WE’VE SEEN OUR SHARE OF REALITY TV SHOWS THAT FOCUS ON RENOVATING THE HOME. BUT WHAT ABOUT THOSE GRANDER PROPERTIES IN NEED OF RESTORATION? THAT’S WHERE THE ABC TELEVISION’S RESTORATION AUSTRALIA COMES IN.
ADAM SCOUGALL CHATS WITH THE SHOW’S HOST SIBELLA COURT ON, WELL, EVERYTHING RESTORATION…
On the eve of her first television show in six years, Sibella Court comes across as one very satisfied and happy lady. Headlining ABC television’s new and refreshingly inspired Restoration Australia, the host and the show appear to be a hand in glove, a match made in heaven.
Charmingly reverent, RA focuses on the rebirth of seven historical Australian buildings across the country, taking the viewer on a frequently fascinating and insightful journey. Over several episodes, the viewer discovers homeowners working their collective behinds off to turn recently purchased rubble into renewed and restored beauty.
Delving deeper into Court’s experience over an almost two-and-a-half year journey filming the show [which includes her very noticeable pregnancy throughout segments of the season] the woman exudes a sense of quiet satisfaction and inspired evaluation when discussing her involvement in the process.
“It was an absolute joy of a journey,” reflects Sibella in her interview with Cream. “The subject matter truly resonates with me [restoring and preserving Australian heritage]. It’s a passion of mine that I apply in so many ways [the old trades]. In my retail shop I have a hardware range that I’ve designed that is hand-tinkered and smithed, while in my design life, all of my trades are specialty trades. So the topic of the show was really close to me.”
Incidentally, the ABC had been looking for a host of Court’s talent for some time, and only at the eleventh hour was she picked up to host the show. Within a couple of weeks she had commenced filming in the NSW town of Orange.
When asking Court about her take on the simplistic approach of the show [with homeowners doing much of their restoration on shoe-string budgets], she provides clear perspective.
“Most of the families were doing it on a budget, and much of the man-hours were their hours. Most of them had day jobs as well, and they were working on weekends. There was just a lovely organic flow as to what was to happen next.”
A pleasure that is undeniable for the viewer may well be the almost forgotten perspective of the documentary series. It appears very early on that the show is [actually] cataloguing the participants’ true experiences, showing their personal pitfalls and triumphs in an authentic way. Clearly, RA doesn’t need the ‘docudrama’ associated with much of today’s home-based reality television, thanks to its historic context and viewpoint.
It is at this point in our interview that Court stops to reflect on her hosting in the past, including 2009’s Homemade – also co-incidentally the original platform for The Block host Darren Palmer – and the clear decision on what needed to be the format for any new involvement in reality television.
“Life is full of trials and tribulations,” says Court, “and you don’t need to try and get everything out of everybody in a week. To choose another show after Homemade, it had to be the right one. I don’t like that fast-paced, fast design. It doesn’t usually mean ‘good’ design. It’s kind of like the difference between slow and fast food – except it’s the building industry.”
Viewers tuning into Restoration Australia can expect to see a number of varied projects, ranging from a dilapidated homestead in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, to rubble restored to brilliance in historic Beechworth,Victoria. There is a poignancy in the homeowners’ connection with the original builders of the historic sites throughout the series as well. Victorian Couple Jo and Marcus, who in the second episode restore a ghost-inflected house, had previously lost their own homes [and almost lives] in the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009. The couple admit in the show that whilst “saving another house, it is also saving us”. Sibella talks with fondness for their plight.
“It’s true. There was a real recovery. They bought that place to move past such a traumatic experience and they were very different people at the end. And you know what? It has done that. It did do it.”
The style maven, who many will know from her revered ‘Society Inc’ store in Sydney as well as her collection of many successful books [Etcetera, Bowerbird and her most recent Gypsy] also reflects on her own continued upward glide, including winning this years Instyle ‘Woman of Style’ award.
“It’s funny. I never entered any awards, and haven’t been interested in winning awards, mainly because I have a huge enjoyment in the job description that I already [free rewarded]. But then to win it, it’s hugely emotional. I was surprised at how lovely it felt to be acknowledged.”
When asking Court about her business acumen, and whether this comes naturally to an obtrusively creative person, she is considered in her clarity of the question. Her honesty, like throughout the rest of our conversation, is refreshingly candid.
“I’ve always tried my best. I started my own business at 21. I knew that figures weren’t my favourite thing in the world. I’ve always valued a tight infrastructure. I suppose I do business in a slightly organic way, but I do have both sides of the brain.”
Asked if this is a required attribute for similar creatives, she is resolute in her response.
“You know, you can’t outsource all of that stuff. You do have to, to a point, think about both sides of it. If you’re creative, you’re just creative. And if this is the case, perhaps you end up living in an attic somewhere, like an artist,” she laughs. Adam Scougall
‘Restoration Australia’ airs on the ABC Tuesday nights from 8.30pm.
Pictured, centre of story, Sibella and co-worker Clay working on Keith Hall, an 1885-built property in Beechworth, North East Victoria.