Steve Dobbs and Margaret McKenna have been restoring their home 'Uloom' for the past three years bringing it back to its former glory. They recently decided to move south so the opportunity to secure a piece of Grafton history is up for grabs.
Steve Dobbs and Margaret McKenna have been restoring their home 'Uloom' for the past three years bringing it back to its former glory. They recently decided to move south so the opportunity to secure a piece of Grafton history is up for grabs. Lesley Apps

Historical home back from brink

ULOOM, one of the residential architectural landmarks on the Bent Street bridge approach, can now breathe a century-old sigh of relief thanks owners Steve Dobbs and Margaret McKenna.

Purchased by the couple in 2015, it was in such a state of disrepair that if left to the elements much longer, Grafton would have lost another piece of history according to Mr Dodds, a carpenter by trade.

"Council said another year to 18 months and it would have been unsalvageable.”

And so the heritage gods must have been shining down the day Dodds and McKenna secured the once-grand Federation Bungalow at auction, a decision made with full knowledge of the huge task that lay ahead.

With Mr Dodds' carpentry skills well honed since his days as a young apprentice in his homeland of Wales, his penchant for big restoration jobs was well paved. His previous project, the vast architectural labyrinth Walkers Marina Hotel in South Grafton, was proof. Uloom was in safe hands.

Fast forward three years and thousands and thousands of hours of scrubbing, replacing, pulling down, reattaching, painting and polishing, the bungalow is back to its best.

The regal facade of Uloom on Bent St.
The regal facade of Uloom on Bent St. SIMONHUGHESPHOTO@gmail.com

The residence has all the generous proportions you expect to see in a property this vintage. Twelve-foot ceilings, large bedrooms, wide hallway and verandahs.

Other less functional spaces have been reconfigured for modern living, the piece de resistance the open plan living area at the rear which now swallows up the property's best asset - the stunning expanse of the Clarence Valley where you can track the river system out to the mountain range from the comfort of a chair.

The open plan area takes advantage of Uloom's prime hilltop position.
The open plan area takes advantage of Uloom's prime hilltop position. SIMONHUGHESPHOTO@gmail.com

You can only image what sunset from up high up on the hill would do for one's soul after day's work. The couple certainly did, taking it one ridiculously sublime step further by incorporating a timber spa bath into the new decking. "A nice glass of wine with this view all year round, you can't beat it,” Ms McKenna said.

Deck with a view.
Deck with a view. SIMONHUGHESPHOTO@gmail.com

But as life will often dictate, nothing is set in concrete (except perhaps those reinvigorated foundations). Despite the couple's intentions of transforming the place into somewhere they could call home for the next few years, they are rather reluctantly walking away from all the hard work. "I wish we could pick it up and take it with us,” Mr Dodds said.

With plans to move south to be closer to family, the couple are in the process of looking a buyer for their special piece of Clarence history.

Uloom was built in 1912 for the McLeod family and described as "a palatial residence” in Clarence & Richmond Examiner at the time.

An Aboriginal word meaning 'place of refuge', Uloom was understood to be inspired from the site being free from flood waters, another bonus of being perched high on the hillside.

During its life the house endured a few residential transformations from family home to flats, and back again.

The bungalow's original features have starring roles in this restoration. Perhaps the most stunning of all are the moulded plaster ceilings featuring Australian flora motifs, a geographical homage to the popular Art Nouveau designs around at the time and a newly federated country, closely followed the defining stained glass panel features in the entrance that have surprisingly remained intact amongst the daily grind that comes with a century of life.

Modern requirements meant the kitchen was gutted and the room reconfigured for contemporary living while a nod to the past comes in the newly installed antique pressed metal ceilings which were found in the shed and restored on site for their new role.

"They came out of the Aruma (nursing home) so it was good to put them to use again,” Ms McKenna said.

The reconfigured, new kitchen in Uloom.
The reconfigured, new kitchen in Uloom. SIMONHUGHESPHOTO@gmail.com

Two working open fireplaces continue to perform their cosy functions as updated bathrooms and storage areas take Uloom into a new century.

Outside elaborate timber fretwork punctuate and embellish a multi-faceted gabled roof line while intricate iron lace panels define its bull-nose veranda below, the restoration of the latter a single task that took Mr Dodds many many nights and buckets of elbow grease to complete.

"I stripped back and repainted two panels every night. It took me about a month to finish all the ironwork,” he recalls grimacing.

The concrete lions that have been guarding the entrance to Uloom for more than a century, echo the duty of their regal cousins out at Yulgilbar Castle, while the series of bay windows and French doors complete the impressive public face that overlooks the well-travelled Bent Street bridge approach.

Mr Dodds said the restoring and renovating a place like Uloom had been a labour of love and despite the "hard slog” there was real satisfaction in knowing you have helped to save an prominent example of Grafton's architectural history.

"I've been a carpenter since I was 17. I love restoration work but to me Uloom is still considered a new house compared to where I'm from. We had a chapel that was built in 652 (7th century) where I used to live in Wales.”

  • Uloom, 26 Bent Street, South Grafton is open for offers through agent LJ Hooker Grafton.

Uloom features:

  • 4/5 bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms
  • Formal lounge
  • Huge living area
  • Big back deck with spa
  • 2 sheds
  • 2 carparking
  • 2 working fireplaces
  • 2 reverse cycle air-con



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