Sunday, February 27, 2011

The benefits

Hospitality is hard work, but tremendously rewarding. After long days of problem solving, service, planning and talking with guests, we need to sit down and take it all in. Last night needs few words. Our 4 course dinner starts at 6.30pm with sunset canapés. Once everyone is settled and happy, we step back and enjoy the drama of Lord Howe. No need for Photoshop on evenings like this.....

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Yes" (and "No way")

When I was growing up at Pinetrees, I was always told that the most important thing in hospitality was to say yes immediately and work out the details later.  “Just say yes” was something I heard over and over. 

No matter what a guest wants, there has to be a way.  My mum, Pixie, was famous for giving a guest her own bed.  It was summer school holidays and Pinetrees was full.  The guest had booked a room with a double bed but, after seeing the room, demanded a queen.  Pixie said yes immediately and then worked out that it was her bed or nothing. 

The “just say yes” philosophy has been a blessing and a curse for me.  It didn’t help me at all in my old job as a lawyer.  I was forever agreeing to do things for clients and then realising that the only way to get everything done was to work all night or all weekend – disaster!  However, the same approach worked really well for managing Pixie.  When I came home to visit, she always told me what to do: “take a jumper, you’ll be cold”, or “ring me if you’re going to be late”, that kind of thing.  For years, I would tell her angrily that I could work it out for myself.  Eventually - I’m a slow learner - I realised that it was much easier just to say yes and do as I was told.  Pixie wasn’t trying to boss me around; she was showing that she cared about me. And most of the time, the advice was right.

I wonder if I’ll ever be able to teach my toddler.  At present, her favourite expressions are: “NO!”, “NO WAY!”, “GO AWAY MAMA!” and ‘DON’T WANT TO!”.  She may have a good future as a lawyer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Two days to go

In two days’ time I’m off to Sydney with Elsie.  Luke will join us in a week or so.  I’ll be almost 37 weeks pregnant and it’s time to get to Sydney in case the baby decides to arrive early. 

There are still a few babies born on the island.  We have a fantastic GP and two wonderful nurses.  The local hospital, Gower Wilson Memorial Hospital, has 2 beds but doesn’t have sufficient staff to have a patient for more than a night.  If someone is seriously ill, an air ambulance is called. 

The last baby born here was Tiara, who’s 3 years old now.  Her mum, Amy, told me that Tiara arrived 5 weeks early.  Her big brother was also 5 weeks early but Amy made it off the island on an air ambulance.  When Amy was pregnant for the third time, she took the precaution of leaving the island 5 weeks early, just in case.  The next baby, Ada, arrived on time.  It cost Amy a small fortune to rent an apartment for herself and her husband and two kids, hire a car and wait around for the baby to arrive! 

I’m not brave enough to have a baby here with limited support if something goes wrong and, even worse, no possibility of an epidural.  Too scary!  We’re very lucky to be able to stay with Luke’s parents in Sydney.  No doubt they will spoil me and give Elsie plenty of attention (and a few treats when I’m not looking). 

When I was pregnant with Elsie, I stopped work at about 37 weeks and had a lovely few weeks resting, going to the movies, setting up the nursery and dreaming about the baby.  This time it’s more like a race.  Work is as busy as ever, Elsie is two and I need to have everything at home set up before I go to Sydney (bassinet, extra car seat, 10 packets of newborn nappies and oh-I-forgot-to-buy-any-breast-pads-last-time-I-was-in-Sydney-and-they-don’t-sell-them-at-Joys-Shop).  I found the little tiny singlets and bodysuits in the top of the wardrobe but I’m still looking for the nursing bras and the old lady underpants for hospital.  They must be here somewhere.  When I get to Sydney, I need to hire or borrow another bassinet and car seat, buy more nappies … oh and think of a name for the baby. 

I really miss my mum at times like this. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Small Town Gossip

Lord Howe isn’t a resort island populated only by seasonal workers and backpackers – but a small country town in the South Pacific.  The Island was first settled in the 1830s. The first settlers were traders who supplied whaling ships with food, water and provisions.  My family first settled here in 1842 and there are several other families on the Island whose histories are just as long.  My dad, Ed, has lived here for 35 years and people still say seriously “he’s from Sydney”.       

Like all country towns there’s a lot of gossip.  If people don’t know something about you, they happily make it up.  After Luke and I were married we lived in Sydney and my parents were repeatedly congratulated by Islanders on the news of my pregnancy, and on one occasion, the news that I had actually had a baby.  Ed immediately asked the informant: “Was it a boy or a girl?” and got a stunned silence in response. 

It’s easy to believe something if you’ve heard it three or four times from different people.  I’m ashamed to say that I heard something unflattering about a friend recently and believed it without asking her – only to find when I did speak to her that it was completely baseless. 

Even the visitors join in.  One guest said to me recently: “Yesterday I saw you at the café” – and here she lowered her voice to a stage whisper – “drinking a coffee”. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Have you ever felt really, really stupid?  I’m talking about something worse than backing your car into a tree or calling your friend’s new boyfriend by her ex-boyfriend’s name – something really humiliating. 

Well, when I’d lived at Lord Howe for a few months, we ran out of water at home.  There’s no central water supply at Lord Howe.  We all collect our own rainwater.  (At Pinetrees, we also have a bore and we use bore water for everything except drinking).  So running out of water is a big deal. 

