Pamela Hardgrave is certain that her business will never leave home. Or should that be homestead? As sixth-generation farmers, Doug and Pamela Hardgrave are the successful owners and operators of Lillydale Farmstay, a bed and breakfast situated on an authentic cattle property flanked by the foothills of South East Queensland.
The property is seeped in family history. In 1882, Doug’s grandfather settled in a slab hut at nearby Mount Lindsay. These original slabs now form part of the farmstay’s amenities block, preserving the rich rural history of the property.
Doug purchased Lillydale in 1969, transforming the once-dairy property into a beef cattle farm. But the effects of drought and falling cattle prices meant that the Hardgraves needed a new plan of attack. So in 2000, inspired by the breathtaking natural beauty of their surroundings, and after completing a Diploma of Management, Lillydale Farmstay was born.
Lillydale now exists as both a fully operational beef cattle farm with chickens, working dogs and a menagerie of baby animals, as well as a rural bed and breakfast retreat.
All hands on deck
Often taking a hands-on approach to their stay, guests are mostly young families or couples who help to bring the cattle in after horseriding trips and participate in nearly all aspects of farm life. This welcome help also extends to the general maintenance of the property, with many guests pitching in to feed the animals morning and night, and even fix fencing.
The business has since moved from strength to strength, including winning the 2006 and 2007 Queensland Tourism Awards. And this success is rooted firmly in hard work, a common characteristic needed to meet the challenges facing rural business.
“It’s wonderful to have the support of other farming neighbours, but it can be difficult out here,” says Pamela. “Distance is a major challenge due to time and the high cost of fuel. The nearest major food outlet is 50 kilometres away, there is no public transport and many of our overseas guests would prefer not to drive in a strange country.”
Despite these logistical challenges, Lillydale provides a service Pamela believes is second-to-none when it comes to accommodating the needs and preferences of their guests. This includes an exhausting rotation of international calls coming at all hours of the night, the provision of groceries for guests on arrival, romantic dinners for two, balloon flights, picnic lunches, babysitting facilities, animal feeding, dairy tours, quad bike rides, horse riding and bushwalking. With a jam-packed schedule, it’s a 24/7 job.
“The only way I can relax is to leave the farm for a weekend,” says Pamela. “I’m not very good at separating home and work life.”
Lillydale’s guests are the number one priority for the Hardgraves and given the outdoors and active nature of the business, safety is a prime concern.
“We have a lecture on arrival explaining the safety issues associated with the farm and how to avoid any problems,” explains Pamela. “Additionally, we have signs explaining difficulties at certain points of the property and we request that all our guests sign disclaimers stating that we have thoroughly explained these difficulties to them. We also had translation sheets made for our overseas guests to explain safety procedures.”
This thorough set of safety concerns means all Lillydale employees need to be up-to-date with occupational health and safety standards. The Hardgarves have worked closely with AnYi, a small food-safety service group that assists small businesses in meeting food safety legal requirements and Quality System Auditing, and have ensured Lillydale’s two trainees completed a work health and safety module as part of their on-the-job training.
With an emphasis placed on the physical dangers of the farmstay’s environment, a large part of the business’s success also lies in the implementation of risk management. The Hardgraves constantly assess and manage business dangers. Pamela explains that by monitoring and controlling the management of food preparation, by using an occupational health and safety management plan and by streaming resources through a strict maintenance plan, public safety concerns have been minimised.
“Public liability insurance is a must,” says Pamela. “We have more than $10 million in cover. The downside is that due to risks involved on a farmstay our premium is very high, but it’s important because I wouldn’t be able to renew our business license if I didn’t show proof of insurance cover.”
Although the initial decision to break into hospitality and tourism was made due to economic and environmental factors affecting the prosperity of Australian farmers, Pamela says the change of focus didn’t necessarily make Lillydale immune to those factors. Insurance against the drought is still required to protect business profitability – at a cost.
“We do find the premiums too expensive,” says Pamela. “As farmers, we take on these challenges as they occur. Thankfully, we live at the top of a hill so we are fairly safe from flooding and we understock our paddocks to prevent any problems during the drought.”
Another issue high on the Hardgrave radar is environmental awareness and sustainability. In 2009, the Hardgraves built an environmentally friendly two-bedroom cabin on Lillydale in order to begin establishing themselves as leaders in innovative sustainable practices.
The couple are passionate about the preservation of natural resources and encourage all their guests to follow simple practices, such as switching off lights when not in use, and promoting water conservation on the farmstay.
Guests are also encouraged to plant a tree during their stay on the property, to assist in the reduction of soil erosion and the regeneration of native species.
In November 2007, Lillydale was granted Advanced Ecotourism accreditation, which registers the business as promoting an experience of nature leading to greater understanding and appreciation, contributing to ongoing conservation and representing best practise for ecologically sustainable tourism.
Given the commitment to exploration and experience of Lillydale’s picturesque surroundings, it’s no wonder the business is at the forefront the flourishing ecotourism movement.
With such a gamut of responsibility and potential threats facing the business, the Hardgraves don’t find it difficult to stay positive.
“I love mixing with like-minded people,” says Pamela. “We hold regular staff meetings and brainstorming sessions, and we all attend networking functions. But most of all, we really listen to our guests.”
While Doug and Pamela come up with innovative ideas to keep business flowing in and customers happy, they are sure to run new concepts by all staff members, including their youngest daughter, Rebecca. It is an inclusive and family-oriented approach, with Rebecca actively involved in all facets of running the farmstay and no plans to move the business or history-rich property outside of the Hardgrave family.
“We will keep it in the family,” says Rebecca. “I hope to learn as much as I can from my parents, and one day take the reins myself.”