Karen Sheldon’s food business has become a vehicle for addressing Indigenous disadvantage.

Story Kerry Sharp  Photos Shane Eecen

A cozy late-night chat at a Victorian country roadhouse set Karen Sheldon on track for a fascinating life as a remote pub cook, restaurant owner, commercial caterer and champion for thousands of young Indigenous participants in her life-changing training and mentoring initiatives. 

“My schoolfriend and I were working double shifts at the Winton roadhouse near Benalla, where we lived, to pay for a cherry blossom cruise to Japan,” says the now prominent NT businesswoman. “My friend had become smitten with a passing Pioneer coach captain and, when the cruise got cancelled, he suggested he drive us to Alice Springs instead!” 

Karen spent three months in Alice putting parsley sprigs on Ansett Airlines inflight meals before moving three hours up the Stuart Highway to become the cook at the Barrow Creek Pub. “I arrived on dark to find one light shining in the only visible building – the local pub,” she says. “A grumpy old woman bundled me off the bus and straight into the kitchen to help her feed that night’s patrons. That was my introduction to commercial cookery. These days, I tell my trainees that deciding not to flee in fright was my sliding doors moment!” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #132

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2020