The story starts in around 2007 when I, Craig Glenister, decided on early retirement, after a career in road transport and the development and operation of a successful, residential lifestyle village. It happened in a flash. I got up one morning and feeling the need to express the mood, wrote a poem. I then walked into my office and said to the manager and assembled staff, “I’m leaving!”
“Boss. You’ve been saying that for years.” my manager said.
I was gone within the week.
I told my two daughters from the time they were knee high, "Do what you love". Just as my father had told me. In so many ways we see our working life as separate from our social life. We allow both ourselves and others to define us by our work… and neither party is correct.
I struggled for many years in trying to put work-social like balance into practice. I loved my work and was extremely passionate about it, yet there existed a dichotomy between what I considered my two lives; working and social. This dichotomy caused me a deep-seated unease that I couldn't come to grips with.
So, that one morning I woke at dawn, had a revelation, wrote the poem, which I called “Can You Surrender to Love?”, and left.
I had always wanted to circle Australia by road. I bought a caravan and a car that I named Vanessa because of her upper-class English voice, which answered voice commands through the car’s on-board management system. These kinds of things become very important when you travel alone.
Along the round-Australia journey, I fell in love. No, not with Vanessa. I fell in love with my now life-partner, Valarie.
It was in the Kimberley, a vast and ancient region in the northern part of Western Australia. It is a place that attracts tourists and fishermen. Being an avid fisherman and bushy I had been there many times over the years. It’s the type of place that gets under your skin. Rough, desolate and breathtaking; full of waterholes and crocodiles and ancient rock art. It is the kind of place that sings to you every time you return.
Valarie was living in Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley. She was managing an art gallery for the artist. She worked there seven days a week and taught ballet to the Broome children three nights a week. She was choreographing the Broome Worn Art Show, and dancing on point in it. She swam for an hour every day along the Cable Beach. I mean swam, as in head down and just swim. I used to walk along the beach looking out for crocodiles and sharks. I had never met anyone like her. In fact I fell in love with her at first sight, and there is a story behind that. There usually is a story behind any great love affair.
We met by accident. Enjoying a break from my circumnavigation of Australia, in the spectacular Kimberley region of Western Australia, with some long-time friends, I had some issues with my caravan that necessitated me taking it to Broome for repair.
I park in Broome and find out that the guy who is the fridge agent is Bob. I ring him.
“You Bob?” I ask.
“Gotta problem with my fridge.” You tend to talk like that in the Kimberley. All terse and laconic at the same time. It’s an art. “I’m at the Cable Beach Caravan Park”.
“See yer tomorrow.” says Bob.
Bob doesn’t turn up. Neither does he turn up the next day.
I wander into Broome and head for China Town. It’s a short walk. It’s a small town.
I’m not happy… grumpy in fact.
I like art galleries so walk into the first one I find, head down.
“Hello!” says a voice. It’s Valarie.
I look up, and I am in love. I used to think that love at first sight was a story for children. Nope! It smashed me right between the eyes.
I walked up to her and the very first thing I said to the love of my life is,
“I’m grumpy. I don’t want to be here.” Smooth Craig!
Showing concern, Valerie (Val) asked my why; and I replied that it was because there is nothing to do in Broome. She told me that it wasn’t so and that I needed to do what the locals do and sent me off to visit the places that the Broome local’s haunt.
Before leaving, I asked her what she had been doing when I walked in. She had a small shrine set up behind her desk, and had been lighting incense as I came in. “My husband died nine months ago to this second. I was honouring his spirit.”
Two things, to put the next events in context: Firstly, I believe in spirits. Spend any time in the Kimberley and it is hard not to. At my age, I had experienced several friends dying too early, and it was not unusual for their spirit to turn up from time to time.
Secondly I now was aware that Val was not married.
I left and followed her instructions, getting to meet the locals. I returned after lunch.
Next day - a repeat of the same.
On the third day I asked her out. She jumped into the air and said,
“I couldn’t possibly do that!”
