Let’s start at the very beginning,
a very good place to start!
Well, what I am about to relate wasn’t actually the beginning – it was the end. The end of the crimes, that is. Furthermore, it was the beginning of a new section of life for me because big changes came into being. It was 1998, just a few weeks into the new year, when poof! Things went up in smoke – literally!
But before I get into the details, I’ll just give you a bit of a preamble leading up to the ‘poof‘, so you have a better understanding of the ‘before‘ prior to the ‘after‘.
Let’s start at the very beginning — Nature’s Wonderland was the beginning
In the winter of 1996, at ‘Winterfest‘ to be precise, Nature’s Wonderland was born! This was a Gallery with Nature and Wildlife as the theme. I opened it in the small town of Warburton, in Victoria, Australia. Michael Gerrish of the Warburton Arts Centre opened the Gallery with one of our prominent exhibitors, Bronwen Gibbs displaying her fabric art. With multifaceted aspects, the concept was grown from my love of nature mingling with my artistic background.
During the couple of years leading up to what happened in 1998, I was able to incorporate a wonderful array of beautiful works of both art and craft, predominantly made by local artisans and myself. Coupled with these works, we built up a terrific series of Classes and Workshops, again led by locals and myself.
The building I had chosen for this venture was a fabulous old building in the centre of the main street of town. It was huge, having three separate levels in the main section. There was an additional area underneath the building that had once been the residence.
The front section opening onto the street was used as the main area of the gallery. On the mezzanine level above this we housed more of the gallery. This nestled around a central seating area from where some of the workshops were held. In conjunction it was a Devonshire Tea Room. The lower level residence was converted into areas for both healing and workshops. We had several practitioners operating from this area, using modalities including Reiki, Massage and Spiritual Readings.
Leading up a small staircase off this mezzanine was an area that used to be an apartment in the early days of the building’s life. In here we operated the ‘Magic Faraway Tree‘, which was devoted to children’s fantasy themed parties. There was a Forest Room for faeries and wizards, an Undersea Room for mermaids and boys, and the Wild West Room for Pocahontas and friends.
Each of these rooms was decorated extensively to the individual theme. The Forest Room was the most loved by the children. With two huge trees standing as majestic guards at the stairway entrance to the Magic Faraway Tree, the children were delighted as they entered the Forest Room. It was completely covered in synthetic grass, on floor, walls and ceiling. A great many branches created a dark and protective canopy under which the children sat for their parties. In the far corner was a cane peacock chair, being the Faerie Throne. Once inside the room, the children entered another realm. It was a wonderfully popular place for them to hold their birthday parties.
As an enthusiastic member of the Winterfest Committee and the Warburton Advancement League, I was keen to see the small township of Warburton develop into a more thriving tourism area. My focus in all I did in my business adhered to that end. (Sadly, Winterfest is no more.)
I had taken the building on in a very derelict state. Although I was a tenant and not the owner of the freehold, I had an excellent landlord who was keen to see his building improved. As such we together had negotiated a very good arrangement that suited us both. In return for me doing major improvements to his building, he offered me a very affordable rental as compensation. Accordingly, I had taken on a tenancy in excess of 10 years, with ongoing options for extending this term. In other words, as a result, I was in for the long haul!
Yarra River and Surrounding Area
The property was a great size that allowed for many facets, and I was keenly developing them all. Initially I rented the lower residence to a domestic tenant whilst I concentrated on the upper level. As the business grew in popularity, I was ready to expand into that area with the business.
At the rear of the building there was a ramshackle structure that had once been an old wood-fired bakehouse. The original oven was still in place, but the rest of the building was in need of massive repair. My goal was to revamp this old bakery and open it up as an eatery. In so doing, I also intended to turn the focus of the building around to face the river.
Warburton Walking Tracks
The highway running through Warburton is adjacent to the Yarra River, and over the last few years prior to me opening Nature’s Wonderland, the Warburton Bridges and River Walk Track were opened. My intention was to encourage all businesses to capitalise on the beauty of the area behind the shops, and as such, this was a major topic for the Advancement League.
The land behind my gallery was large, and was just a dreadfully overgrown area filled with scrub, weeds and fallen trees. I spent considerable time and money clearing and levelling this area. This was all with the view of using it as an enhancement to the Old Bakery, as I termed the ramshackle building. I had a friend, who was also a local woodworker, make me some fabulous rustic timber tables and benches, which would eventually be outdoor seating for the Old Bakery.
The Yarra River at this point ran clear and clean. As a result, it was a very wonderful place and the beauty of the landscape and the call of nature as it enveloped all who took the time to become a part of it, gave off amazing energy, making it such a pleasurable way to live.
Structuring Life around Business
Being a single mother with 4 young children, I had some obstacles to get over. One of which was how to successfully spend time in running my business without detrimentally interfering with my children’s upbringing and welfare. My mother came to the rescue here, willingly coming to our house to care for my children for half of each week. I paid a Nanny for the other half. This meant that the kids could remain in their own familiar home, causing minimal disruption for them. This I found to be fabulously beneficial.
My kids were aged 1 through to 8, so consequently the baby in particular needed lots of warm care and attention. I was breast-feeding her, I needed to come home to feed her during the day. With the arrangements I had set into place I was able to do so with little disruption to my business. I structured the workshops to coincide with a suitable feeding time. The instructors were able to man the fort in my absence.
Let’s start at the very beginning – always a great place to start.
Sadly though, the Universe had plans for us all – plans that caused us incredible hardship 🙁