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Nomadic Life

For the past five years I have been working for a few weeks here and there at holiday resorts and residential apartments from Sydney to Port Douglas. Some places I work regularly, a few times a year, some I have only worked once and others just a few times over the years. By writing this article I am hoping to share some of my experiences as a resort relief Manager.

About nine months ago I received a call from Rosie who manages 200 luxury apartments on the harbour at Balmain in Sydney. She wanted me to work for most of December finishing on New Years Day while her family went skiing in the USA. Naturally, I had to bounce a booking like that off my better half but Rosie was very accommodating saying that my family could stay in her apartment as well.

I knew that In order to work in NSW one has to be the holder of a full real estate licence (unlike Queensland where we can work for 30 days without any license).  So I applied for a NSW Real Estate Licence but was informed that I had to be a permanent resident of that state in order to apply. More research and I  found that if I obtained a Queensland licence then Fair Trading in NSW may grant me “mutual recognition” to work in that state. Problem solved except that I had weeks of study ahead and about $5000.00 in fees before I had my licences. But I  was very glad I accepted the booking as it was a joy checking out the lovely restaurants in the Balmain area and brushing up on my knowledge of that historic part of Sydney.

Luckily my wife Gayle and daughter Laura decided to drive down for the Christmas week and we all enjoyed the start of the Sydney Hobart yacht race and a few days later joined thousands of others having a champagne picnic in the park with the Harbour Bridge fireworks in the background. I couldn’t help thinking this job has some great moments.

But I am getting ahead of myself – the Real Estate licence study was completed, in November last year I worked at a holiday resort in Ballina for a few weeks. This is a lovely complex with beautiful views up the Richmond River to Ballina and across Shelly beach to the Pacific Ocean. If you are in the area don’t miss breakfast at the Shelly Beach cafe right on the sand. I discovered a couple of other secrets there too, the Australia Hotel which offers a beautiful rump steak for  $10.00 and the curry shop in Clifford Street, Suffolk Park almost into Byron which has the best curry in Australia and half price on Tuesday.  

It is a little over an hour to drive home to the Gold Coast and after a week at home, I then decided to drive to Sydney so I would have the use of my car there while I managed the Balmain complex. When the Ballina owners learned I would later be traveling to Sydney they offered me an apartment for the night to break the journey. I do know Sydney pretty well as I spent eight long years at boarding school at Parramatta.

The Balmain property has postcard harbour views, is surrounded by parkland but has one more amazing feature – it has a gorgeous fitness area built inside an old sandstone warehouse which is now listed with the National Trust.  It housed a magnificent 50 meter heated pool, spas and gym. Wow! After completing my assignment in Sydney I drove to Melbourne for a short family holiday. My next assignment was to manage a holiday resort in Byron Bay. This is one I had managed many times before and one I enjoy as it is a short walk into Byron Bay with its quirky inhabitants and great restaurants.  This property is a short walk to Tallow Beach and has its own lake along one side of the property. Sadly for me, it has just been sold so it might be a while before the new managers decide to take a holiday.

Another ten days at home then I flew to a holiday resort at Port Douglas in far North Queensland to work for most of February.   Memories came flooding back as I worked there.  During the late 1960s and 1970s, I ran safari tours all over Australia and one of the most popular was our Cape York safari.  This was a  month trip driving from Brisbane and on those trips, we spent quite a few days around Cairns, Port Douglas and Mossman.  From Port Douglas, we drove to the Daintree (no ferry in those days) and forded the river upstream before tackling the CREB track and camping at the Roaring Meg.  We swam in all the creeks and rivers on the way to the top and in the 15 years that I ran the trip I never saw one croc as they had all been shot out – numbers have increased dramatically in the last 20 years.  We often had a lot of fun getting the three or four vehicles across the Jardine River – no ferry again. The river after the winter months runs about 7 knots and is about 4 feet deep with a soft sandy bottom and quite a difficult exit on the northern side.  We camped on the sand on the northern bank.  Before the service station was built at Bamaga we had fuel shipped around in 44 gallon drums from Cairns and dropped off ready for our arrival.  So during my fairly quiet days in Port Douglas I have been doing a little reminiscing.  

One reason the owners decided to go in February is that it is the low season and meant to be pouring with rain and the possibility of cyclones. Lucky me! The weather was idyllic and even during the occasional afternoon thunderstorm, I loved swimming in the warm rain. And I had another treat, my daughter Brooke who lives in Hong Kong came over for the weekend with my grandson. The owners very generously left me their four-wheel drive to use and when the office closed the three of us explored Daintree and swam in Mossman Gorge. On your next holiday to Port Douglas do not miss a Mocka pie or the sausages at Port of Call or dinner at the Tin Shed where you can watch all the yachts drift past with the blue mountains of Cape Tribulation in the background. Yes, sometimes I do pinch myself!

All the resorts I  work at a slightly different but this one also hires out motorbikes and scooters so here is a bloke who has never ridden even a motor scooter instructing people on how to ride them. Don’t say life is boring.  The owners of this resort insisted on driving me to and from Cairns Airport along the spectacular Cook highway. In the last war, my dad met a local girl (my Mum  Joan) and flew Catalinas out of Cairns so I paid a visit to the Catalina memorial at the end of the Esplanade.

Another week at home relaxing was squeezed in before I started a very challenging assignment in Brisbane. Usually, I manage Mum and Dad operations and most of the time I cover all the tasks myself, reception, cleaning pools and bins, ordering linen, sometimes gardening, selling tours, etc. However, this property was a huge multi-story property on the river in the CBD. It had five lifts and over 200 units soaring up over 30 levels. There were pools, gyms and spas on the top level and down the bottom, there were huge reception rooms, meeting room and library, there was an independently run restaurant as part of the complex.

With this property comes a multitude of systems that need to be monitored and maintained. Behind the scenes, there were water cooling tanks on the top along with a huge diesel generator capable of partly powering every unit in case of power failure, a sprinkler control room, two lift control rooms, a fire control room and a massive plant room at ground level. So yes, in addition to the office administration I had a lot to learn in a very short time. But although the task was very challenging I did enjoy my weeks there and finished a little wiser.  A distraction was being able to visit the Brisbane Jazz Club across the river which I have a close affinity to as I started it exactly 40 years ago.  

The hours were long starting in the office before 7.30 am and rarely finishing before 6.00 pm. I had a cleaner, maintenance man and property manager as I couldn’t hope to manage this alone. But as with every property, there are compensations and here were glorious views across the river to the Story Bridge and a lovely walkway along the riverfront down to the weekly markets. Down the hall from my waterfront apartment was the heated pool and gym. Thinking back it was on this stretch of river that, 50 plus years ago I came with my dad to the riverside warehouses when he was buying stock for his country drapery store.

Reading back through this I guess you could be forgiven for thinking I spend more time eating than working. While I am locked in all day I usually go out for dinner at night and that gives me a little time to explore many of these lovely coastal towns. My accommodation is usually in the manager’s apartment and I feel very privileged to be given the responsibility of looking after that. All I really need is a bed and a clear shelf in the fridge but I am often greeted with little treats and a note hoping I enjoy my stay – great people in this industry.  

I am now relaxing at home before my next assignment which will be on the Gold Coast and I shall be able to come home at night. Well, mostly relaxing as there is often a list on my desk when I come home. My wife, Gayle is hoping to retire soon and we are considering buying a motor home and offering our services as a  couple for longer stints along the east coast. This job as a relief manager is often very demanding but always enjoyable.

Thank you to all the wonderful people who have entrusted me with their dog, their goldfish, their business and their home.

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