It’s going to be harder than I imagined, getting anywhere with Val” I thought.
Her next question was interesting, “Have you been up to Cape Leveque?”
“No. But I would love to see it.”
“OK. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“No, take three days.”
“OK, but I want you to think about having dinner with me when I get back.”
She made no sign at all, just looked at me.
I threw my swag in the back of the Rangie and took off on the two hundred kilometre journey on a very poor gravel road, but with simply, stunning scenery - bay after bay with the red Pindan earth falling into turquoise bays. I threw my mozzie tent up on a beach, after paying an exorbitant amount to the local aboriginal custodians for the right to do so. That was OK. They were a lovely mob at Middle Lagoon and we ‘whites’ did steal their country.
Three days later, I’m back.
After telling Val how much I had enjoyed it, I asked “Have you thought about dinner?”
“It’s not a date, but I will share a pizza with you”, she replied.
“Great. I’ll pick you up at six. Where do you want go?”
“The Cable Beach Club.”
I walked out the door, in a quandary. If I was one to panic, (I don’t), I’d be panicking.
You see, it is Broome Race Week, Saturday night, and the population has grown by a literal 10,000 people. It’s a famous event and every one of the punters is going to be at the Cable Beach Club… tonight.
I had been picturing a quiet table for two - somewhere romantic.
I ring them up.
“Any chance of a table for two tonight?
“Not a chance, Busiest night of the year and we are booked out a year in advance.”
Ok! A challenge. I carefully folded $500 in notes, so that it could slip unseen from my hand to the Maître-de, as a kind of bribe to enable us to jump the queue when we got there. I wouldn’t have cared if he had to build another table for that night.
I picked Val up and we drive the short distance to Cable Beach. There appears to be ten thousand people there, most at the Cable Beach Club. Val looks up quizzically as we get out of the car outside.
“No, no. It will be fine.” I say, as I shepherd her towards the Club. Something is whispering “Don’t touch her, just shepherd.”
We forge into the crowd that has spilt onto the lawn. I ease my way through the crowd and I am getting these strange looks - not hostile, but not friendly either.
Everywhere people are saying “Hi Val, how are you?” I don’t stop for a second.
We finally make it the manager’s desk and he is on the phone, with his back to us.
I look straight ahead wondering how I can get the bribe to him without Val noticing. Doesn’t look good.
He gets off the phone, while I am still racking my brain trying to remember his name.
He turns, gives me one of those Maître-de looks, when your restaurant is packed, and then looks at Val. “Hi Val, great to see you. How are you?”
“I’m good Lincoln, and you?”
What I didn’t know at the time was that Val well known and loved in Broome, and everybody knew she had lost her husband tragically.
“Table for two please.” I say.
He gives me a “That’s not as funny as you think” smile and reaches under his desk.
He pulls out a binder and opens it to the day’s date.
“Here” he says “, is the list of people I have to ring if there is a cancellation” There are several pages. “But, the last phone call I took was a cancellation for two, on the best table in the house, and as I know Val, I am going to give it to her.”
He led us to a balcony table overlooking the beach and from that moment Val and I have rarely left each other’s side. We fell head over heels in love. We both know that there is no other person we would rather be with. There’s nowhere we can be unhappy when we are together. We firmly believe the spirits of the Kimberley placed us together.
It even turned out that there was nothing wrong with my fridge. The power plug had fallen out, during my travels. It especially embarrassing when I finally had the fridge looked at. Bob, the fridge repairman, never did show up. I had been out to his place a few times and just got the run around.
Eventually, I hooked up the caravan, drove to his factory, and parked right across the entrance. I sat there till Bob knocked on the window.
“You’re not going to move until I fix your fridge, are you.”
He told me to pull it into a bay and started to unscrew the side hatch to the fridge. It was one of those three way fridges, 240V, 12V and gas. As he was doing this he stopped, and asked “You did check the plug, didn’t you?
