by Carolyn Parfitt
It wasn’t the easiest start to becoming a mother by any means. Imagine being the only teenager in a birthing class full of pregnant 30-something women, mostly married and mostly looking down at you.
This was the experience of Port Stephens businesswoman Alicia Cameron; she was just 17. Having moved out of the difficult family home at 15, supporting herself by working in hospitality, she felt her world had fallen apart. To top it off, soon after her baby was born she discovered that her partner had been seeing another woman at their workplace, and everyone knew – everyone, that is, except Alicia.
Now 34, she tells this story with no bitterness; rather, an attitude of everything having worked out as it should, and very much for the better.
Alicia, of Corlette, is one of the key people behind the popular Little Beach Boathouse (LBB) restaurant which she owned with her husband Luke Cameron and two partners, Ben and Charlie Way, until recently. Before that she and Luke owned and ran the successful Sandpipers in Nelson Bay. “Luke cooked every meal and I served every customer,” she says. Their reputation was such that when some of their customers bought the LLB leasehold they approached Luke and Alicia about opening another restaurant there.
After seeing the site, Alicia says it took about 10 minutes to decide: “Yes”. Certainly the location is ideal, facing the sunset and looking out to schools of dolphins that come by to catch fish most evenings.
It was literally still a boathouse when the new leaseholders took over. They doubled the size of the original building and Alicia did a lot of the renovations herself. Five years ago they opened the more formal upstairs restaurant and it went from strength to strength. More recently they expanded the downstairs section – “literally a shell” at the time – to provide more casual tapas-style share-plate dining. It has become popular for functions such as weddings.
“The team went from 30 people to 50 and it doubled the size of the business,” says Alicia.
“A big learning curve.”
Business is her particular interest, and she has a range of projects in mind. She recently sold her share in LBB and is taking time out to consider what comes next.
“I want to slow down and figure out what I want to do,” she says. “I do love business. I don’t love hospitality – it’s just something I always did. I’m not a foodie, I don’t drink alcohol…”
Having worked so hard since her daughter Sharla was born 16 years ago, Alicia is also relishing the freedom to spend more time with her and Lochie, her 10-year-old son with Luke.
“For a huge part of my life I have carried shame around being a teen mum which had nothing to do with my daughter and everything to do with my own expectations of myself and also a lack of support from my community,” she says.
Several people told her she should have an abortion or her life would be ruined, but that wasn’t an option she felt she could stomach.
“I just knew I couldn’t not have the baby,” she says.
Her underlying feeling of shame was lifted several years ago in a way that she says changed her life. It was a matter of the right person saying the right thing at the right time.
It happened when Alicia was having coaching to expand herself as a business owner. She had always been interested in personal development and psychology. “My coach said to me, ‘You know Sharla could not have existed any other way…’
“It was a profound realisation and with it all the stories and emotions I had around my past fell away. Today I could not even explain in words how much I absolutely love being a young mum and my relationship with my gorgeous daughter and of course my handsome son.”
Another consequence of that lightbulb moment was that she finally gained a sense of peace around her relationship with Sharla’s father.
“I had no hate or anything like that towards him,” she says. “Because I wouldn’t want my life any other way.”
The ideas for her professional future that Alicia tosses around tend to come under the general heading of personal development work, whether it’s mentoring (she is qualified in neuro linguistic programming), leading immersion trips to Africa or empowering young women in the high school years between Years 8 and 12.
Far from her life having been ‘ruined’ by being a teenage mum, it seems she now has a strong launch pad from which to do whatever she wants. She wanted to share her story, she says, “because when we feel like things are falling apart… it is important to know that these moments are like storm clouds that will pass and to always remember you are the sky”. In other words, you are limitless.