Kim Dowling is more than just a publican’s daughter – a lot more.
Virtually born into the industry, Kim’s parents own the Goonellabah Tavern and have always tried to draw Kim and her brother into the family business. But it was a life that didn’t hold much appeal for Kim in her early adulthood, her life taking her to the other side of the country to become a personal trainer and Health Club owner in Perth. But 14 years out west failed to captivate her and, with itchy feet and a need for change, she succumbed to a tour of duty behind the bar.
“I told my dad, ‘I’ll put my feet back in the water, let me loose with events and rebranding the Tav and see how I like it”, she recalls of her return to pulling pints. “‘If I like it, we’ll go into business and buy another pub.'” Thankfully for us, Kim got the bug and, despite looking to the major cities for an expansion venture, settled instead on the country life, investing in the Ocean Shores Tavern with her brother and a business partner.
But the tired old tavern was far from a sparkling new toy, more what they in the real estate game would call a fixer-upper. Big plans mounted, expectations were held at bay and, while Kim admits the local council were incredibly helpful, time and applications dragged on and on, hindering any great ideas of redevelopment. But, in the latter half of last year, the final ‘i’ was dotted, the last ‘t’ crossed and the red tape was cut.
“The council were really good, the process just took a long time. For two years I was here, trying to develop community events, but getting nothing because the building was intimidating, there was nowhere for families to feel comfortable, so we were just hanging on for the renno to come through.”
Kim’s experience has armed her with a host of good ideas, from live music to raffles, bingo nights to family fundraisers, but these were not enough. The dark, gloomy interior and a long-established, although entirely unjustified, dubious reputation kept the punters at bay. But the passion of the new owners could not be quashed and the long-awaited face-lift of the Ocean Shores Tavern has finally allowed them to expand their wings and awaken the venue’s dormant potential.
Kim’s perspective, in the eyes of many publicans, is somewhat skewed from the norm. She isn’t interested in cramming people in for cheap grog or filling the place with the grating melodies and gaudy lights of pokie machines. The dream that has carried her, through planning and building sites, pealing paint and two long years is providing a family-friendly, welcoming, entertaining venue for the whole community to enjoy.
“I love to do charity events. We had a Girls Night In this year (in aid of the Pink Ribbon Foundation). We had about 60 or 70 girls come for the girls-only event and raised over $1,500. Then we had Bogan Bingo a month later for the boys – that was in aid of the Movember men’s health campaign. That was great! It was so funny! I was so thrilled that those events happened and were so successful because, for two years, before the renno, we were still doing those things, but they just weren’t working.
“I had a woman approach me recently who said, ‘Kim, I want to cut my hair to raise funds for the pet’s shelter in Billinudgel – can I do it here?’ And, of course, I said yes. She cut her hair on the deck here, the Echo came and photographed her…that’s really important to me, to have a space where people can come and do things like that.”
The new-look tavern is spectacular. The light, airy interior is surrounded by large, folding windows and louvered walls, bringing the outside in, the obligatory pokies have been hidden away discretely, inconspicuous yet comfortable, a partially enclosed veranda boasts beautifully upcycled pallet tables and a lush wall of living succulents, the children’s room is a wonderland of faux grass flooring and furniture, a bank of computer consoles and host of board games at the occupants’ disposal and, unlike its worn out, weathered and characterless former manifestation, the new look is warm and welcoming and friendly.
Where the tavern in it’s previous guise had completely defeated any attempt by Kim and her business partners to develop theme nights, charity events or community activities, the transformation has done completely the opposite. Finally, the fresh blood and passion that Kim brought to the business two years ago is able to flourish. but that fervour is not constricted to the four walls of the tavern.
“I can’t begin to tell you how many things we’ve sponsored,” Kim says, “from school events to sporting groups and fundraising. but it is the business network group that I started that is the primary vehicle for community work. I believe it’s really the responsibility of the tavern, of the country club and of the shopping centre to drive that.”
Financially, the local council has little capacity to help develop community schemes, so Kim feels it falling upon her shoulders to unite the community businesses in facilitating that growth. An Ocean Shores Chamber of Commerce is in the planning stages, as are numerous events to bring business owners and locals together. Fun runs, river paddles, creating cycle paths, public parks, board walks, beach and river access are just a handful of the ideas that have arisen from early brainstorming sessions, and more are always coming to mind.
Although Kim Berger is the proud owner of the Ocean Shores Tavern and her focus and energy are understandably tied into her own business, she sees it as a cornerstone of the community, a foundation from which to develop a stronger sense and expansion of the community and pours a huge amount of her time into the bettering of the town at large. Just as the tavern has now been developed into an asset to Ocean Shores, Kim is an asset to her community, a guiding light to a better future.