A quintessential outback shopfront greets tourists who arrive at the doorstep of Vivonne Bay General Store, a one-hour drive from the Penneshaw ferry terminal and the only pitstop for food and fuel on the road to the tourist mecca of Flinders Chase National Park.
There’s a petrol bowser, typical at such country town establishments, a couple of picnic tables and “Home of the Famous Whiting Burger” scrawled on the chalkboard underneath the hanging fishing nets.
Upon entering the store, if you have enough signal to do your COVID check-in, there’s a pleasantly surprising offering of great coffee, local beer and wine, and a fish-and-chip-style menu, headlined by the aforementioned signature KI whiting burger.
Despite the challenges of operating in such a remote location, more than 300 Google reviews rate the store at 4.5 stars.
Born-and-bred local Tye Boyle, 26, purchased the store in July 2020, and this year he’s been busy building a new dining room and outdoor deck surrounded by the nearby trees.
Tye grew up on his family’s property just outside of Vivonne Bay but never had any plans to put down roots in his hometown.
Instead, he spent much of his early 20s travelling abroad.
Tye landed in Canada last year to work in the ski fields when COVID forced him back home after just 10 days.
A few months prior, Tye had a terrifying first-hand experience of the 2019-20 bushfires that tore through Flinders Chase National Park but miraculously spared the Vivonne Bay township.
“I was working on a farm out west when the fire hit,” says Tye.
“There were about 15 of us out there and we were all very lucky to live through it.
“We had a plan, but the fire came so fast that we were caught — we became separated and drove around trying to find an open paddock to wait it out.”
Tye and another farmer drove their vehicle into a clearing to wait out the blaze.
“We just had to find a spot and hope for the best,” he says.
“The fire went over – I have no idea how long that took from memory – and after that we all found each other again.
“Somehow we lived, but at the time we thought that surely not everyone could have survived it. Luckily, they had.”
A change in wind direction spared most of Vivonne Bay from the bushfire, which came so close that the blackened vegetation can still be seen from the town.
After the harrowing experience and then helping with the recovery, Tye reconsidered what was important in life.
“It made me realise that life’s too short to be doing something that doesn’t make you happy – you never know what might happen,” he says.
“When I got back from Canada, I went straight back into the same job which I didn’t like, but then the general store came along.
“So, I quit my job and we bought it. I’ve been much more satisfied because it allows me to be creative and work towards my own goals.”
Tye saw an opportunity to improve the existing business and use some of his experience from working in hospitality overseas.
“When we first started, it was pretty basic,” says Tye.
“There wasn’t anywhere substantial for people to come and sit, eat or hang out, it was just grabbing your food to go.
“I wanted to change that, so we’ve added a dining area with a bar and a nice big deck for people to sit in the summer.
“We’ve improved it and we’ll keep working on it. I’ve noticed a lot of local support, which is great.
“My first summer was flat-out because there’s nowhere to buy food or fuel anywhere west from here.
“There was a popular gift shop and really nice café at the entrance to the national park, but that was destroyed by the fires.
“So, everyone that goes to Flinders Chase, which is pretty much everyone that comes to Kangaroo Island, stops here on the way through.
“Reports from other businesses on the island were that it was a bumper summer compared to previous years. For many businesses, it was their busiest summer ever.”
The general store closes at 5pm, after which there is no access to food, supplies or fuel in the area.
“Often we’ll have people ring the shop after hours looking for fuel. We feel bad for them because we’re the only place out here, so we’ll often do it for them, but it can be a challenge.”
In coming weeks, the store will extend trading hours to about 6pm and later on weekends to serve dinner and drinks.
Tye intends to put on a few events and hopes to build a sense of community, using the new space for people to socialise.
In the coming weeks, the store will introduce a dinner menu that is expected to be an extension of the current daytime fare, including long-running classics such as a range of burgers.
There are plans to introduce a picnic box in a cooler bag that visitors can purchase from the store and take with them as they go on to explore Flinders Chase National Park.
“People will often get back here at 4.30pm and they’re starving, but the store is closing,” says Tye.
“It would be great if they can pick up something to take with them.
“We’ve also introduced merchandise which has been really popular. I’ve even seen people in Adelaide wearing our T-shirts and jumpers.”
Tye is expecting another busy summer this year.
“I’d like to hire more staff so that we can share the load and allow everyone to have a few more days off to go to the beach and enjoy life; it’s a pretty easy lifestyle in Vivonne Bay,” he says.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done so far but there’s a lot more to do, which is exciting.”
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