In the tiny hamlet of Adavale, Qld, Cristina Zito has established an extraordinary patisserie and cafe.

Story Kirsty McKenzie  Photos Ken Brass

At first glance, it looks like a joke. Driving into Adavale, 930km west of Brisbane, a startling blue street sign announces “patisserie”. It’s pretty much the only thing that isn’t faded by the often-searing sun in the tiny south-western Queensland hamlet.

Adavale, population 25, give or take, appears to have more cattle than people. They mooch around the sparse landscape – past the odd paint-peeling building, the pub that doubles as a general store, and the former town hall, where an exhibition displays the glory days in the 1920s, when Adavale was a centre for opal mining and the pastoral industry. During the tourist season, however, follow the sign down the road and the line-up of vehicles and caravans parked outside a mauve weatherboard house indicates there’s plenty of life in the old town yet. Welcome to the ‘Paris end’ of Adavale, where Cristina Zito brings the panache of a high-end pastry chef to Elegant Emu, the boutique cafe she runs alongside her home in what was once the doctor’s house.

When Cristina and her husband Les Rea first rolled into Adavale on a camping holiday 20 years ago, there was no reason to stop, apart from a pretty campsite on the banks of one of the channels of Blackwater Creek. Cristina and Les were on summer break from their tree-lopping business at Mullumbimby in northern NSW. Like the few other tourists who ventured out that way at that time of year, they were on their way to national parks such as Hell Hole Gorge, Mariala and Idalia.

“We must have been touched by the heat,” Cristina says. “We saw this falling-down house for sale, recognised its potential and bought it. Then we went back to the coast and thought, ‘What have we done?’ We tried to fix it up on holidays, but we weren’t getting anywhere, so in 2010 we moved here permanently, with the aim of finishing the job.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #151

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2023