Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Palm Beach,Son & Heir, Coffs Harbour

Palm Beach, Son & Heir, Coffs Harbour

After "Castaways" was completed Lynne and I decided that we did not wish to stay any longer in Far North Queensland. I had been up there for nearly nine months this time and before then working on Tuna Towers and running Banrnacle Bills another two years. I felt that it was to far out of the mainstream and we flew back to Sydney and rented a friends house in Palm Beach.

I love the Northern Beaches of Sydney. That stretch of beaches from Manly to Palm Beach is one of my favourite parts of the world, where I often return to.I have travelled so much and lived in so many different places, most I have enjoyed immensely. Outside the Northern Beaches other places I could easily go back to and  live : are the Bahamas, San Francisco, parts of Mexico and parts of Italy.In Sydney I gravitate towards the Northern Beaches. 

Why? The surf , the beaches, the hills and valleys, inland waterways, smell of the salt in the air, the sound of the surf,the different geographic characteristics of the beaches.Then there is the ocean, on a warm summers day  the ocean is so clear blue and clean, that besides swimming in it, you could nearly drink. It feels so good when you dive in and swim out to catch a wave. The sensational feeling of the salt and water drying on you from the heat of the sun when you get out of the water.The best is when you have spent the whole day on the beach, surfing and baking in the sun and the shower at the end of it all and getting into some clean clothes and then an icy cold beer.

Also I have been going there since early childhood.When I was at school I first joined Bilgola Surf Club for one season, then Bungan Surf Club the next, where I got my Bronze Medallion for Life Saving . Mum and Dad would drive me down to the beaches or I'd hitch down from Lane Cove over the summer holidays. Often I'd camp overnight at the clubhouse for the weekend.

Bungan Beach was more remote than other beaches as it was not accesible by transport.There were beautiful sheer cliffs and headlands at either end of the beach which was wide and rose into dunes before going vertical.You  you could not drive down to the beach,the car had to be parked on the road at the top and you had to walk down steep tracks to the beach, so it has remained isolated.Except for the energetic who walk down and then have the half kilometer climb/ walk back up, which deters a lot of people.

Once when I had been at Bungan Surf Club for awhile,  training for the bronze medallion, which qualified you to save people in difficulties in the surf. I was the youngest in the club about seventeen, they diid not have a Nippers, only juniors and seniors. Another junior - Steve Reynolds and myself were given the task of buying  "a keg",which was eighteen gallons of beer and taking it back to the club,  from the "Newport Arms" the local pub. 

The Bungan clubhouse in1958  was one of those Quonset Huts - half round on a wooden platform and made of corrugated iron.  At the bottom of a very, very steep bush track, on the verge of the sand.  On the left side  going down the track there are houses and their gardens, on the other side of the track  was just thick bush, mainly impenetrable lantana. All up length  was about half a kilometer straight down. It was a patchwork of concrete ,bitumen and dirt .Over the years It had been eroded by rain and looked like a watercourse, which it was when it pissed down with rain.How people got to their houses during wet weather, was their business.

We both unloaded the eighteen gallon keg off the ute at the top of the track and then tried to figure how to man handle the keg down to the bottom.We grabbed either end of the keg and walked it like that for a while, but it was not comfortable, as the track underfoot was uneven with strange  big steps, that made it difficult when your trying to handle a big cumbersome aluminium keg. On the bush side of the track it was less used and more even so we decided to roll it gently, trying not to stir up the beer to much. We had achieved about a quarter of the distance when we both lost concentration and the keg started to roll on its own course and as we were behind it it was hard to stop and it got away from us. Then once away it took on a life of its own and just bounded down the track in big bounds, fortunately there was no one coming up the track, as the keg would have wiped them out. As it got up more steam it changed course and went off the track into the bush and then into the lantana, never to be seen again.

We had lost it, and it was never found,the lantana was to thick and after the keg disappeared into its midst, it left no track,the bushes all sprung back after letting the keg through, it was like nothing had gone in there. We could't believe our eyes, one minute  the two of us  are struggling with this aluminium monster, the next minute it's off into bushes and whooshca vanished.

The reaction by the older  guys was mixed, some were pissed off, others thought it was very funny when we told them what had happened and they inspected where we believed the keg to be.Others  tried to  retrieve it from it 's hiding place, to no avail as they needed a front end loader to clear the scrub and lantana which was thick and prickly.

So now I was back in my old stamping grounds on the Peninsular, we realised working from here had its difficulties, however it gave us the opportunity to integrate back into the life of the city and to start connecting with people.As it was winter the Peninsular is not at its best.  Lynne found she was pregnant which was a surprise for us both. So we moved to Neutral Bay to be closer to North Shore Hospital where Lynne had our baby boy.

He had been born for a week or so and we could not come up with his name, we wanted his name  to be short and contemporary. One night I was woken up by an inner voice telling me to call him "Jazz". I didn't  tell Lynne for awhile, then I told her and she liked the name and with further assurances from other friends, Jazz Alexander Mathers was born on the 13 June 1987.

He was a great little guy very fair like his mother and with amazing muscle definition in his arms and legs, he had a beautiful little body from an early age with white hair. I was smitten with him right from the start and had no problem handling jobs like changing nappies and washing him and looking after him. He was always a happy little boy with a lovely smile a great little laugh. I used to tickle him and he would scream with laughter, then I would stop and he'd say "do it again dad". Lynne was keen to recommence work and I was happy to be at home caring for"Jazz".We had not discussed having a child but when it happened it was all very natural and seemed so quick and easy, that when he came along it was like he was always there.

