Out to Lunch with Janette Hyde

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She’s been at the centre of Port’s leisure and entertainment scene for more than four decades, helping too to stimulate the visitor numbers vital to our economy. Then there’s her volunteer work for social causes. Susie lunches with one of our legion of generous, unpaid, big-hearted activists.

For an outgoing person, Janette Hyde’s very self-effacing. It’s taken ages to get her to agree to join me for lunch and tell me a bit about what she does.

First, though, a taste of our lunch in the spiffing surrounds of The Mullet: chic new charcoal decor and china, a swish dining scenario indeed. We enjoy Hastings River oysters; seared scallops on corn-lemongrass puree with sweet potato crisp; grass-fed sirloin with wasabi-shitake butter and beans; creme caramel, black sesame gelato and brandy snap, fine wines and superb coffee. It’s a long way from Port’s premier restaurants of the 1970s and ’80s: Le Petit Escargot (fancy name!) and The John Oxley Restaurant. The two establishments were within the then RSL Club on Short Street, in the two-storey building north of the now Post Office location. When Janette worked there 40 years ago it was the heart of the town.

“I started at the club in 1977 as a waitress. I worked in the John Oxley – on Saturday nights we’d do 300 covers in two sittings, and filled in as maitre d’ at the French restaurant. Those times were probably the most joyous of my life,” she recalls. “It was just so interesting, always something happening. The club was the centre of the community: if it didn’t happen at the club it wasn’t happening!” It was a typical RSL club of the era, and “We also hosted lots of conferences and I moved on to that: started as functions coordinator, then functions manager, then marketing manager – I did a marketing diploma – and entertainment manager, so I had lots of interesting aspects to my job. I was moving up not through ambition, just because I loved what I was doing.”

Janette and husband Alan (below) came to live in Port in 1975 after her parents moved here. The two, both from outer suburban Sydney, were newlyweds, came to visit her family and, as Port Macquarie’s story so often goes, decided to move here themselves. Janette was in her late 20s and Alan early 30s and they bought a business, Port Macquarie Food Bar, on the corner of Horton and William Streets (where Snax now stands). “It was a deli; we did takeaway food and fresh chickens.” Supermarket BBQ chooks had yet to arrive on the scene “so when people came at Christmas we were inundated; there was nowhere else to get your charcoal chicken. Across the road, where the Thai restaurant is now, was an old two-storey wooden petrol garage, really quaint. Port Macquarie had such a country feeling. There were only 8000 people here; you knew everybody.”

The couple gave up the labour-intensive business and moved to employed work when they decided to start a family. Janette began casual shifts at the club and Alan to cook for Pepinos, “with beautiful wood-fired pizzas, in the Food for Less building”. Alan’s a brilliant chef, Janette whispers proudly, as an aside. And before long, that talent was put to work independently again. After their son Dion was born the couple once more ventured into business. They bought a boatshed, hiring boats and selling bait on the river near the Hibbard ferry. Janette continued working at the club, Dion often in the care of Janette’s parents … as The Boatshed evolved also as a restaurant.

“It didn’t start off that way but Alan was a self-taught cook, he’d worked in the Italian restaurant and thought he could make a go of it. We still opened seven days but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights we did dinners: he became famous for his calamari, seafood platters, oysters, and a bit of Italian flavour, spaghetti marinara.” Janette continued working at the club as well as at The Boatshed. “We ran that for three years and it was fun but then Alan had an accident and broke bones in his back. He recovered beautifully [after a dicey 12 months] but at the time we didn’t know what was going to happen. His family started coming up a lot from Sydney. Then his sister moved up, his brother moved up, his mother moved up and extended family. There’s a fair few of them now.” (At a family gathering at Easter it was found Janette and Alan were the first of 36 Hyde relatives now living in Port Macquarie.)

The pair sold The Boatshed (it later burned down) and Alan returned to employed work, ultimately spending 18 years with Jim Pearson Transport. Meanwhile, Janette’s involvement with the club continued to grow. Throughout the ’80s big name acts came to town. Harry Secombe, Dave Allen, Mental As Anything, Jimmy Barnes. “It was a fabulous time. Our great general manager, Keith Glover, was a visionary and developed things that have put Port on the map economically. There were no committees or anything like that in place, so he started the economic development board and convention planners group, different initiatives contributing to the town’s economic viability. There was the Super Skiffs Series, when the 18footers came and raced on the river. The boats’ sponsors had displays on Town Green and everyone watched the races.

“Keith was responsible for My Fair Lady, the musical, coming to town; it was a time when the town embraced lots of things. Stuart Wagstaff did five shows in the club auditorium; the shops dressed their windows, we had ‘my fair ladies’ dressed up in costumes with bustles, handing out red roses in the street, and a race meeting, like Ascot (a reference to the Ascot meeting in the musical).” Rio Week with Peter Allen followed; they painted Horton Street pink, people played maracas and, again, the whole community got involved.

Thanks to the stimulus of the RSL’s social mindset Janette’s immersion in the hospitality industry gradually expanded to a lifetime of activity in special events, tourist attractions and community development, continuing throughout subsequent years after the club moved premises to Settlement City in ’93, ultimately bought by Panthers. “I ended up as community relations manager because the club saw the need to integrate with the community: they allowed me to take part in tourism and other organisations because they felt we needed to be in touch with the community.” Hence her 28-year involvement with the NSW Touch State Cup: “The club was very supportive of the touch football association bringing the event to town.” These days, every December, the comp attracts some 6000 visitors, and led to the Junior Cup being held here every February, bringing crowds of 17,000 to the district, some visitors even accommodated in Kempsey and Taree.

