The Lily - Note Pluen's CDs of jazzy music on the counter
Accommodation - Private Airfield - Stone Ground Spelt Flour - Restaurant - Wines
9793 Chester Pass Road  -  Amelup - (Stirling Range National Park) WA 6338  Western Australia
Ph: (+61) 08 9827 9205  Fax: (+61) 08 9827 9206  Mob Pleun: 0427 279 206  Hennie: 0427 279 205

RESERVATION FREECALL 1800 980 002  (Australian land-lines only)

Web: www.thelily.com.au  Email: 

AIRFIELD INFO: position 34 deg. 13' 25" South, 118 deg. 12' 57" East
Strip directions 14-32 (650m) and 09-27 (900m) grass, check condition on 0427 279 206

The Lily has been selected as one of the 10 best self-contained accommodations in
Western Australian Regional Achievers Award Winner

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 2 January 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment