Even working in the Sydney Opera House will not give young trainees the same raft of opportunities, outlook and experiences that come with Outback Hospitality’s Big Red Truck, writes Col Jackson.
IT WAS September 2013 when I was first introduced to the Outback Hospitality Trade Training Centre, a complete restaurant enclosed within a B-Double truck that I have since happened upon in many isolated yet starkly picturesque locations.
And it was only in September this year that the catering facility was set-up in Bladensberg National Park, some 15km from Winton, for the re-enactment of the Australian Light Horse Charge at Beersheba and incorporating dinner under the Southern Cross as part of the Sunset Extravaganza Charity Dinner — one of the primary events of the biennial Winton Outback Festival.
After three years in the planning and development stages through to its construction, the Federal Government-funded leviathan rolled into the Longreach State High School in July 2011. The recognition ceremony and official opening was performed by Senator John Hogg (ALP) on February 21, 2012.
Ostensibly, the prime purpose of the mobile kitchen facility is to provide training for students at five schools in the Central West — Blackall, Barcaldine, Aramac and Winton State Schools and Longreach State High School, the lead school.
Training is provided in Certificates I, II and III in Hospitality. Other certificates include short courses in barista and, upon request, responsible service of alcohol.
While trade training centres across Australia are housed in bricks and mortar, the ‘big red truck’ is unique in that it is incorporated into a prime mover and B-Double truck — and can go virtually anywhere — with a sound weather report.
The ‘A’ portion of the trailer comprises small generator, a walk-in cold room and storage, while the ‘B’ section contains a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. The truck comes equipped with enough crockery, cutlery, table and chairs to cater for 300 people over three courses.
For catering situations requiring extra power, a separate generator on wheels is available and towed by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The catering outfit has been used for numerous community events across the outback — festivals, conferences and weddings, often in isolated areas.
The teacher-in-charge of the Outback Hospitality Training Centre since its inception, Tanya Hamilton, leaves Longreach at the end of this school year to take-up a new position in vocational education in Stanthorpe. A teacher from Isis State High School will next year join the Outback Hospitality trade training team.
Its new teacher-in-charge, Katie Frize, says she is “very lucky to have the job she has.”
One of her first major events was the Sunset Extravaganza Charity Dinner at Winton. The next day it was loaded and driven to the Longreach Pastoral College for its 50th anniversary celebrations.
And she was very proud of the overall effort: “At Bladesberg we served 280 meals in 35 minutes, and at the main dinner at the Pastoral College, we served 823 meals in one hour three minutes,” she said.
While the food preparation is undertaken by a variety of outside caterers, table service is performed by hospitality students from grades 10, 11 and 12 at the five Central West schools involved in the program.
And there are the natural obstacles to be encountered when catering for a variety of functions hundreds of kilometres apart that meld into each other.
While the Marmaladies of Blackall use the big red truck often, and catered the Sunset Extravaganza Charity Dinner, another group took-over the kitchen when it arrived at the Pastoral College the next day.
Yet, the Marmaladies had a wedding the following night in Charleville, and after cleaning the van and a few hours sleep, they set-out in the early morning to return to Blackall to reload. As are the extensive wildlife hazards in rural Australia, three of their cars collided with kangaroos — one in the main street of Barcaldine.
Katie Frize was working in Mackay when she decided she wanted a ‘rural’ change, and applied for ‘Regional Queensland.”
Then came some serious phone calls from the Education Department asking “do you know what ‘regional’ means — what are you looking for?” After all, Queensland is a big state — and predominantly regional.
Now ensconced in Longreach and extremely happy in her new role, Katie has earned the nomenclature of “the red truck sheila.”
Her qualifications include a Bachelor in Vocational Education and Training, Bachelor in Further Education, Diploma in Hospitality Management, and Certificate 4 in Training and Assessment. She hopes to one day to complete her Masters.
She talks of her new charges: “This year 43 students completed Certificate II in Hospitality, with only two failing to complete.
“The students’ final sign-off in the Certificate means they must cater and serve for a large event.
“In Blackall this year, the nine students prepared and served three courses for the New South Wales Variety Bash for 280 people; the final sign-off for the Winton crew of six students was the Bush Bash Rally in Aramac, again three courses for 240 people; and the Barcaldine crew’s final sign-off was the Year 12 formal for 260 guests.
“Bladensberg was an incredible experience,” she added. “There were five Year 9 students who had only one day’s experience in the truck; three boys were in their first year of training, while the other two had already achieved Certificate II.
“The course involves 12 service periods over two years, and can include school holidays.”
Katie said she had worked closely with Winton Festival co-ordinator, Robyn Stephens, who she describes as “having an amazing commitment — she is a role model.”
She told how her students assembled at the Winton High School prior to the Spectacular — “the Marmaladies cooked, the kids rose to the occasion — and yet Robyn had considered getting outsiders to do the job.”
“The rewards are 10-fold,” says Katie.
“I have been teaching for 17 years, yet the accolades from the students were overwhelming.
“It’s the first time I have experienced such appreciation.”
And she added: “I will take any opportunity to incorporate my students into any catering event from the big red truck.”
Later this week, Katie will take her big red truck to the small community of Aramac (population 300) where she will set-up and operate the hospitality unit from the local school grounds for a week.
“It will be a combined school visit, open house and skills night across the week,” she said.
On Thursday night, Katie will provide a three course dinner, with the assistance and input of students from grades 7 to 10 who are interested in undertaking the course in future years.
“On Monday night it’s open house,” she says, “where I will teach the locals how to make healthy and easy food.
“For $10 per participant, they will learn how to make fresh pasta and pizza that they can then take home.
“They will probably be able to feed their individual families for a couple of days,” Katie quipped.