Driving past the corner of Homebush and Liverpool Road in the inner city suburb of Strathfield always brings back memories. There used to be a quaint roadside motel called the Spanish Inn Motor Lodge. It was owned and operated by a Chinese family in the 70s and 80s. That family was mine.
I remember it clearly — you would drive up the ramp into a pebbled courtyard with angle parking for a handful of cars. There were two levels, two sets of stairs and the rooms circled around the upper floor with a few on the lower floor, along with a restaurant on one side and reception on the other. As you drove through there was another ramp to take you down to a car park below. Despite being on a very busy intersection, it was surprisingly relaxed in the inner sanctum of the Spanish Inn.
Most years we would set up Christmas lunch in the function room: a large U shape table formation for just the family and a few close friends — meaning, in our case, about 50 or 60 people. The mums and aunties would cook up a feast in the industrial-sized kitchen. The older boys would serve drinks from the bar. Someone always manned the reception desk until food was on the table.
My cousins and I still reminisce over playing hide and seek in the sprawling property at Christmas time. There were multiple access points to the carpark on the lower level, two ways in and out of the small garden and, being one of the smaller kids, lots of nooks and crannies that only I could fit into.
I was 12 when my parents decided to take over the motel. Too young and irresponsible to be left home on my own, I had to spend most of my weekends there. I stayed in one of the rooms near the reception – where my parents could keep an eye on me. I had a TV, my own bathroom, and a separate door. Pretty fancy for a 12 year old, really.
"It never really occurred to me that growing up as a ‘hospo kid’ was anything special until I sat at my uncle’s funeral earlier this year."
In the mornings, I had my choice of hotel-style breakfast if I wanted and then helped collect the breakfast trays that guests would leave outside their rooms. I was never allowed to deliver the trays, as the guests weren’t to know there was a child working there. Maybe that had something to do with why I chose to work behind the scenes in film instead of being in the limelight?
Washing dishes was another responsibility I had. I thought it was fun because I got to play with water and an industrial dishwasher. The other bonus was getting to work with my mum. She was the cook and would often make a little extra and give it to me, especially if it was chips or a fancy ice-cream dessert .
We didn’t run the motel for too long and I got old enough to stay home on my own. But subconsciously I soaked up a lot. I watched my dad, the boss, do what needed doing — and he would do everything. If someone called in sick he wouldn’t hesitate to step straight into a task, whether it’s cooking, waiting tables or cleaning rooms and taking out the garbage. I remember my whole family being there on some nights. Mum in the kitchen, my sister waiting tables, my brother at the reception desk and Dad in the back doing the books and me washing dishes and stealing chips off the dinner plate.
Most years we would set up Christmas lunch in the function room: a large U shape table formation for just the family and a few close friends.
Thinking about it all now and how it may have influenced me who I’ve become – I can see that I’m much more comfortable in smaller workplaces and in a role that covers a bit of everything rather than being one cog in a very large wheel. D
espite having worked my way up the very challenging ladder of freelance film production, I’m not beyond taking titles which some may see as a step backwards. I believe lessons can be learnt in any circumstance and from all people.
It never really occurred to me that growing up as a ‘hospo kid’ was anything special until I sat at my uncle’s funeral earlier this year, listening to my family eulogise about his wonderful traits and achievements. My younger uncle spoke of the work ethic his big brother taught him, about showing your employees respect. All my uncles have run their own businesses from a young age and have spent much more of their careers as bosses rather than employees. As an adult now, who is sometimes in ‘boss’ roles, I have been told that I am very approachable and I treat everyone the same way. I’ve always taken this as a compliment — and now I understand where I’ve learnt it.
Serena Hunt is a Sydney-based freelance TV and film producer.
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_