On the north wall, there was a massive, intricately painted mural with kookaburras, gum trees, and koala bears. It was tasteful and made you feel like you could run your palms over the soft fur of the koala or catch a whiff of the strong scent of eucalyptus. The other walls sported boomerangs and didgeridoos, framed photos of Sydney Harbour and the Great Barrier Reef and Aussie flags strategically placed to catch the breeze when the front door was opened. This was the Kookaburra Kafe in the middle of a small fishing village on the west coast of Canada.
I guess, if you’ve read all these life hacks, you’ve probably pieced together by now that my parents are pretty restless people. They are actively repelled by the status quo, and often set out to follow their dreams, so when my Dad decided he wanted to try his hand at running a dining establishment, he quit his job and did it. With an injection of capital from my Aunt, we were up and running at the Kookaburra.
I was ten years old when the doors opened, and I was bursting with pride. The menu was a little bit Aussie and some good old North American diner fare, with gourmet hot dogs, oozy burgers, caesar salad and of course, you couldn’t open a restaurant in a fishing village and not serve fish and chips. My personal favourite menu item was the pavlova, a crunchy, chewy and fluffy meringue topped with fresh, seasonal fruit and a mountain of whipped cream.
I used to wander over with my friends after school most days. We’d slip behind the counter, pour ourselves a fountain pop and sit at our corner table to wait for our fries. I felt so important and my friends would brag about coming with me to the Kookaburra. Our books splayed open amongst ketchup bottles and napkins, we’d finish our homework while being waited on by our favourite staff. Sometimes, we’d be given jobs like folding the napkins or setting the tables, and we’d complete them with eager joy. When someone we knew from school came in with his or her parents for dinner, we’d make sure they knew it was my Dad’s restaurant.
Friday and Saturday nights meant live music. Sometimes, it would be the soft, folk stylings of Lynn Donovan, alone on stage with her acoustic guitar. She was my brother’s favourite because every time he requested La Bamba, she’d rock it like nobody’s business giving my little brother visibly pure joy.
Other nights it would be Donnie McDougall from The Guess Who. Being ten at the time, I had no idea how famous he’d once been and just sat and enjoyed his relaxed renditions of All I Have To Do Is Dream by the Everly Brothers and Hey Jude by the Beatles. His sons, my brother and I would become close friends as we sat at our little table in the corner, playing cards, eating french fries and sipping root beer. Amidst the sea of our neighbours watching their caesar salad be assembled tableside, and the clink of forks hitting vessels that held shrimp cocktails, we sang along with full mouths, the little Kings and Queen of the Kookaburra.
The venture didn’t last long, as a dispute with the landlord ended the Kookaburra Kafe just a year after it opened. With sadness, we closed the doors behind us. My Dad headed back to his social work, my mom to her classroom. I went back to being just a regular kid, with regular parents, who had regular jobs and no longer brushed shoulders with legends of Canadian rock music. In the long run, it was for the better. I got more time with my parents and consumed less junk food. However I still, and always will, miss those Saturday nights when my little town was crammed into my Dad’s restaurant to see a member of the Guess Who perform Unchained Melody on his acoustic guitar under a gum tree.