Rob felt the fear of working on a Russian ice-breaker, skiing to the north pole, and running his own business. He did it anyway.
Hi Rob, you’ve managed to squeeze a lot into your 35 years on the planet. How would you describe your career to this point?
On the one hand, my career has been all over the shop. But then I’ve always done the same sort of thing. It’s always around tourism and showing people the natural environment.
Tell us about your first job.
For a short while in 2003, I was working part-time for a fruit and veg supplier in Hobart. I was packing veggies. But then my career took an unexpected twist.
OK, sounds intriguing. What happened?
Well, a Russian icebreaker ship on its way to Antarctica was due for a stopover in Hobart for supplies. One of their waiters from the ship restaurant got sick and they needed to find a replacement. The only person the crew knew in Tasmania was the guy who supplied them fresh fruit and veggies. So they sent an email to my boss saying they’re stuck, and do you know anyone who might be suitable.
So you put your hand up for the job?
Actually, the fruit and veg manager did on my behalf. He replied and said we’ve got a bloke for you, he’s 25, he speaks four languages, and he’s a very experienced waiter. Of course, none of this was true. I’d never waited a table in my life, I was 18, I spoke English and Spanish – but what were they going to do. Once we got out to sea they couldn’t turn the ship around!
What made you decide to do that?
It sounded like a great adventure, and it was too good to pass up. I actually ended up working with the company for around five years. I did over 30 voyages to the Antarctic and 6 to the Arctic, and taking tourists to the poles. I had a variety of roles. I was a waiter, a restaurant manager, and then an assistant expedition leader. So I was responsible for the safety, logistics and coordination of up to 70 passengers, and 10 staff. These were all skills I learned along the way.
Were you always attracted to being outdoors?
Yeah, I always loved bushwalking and kayaking as a kid growing up in Tasmania. Antarctica is incredible. There’s so much wildlife and there are no land predators. So the wildlife is not scared of you. It’s bizarre but you’ll go ashore and there’ll’ be 500,000 penguins and they don’t care that you’re there. Instead, they walk over you.
What made you decide to pull the pin?
Well, I’d been doing it for around 7 years. It seemed like the people who had made a career out of it had no roots to anywhere. I’ve always loved Tasmania, and I felt that if I spent too long away from the place it might be too hard to reconnect. But it opened my eyes to tourism as a career path.
How did you manage to do a Uni Degree while working on the ship?
There’s quite a bit of downtime. The summer season always starts before exams so I did exams on the ship in Antarctica. I finished up with a Bachelor in Tourism majoring in Marketing which I did through the University of Tasmania.
In 2009, you skied to the North Pole. What was that all about?
I was looking for an extreme adventure. So I flew into Norway, landed at an ice camp, and then with a few others we skied about 140ks to the north pole. It was amazing. It’s like skiing across pancakes of ice put together. So you pitch a tent in the middle of the night and you might have to move it because the ice was breaking up. I also did it with a broken wrist that happened the night before we left, and I didn’t have time to put a cast on.
What made you decide to start up the business, Bruny Island Long Weekend?
Well, I always knew I would wind up running my own business – it was a matter of finding the right opportunity. As it happened, I was actually working as a guide on a day tour of the island for another tourism operator. It seemed like such a missed opportunity to spend only one day on Bruny when there’s so much to see. So I started Bruny Island Long Weekend in January 2013. It’s pitched as high-end camping or ‘glamping’ for small groups. So it’s more of a walking tour, nothing too strenuous. There’s a bit of interesting flora and fauna stuff thrown in. There’s some history of the island, but local produce is also a big focus.
Why did you decide to get other people involved in your business?
I sold part of the business to the Tasmanian Walking Company a few years ago. That was my idea. There’s only so many opportunities if you wanted to take the next step. Plus it’s a bit lonely running your own business – when you’re having to make all the decisions on your own, it’s hard. So it’s nice to have the support of a team who act as a sounding board. I’m proud that it’s become recognised as one of the great walks of Tasmania.
What impact has Covid had on your business?
It’s been hard. We lost the last six weeks of the season this year. Before Covid, 80% of our customers came from the mainland, 15% from overseas, and 5% local. But that’s all changed. Now it’s all local, and we’ve cut back our tours a lot. We’re hoping that ‘word of mouth’ will help increase the number of Tasmanians who do the tour in the future. But we’re also discounting our tours at the moment.
You’re also involved in other businesses. What are they?
Most of my time is still spent on Bruny Island Long Weekend. But I also help my partner deliver vegetable seedlings around Hobart. The business name is ‘Veggie Garden Seeds’, and it’s more of an online business. I also do a bit of marketing using my knowledge of how Google Ad words work. This helps businesses to have a more effective online presence.