Could an entire town have dodgy service?

Shoal Bay is a beautiful place. But if our experiences and online reviews are to be believed, don’t ever eat there.

Shoal Bay – It’s on Fiji Time

During the week my family has  spent holidaying in the area, we have had three experiences of what I’d call a very laid-back approach to customer service.  Cafes that take that extra ten minutes to offer you a menu, a coffee that took fifteen minutes, fish and chips that took thirty minutes, and the one time we were told that the waitress was setting up for a birthday banquet so we’d have to wait. Huh?

We know some locals here and they suggested a bit of ‘Fiji Time’ was in evidence. It seemed reasonable enough; People who live here – in a cluster of coastal towns two hours from Sydney – don’t watch the clock too closely.

Keep in mind, the Shoal Bay/Fingal Bay community is very small. There are about five food options in Shoal Bay and just one in Fingal Bay. Something here must be worthwhile, I thought. So, I turned to Google and checked out the online reviews. And, oh my gnocchi.

Here’s just a sample…

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There were only 4 tables though and it took almost 15 minutes for coffee and juice to come out. Juices are Home Brand and poured straight from the bottle. At $4.50 per glass I was not happy.

via LongBoat Cafe (Fingal Bay).

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Myself and my wife attended this restaurant on a Sunday evening in November 2009. I ordered the grilled snapper and as well as the one hour wait for the mains to arrive, the real problem did not hit me until I awoke at 3 am with massive food poisoning. The doctor thought it must have been “cheap takeaway”….unfortunately it was not takeaway and it certainly wasnt cheap.

via Catch at Shoal Bay

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Thank goodness our breakfast finally arrived

There are only 2 Italian options on the street and this is the bad one. Absolutely poor management. Service is rude. Pizzas are below average. Wine selection is poor. And they keep coming to ask if you are done even when you are having food, just to make you leave so the ones waiting can fit in.

Once or twice during my night I even got pointed at when I was only less than 3 metres away. I think they were planning what to do with our table …

I could over hear the staff constantly talking about ‘getting rid of this table and getting rid of that table’, to hurry families out of there within the hour, even taking away food while still being eaten and placing bills on tables as people were still receiving their coffees!

Charged an extra $2 because the waitress felt our 2 year old had made a mess in his high chair. It’s only $2 but was a rude thing to do in a ‘family friendly’ place

via Gianni’s Bar-Pizzeria & Ristorante.

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From the start the service was terrible. It was 10 mins after we sat down before we were given a menu. The garlic bread we ordered actually went to the table next to us who had ordered after us. So it was a long wait before we got our garlic bread. Next came the disastrous meals which my partner and I categorically describe as THE WORST meals we’ve ever had in a restaurant. After 3 small mouthfuls of my fettucine I pushed my plate away and felt sick and couldn’t eat anymore. It tasted as though they had melted about 250gms of pure butter. I know lobster is quite rich so I don’t know what they were doing in that kitchen! Basically it was inedible! My partner’s pork belly was pathetic. We have done a better job at home ourselves and neither of us are qualified chefs. So this incredibly disappointing and sickening meal cost us $87!!!

The food and service were terrible. When we complained and asked to see the manager about our absolutely inedible meal, rancid in the case of the risotto, we were told to pay up or they would call the police!

We tried to order the hot chocolate that was on the specials board, but was told we couldn’t have it because “it would take too long to construct”. Huh? So we ordered coffee instead, which arrived lukewarm and burnt. Our food arrived relatively quickly, but the reason for this soon became apparent – my Eggs Benedict had eggshell in it, and there were lemon seeds in the hollandaise sauce. … At one point the waitress did come over and asked how our food was, but as we both had our mouths full at the time she managed to disappear because I could swallow and tell her it was mediocre.

via Marco’s Restaurant.

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Searching for Australia in Koaland

Shopping for souvenirs in Cairns – a world away  from the nearest koala, emu or sheep.

I enjoyed reading a piece by Nick Bryant on Australia’s national identity and how it has been misshapen through our self-reflective cliches. The way we call ourselves ‘Down Under’ to Americans is cited as one example of how we tend to belittle ourselves. (I would add that our failure to put Americans in their place when they use the term also shows a tendency to ignore our success and pride.)

Nick’s article included this paragraph to help explain our fond attachment to phrases most of us don’t even like or use …

…as the database at the Australian National Dictionary Centre in Canberra reveals, “She’ll be right” gets at least two outings a week in Australian newspapers, while “Tall Poppy Syndrome” has been a weekly fixture for years. As the Centre’s director, Sarah Ogilvie, notes: “People are still using phrases which to an outsider seem anachronistic.”