As soon as he said it, I knew! He saw by the look on my face that I hadn’t. I didn’t even know where the plug was. He hopped inside, unscrewed a panel I didn’t know was there. And there it was - an unplugged plug. That was really embarrassing. He shook his head while I apologised.
It had been my intention, on retiring, to leave the home of my birth, Australia, and move overseas. I love Australia but was reaching upon 60 years old, wanted to experience something new. Bali was the place. I had holidayed there many times since the international airport opened in 1974. I loved the people, the climate and the more laidback style of being.
I told Val of this when we first met, but as a lot of Aussies say that, she didn’t take much notice. Six months after meeting we drove the 2,400 kilometres to Perth and boarded a flight to Bali.
Upon arrival, we hired a car and we spent the next three weeks driving all over the island. I had been coming here nearly every year since the mid 1970’s, so thought I knew the island pretty well. I had planned most of the trip but still had plenty of leeway for meandering.
We circled the island and had a magical time. Val would delight over the smallest of things. Young children and babies absolutely demanded a stop and a chat. Did I tell you she had five boys of her own?
Being February, it was hot and sticky on the coast, so I decided we should drive up into the mountains for some relief from the heat and humidity. We headed for a part of the island that I had not been to before, which has very little in the way of tourist accommodation, finishing at Mt Batukaru. Mt. Batukaru is Bali’s second highest mountain and as we wound our way up the mountain, we were greeted by magnificent green, terraced, rice fields.
Every few miles or so, we would come across a traditional Bali village. We waved and the villagers would wave back. The road got worse and worse, until eventually I said
“This can’t be the right road, it’s more like a riverbed. “I think we might have to turn around soon. This car isn’t built for this.”
However, we pressed on another couple of miles and came across a small Eco -Lodge. We booked in for two nights.
The whole area was magic. Rainforests and waterfalls. Being woken at dawn by the thousands of birds of all different varieties. The air was fresh and clean, the water sparkling and the temperature about 5 degrees cooler than on the coast, being 750 metres above sea level.
We were invited to a local wedding and the people were so friendly that they quite captured our hearts. We went for long walks in the forest, even up into the original forest of Bali. We kept thinking, who knew about his place? Right there was the beginning of the state and national forests that make up a third of Bali. It starts in the at Mt Batukaru and tracks the chain of mountains that sweep to the West and finish at the ocean. A very different forest to the one that is normally seen as you drive around coastal Bali.
On the second night I turned to Val and said, “I could live here. What about you?”
Val is sitting by me as I write this story. She said her first reaction to my question was to look out and that all she could see was “nothing.” Even the lights of Denpasar in the far distance were hidden by clouds as the village of Biyahan is above the cloud line. Being a moonless night, there was nothing else to see.
We had spent so much time in the ocean, before travelling to Mt Batukaru, that Val’s hair was a mass of knots. As we sat on our balcony, looking down the valley to the coast below, I had spent an hour and a half unknotting her hair.
“Just cut it!” she said.
“No way” I replied. She had long blond hair and I loved it.
Apparently, that was the moment I captivated her.
Looking back, Val said that her first reaction was “Wow! He spent all that time on my hair.”
The whole situation was so surreal, but she realised in that moment that she was prepared to follow me on any journey that I wished to take, and said “Yes, I could live here with you”. This surprised me because neither of us are followers.
The Beginnings of Alassari Plantation
The next morning, we asked the Eco Lodge owner if there was anything for sale in the area. To our delight, he replied: “Yes. There is one place a little further up the mountain”.
One of the local women, Wayan, agreed to take us. Our first glimpse from the road wasn’t inspiring. A Javanese doctor had bought the land and built a small house by the road, although it was now owned by an Australian.
It was quaint. Two small bedrooms, a bathroom, tiny kitchen, lounge and dining room. But the view! We could see all the way to the southern coast some 50 kilometres away. We could see the planes landing and the islands off the coast. There were butterflies and birds everywhere.
