Park stalwarts to move on
They might not be WA-born but nothing could eclipse their love of this State, and the Augusta region — except perhaps their obvious love and respect for each other.
Turner Caravan Park mainstays Hettie and Gary Enderes are inching closer and closer to retirement after 18 years living in the region.
While Gary told the Times he was “psychologically adjusting” to the idea, Hettie has downscaled to two days a week as she trains the next generation of caravan park managers.
With retirement looming — they plan to remain active in the community, and continue their years-long school bus run — the couple settled down with the Times to reflect on the journey which brought them here.
Dutch-born Hettie and New York City’s Gary always wanted to raise their children in a close community, and after their first foray in a co-operative settlement in New Zealand, never imagined their real legacy would be the community of regulars and locals at the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River-owned caravan parks in Augusta.
The couple were “headhunted” during a two-year stint at a caravan park in Mandurah, arriving in Augusta with children Daniel and Joella when the youngsters were just nine and 11.
It was the start of 15 years living on-site at Turner Caravan Park, with the couple’s hard work, determination, and shrewd people skills single-handedly turning the dilapidated ratepayer asset into one of WA’s most low-key, but highly prized, tourism destinations.
Looking back on those years, the couple praised the Shire for fending off interest from commercial operators, including the RAC.
Instead, they have overseen the dramatic rise of Turner, and later Flinders Bay Caravan Park, into key money earners for the Shire, while instilling old-school Australian values in their parks despite the pair being born overseas.
“It is like that here. When it is busy in summer, it is a real community,” Hettie said.
Working in caravan parks fitted with the family’s desire to stay close, working together and taking turns, with their children growing up in the safe Augusta community.
“We wanted to keep the family together with the kids, not have Gary be a FIFO father,” Hettie said.
“We’ve developed a culture here,” Gary said.
“Bad people just don’t get to rebook.”
The empathic couple knew exactly what elements to encourage, and what to rule out.
Shirtless, beer-guzzling tourists are not welcome, and warm regards from dozens of regular visitors — some visiting since well before the Enderes took the reins — are a testament to the success of their approach.
Within all of that, Hettie paid tribute to husband Gary’s work ethic — “the real Slim Dusty”. Well known for his tiny shorts, Gary worked around the clock to maintain the park for years before the team grew.
“I don’t know anyone who works harder,” Hettie said with clear warmth and admiration. “The only way Gary knows how to work is to work himself into the ground.”
When the family arrived, there were no computers, no proper booking system, and the sites were neglected or in disrepair.
“We really worked hard to turn it around,” Gary said. “It is so rewarding to go around this park today and see the big trees we planted as seedlings.
“We have transformed this place.”
Hettie acknowledged those early years “came at a personal cost” to the family.
“It was 24 hours,” she said.
“Our team has grown over the years, and we now share out-of-hours call-outs.”
The pair seem as intimidated as they are excited about the prospect of more free time, but they might not end up with that much of it.
They will continue to swap shifts on the school bus, and continue, if not deepen, their involvement in the community and the Augusta arts scene.
However, when Gary had a stroke two years ago, “that was a huge wake-up call,” he told the Times.
“We’ve still got so much to give,” Hettie said.
The pair hoped to travel, and share more of their journey with their grown-up children, and maybe even get outside of the country again once Australia’s borders loosen up in the next year.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails