Visibly Connected at Secrets on the Lake
John Caruso meets an inspiring local who has built one of the region’s most desirable destinations out of courage, commitment and compassion – and she’s not ready to disappear just yet.
Aldy is short for Aldath. Not a name that’s heard often.
“It’s very old. In the novel 1066 and All That there’s a Welsh Queen with a similar name and I believe it was one of the names of William the Conqueror’s grandmother. Also, in the book Seven Little Australians there’s a character called Aldith,” Aldy Johnston explains.
Together with husband George, Aldy has owned and run Secrets on The Lake for more than quarter of a century but they haven’t always been in the hospitality game.
“I was born in Dalby in 1944 and George was born in Scotland south-west of Elgin, and he came out to Australia when he was eight,” Aldy shares. “His father came first, arrived in Dalby and built the second motel ever, The Wishing Well Motel, which is still standing.
“I met George riding our bikes together to and from high school.”
Uprooting from country Queensland and heading to New Zealand to get a degree was on her mind before marriage and settling down.
“There weren’t degrees in home economics available in Australia and I had no idea or clue where that would lead me but I’m a person who’s very adaptable,” she says. “It’s the people that count with me more than the place and my parents were never surprised about this. You grab opportunities and you do the best you can.”
I ask Aldy if she thinks of herself as a risk taker.
“A little bit, I think. Yeah. You’ve gotta jump off the edge sometimes. You can have an idea, but if you don’t follow through on it, you’re never going to get anywhere,” she responds.
The couple started building Secrets on the Lake in 1985 and opened it for bookings in 1997.
Since then, Aldy has met, seen, spoken to, and built relationships with thousands of people.
“People come up to me and say, ‘you’re amazing! Keep it up.’ Older women tend to be written off; not seen, however a lot of women are still very capable of contributing, but they’re not given the opportunities,” Aldy explains.
There’s a team of about 30 at Secrets on The Lake and speaking out and being heard at age 79 is important to her.
“I run the business and still make decisions concerning it and if I’m talking to someone who’s managing my kitchen or my restaurant, I expect them to listen. I think people switch off if you look old. That’s why I colour my hair,” she laughs.
Kerala in India with its cultural diversity, rich history and varied landscape that includes the Arabian Sea coast, seems worlds away from Dalby, the often-hot rural Queensland town where Aldy grew up and later worked as a teacher. However a diagnosis 16 years ago started a journey of discovery and wellness that continues today.
“In 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she shares. “I survived it, and I got in touch with someone who suggested I go the Ayurvedic health centre in Kerala.
“I do that every two years, three weeks at a time. It keeps my weight in check, keeps me healthy and I’ve learned to utilise alternate methods to stay well and maintain a level of wellness beyond my biological age.”
For Aldy, paying it forward is also important, not simply because of the ‘good karma’ it may generate but also because of the sense of purpose it provides.
“It’s extremely important because a lot of people don’t have purpose in their lives, and they don’t have support,” she said. “We’re having a fundraiser in October to raise funds for the homeless, which we do most years because part of our focus is about helping others. It’s all about kindness.”
If there’s one lesson I learn again and again from recording fresh episodes of our podcast, Everyone Has a Story, is that listening is the key.
Any good interviewer will tell you that. And if you have the opportunity of sitting down with someone who’s a little more senior in years compared to yourself, then tapping into that deep well of experience is a privilege. Life has no instruction manual, however the guidance you seek is often in plain sight.
WANT MORE? Listen to our full conversation with Aldy Johnston on our podcast, Everyone Has a Story now.