“You must do the very best with what you have” are the words I remember most when it comes to the Wallaby Rise story. Bev Simpson, a co-founder of Pigs Will Fly, spent 18 years in this Lake Glenmaggie business with husband Bob, in the foothills of Victoria’s beautiful high country. After a rocky start they won several business and tourism awards.
Starting out with little capital, 109 acres of natural bush and a Planning Permit, the Wallaby Rise business was to be a bush camping park. There wasn’t enough money for powered sites but, making the most of what they had, Bev and Bob built a good, family friendly ablution block plus a big ‘recreation’ shed with an enormous fireplace ringed by comfy armchairs and a pleasant mix of assorted tables and chairs. Bev has a catering background and, being a warm-hearted soul, she frequently cooked up damper or a roast dinner in big camp ovens in the coals of that huge fireplace.
Business was slow in the early years so Bev snapped up a bus company’s request for a camp oven meal for a busload. Fact! ….bus drivers talk to other bus drivers when they find a different destination and value for money. The first busload came Thursday – by the following Tuesday Wallaby Rise had eleven tentative bookings. They developed an award winning, bookings only service based around the big shed, giving bus day tour groups and many other large parties, a package that consisted of:
(a) a family friendly, relaxed BBQ atmosphere;
(b) wood chips on the floor;
(c) possums in the rafters;
(d) mouth-watering aromas from camp ovens simmering in the coals;
(e) music and a family friendly approach;
(f) crusty old Bob in his flannel shirt and jeans tending the huge camp ovens;
(g) a lavish display of salads and fresh fruit platters to complement the roast dinners.
Interestingly, another Gippsland business took up Bev’s idea but it didn’t take off – the food was brought in ‘from elsewhere’ which lost key elements of the experience.
The shed was a great social ‘leveller’ – very popular for Christmas break-ups as all levels of organisational hierarchies relaxed in such a venue. Many mentally and physically disabled groups also enjoyed the venue.
What hurdles did Bev and Bob face?
1.Surviving the early years: before the meals began in the early 1990s a Business Advice Rural Australia (BARA) officer guided Bev as she battled with a Business Plan. This forced her to focus on what the business was, her target market and future actions. The BARA program was discontinued. Today’s equivalent: Small Business Answer Program Officers or local government Business Development Officers.
2.Health and commercial kitchen issues: with the sudden influx of bookings for meals, Bev called Council Health Officer who classified the venue as ‘outdoor’ but all food ‘prep’ had to be in a kitchen. They were given 6 months to build their own commercial kitchen, but were permitted to use another kitchen in the interim.
CONTACT BEV via snail mail: 4 Railway Street, Cowwarr VIC 3857.