A rural community is bidding farewell to the family behind the town’s first and only Chinese restaurant and celebrating their role in diversifying its culinary palate.
Visit any country town in Australia and there is a very likely chance you will find at least one Cantonese-style restaurant to enjoy a meal.
But this was not always the case.
When Allan and Patricia Ho arrived in the rural community of Condobolin, in central-west New South Wales, in 1976, they saw a business opportunity too good to pass up.
Encouraged by friends, they established the town’s first Chinese take-away and dine-in restaurant.
“It was so scary though, because it was only myself,” Mr Ho said.
“A lot of people, when you walk out there, they looked at you [like you’re] different. That time, you’re alone, with a different culture.”
Fitting into the community
Mr Ho persisted and now, after serving thousand meals over the past 40 years, the 71-year-old is finally hanging up his apron and wok and moving on.
It is a new chapter for the Malaysian-born chef who has built a strong bond with the people in the farming community.
“I live here so long, make so many friends, it’s more [like a] family,” he said.
“If I go out there [now people say], ‘Oh how are you brother?’ It doesn’t matter what colour you are.
“It makes you feel so welcome.”
Mr Ho says the Oriental Chinese Restaurant would not have been a success without Patricia’s help.
She swapped her life in the bustling city of Bangkok for the quiet streets of Condobolin, a town of 3,500 people.
“When we first came here I find it was very isolated,” Ms Ho said.
Hard work brings prosperity
Life changed after the Ho’s children were born and started attending the local schools.
The couple became involved in the town’s sporting clubs and Ms Ho took up sewing courses at the local TAFE and later started a side business.
Their efforts put their three daughters through school and ultimately they each graduated from university — the first generation of the family to achieve that goal.
“[It was] very important to see the children got [an] education to see the success of all the children,” Ms Ho said.
“I’m very proud of my three girls and proud of ourselves to stick together to make it happen.”
The couple’s youngest daughter Cindy recalled childhood memories of growing up surrounded by aromas and flavours from the busy restaurant, which became a second home.
“[I was] helping out from as early as I can remember and mainly sleeping and doing my homework in the restaurant while mum and dad were working,” Cindy said.
“I was here more often than I was at our other house.”
Celebrating family’s contribution
Hairdresser Leanne Anderson runs a salon across the road from the family’s restaurant.
She remembers giving Ms Ho her first haircut after she moved to town and has done the same for the rest of the family ever since.
“[Patricia] couldn’t speak one word of English,” Ms Anderson said.
“But she always came back so we must have communicated somehow.”
Ms Anderson went to the effort of organising a farewell party for the family to celebrate their contribution to the town’s social life.
“I think it’s been a big part of their life and their girls have grown up here,” she said.
“To be a part of a small community that appreciated them is probably why they stayed for so long.”
Introducing new flavours to town
As the first and only remaining Chinese restaurant in Condobolin, the Ho family introduced new culinary flavours to the community, long-time resident and councillor Dennis Brady said.
“At the time, when Allan came, the only restaurants we ever had here were two Greek cafes,” he said.
“To have something that was different, having a Chinese one, made a different palate.
“It was good food, otherwise they wouldn’t be in business for 43 years later.”
As president of the town’s chamber of commerce, Mr Brady is pleased to see the business continue under a new owner, especially when many shops are struggling through the drought.
“Allan has sold his business to somebody else so the connection is going to stay there and that’s good as well,” he said.
“I hope the new person who comes on is here for another 43 years.”
Allan and Patricia Ho will be moving interstate to join two of their daughters who now live in Melbourne.
Mr Ho said it was hard to leave behind the small town that he and his family had called home for so many years.
“Condo’s people [are] so nice,” Mr Ho said.
“You feel like you want to live here all the time.”