Wise duo Melina, 48, and Heath, 49, love life down south almost as much as they love each other.
Melina and I went to each other’s fifth birthday party. Melina’s got three brothers and we used to all knock around and go boating, skiing and surfing all the time and I knew Melina as almost one of the boys. I’d been away travelling and Melina had been away travelling, so it wasn’t until we bumped back into each other that things changed.
I went to Busselton Senior High, then started as an apprentice chef when I was about to turn 16. I didn’t enjoy school as much as my working life, but hospitality is a pretty full-on trade. I was in Perth working at some really cool places and decided I really wanted to come back down south. Ron (Wise, owner of Wise Wine) rang me and said “This restaurant is just not working for me, I need someone to come down, take it over”. And I said “Well, I’m not going to run it for you but I’d be interested in leasing it somehow”. We were so green as to what lay ahead, so we just jumped in feet first.
It was December of 1995, and fortunately it was a busy time of the year. In ’96, in March, we got married and then not long after that Melina was pregnant. Fortunately for me, Melina’s not from the industry, she’s an optical technician. I think we work so well together because we’re polar opposites. Melina creates that awesome environment where she’s quite chilled whereas I’m probably a bit more the high-strung one. I think if I didn’t have Melina I would have been a basket case.
We make decisions together. We tend to go have a coffee and discuss things, and then home’s home. Running a house with four kids is full-on … they’re all playing sport, always outdoors. In the summertime we live for the beach. I coach hockey, and I love sailing, so they all learnt how to sail. It’s certainly first and foremost family and secondly running the business, which is awesome. Trying to reinvent yourself is important but I love that.
I pinch myself because my life could have taken a completely different road — to be able to come back down and live where you grew up and be able to watch an area grow into such a bustling tourist precinct where it’s just all go and to have been a part of it from those early days is just amazing.
We’ve been married 22 years, and I probably love Melina even more now. We’re the greatest mates, just to be able to have that person there who’s your rock, someone you can turn to rain, hail or shine is unbelievable. Sometimes when I ring Melina in the middle of summer and I’m flat out and I can hear the ocean lapping in the background, that drives me nuts. “Are you at the beach again?” But I get down there in the afternoon and Melina’s got a little esky and a beer there for me, and I think “Thank God!”
I went to Busselton High and did an optical technician apprenticeship at the local optometrist. I struggled at school but finished top of the State for my apprenticeship, I loved working with my hands and building things.
I did a bit of tall-ship sailing on the Leeuwin; my boss had sent me on a 10-day voyage thinking that would be good for me and I got asked to go back as a watch leader, so every summer, up I’d go. Then they were looking for young Australians to sail the Young Endeavour around the world; I was one of 24 selected. That was in 1992. It was supposed to be a five-month voyage from Greece to America and I ended up being away for about two years, sailing around the world.
I came home for my little brother’s 21st and bumped into Heath. I was house-sitting and he came out and never left. When we did get engaged, he was working in Perth so I got a job up there working for an optometrist and then two months later he got offered this. When we got married I moved back.
I was ready to settle down, have kids. The day I had (eldest child) Harley I was in there doing dishes, it was Easter, a massive weekend. We were paying bills with our credit card to start with because we had no money but it was exciting.
I didn’t have a chance really to go back to optical. We had the shop (Fat Duck Cycles in Dunsborough) for eight years and just sold it earlier this year. Between both of us at both places, that was a bit crazy. I used to do triathlons, running, swimming … Then we did this cycle tour in Italy and I thought “I’d like a bike”. Originally riding was about escaping, getting time to myself, now it’s just a passion.
Heath’s so good with the kids. It’s always been family first. He’s also good with the staff; he’s got this knack with people. Heath is the doer and comes up with these crazy ideas, and I’ll take it all in and if there’s something there I’m not quite sure about I’ll tell him and he’ll go “Oh, you’re right”. And then he’ll go off on another tangent! He’s importing charcoal now. We’ve got the smoker here and he’s found this charcoal in South Africa that’s fully sustainable so he decided to import containers of it. As you do.
Heath doesn’t like to talk himself up but whatever he does, he’s good at. He’s a national champion at sailing. Three times over. When he first asked if he could buy a yacht, I thought “Great, I can drink champagne at the back”, but no, it’s not like that at all. It’s very fast, you get wet! Whereas I’m a tall-ships sailor, they go really slow. He’s very good at riding now, he took over me in no time and I’d been riding for years. At least now we can do it together. Go hard or go home — that would be our family motto!
Wise Restaurant is hosting two events as part of Margaret River Gourmet Escape, see gourmetescape. com.au. For more on Wise, see wiseeaglebay.com.au.