Customers shocked by popular cafe's closure
THE cafe at Wivenhoe Dam has become a place for people to escape their fears, a place to find a slice of normality; it's more than a cafe to many.
After six years owning and operating the popular Cormorant Bay Cafe, Terry Hamilton has been told her lease will not be renewed.
Come March, the dining tables and a smell of fresh scones and coffee will be absent.
The cafe will undergo a major facelift before an expected reopening under a new lessee ahead of next summer.
A devastated Ms Hamilton received the letter informing her of Seqwater's decision last week.
"It was a shock," she said.
"I put the letter down, I can't touch it, I can't look at it."
Cormorant Bay Cafe is perched among the gum trees, high above the sparkling waters of Wivenhoe Dam.
Ms Hamilton had declared daily she was "livin' the dream".
"Best time of my life, really," she said.
The sprightly cafe owner runs a tight-knit team of 15 staff. All will lose their jobs when the doors close before mid-March.
She has injected about $100,000 into the cafe, believing it would continue to operate under another owner.
"I had been in the process of selling, I've got an old injury and I was on my way out anyway," she said.
"I had a buyer, had the money and had a contract.
"I was just waiting on my property person to come back off maternity leave so we could incorporate new words into the contract and it would be good."
Seqwater's decision makes the contract invalid, costing Ms Hamilton thousands of dollars.
More important to her than the cafe balance sheet was the community she had created.
"Geoff and Gloria are regulars," she said.
"Geoff has Alzheimer's and every day he asks Gloria what day it is.
"Wednesday is Wivenhoe day and they come here every Wednesday for fresh scones and butter and jam.
"They're local folk who have been married for 72 years."
Ms Hamilton choked back tears as she spoke of a woman who turned to her on the darkest day of her life.
"One of our regular ladies came in and she was quite upset," she said.
"That day she'd been diagnosed with really aggressive breast cancer and needed to be here before she could go home and face it.
"She just wanted to sit and talk before she went home."
Ms Hamilton has shared laughs and tears over the years.
"People forget what you said what you did, but they'll never forget how you made them feel," she said.
"We like our customers, we like the connections and we've put a lot of work into creating and maintaining connections with individuals and the wider community."
In six years, she and the team have transformed the cafe into a hive of activity.
"This place has been a destination, a southeast Queensland destination," she said.
"We don't get passing trade because we're off the highway. We're not allowed to have signs except for a little thing on the road."
The cafe is a friendly place with smooth coffee and food equally good as the view.
Nestled among the tourists, who sit and stare to the horizon, are the cafe's regular customers.
Yvonne Hillard has lived in the area for about 14 years.
Rain passed through on the morning she visited the cafe, creating an aroma of fresh gum leaves.
Mrs Hillard was sitting at a table on the homely deck as birds sang behind her.
"This is our jewel in the crown," she said.
"It's a beautiful spot and the ambience is absolutely wonderful."
Mrs Hillard said the food was good, but it was the people who made it great.
"They'll do anything for anyone," she said.
"They always make you feel so welcome."
Mrs Hillard was enjoying her morning coffee with a friend, Jan Stolberg, another regular customer whose art hangs on the cafe's panelled walls.
The pair had polished off two scones, a favourite among patrons.
Mrs Stolberg was disappointed the cafe would close but promised to visit several times before it did to soak up the country atmosphere.
"You'll really miss it when it's gone," she said.
"It's given us Fernvale artists an opportunity to display our art.
"It's more than a cafe."
Talking about the looming closure was tough for Ms Hamilton.
She wiped tears and walked towards two male customers as they were waiting at the front door.
They asked her as she approached: "How are you?"
"Livin' the dream," she said.
SEQWATER will inject half-a-million dollars to repair and revamp the Cormorant Bay Cafe.
The cafe, which overlooks Wivenhoe Dam, will undergo a $500,000 facelift to bring the building up to the required standard.
Work on the upgrade is set to take place after March this year following the expiry of the current lease.
The cafe is expected to reopen ahead of next summer.
Once completed the cafe will again be put out to tender for a new lease.
Seqwater communication manager Mike Foster said Seqwater recognised the cafe was a significant tourism drawcard for the region and was important for the local economy.
"The Cormorant Bay Cafe has established itself as a unique, must-stop destination in the Somerset Region," he said.
"We thank the current operators for their six and a half years of outstanding service and would certainly encourage them to respond to the tender process.
"Seqwater is committed to supporting and investing in tourism development across South East Queensland, which is why we are keen to make sure this cafe can safely continue to serve the community into the future.
"We are committed to re-opening the cafe as soon as the refurbishments are completed.''