Not Ready to Retire, Noelene Starts a Chef Apprenticeship

At 75, Noelene has had some twists and turns in her working life that began in New Zealand where she started a career in law. She soon realised that working in property law and being stuck in an office all day was not for her and after a couple of years left the industry. About 23 years ago, after her divorce, Noelene decided to move to Australia. It is here she established her own business, the Australian Fruit Tea company.

Throughout this time while working in her business, in the back of Noelene’s mind was an enjoyable work experience in the tourism (motel) industry. Acquiring a taste for this through friends who owned a motel in New Zealand, managing the motel when the owners went on holidays, Noelene knew she really enjoyed this work. It allowed her variety and the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people along the way.

It was this experience that then led Noelene to become a general manager of a motel in Talkalvan, near Bundaberg.

“As you’re getting older, it’s nice to be working every day I believe. To be meeting people every day keeps you mentally well!

“I started cooking during Covid at the motel I was working at because we couldn’t get a chef and it just snowballed from there. I thought, well, I’m enjoying this and I am able to manage this, being a chef as well as being a general manager of the motel. I obviously have a great team around me, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it!

“I’m enjoying learning things that I haven’t done before like bread-making and pastry-making and those little things that I think will make a difference to my job here as general manager as we’ll be one of the few motels that will be able to serve up French pastries for breakfast! And if we ever do have a Covid situation again, we’ll be able to make our own bread.

“For the long term, I see it as a wonderful way to transition when I can’t do 16-hour days anymore. It’ll be fabulous to be able to just cook for four or five hours at night – that’s my long-term goal.”

As part of the Southern Cross Motel group, Noelene has a qualified chef overseeing her on-the-job training through her apprenticeship. The restaurant is open to guests of the motel as well as the general public. Noelene has introduced some of her own dishes to the menu which serves an array of food including salt and pepper calamari, chicken Maryland, creamy garlic prawns, steaks and regular specials including curries.

An inspiration for other women who may be transitioning in their careers later in life, Noelene says, “Have a go – you won’t be disappointed at all! To sit at home wondering what you are going to do next, I mean, there is only so much you can do isn’t there? I think having a goal and being able to fulfil it, there’s nothing to compare with that. Yes, I am 75 years old, but I certainly see at least another 15 years of work in me. I’m fit and healthy and I do invest heavily in my health to make sure that I am healthy. I love it! I get to go on leave every ten weeks, having ten days off. How nice is that? In those times I can spend that with my daughter and grandchildren and at other times I can hop on a flight and get away for ten days. It’s a lovely life – I wouldn’t change it for the world!”

Commercial cookery is considered a male dominated trade and, like other traditionally male-dominated industries, there is a rise in interest from women entering trade careers. BUSY Sisters and BUSY At Work supported Noelene to begin her apprenticeship, signing her up and providing her access to mentoring help and assistance.

Noelene says, “I do think (taking nothing away from men) that women have something men don’t, the attention to detail, for example, the way we plate up. Women have the personality to be calm, collected, multi-task. We’ve been wives, mothers, grandmothers, and we’re used to doing a lot of things at once. You just have to be very organised and calm. There’s no point being any other way, you have to have a happy work environment!”