Only a few months ago the biggest stress John Francis had was whether to add a few more sausages on the BBQ for his guests by the camp fire under the stars in the middle of nowhere. His lovely wife, Liz, dithered over having another warm piece of damper while staring at the galaxy.
And they were in nowhere land, on the Bullara Station cattle station 1260km north of Perth down the road (about 100 clicks) from Ningaloo and Coral Bay. Just beautiful, they say, an amazing property across quarter of a million acres and bigger than the countries of some of the guests they met as camp hosts.
It was a six-month adventure for this delightful couple and a far cry from their earlier busy city lives. John made TV commercials that we watched every break as part of his amazing production talents and his widely respected association with television networks and advertising agencies, while Liz, after a career in schools teaching art and other things, ran a film, camera and lighting equipment hire company.
Then it was the permanent move to Goolwa and setting up Canoe-It in between the city business runs six years ago. The thing is, it’s always been about working alongside each other, and now they are living their long-time dream of running an art and gift gallery – taking over Artworx in Hays Street, Goolwa.
In the process, they graciously farewelled Stephen and Wendy Middleton, who tastefully created Artworx from a run-down old warehouse 10 years ago, at a warm function that added to the busy-at-Christmas time list. The kind gesture was noted; “that’s Goolwa,” someone murmured. Maybe that was until Stephen jokingly declared: “I bought a Jeep,” a theme which John would have loved to have used in commercials in his previous life.
“Wendy and Stephen did a fabulous job,” John said. “Where Artworx is in the market place is all due to their hard work and Wendy’s eye for quality art and gifts. We are just going to put our slight touch on things; we’re not going to start selling a Picasso unless I can get my hands on some (he laughs).
“Liz found the Bullara job online and we both thought we would love to do that because we enjoy camping. At the time it was a circuit breaker for us because we were doing several different things; Liz had her business and I had Canoe It plus productions. We were all over the shop.
“We were planning to go back, but then the Artworx possibility emerged. Several months later we rushed back to finalise the sale. After living in Bullara for six months with all the wonderful campers and grey nomads we realised that we weren’t ready for retirement.”
Liz was born into art – her late grandmother Bida Puckridge, and late mother, Kathleen McLean, were excellent artists. “I am planning to display a couple of their pieces in here as my tribute to them,” Liz said.
After majoring in arts during her arts degree to become a teacher, and enjoying her journey in life, Liz is planning to get art lessons again to rekindle the passion.
“John and I have always worked in a creative field,” she said. “I have done propping, setting and costume designing; all those things that go with TV productions.
“Art has always been part of us, and while this has been a big life change we have always been willing to take a chance; we believe in what we can do. We’ve never been afraid to give something a go.
“We have always had a love affair with Goolwa – our very first home was here – so for us it is a perfect scenario.
“We are making a commitment to the Fleurieu and the artists to do the best we can for them. It is also a commitment to our customers to provide a service that they are happy with; coming in here and enjoying the experience.
“Artworx is not just art; it’s a lot of creative things and gifts. We’re doing this because we love Goolwa and we want to promote Goolwa.”