Helen Opie in her loungeroom of her B&B; on Ballina Road, Lismore.
Helen Opie in her loungeroom of her B&B; on Ballina Road, Lismore. Cathy Adams

Melville House clientele eclectic

WHEN Helen Opie describes the comings and goings of her legendary Lismore B&B, it sounds like the Northern Rivers has an equivalent to the infamous TV sitcom, Fawlty Towers.

Melville House, located on Ballina Road, leaves such a glowing impression on the dozens of guests that stay there year after year that many are compelled to revisit on a regular basis.

It's a situation where familiarity breeds intrigue.

“The same people stay here all the time and the majority stay for more than a few days so people get to know each other,” Mrs Opie says.

“It can be rather like Fawlty Towers at times, although we have not found anyone dead in bed as yet and of course, we are rat free. I should also say, we do not have a Manuel in residence being beaten up on a regular basis.”

However, some of the regulars could easily serve as a foil for the celebrated Basil Fawlty.

“There is one fellow who stayed here every week for 17 months. He was an executive at a local company – he was very English and very dry,” Mrs Opie says.

“He would always come down to the breakfast table at 7am on the dot, immaculately dressed in a suit and tie and would make denigrating comments about me or even Melville House, particularly if there were new people sitting at the table. He would say something like, ‘I would like eggs Benedict for breakfast, please', when he knew I did not serve eggs Benedict.

“He wanted to get reactions out of people, because he knew he couldn't get reactions out of me.”

But not every return visitor to Melville House is set on stirring the scheme.

“There is one guest who is coming in tonight who is somewhat eccentric – he has been staying here every month for the last six years,” she says.

“He sits at the same spot at breakfast every morning and orders the exact same thing from the menu: half a grapefruit, two boiled eggs, three slices of toast with margarine – not butter, sliced tomato on the side and all served up with a cup of Earl Grey tea. He has had the exact same breakfast for the past six years.

“Then there is the academic from Southern Cross University who won't eat anything except devilled kidneys. Whenever he stays, I must have devilled kidneys on the menu.”

However, it's not just the curious companionship that keeps visitors to the Northern Rivers coming back.

It's also the fact Melville House is a grand old lady of elegance – the 1942 residence is tastefully constructed, decorated and furnished in the Art Deco style. Features of the era include etched glass doors, distinctive light fittings and elegant door furniture.

The home was turned into a B&B in 1991 by Mrs Opie, who renovated it to include six sumptuous accommodation options that include comforts such as four poster beds, marble finished bathrooms plus stunning art works and antiques that could be found in any English manor house.

That, coupled with the lavish breakfasts served with a personal touch by an attentive owner, creates an ambiance that means the word gets out – the rich and famous (and infamous) flock to Melville House.

“Lots of politicians have stayed here over the years, including Kerry Chikarovski and Michael Yabsley,” Mrs Opie says.

“We have also had an assortment of celebrities visit, such as David Helfgott the pianist, Mike Whitney the cricketer, Tim Webster the newsreader, Tim Bailey the weatherman, Toddler Taming author Dr Christopher Green, Hazel Hawke, Damian Keogh the basketball player, plus an assortment of artists and actors who have performed in shows across the region.”

The popularity of the place has meant Mrs Opie has been without a holiday for ‘several years.'

“I'm off on a five-week holiday for the first time in years,” she says.

“It's not easy to be away from Melville House – my favourite saying that irritates my husband is that I work eight days a week.

“I don't think I could ever sell up, I love the comings and goings of the place.”

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