Through an acquaintance we were both offered a job managing a property owned by Country Comfort in Coffs Harbour. Country Comfort was started by Lend Lease as there Hospitality Division and they had  fifteen or so properties in N.S.W.The one at Coffs Harbour they had recently rebuilt with a new restaurant and a new wing of rooms, so off we went with Jazz to start a new life in Coffs.

The opportunity of working, living and bringing up our son in one location was  fortunate and we appreciated the time we had to spend with our son. As one of us was always around him while the other one handled managing the property which had a hundred rooms, restaurant, function rooms,swimming pool, tennis courts and extensive gardens.

Catering to the traveller,families on holidays or short stays,middle management representatives the property was extremely busy.  The refurbishment and rebuild had been done to accomadate the extra business expected due to the Brisbane World Expo in 1988 which went for six months from April to October .Expected also was additional business from  the increased traffic  on the Pacific Highway over that period .Country Comfort being proactive  had sold out the rooms to Coach Companies that stopped over, with sometimes up to 100 people per night. The marketing for this was all handled by their Sydney Head Office and was the first time that I had worked for a boss since my early twenties. In fact it was a bit of hurdle, when we went for our interview, as the then GM wondered "if I would be able to take direction". 

They were all good and there to help and for the first two weeks very accomadating as we settled in and learnt their systems and modus operandi. The marketing, food and beverage and finance directives all coming from their head office.

As managers we handled the day to day week to week management of the property and the staff. Most that were there  were very professional and well trained from the housemaids, receptionist, chefs, waiters, groundsmen and knew the ropes so we did not have to invent the wheel - just keep it turning. Occasionally we might have to find someone new. but as in most provincial areas staff tend to stay in the one place for much longer than cities.

We were also fortunate that my parents had moved up to Port Macquarie the year before so they were only a hours drive away and often used to come and visit and see their grandson who they adored, often they would take Jazz back with them to Port for a week and return with him.That used to be such a buzz, seeing his excitement when he returned and his big smiles, Jazz seemed to grow so fast and developed so quickly one minute he was a baby the next he was running around the restaurant playing hide and seek as a little toddler, with the restaurant full of paying customers, though none minded.

That used to be a game he liked to play - our residence was on the first level, over the kitchen, of the new wing recently built and the stairs down, filed into the corridor that led into the restaurant. As Jazz got older Lynne would feed him in the restaurant and then take him upstairs and stay with him and put him to sleep, or thought she had and then she would come down to the restaurant to have dinner. Often we would see this little white head peer around the corner and there he be. Once he saw that we had spotted him he would then run around the restaurant with me or Lynne after him.

The Brisbane Expo was our baptism of fire, it kept the occupancy rate at 100%, for six months with no let up. The house was full, the restaurant was full and the function rooms which we used for the coaches was full.Breakfast and dinner seven days a week kept us all on our toes. We prepared a special menu for the coaches and they were fed in the function rooms freeing the restaurant for a la carte cooking and service.

After expo finished there was no respite as the Big Banana which was next door commenced construction on plans approved to revitalise it as a Horticultural Theme Park and we were inundated by the consultants who were advising the owners. Hence our occupancy kept  staying up  and kept Head Office happy with further 100% tallies  for several more months.

We also had many families who would stay for extended period over the school holidays. There was one country family that had three young girls, aged from six to about ten. The girls all fell in love with Jazz and used to come up to reception to see Lynne and ask was Jazz awake and if so could they look after him for the morning. They would take him down to the swimming pool or the spa and keep him entertained or him them for the morning and return him to Lynne or myself. That family or the girls loved Jazz so much that the following year they returned for another lot of holidays and looking after Jazz.

After we had been there for about eighteen months Head Office entered the property into NSW Tourism Awards and was listed as one of the five top facilities for family accommodation in NSW.  Lynne and I flew down to Sydney to the award night at the Wentworth Hotel and joined the Country Comfort table and then on stage to receive the award for the Best Family Motel in Australia.

 They say " good things happen to those who wait" and in appreciation for our good work they flew us to Tahiti for a ten day holiday.In respect to the award as with most of them there are always many people who contribute and ours was no different. We had some great staff,our two key members was Dave Rose who was the chef and Frankie who was in charge of reception. That's what management is about having top key people in important responsible slots, where they don't fuck up under pressure.Frankie was there when we arrived and Dave was our selection.

We did not make any great improvements to Country Comfort, except in the bar area, we increased their top shelf range which was very limited when we arrived and we were responsible for a liqueur trolley that did the rounds of tables after dinner was over and they had them installed through out the group.I bought some Louis xv Cognac and their F&B manager said "You won't sell that in a month of Sundays" I was reordering that month, mind you I was quite partial to a drop.

We helped them establish the property in the local sense and attracted a good spread of locals and travellers who became regulars in the restaurant.We had friends who would drop by and stay others  like Bob Graham and Bob la Pointe who invested in the area and it's commercial opportunities.

Jazz had the best time as a toddler growing up in that atmosphere he was loved by all the staff and was ready for preschool. After a couple of years living and working together Lynne and I were testing our relationship and I think Country Comfort had got the best out of us  and we the best out of them. Sydney beckoned so we moved back and I started up a  consulting business specialising in Hospitality Projects.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony,
    Laughed about the story of the keg in the lantana.
    Congratulations on your son and heir,you sound like a wonderful dad.
    An interesting name for him.