Nick is a talented journalist whose biography shows he has moved regularly during his time as a foreign correspondent.  Nick’s decision to stay in Australia since 2006 shows, I believe, his admiration for our country, plus some sense of hope in our future. If you thought our best years were behind us, you wouldn’t move here. You would just visit, grab some souvenirs, then head home to where you belong, right?

I have just returned from a week in Cairns, in Far North Queensland, where the souvenirs tend to define a city having its own identity crisis. Stifling nostalgia is passed off as a historical discovery tour. Surreal caricatures of our fauna trivialise any natural beauty that lies outside our cities.  If you subscribe to my Facebook Feed, you would have seen my gallery of the region’s eclectic architecture and other oddities but neither of those begin to explain the schizophrenia  Cairns suffers trying to balance as a home for locals and as an international tourist destination.

As Cairns tries to position itself as the first stop for Asian visitors to our shores – something record airport arrivals would suggest it is doing very well – what greets visitors is a parade of tackiness and a clichéd approach to our emblems, wildlife and culture that presents an Australia unchanged since the 1960s.

Here is what confronted me on my first wander through the town centre; Opals, Ugg boots, koala backpacks and, for when you feel peckish… emu jerky.

Which of these resonates the most with your knowledge or concept of Australia?

Opal shop owners are doing us all a disservice. The romanticised depiction of a man down a mine grabbing a precious stone has kept Sydney’s The Rocks alive for much too long. It’s a tragedy that Cairns is going the same dusty, irrelevant way. Few Australians will ever head to Coober Pedy, and just because even fewer tourists will, doesn’t mean we should shovel such a flawed idea of mining down their bejeweled throats. Yes, we are the world’s largest producer of opal – being responsible for 95% of production – but most of it comes to us not by a rugged man in King Gees and a torch-helmet but like this…

…especially the opals coming out of Queensland.

Ugg boots are a peculiar fashion statement, at best. Wearing Ugg boots in Cairns – as I am told people do when the temperature drops below 20 degrees Celcius – is truly gormless. Trotting out Uggs and sheepskin rugs is also a quaint throwback to an age before polarfleece and cotton blends, when we were all wrapped in wool because there was a shearing shed down the road. But the fantasy must stop that put Australia forward as a sheepish, agricultural economy built on grazing animals for which the export market is rapidly dwindling just as the our ownership of the word ‘Ugg’ is under threat.

No Australian would think of skinning a koala, let alone wearing one on our back. The myth of the ‘Koala Bear’ should really have died off along with Matilda, the winking kangaroo inexplicably wheeled out at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982. Let’s be honest with our tourists – most people who manage to see a koala find it snoring and if they choose to hug one of the heavily clawed, disinterested beasts, they had better not be in NSW or Victoria where it is illegal in Victoria for anyone other than a Koala’s handler to hold them.

As for emu jerky…

There could be no more superficial Americanisation of Australian wildlife as this. Jerky is a US fascination and employing our national emblems to enjoy a salted chewy treat makes me sick for all number of untreatable reasons.

Cairns used to see most of its tourists arrive from Japan, however China and Germany are now the biggest contributors to the local tourism industry, no doubt due to the relative strength of those two nations. I was surprised to hear German used as the second language after English to give instructions on the Scenic Kuranda Railway.  Likewise, many signs in the town centre are also displayed in Chinese. The local paper, the Cairns Post, reports peak tourism bodies are striving to bring Chinese flights direct into Cairns which would send arrivals from our biggest export market into the tens of thousands per year.

So far, the nation we feel safest putting forward is still tied to the outback and way out-of-touch.

Will we present the world with a decades-old view of our nation’s brightest points; one of a dusty rural paradise where so few drovers actually roam and precious few miners dig for opals by hand, or will it be one that shows off our colours, talent and enthusiasm for life, exhibited in our stunning capital cities and across countless regional centres each with their own appeal? Let’s promote the brands and outfits we stand by, the artists and home-grown designers we know by name. Let’s leave The Kens behind. Ken Duncan and Ken Done, your time has past. Our tourism has become entrenched in a dated value system that elevates our strange marsupials and landscapes above our achievements as a wealthy, warm people who have accepted millions of migrants, built glorious cities, a diverse society and a robust national economy and we will happily share our glorious nature with anyone who visits.  We will even let some of them stay.

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