OUTBACK HOSPITALITY’S big red truck comes with its own driver, teaching staff, and is manned by students who have two years to complete their Certificates in Hospitality. And it is readily available to providors requiring the necessary facilities to cater for large gatherings up to 300 guests across its 500 square kilometre operating area.
Some recent events where its versatility has come to the fore were the Sunset Extravaganza Charity Dinner in Bladensberg National Park (as part of the Winton Outback Festival), the fiftieth anniversary of the Longreach Pastoral College, and the Channel Country Ladies Day, where women from properties across the far north-west of Queensland travelled many hundred of kilometres to focus on themselves for a few days.
Due to the distances to be travelled, and the lack of facilities in the very small communities through the Outback, the big red truck certainly proves its worth. It has become central to the outback coming together.
A special guest at the Channel Country Ladies Day was former Queensland Governor and 25th Governor-General of Australia, Dame Quentin Brice. The event was held in the Jundah Showgrounds, and the women were accommodated in tents or simply threw their swags on the ground.
As one lady told afterwards, there was laughter, there were tears and hugs, there were artists and entertainment and market stalls, plus an auction that raised over $3,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. And there were the ‘African drum sessions’ which were popular — yet no-one will say whether it was the percussion that was popular or to let-off steam by belting the living daylights out of something.
One of the catering groups to make regular use of the big red truck is the Marmaladies of Blackall, who catered for the Winton Outback Festival’s spectacular event to celebrate the centenary of the Charge of Beersheba by the Australian Light Horse.
Blackall is a small western town 1,000kms from Brisbane with a population of about 1,500 residents, yet in the past five years, the Marmaladies have earned a reputation for professional and reliable catering.
After they had finished the Winton event and had packed-up the big red truck ready for its next catering event over two days at the Longreach Pastoral College by a Toowoomba group, the Marmaladies returned to Blackall to reload and then travel to Charleville to cater a wedding.
With a few hours’ sleep behind them, and driving into the early morning, three of their cars hit kangaroos — one in the main street of Barcaldine.
Marmaladies of Blackall was the idea of three local women — Mardi, Jo and Emma — who started-out in 2012. They have many requests to cater for bigger jobs on distant properties — and that is where the big red truck comes in handy — especially that it is fully equipped.
In the ensuing period, one of the women dropped-out due to working commitments, and a husband (aka Hinzy) was enlisted.
All provisions are sourced from the local area (across the Central West), and because Jo is married to Butch, one of three brothers running the local butchery, all meat is sourced in Blackall.
“All our steaks are cut to specification (portion-controlled),” says Mardi. “The boys pretend we are demanding and give them a hard time — but without them we couldn’t do the job that is expected of us.
“For the Winton event alone, we required a ridiculous amount of eye fillet, again portion-controlled.”
Mardi added that they are currently sourcing five large hams and 400 lamb cutlets for a big event.
She praised the local IGA in Blackall, who have never failed to deliver on their weird and wonderful requests, and another greengrocer, Orlando Orchards (Longreach and Winton) that provided the best produce for the Winton Sunset Extravaganza Charity Dinner.
There are a few bakeries across the region that have designed specific rolls and buns for functions that are named after Marmaladies now.
And Allwild Seafood deliver deck-to-door the finest wild-caught seafood that you are ever likely to taste. “Their stock is second-to-none,” says Mardi, “and Marmaladies use no-one else when it comes to seafood.
“The table dressers travelled from Mackay,” she added.
Again she referenced the Winton event where they used disposable bamboo ‘boats’ to serve the entrees — “they are upcycled, recycled, bio-degradable and disposable.
“There are always the unseen problems that arise, but we aim to rectify things before people notice — most times no-one ever knows what has occurred in the background!
As incoming Head of Hospitality at Longreach High School, Katie Frize, noted: “At Bladesberg we served 280 meals in 35 minutes, and at the main dinner at the Pastoral College, 823 meals were served in one hour three minutes. And the table service was performed by hospitality students from grades 10, 11 and 12 at the five Central West schools involved in the program.
