One enterprising local is welcoming guests into her Bendigo backyard, lured by the promise of one sweet night with Amelie.

By Lauren Mitchell – Photography by Leon Schoots

It’s a winter Saturday morning and most locals would be nursing the second cuppa of the day, just gearing up. Not Alison Mulqueen. She’s already faced the cold, visited a few garage sales and has popped back home to meet Bendigo Magazine before an op shop hop. Her latest mission is all about mission brown. And orange. She’s scouring Bendigo for all things ’70s and having a ball in the process. This is not work, surely? Read on…
Three months ago the photographer took a good hard look at her backyard studio/office and decided she could put it to a different use, give herself a break from taking photos full time and dip her toes into the Airbnb phenomenon.
“I’ve worked as a photographer for over 10 years and I felt like a change,” Alison says. “I thought I could utilise the shipping container a bit better, so I moved my office inside the house and created this space.” Then, she added an en-suite to her outside laundry, and was set to welcome guests to her garden.
Now, Alison’s once-utilitarian steel box is a creamy bohemian boudoir of vintage finds and faux fur. “Nearly everything in here is second hand except the bedding,” Alison says. “The rug is a favourite. I’d previously seen it for over $200 and picked it up for $10 at a garage sale. There are plenty of bargains around if you search hard for them.”
The space is so sweet it quickly gained attention on the accommodation booking site that’s swept the world, allowing everyday people to let out their properties, spare rooms and sundry shedding to guests.
Alison’s first guests in March this year were fellow Airbnb operators from Melbourne. “For me that was quite daunting, but I kindly asked them for their recommendations,” she says. The suggestions were simple things like putting away anything personal, having a notepad and pen handy and a power board to charge those go-everywhere devices.
Just three months later Alison added her beloved Amelie to the mix; a 1950s caravan she and her partner Marcus restored for their own use. Amelie is the fifth caravan the couple has brought back from the brink.
“It wasn’t bought purposefully for Airbnb, we do up vintage caravans and we take them away on adventures ourselves,” Alison says, adding Amelie was their most ambitious restoration yet. The ‘before’ photos of the grotty, rotting shell that arrived on the back of a truck would be enough to scare off most. She took six months to restore and couldn’t be more adorable.
“For me, I’d always wanted to have a cute caravan in the backyard all set up so I could come in and enjoy the atmosphere,” Alison says. “For Marcus, he grew up going on caravan trips with his family and he wanted to continue doing that. We both love vintage and vintage shopping, so the best part is collecting things and finding treasures to go in the vans, we just love it.”
Alison says all their vans have a theme, and Amelie’s is a combination of pretty 1950s florals and pastels and Art Deco-era highlights for added fun. “There was a fluorescent light recessed into the ceiling that I didn’t like,” she says. “We were vintage shopping one day and saw an Art Deco ceiling rose and I thought that would be perfect to cover it, then Marcus looked online and saw you could buy foam ones, so that’s a foam ceiling rose.” It inspired the whole Art Deco theme.
Alison says the pink and white van is now booked out most weekends as well as the odd weekday. “It’s been really popular. I think because it’s somewhere different and unique to stay. Generally our clientele are younger couples, and the same with the shipping container, but there have been some older people stay as well.
“It’s much busier than I had anticipated. I’m concentrating more on Airbnb than my photography now and I’m really enjoying it. So much so that I’ve just purchased a 1970s caravan to restore which will be nestled in the side garden.” Hence the hunt for the orange treasures. “I found a few ’70s things this morning. It’s my age bracket and I want people my age who stay to be able to look around and say ‘that reminds me of something that was in my house’.”
Alison says despite being in-demand by others, Amelie still provides her with moments of peace and quiet. “I still sit in here and have a coffee,” she says. “And the kids love having sleepovers in here, it’s a real novelty for their friends. It’s just really pretty, especially at night when you draw the curtains and turn on the fairy lights. It takes you away to a different place and it’s just beautiful.”
Plus, seems there’s still time for the Airbnb host to take her own holidays. Alison has just returned from three weeks in Italy, where she stayed solely in fellow Airbnb properties. “It was great to see what other hosts were doing. But I was very proud of myself, of what I’ve achieved and what I offer my guests.”
Yes, dreamy spaces to rest awhile just a stone’s throw from the centre of Bendigo, breakfast provisions courtesy of the backyard Isa Browns and even a cat or four to warm the feet. “I did have a guest message me one night to say one of our cats had joined her in the caravan and could she sleep with her? I said yes, of course!”