It’s impossible to look at Restoration Australia without being reminded of Grand Designs.
But this ABC-produced series manages to cleverly align those storytelling aspects with our cultural heritage. It’s not just about renovating, it’s about preserving our past.
True, it doesn’t have Kevin McCloud. Instead Designer Sibilla Court is our guide, and while there isn’t much by way of establishing her credentials, it’s easy to be drawn into the first project: the crumbled ruins of Keith Hall, built in 1885 by a Scottish stone mason near Beechworth, Northern Victoria.
Canadian Clay (no surname is provided) plans to rebuild it stone by stone as his dream home, but wife Narelle takes a lot more convincing.
Tracking an ambitious project takes this production nearly two years of filming. Clay works alone, painstakingly re-assembling stone rocks into walls. But trying to run his antiques business means he can only devote three days a week to the task, which isn’t promising when the local council has given him a 12 month deadline to roof the house or lose a $50,000 bond. TV loves a ticking clock…
So Clay and Narelle decide to sell the family home to spend the money on builders. But the buyers in Wodonga aren’t exactly knocking down the door, and their son Dalton, who has autism, does not adapt to change well.
Added to this, local heritage laws forbid Clay’s attempts to increase windows to fill the house with light.
Around the build, Restoration Australia pinpoints the drama. It even provides a backstory of when our couple met: he was dressed as a knight at a medieval event. Now this knight is building his castle.
Sibilla Court visits the build across nearly two years in plenty of “before” scenes before the required “after.” While her narration is occasionally too-serious, her visits are more relaxed. If the episode has a lull in the middle, at least it isn’t for long.
The production also draws upon dramatic music (possibly hints of Enya?) a diary cam and drone photography. While Grand Designs Australia sets the bar high for its immaculate production values, ABC rises to the challenge rather well.
No prizes for guessing that the finished product is aspirational and inviting. As one builder, who was sceptical the rubble would ever rise, notes: “The house seems to have found Clay.”
Renovation has overwhelmed our TV schedules this year, when there’s still nothing wrong with the simplicity of a ‘king’ building their ‘castle’ with a few hurdles in the way.
And at least nobody is being eliminated.
Restoration Australia airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on ABC.