Longreach State High School is the Registered Training Organisation (RTO) responsible for hosting the Outback Hospitality Trade Training Centre as a shared mobile resource. The truck, with Longreach High’s hospitality teacher on board, travels between the five Central-West schools, spending up to two weeks per term at each school, training up to 20 senior school students at a time in Certificates I and II in Hospitality.
According to the Principal of the Longreach State High School, Brendan Krueger, providing senior students in remote areas of central-west Queensland with the same education opportunities as their city cousins was the driving force behind the Outback College of Hospitality Trade Training Centre (the Centre) established by a cluster of Outback high schools in 2012.
In a collaboration between five remote central west schools — Longreach State High School, Winton State School, Barcaldine Prep-12 State School, Blackall State School and Aramac State School — the Centre provides senior students with training and real world experience in hospitality through its unique, mobile venue known throughout the region as ‘the big red truck’.
“Five years on, the success of the initiative earned it the title of Regional Winner and State Finalist in the QSuper-sponsored Senior Years category of the Department of Education and Training’s 2017 Showcase for Excellence in Schools,” Mr Krueger said prior to the recent awards ceremony in Brisbane where the QSuper Showcase Award for Excellence in the Senior Years was presented to the Outback College of Hospitality Trade Training Centre.
A driving force for change
Mr Krueger said that in 2011, the cluster of central-west schools, spread across approximately 500 square kilometres, were facing the same problem — a decline in Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) attainment, combined with the reality of many students leaving the region for the cities to do further education and training or to search for employment.
“Meanwhile, the tourism and hospitality employers in the region were also facing their own issue with not enough young people with training or experience to fill their available positions.”
Mr Krueger said the idea for ‘the big red truck’ grew from there.
“On the one hand, we had local businesses that needed hospitality staff. They needed to retain the kids from the local area, as it is obviously hard to attract young people from the Coast to a remote town,” he said.
“On the other hand, we had five schools who saw an opportunity to provide post-schooling employment options through hospitality but none of us had access to commercial-grade training kitchens.”
And so ‘the big red truck’ was born — a $1.6 million B-Double — purpose-built to include a commercial kitchen, marquee and seating to cater for up to 300 people — while providing a mobile training solution and catering venue in one.
“In 2011, the QCE attainment for the cluster schools was just 85.7 per cent,” Mr Krueger said. “While the statistic was above state and regional completion, it still represented more than 14 per cent of the cohort not achieving.
“Fast forward to 2017,” he said, “and since the big red truck first hit the road five years ago, the cluster of schools had achieved a 15 per cent increase in QCE attainment and had been at 100 per cent completion across all five schools for the last two years.
“The delivery of these courses is highly valued by the senior students across all five schools. We now have more than 57 per cent uptake as a subject offering from our senior students.
“By training in the truck and getting hands-on experience by catering community functions, the students are making connections with future employers. A lot of the students pick up part-time work as a result of the exposure, and around 25 per cent will pick up a school-based traineeship or apprenticeship.
“We have also seen a growth in post-employment opportunities year-on-year with 35 of the 2015 graduates going on to employment.”
Mr Krueger said in small communities, the relationships between the school and community was pivotal.
“By working with local businesses to identify skill shortages and hiring the venue out for community events, it had strengthened community partnerships and provided more pathways for the students.
“In a global sense, it is important for students in a remote community to be given these opportunities so they have the same opportunities as their coastal cousins. They should not be disadvantaged and still have the same access to quality learning facilities and quality training and nationally-recognised qualifications,” he said.
“At the moment, the ability to be able to turn-out kids with employable skills in the tourism industry is vital. We are in the midst of one of the worst droughts we have ever had and tourism is the industry that is propping-up the outback. This is an industry where there are jobs available for our local kids.
“The fact that we are able to provide a viable pathway for our students with actual employable skills and employment options is a positive for the community, for the parents, the students and everyone.”