THIS is a tale of battlers and beaut beaches. It’s the kind of story which whacks you in the face when you’re looking for something else, with the types of colourful characters you simply can’t ignore. Like Geoff Warne, who reckons he’s going to pen an autobiography one day entitled “Simply F****d”; former Turkish child bride Sevtap Yuce; Wooli oyster champion Kim Guinea who happens to hate seafood; and Yamba YHA owner Shane Henwood – who is prone to putting fake snakes and spiders in the beds of his guests.
I am on the mid northern New South Wales coast, tracing the mighty Clarence River from Yamba to Grafton, and like the ocean around these parts, the people are wild, woolly and delightfully unpredictable. Like Action Activities Adventure owner Geoff Warne, who is making a splash with his new kayaking and bike hire business. Now in his 40s, this former carpenter who hurt his back at the age of 19, and became a fitness trainer before turning to tourism, has dodged more than his fair share of life’s bloody bullets.
Geoff has been involved in a number of car accidents which left him physically and mentally scarred, but decided to fight for his happiness and aim towards owning his own business.
“There’s a book in my head and it’s called Simply F****d,” Geoff jokes.
“But I said to myself, ‘I’m not giving up’. I thought of everything that I like and thought ‘I’ll be a tour guide’ as I like helping people. All I have to do is make that holiday happy for them.”
Geoff went on to blitz a Certificate III and IV in Tourism before working on the Gold Coast at Dreamworld and then in Mt Tamborine’s glo-worm caves.
Family reasons have pushed him over the border and south to Yamba where he has started this next chapter of his life. On his tours, guests can kayak to nearby Iluka which is one of the last remaining coastal rainforests in New South Wales. The trip also takes in Bluff Beach, snorkelling, home-made treats for morning tea, and a ferry ride back home. Those who want to hang around can also hire Geoff’s bikes and scooters at Iluka.
“It is a great place to start a new future,” he says.
“The most important thing for me is I’ve done something for me and achieved it. I still can’t believe I’ve done it.
“It’s all or nothing. If I don’t do it now, I’m always going to die wondering.”
This never-say-die attitude also resonates with Sevtap Yuce, owner of Yamba’s Beachwood Café and author of two cookbooks about her beloved Turkish cuisine and a third to be published next August. Here, Sevtap serves Turkish delights such as lamb kofte and hummus and local seafood dishes. There’s also Turkish lemonade in lemon, cherry, apple and pomegranate flavours on the menu.
But precisely 30 years ago, this 46 year old was an unhappy child bride in an arranged marriage in her native Turkey. And the sadness stalked her when in 2004 she lost her brother when he was kidnapped and executed during the Iraq War.
“That was the hardest thing my family went through,” she says.
“When I arrived in Australia I had no help, no money, I didn’t speak English and then all of a sudden I’ve achieved something. If somebody said to me ‘this is how your life is going to be’ I would have laughed.
“How can a Turk like me get to this stage? If I can do it, any woman can do it. I think it’s a pretty cool thing to do.”
At her pretty café surrounded by roses and fresh herbs, Sevtap serves “fresh, simple” locally caught and produced food. And these days she is content being single.
“I think I’ve found the love in my work,” she says.
“I’ve made this my baby and my life. And if I don’t meet anyone, it doesn’t matter.”
Further south along the coast, Wooli Oyster owner Kim Guinea ironically doesn’t like seafood, but her husband and co-owner of this riverside business Ron does. It’s been a tough couple of years for these operators, for whom flooding has stymied oyster production. But with a bumper summer season ahead of them, Kim and Ron are looking forward to a brighter future.
“I love opening oysters and looking at them but I don’t eat them. When you start coming into summer you get these nice fat oysters,” Kim says.
“My husband likes them and he uses the whole aphrodisiac line as a selling point.
“Wooli oysters are so popular because of the pristine water here. There is no pollution and they’ve got a lovely flavour.”
Back in Yamba, YHA owner Shane Henwood, 37, first dreamt of building his own youth hostel when he stayed in one in Sydney at age 16. This family-run business – his 80-year-old nana changes the sheets – has been going great guns since it started five years ago.
“We get all age groups here, families, the whole lot. One of our guys comes back every year and he’d be 90. We’ve had (surfer) Tommy Carroll, (entertainer) Normie Rowie and (singer) Angus Stone. One of our English girls didn’t know who Angus was and told him to stop playing the guitar as she was trying to watch television,” Shane laughs.
“Our guests come for two weeks and stay for a year. They class this is as the secret spot and only tell backpackers they like. Even the local police and detectives had their Christmas party here.”
Shane also runs “Shane’s 10 buck tour” where you get a three-hour taste of paradise. And, if you’re lucky, he may even plant a fake spider or snake in your bed when you’re away. Just for fun.
But when I ask Shane if he ever felt like abandoning his dream, which took 4.5 years to gain council approval, he looks me straight in the eye.
“Nup. I never give up.”
Yep. There’s something in the waters of the Clarence River region. I think it’s called hope.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Clarence Tourism – http://www.clarencetourism.com For an awesome 1950s beach shack experience perched right on the ocean, head to Seascape Units – http://www.seascapeunits.com.au