Most people know of Claridge Holden; it’s one of those reputable family businesses that became an Adelaide institution, yet David Fisher, the “grandson and son-of…” left the fold.
After 17 years or almost half his life in the business created by Fred Claridge in 1929, during which time David achieved a Degree in Business Management through the Holden empire at the University of Melbourne, a few months ago he thought it was time to make his own mark – in boating and caravaning.
Given the national downturn in the car industry, the move to a field that was hit even harder by the Global Financial Crisis surprised many, but then you need to understand the quality of the person.
For David, 35, taking on Pelican Marine in Goolwa with his amazingly supportive wife Hazel, was also very much about the family business – his own – in a far better place to live. Besides, he’s always been passionate about boating whether it be throwing a fishing line or holding a ski rope. “It’s about dealing with good people,” David says, while Hazel still remains hooked on the fact so many people smile here.
However, as much as his enthusiasm for his new business, indeed his passion for boats is easy to read on his friendly face, there is also a reflection of sadness. It will be 10 years on Saturday – January 9 – since his mother, Debbie, was thought to have fainted in shallow water at Emu Bay, Kangaroo Island, and accidentally drowned. She was buried on her 51st birthday, and the tragedy came within six months of the passing of David’s grandfather, Len.
Instead of having bitterness, perhaps hatred for water, David sees his new working association with it as a tribute to his mum. “It is my reminder of the importance of your family,” David said. “To bring the children up here is very special because of what has happened.”
Len died three months after David and Hazel were married, and the day before his mother’s funeral Hazel discovered she was pregnant, with their daughter, Ava, now nine. They also have a son, Will, five.
Neither David nor Hazel dwell on the emotional challenges they have confronted, but they use it to remind themselves to live for the day, and how happy they are having made the permannt move to Goolwa after six years or so of temporary life here.
David is no stranger having spent many great moments as a kid near where the family houseboat was moored.
“Goolwa is special because you have the river and the sea,” David said. “You have the best of both worlds, and then there is the magnificent Coorong.” He admits it’s by far not a new observation, but adds we cannot say it enough.
Meanwhile, Hazel talks about the beauty of knowing the neighbours, how their kids play together and everyone wants to meet you in a positive way. “There is community spirit here,” she says. “We got sick of being weekenders – we just had to live here, and we moved down December last year (2014) commuting to Adelaide and working.”
Given where David has come from, the bloodlines, memories, even his days as a sea scout at Semaphore and a navy cadet at Outer Harbour – and especially his sales and management background – there is a lot of warmth in this new boating and caravan venture. And there is not a hint of resting on the Claridge family name.
“There is a lot of room for improvement here,” David said. “For us, it is about gaining people’s trust.
“The boating industry has had it tough based on the sales before the GFC, but there is no doubt it is building back up. The good thing is that boating has had time to adjust or start the better part of the cycle; we’re seeing confidence returning to the market.
“In some ways, the tough years have helped industry in general because of the need to provide better service and quality.”
David and Hazel speak highly of their full-time staff Natasha, Max Troy and Michael, plus Ebony who works part-time. It also becomes clear early that you can never take the sales out of the salesman as David is quick to talk up the new Bayliner boats and the sensational, boutique-built Atlantic caravan lines – both new and on consignment.
But then came the unexpected. “There was no “have I got a deal for you” line and no hard sell. But then, that’s the quality of the person, and David is making his own mark.