Les Murphy has a long history on the Mid-North Coast. From starting and running cafes to the vice president of the Port Macquarie Sharks. We catch up with Les to see what he is up to these days.
> Les, you were born in Port Macquarie, what was it like back when you were a child?
Well that was around 50 years ago, I’m 55 now and back then Port Macquarie was just a sleepy little town.
The river end of Clarence Street was a wharf area where the fishing trawlers would come in. The present day Tradewinds building that hosts Signatures and Cafe Rio etc was owned by the Radleys which is where his house was. There was a Fish Shop on the corner where the Cedro Cafe is now.
Between Clarence Street and Short Street where Coles and the Palm Court are was a swamp flat, with a long bridge that went from the Old RSL Club in Short Street, over to the present day Country Comfort. It was a reclaimed by a gentleman called Peter Vaglas who pumped tonnes of sand into this end of town, he basically built the bottom end of Port Macquarie.
There weren’t too many tarred roads or curb and gutter in town and the outer lying area’s were all farms, especially out near Tacking Point were all cattle farms.
Obviously it has all been developed now, but back then it was virtually scrub land.
> Is it true you’re Port’s longest serving alter boy?
That’s what all my mates say, so it’s probably true. I went to the Catholic School on the Hill at Hay Street and was an Alter boy for 12 or 13 years, I’m not sure how long exactly. I was the school goafer, I used to do all the odd jobs and it got me out of a lot of school. We used to get milk deliveries in the morning, back then it was strawberry and chocolate milk in the glass bottles with foil lids, so I got out of school early to go help with that. I was in charge of ringing the church bell everyday which I did my entire school life, the bell was also the church bell which we rang at 12 noon everyday. I was in charge of chopping wood for the nuns too, which got me out of class again. I ended up with a few off siders to help me out, so I was left as supervisor, which was amusing.
We didn’t get a lot of sporting days back then because we didn’t have any sporting fields as such. There wasn’t much room left up on the hill with the Church, Convent and School house so we used to play foot ball and cricket on bitumen out the front. As soon as the bell rang we would run out the front and be playing some sort of football on the road.
> You and your wife are known for creating a lot of the cafes in the area. Which ones have you been involved in or started up?
Well from the beginning, my wife had just left hairdressing, she had 5 salons around the area. There were ones at Mid Pacific, Port Pacific, Settlement City, Kempsey and in Wauchope. It was starting to take its toll on her hands so she decided it was time for a change.
I was working at Oxley County Council at the time and the first one we started was Mrs Murphy’s Coffee Shop in the Colonial Arcade. Then we opened Salad Oasis at Settlement City, we then ventured on and started a catering company which did private functions.
After that we came back to this end of town and started Cafe Rio, which led into purchasing Signatures after Guccis wine bar closed up. We thought it wasn’t a good idea to have an empty shop next to us when we were drawing in people to our shop. That’s when we started Signatures Bar with Paul Douglas and our Son Kristian. We later sold it back to the original partner Paul and moved down the Golf Club and started the Caddy Shack Cafe. Our next move was onto Lake Cathie to the Tavern where we opened Middle Rock Bistro.
We came back to Clarence Sreet later and took over Dolphins to Start Bayview on Clarence. We open it with Margaret who is Kerran’s partner. Now after selling Bayview on Clarence Kerran and Margaret went on to Bonny Hills, which is where they still are and run themselves. I went back to Coles for a while but moved onto Functions Afloat. These days I’m back at Signatures where it all began, helping Renae out as Manager and Licensee.
>You have a long history of sport in town, tell us about your involvement ?
I started off involved with the Saturday Football where I was secretary of the Macquarie Hotel side for 11 years. After that I ventured into Port Macquarie Sharks who I have been with for 28 years, 19 of those as Secretary. I am still there and currently Vice President.
I have been involved with touch football as well, I was secretary for about 12 years and helped bring the State Cup to Port Macquarie with some other locals and it is still here. I am a life member of both the Football Club and Touch Association, I’m still involved with the football club which my son Kristian plays for. Its a great club which I hold a lot of fond memories of; I made a lot friends through the club too.
When I look back at it it’s hard to pick a favourite moment, even though I didn’t play a lot of Football it was great to see the Port Macquarie side beat Wauchope (who were undefeated) in the 1991 Grand Final at Westport Park. It was the best ground on the Mid North Coast but unfortunately we were forced to relocate. We had a very good player playing for us that year called Jared McKracken who was sent off in the Grand Final in the first 15 minutes, so we played the rest of the game one man down. I think we ended up beating them seven or nine to two, it was definitely one of the best games of rugby league I have ever seen. I still have it on video and watch it often. We painted the town red that week, it was a huge celebration and most likely one of the biggest Port Macquarie has seen.
> What are some of the bigger changes you have seen over the years in the Hastings region?
Development is obviously a big change and there are a lot of eateries around town now. Another change is the removal of a lot of hotels and motels in the area and the introduction of apartment buildings. You drive from Clarence Street up to the headland and along William Street now and there are high rise buildings going up everywhere, the old post office is gone and replaced by high rise which I think is a real shame. I believe we have replaced too much of the hotel style accommodation with the apartments and it has spoiled the town. The apartments are taking on the smaller hotels who can’t compete with the boutique style apartments. We have lost the family appeal now that we don’t have Peppermint Park, King Fisher Park and Fantasy Glades. We don’t have any family attractions. I love the idea of the Council moving the pool from Gordon Street and putting in a Wet and Wild type theme park, they shouldn’t even think about it, just do it. What better way to get people to Port Macquarie?
> What has kept you in the area so long?
I did move to Sydney for about 6 months and I hated it; I was 300 yards from the casino and couldn’t stand it. There was always an opportunity here for me and my wife, she is a very good business women and Port Macquarie in general is just a great place. We are hoping to get away and travel round Australia some time in the next few years though. I have been to the Gold Coast, Cairns and Melbounre but have never been any further inland than Walcha. I have never seen out west, I’d like to go our there and have a look and then travel down to South Australia. We will get ourselves some sort of motorised accommodation and just take off. Between us we have a lot of skills, myself as a barman, licensee and deck hand and Kerran as Hairdresser and a short cook, so we’ll pick up work as we go to make some money and keep travelling.
> Thanks for your time Les.