Melbourne Uni puts spotlight on Merimbula's Black Dolphin Motel

Black Dolphin Motel, Merimbula in the late 1950s, architects: Romberg & Boyd. 
Photo: Mark Strizic (State Library of Victoria).
Black Dolphin Motel, Merimbula in the late 1950s, architects: Romberg & Boyd. Photo: Mark Strizic (State Library of Victoria).

Merimbula’s Black Dolphin Motel has featured in an exhibition on design and construction at the new Melbourne School of Design at the University of Melbourne. 

Also featured in the exhibition was the former Mitchell Valley Motel in Bairnsdale.

The Black Dolphin Motel was designed by renowned architect Robin Boyd of Romberg & Boyd Architects and landscaped by Gordon Ford.

Christine Kaine, left, Clare Stonier, Fraser Buchanan and David Yencken at the exhibition.

Christine Kaine, left, Clare Stonier, Fraser Buchanan and David Yencken at the exhibition.

It was built at the southern entrance to Merimbula in the late 1950s and was considered Australia’s pre-eminent motel during the 1960s.

The motel was the brainchild of two Melbourne businessmen, Alan Buchanan and Ken Stonier and while they have passed away, the two families continue to have connections with the town. Fraser Buchanan, the son of Alan, lives in Merimbula and the Stoniers continue to use the holiday home built by Ken. 

On their frequent trips up and down the Princes Highway, Stonier and Buchanan stayed frequently at the new Mitchell Valley Motel in Bairnsdale, designed by Melbourne architect John Mockridge and developed by David Yencken. They were impressed with the building and sought Yencken out and put a proposal to him to take up the position of managing director of and a shareholder in their project.

The exhibition featuring the Black Dolphin.

The exhibition featuring the Black Dolphin.

Yencken took up the offer and approached Robin Boyd to act as the architect. The brief that Yencken gave him for the design was that it should capture the essence of Australia and should blend into the natural environment rather than replicate the American-style motels that were being built elsewhere in Australia.

The late Arthur Kaine, a sawmiller, (after whom Arthur Kaine Drive is named) was asked to supply the timber. This proved to be challenging because the supporting poles had to be uniform in diameter and very straight. His daughter, Christine Kaine, is a Merimbula resident.

Over the years the motel has been modified many times diminishing its strong architectural character and robbing it of its prestige, though some aspects of its original charm have withstood the interference.

Melbourne University architecture students studying for their Masters degree have been collecting original archival documents, publications, drawings, photographs and film about the Black Dolphin. Two large models were constructed for the exhibition. The intention has been to encourage students to develop their research, analytical and curatorial skills with the aim of contributing to the exhibition and accompanying catalogue.

One of the students, nominated to collect materials associated with the construction including timber joinery details contacted Christine Kaine, asking if she could contribute to the project and according to a response from the university she has been most helpful.

With Christine Kaine, Fraser Buchanan and David Yencken

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