Bill and Janne Shead have lived and worked on Lord Howe Island for 30 years, making this island paradise not only their home but an enclave of tranquillity and rest for the fortunate few. This is the history of their dream. Their fantasy lived. This is their story.
It was 1987 and we Sheads, all five of us, myself, Janne, and the three girls Emma, Jolin and Kim, were living in Chatswood on Sydney’s North Shore.
Our most exciting recreation involved sailing to Lord Howe Island 400 nautical miles northeast of Sydney in the Tasman Sea.
There we would moor our small sloop “Pursang” in the Island’s Lagoon for weeks at a time whilst we enjoyed the Island’s fabled beauty and lived off fish we caught ourselves and cooked on open fires at North Bay, a short distance by dinghy from our mooring.
We hiked, fished, swam and snorkelled, climbed mountains, barbecued our food and just relaxed for weeks at a time and never wanted to leave.
Meanwhile, back in Sydney, whilst recovering from a yachties night of excess we spotted an advertisement for a business on Lord Howe Island.
Janne and I jumped on a light plane and flew over to have a look.
The location was superb, on Old Settlement Beach amongst a forest of Kentia Palms and Lord Howe Banyan Trees, although the place itself, the buildings and amenities was no more than a ruins, partially habitable, with a partly demolished house as owner’s residence and six shambolic huts providing income of sorts.
Without thought of a business plan or any research into what problems there were living and running a business in such a remote location with school age children, we entered into a Contract for Sale to purchase 2 1/2 acres on Lord Howe Island and on 20 March 1988 moved into the ruins, all five of us plus Nana and dog.
Having thus abandoned our comfortable life in a Federation house in Chatswood, a real estate business and our friends and social life, we entered a life without television, without friends or the comforts to which we had grown accustomed, with a prodigious amount of work and learning ahead of us getting our new life together.
We were to live in the partially demolished house until we finished the partially built building which had lain neglected for five years and become the habitat of birds and every other homeless creature on the Island.
Our friends thought we had gone stark staring mad.
Regardless, we set about completing the partially built structure intended as the new house but which we saw as the building to house a restaurant, staff accommodation, office and workshop. We demolished the old house and settled into the staff accommodation.
We were going to construct the first cafe on the Island with the first coffee machine. We were going to grow foods hydroponically, treat our waste water so that we could use it to irrigate our gardens and generally set up systems that were ecologically and environmentally sound.
We were to build staff accommodation without which we would have no staff.
We had started with no reliable water supply and a very basic waste water system and we had to fix this.
Within two years we had learnt to fish these amazing waters, we had completed the “house” in which we had built the Island’s first cafe equipped with the first coffee machine, established a reliable and clean water supply and established a waste water system.
We had somewhere to live and accommodation and services for which people would pay so they could visit and enjoy the Island.
After 31 years on the Island we have on offer to our guests not only excellent accommodation but also a successful restaurant and a spa in a yurt under the Banyan Trees in a forest of Kentia Palms and Banyan Trees all set up in the most ecologically sensitive manner that enables Arajilla to provide high quality hospitality services without compromise.
The slow and gradual progress of this project has enabled us to adapt to changes as they became apparent to us through the experience of living in this remote place and running and improving the business.
The gradual progress allowed us to fund works though earnings.
The Island with its limitation on numbers, low site coverage, limitation on heights of buildings and other controls maintains its beauty and exclusivity, becoming a rarity in this age of rapid change and disregard for history.
I hope you make it here one day.
The site of the proposed café with rope attached 1987.
“The image above of the building with rope holding the roof on was taken by me when we first saw Trader Nick’s as it was then known. The room was originally intended as the living room of the proposed new house and as soon as we saw it we had it as the café, the first on Lord Howe Island. The room had been equipped with a fire place and chimney and had been built by a special fire place engineer who we were told by Hans, the vendor, that he had been specially flown in from somewhere in Germany to build it. We smashed up the fireplace and chimney and used the rubble as road base for the driveway which we paved in about 1990. I don’t know what Hans was proposing to use as firewood in his grand fireplace because there isn’t much of that on Lord Howe Island.” – Bill
‘Ze Palace’ and ‘Ze Doomp’.
“This ‘clean up’ image shows the partly demolished house on the right jammed up against the partly demolished house on the left. We completely demolished the old house (described by Hans as “ze doomp” whereas the new building was described by him as “ze palace”). The side of the partly built house blew off in a storm a few days after this picture was taken.” – Bill