She’s currently president of the Tourism Association, involved in the group for 32 years and at its head for the past eight. She’s on Panthers Advisory Committee (its board) and the Chamber of Commerce board. She serves on the Sallies’ Red Shield fund-raising committee and local Bravehearts committee. Alongside music aficionado Neil Porter she established the annual Beatles Festival “to stimulate tourism in the shoulder season”. But titles don’t truly tell the story of all that’s involved: I know wrangling the tourism group alone can be a time-consuming effort: planning networking nights and industry updates, securing catering, keeping operators PR-motivated, compiling a running events list for tourists’ info, chasing membership fees, liaising with the NSW government and council to promote tourism …  Last month she worked with our tourism ambassadors to set up a stall at Wauchope Showground for 2000 Ulysses [Motorcycle] Club visitors, steering them to local attractions and businesses. (Alan volunteers weekly at Lifeline. And greatly contributes as a power behind the throne. “We’re soul mates,” Janette affirms. The pair volunteered for Ironman and at the Koala Hospital when it was first formed and are fond of animals: Alan often rescued koalas when Rosendahl Reservoir was being built; Janette’s bred award-winning Papillons.)

She’s been acknowledged for an “outstanding contribution by an individual” in the North Coast Tourism awards; with the NSW RSL Gold Medal, the highest award for non-serving personnel, for her service; honoured with a NSW Touch Association award for 22-plus years of “dedication to the State Cup in Port Macquarie”; recognised as Port News Employee of the Year; and earned a Rotary Pride of Workmanship award, a Customer Care (PMHC) award for Excellence in Service to the Business Community, a Hastings Heroine award from the Businesswomen’s Network and life memberships of Panthers and the Chamber of Commerce. Summing all of those up: annually, the NSW Department of Primary Industries celebrates the work of “generous regional women who ensure the viability of important community groups”. Eight months ago they added Janette Hyde, JP, to the Honour Roll.

In 2011, after her 34 years with the club, Janette – and Alan, at Pearsons – retired. But the pair barely retired their interests. She occasionally toys with her gold charm bracelet, loaded with trinkets: “Each one means something special,” she says fondly: the original charm, a heart, from her son for Mother’s Day; then there’s an elephant from Thailand; a bure from Fiji; a sphinx from the Luxor, Las Vegas, among 30 in all. As well as her engagement and wedding rings she has another, from Panthers, for 30 years’ service, and wears all her jewellery all of the time: because she treasures it. Dangling from a gold necklace is a small golden orb, “J” embossed on one side, “70” on the other, a gift from Alan. Remarkably for someone who could easily be a decade younger, she happily reveals she turned 70 in April and, even more remarkably, declares: “I’m just so glad I made it!” It seems an odd comment, more appropriate to someone turning 100. But she explains she’s had chronic asthma since early infancy: “On my 50th birthday I cried all night, I was so happy I got there!” Her parents had feared she wouldn’t make 50 and she admits to some “hairy, rotten times”. So: she’s passionate about living. “You’ve got to live life to the full.”

In the year she turned 60 the couple embarked on “the trip of a lifetime” to seven countries in Europe and Asia. Turning 70 was “a miracle”, she considers. Yet now she manages her asthma better than ever with a number of resources she’s identified over the years (through, I gather, scary experiences.) Otherwise, and despite troublesome knees, little seems to impede this woman who continues to move at a frenetic pace: in years gone by, I learn, the couple worked two and sometimes three jobs (in Sydney, both worked nights at Pizza Hut; Janette has doubled up as a veterinary night nurse) and regularly put in 60-hour weeks.

The day after we meet she has three heavyweight meetings in her diary, starting at 6.30am, plus a medical appointment. On any given date she might study meeting agendas, create and type up agendas, write reports, attend a board meeting or official or press function, pen her column for Focus, rustle up a half dozen guest speakers for an event, chair a tourism meeting well into the night – or flip sausages at Bunnings to fund the Ditto (kids’ personal safety) Show in schools, help organise the town’s Christmas parade, thrash it out at the weekly Hibbard Sports trivia night  … and, last month, entertain a gang of friends at home for the Eurovision Song Contest grand final – with national cuisines, flags and a quiz. That’s if she and Alan aren’t travelling: to Perth, Margaret River, the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide and the Barossa, the Sunshine Coast to visit her brother and regularly to Sydney (her love of musicals and shows hasn’t abated), or enjoying picnics with family, grandchildren.

When I think there’s room for no more, she says as an aside: “From time to time if someone asks me to do something for a particular event I’m happy to get involved on a temporary basis.”

She wants to revive and implement a convention board: “We need to stimulate conferencing to our area; if we can get people here via a conference they’ll stay in accommodation, enjoy attractions and retail therapy, go to restaurants” and keep the economy bubbling along. “They might come back for a holiday or decide to move here and buy a business …”

Just like this one-woman decentralisation dynamo and her husband did 42 years ago.

Maybe she could also fit in lecturing on time management.

Susie Boswell

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