Our house has five rainwater tanks, with a capacity of about 20,000 litres.  When we moved in, it was September and they were just about full.  By November, we had run out completely.  The worst thing was, I had no idea that we were even short of water until the washing machine started making a funny noise when I tried to fill it up. 

Where had all of the water gone?  I like to stand under the shower for hours at a time, and it isn’t the water-saving variety.  Doing two loads of washing a day isn’t such a good idea when you have limited water, but I was taught to keep whites and colours separate.  The dishwasher was always on.  And it didn’t rain much.  In fact, November was the driest November since the 1880s when they started keeping records. 

My dad gave us some water from his tanks (thanks, Ed!)  It rained in December and the tanks filled up again.  I’ve learned to conserve water a bit.  I have short showers and use the outside shower.  There’s an unexpected benefit – because we’re not using the shower in the bathroom, it doesn’t need cleaning!  I take the washing to Pinetrees and do it there.  I put things back in the wardrobe if they’re not visibly dirty and wear them again.  I have a swim and go to work with salty hair (it’s only salt, right?). 

In the future, we’ll order some new tanks to give us a bit more capacity.  We have to get them here on the ship and they could take up to a year to deliver as the ship can only take one tank on each voyage and there’s a queue … but that’s another story.               

Feeling better now?  Whatever you did can’t be as stupid as running out of water. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011


It’s Sunday today.  I’ve been to work early, picked up four new guests from the airport and settled them in at Pinetrees.  It’s a magical day – warm and sunny and there’s hardly any wind at all.  The whole island shimmers.  My job is very, very easy on days like this. 

There are heaps of things I need to do and sometimes it’s easier to do them at home where it’s quiet.  There are minutes of a staff meeting to write up and distribute (it should have been done on Wednesday), insurance invoices to check before payment and I was also hoping to look at a draft grant agreement for a friend who is on the Lord Howe Island Preschool committee.  I keep trying to read it at 10:00pm after work and, needless to say, I’m getting nowhere. 

I was doing OK until Ed appeared at the door.  “Have you seen Blinky today?” he asked.  Blinky is the surf beach at Lord Howe and it’s the most beautiful place.  There is a steep dune, white sand and the water is clear and warm and the most incredible turquoise colour.  I love to swim out behind the surfers.  With goggles on, you can see huge schools of fish.  It’s like swimming in an aquarium. 

So I went for a swim and my list of jobs is still just as long as it was this morning.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ultimate Seachange

In the last six months or so, my life has turned upside down.  I’ve moved house (stressful at the best of times, but certainly not unusual), packed up and moved from Sydney to my childhood home, Lord Howe Island, resigned from my job as a lawyer and started running Pinetrees Lodge on Lord Howe Island.  Pinetrees, a guest house for over 100 years, is my family business and was my mum’s pride and joy.  My mum, Pixie Rourke, died last year after a short but nasty battle with liver cancer.  When she was first diagnosed we agreed that I would come home, but in the end I came home to help my dad, Ed, look after her and there wasn’t time to hand over the business in any orderly way.  Soon after she died, I realised that I was pregnant again.

It’s not just me.  My husband, Luke and our toddler, Elsie, have had to make all of these changes too.  In his previous life, Luke was an ecologist for the United Nations and Australian Government.  More recently, he established EzyVegies, an online business selling raised garden beds of his own design and offering detailed online vegetable gardening advice.  Lord Howe is the perfect place for Luke to pursue his passions for surfing, fishing and photography – and gardening, of course.  Our second baby is due next month. 

Since arriving at Lord Howe, we’ve had beautiful days swimming and relaxing at perfect beaches with no one else in sight.  Lord Howe is a paradise for kids and it’s been wonderful to see Elsie settling in and the way everyone makes a fuss of her wherever she goes.  Luke and I have also had days where the many difficulties and irritations of running a small business in an isolated place threaten to overwhelm us.   Most days I’m happy and grateful to be here but there are certainly times when my old life as the employee of a large company living in a big city seems to have great benefits of security and predictability.    

I’ve decided to keep a journal of these changes and the effect on all of our lives.  Although I’ve never blogged before, a blog seems like an easy way to write postcard-length news and share ideas.  I’m planning to write about Island life, running a business and managing the family/work juggle (or not).

Lord Howe is a magical place – and also a place with an interesting human history.  I’ve always loved reading about the lives of women who lived here in the past.  My great great grandmother had 10 children here and it must have been a terribly hard life.  Her husband was the captain of a whaling ship and was away from the Island for months on end.  They were almost entirely self-sufficient.  My mum was born on Lord Howe and went barefoot to the local school before being sent to boarding school on the flying boat.  When she returned to the Island in 1976 after her own mother’s death, she and her partners ran Pinetrees without a phone and relied on a ship that only arrived every 6 weeks.  One of the rewarding things about writing about daily life here is the thought that I can contribute in a small way to that tradition.

I’ll probably be writing in 10 minute bursts between nappy changes, paying the bills and ducking over to the lagoon for a swim (if I’m lucky). If you’re thinking idly about a seachange this year and wondering what it might be like to leave the city and its complications behind for a simpler life, then please join me on the journey.