Still not convinced it was the place for us, we were led down a path to the property boundary. Through majestic sugar palms, coconut, durian, jackfruit, avocado and nutmeg, we wandered the steep terrain. As we walked further, we heard the sound of running water. We crossed a small stream, then another, and finally stood at a waterfall. Not one huge waterfall, but a cascade of many of them. It was magic. The sunbeams were breaking through the trees that covered the stream. It was a fairyland.
We recognised immediately the healing nature of the surrounds. The energy that flowed down from that mountain that stood another 1500 metres above us was palpable. As we looked at each other, the answer was in our eyes. “Yes!” we said together.
We bought it on the spot.
A month later we moved in. We only had a couple of suitcases each as Indonesian law forbids you from bringing anything else. There was little hot water, the shower was barely a dribble, the porch out the back was rotten and dangerous to walk on. We had no Wi-Fi, intermittent mobile reception, the fridge didn’t work, and we loved it.
We set to work.
As a young girl Val had won a scholarship to the London Royal Ballet School. After graduating she joined the Belgium Ballet Company and danced throughout Europe for years. She came back to Australia, and was choreographing an act for Johnny Farnham, when his agent Harry Miller, told her she should form a dance group and tour Asia. He would be happy to be her agent. Val put together an adagio act, a troupe, and toured Asia for many years. Later she became a retailer and developed a chain of women’s clothing in New Zealand and Australia. She was used to hard work, especially as she raised her five sons.
Together with my family, I had built up and operated a transport business and a caravan park, which we later developed into a residential lifestyle village. My brother and I were building a resort in Exmouth, Western Australia, when the financial crisis hit and I put it on the shelf. I had been a President of the Caravan Industry in Western Australia and national board member, for many years. I loved sport and had been practicing karate for years. The one and only time I entered the All Martial Arts state championship, I won it, beating the national Australian champion in the final.
Neither of us had any concerns about developing something new from scratch.
Val was particularly keen to build a Health & Wellness Centre. She and her first husband Zyg, had for most of their lives run fitness and wellness classes, wherever they happened to be. They were running them daily on Cable Beach in Broome when he died.
Val still swims 100 laps a day in our pool and practices yoga for two hours a day. She’s a vegetarian, although under my influence, she will try some fish. Red meat still makes her shudder.
We both wanted to do something that would forge a new lifestyle for us but also be of significant benefit to the local community. We hoped the future guests of our proposed health and wellness centre would embrace our philosophy. We undertook to improve the lives of the local villagers, wherever we could, by providing training, employment and infrastructure as an off-shoot of our development. We have received immeasurable benefits from working with the local community and believe our determination to engage only local villagers in our business reflects positively on our guest’s holiday experience.
We believe that this philosophy is an important aspect of many social enterprises. Not only does it point to a healthier way of doing business within economic, ecological and social contexts, it does so without overturning the present economic paradigm. Social enterprises can bridge the gap between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations.
Their simplicity is in that they reflect our true social nature. In examining this way of doing business, we need examine ourselves, and in so doing, begin to understand that there is no separation between working lives and social lives.
For us, they handed us back that which we thought we had lost. Our own power to manage our destiny.
This story of the beginnings of Alassari Plantation is a journal of first stage of a journey of personal fulfilment and our desire to share our abundance with others. The original concepts have shifted, in recognition of the needs of the true drivers of any business enterprise - our customers.
We have remained true to our ideals since opening Alassari Plantation in early 2017. Relaxation, good health and wellbeing are at the forefront of what we offer. We recognise that a critical aspect of wellness is relaxation and enjoyment, and therefore provide a holistic approach to relaxation holidays, where we leave it up to our guests to choose their level of participation.
Above all though, we never lose sight of what brought us here in the first place, romance.
It is our passion and love that brought us here, that Alassari Plantation has been built on. It is a beautiful place, and one we are happy to share with all our friends and guests in the future.