“Growing up in Ballarat, the eldest of two girls, I had always wanted to be a teacher. Being the eldest of my cousins, my organisational skills and over-engineered choreography played out in performances for our parents. Young talent time was all the rage then, I really wanted to be on that show. I didn’t know it then, but I enjoy empowering people and passing knowledge on.
I am a very social person. All my school reports said I had done all my required amount of work, however, was easily distracted. I had a great time at school, I also held a casual job at KFC, five of my girlfriends worked at the same store, it was an absolute ball! My family went on lots of camping holidays, I’ve always enjoyed being active and be outdoors. None of that has changed.
In year 12, I was so social, my Mum said I was probably wouldn’t pass VCE. She suggested I enrolled in Tafe as it didn’t look likely that I would be accepted into the Food Science course I desperately wanted to study. I took her advice and enrolled in a Hospitality and Event Management course. I absolutely loved it and haven’t looked back.
In 1993, when I finished my Event Management course, I moved to Melbourne. I got my first gig with Spotless catering. I was living in Carlton with two friends from high school. I’d ride my bike down Lygon street onto St Kilda Road where I was based for work. I worked the hours of 7am-3pm, I’d ride home, have a snooze before heading out for the evening. I was living the dream!
Rinse and repeat
I remember watching the movie Cocktail, and I wanted the island life!. At the age of 20, I moved to Cairns to get me some of that action. For seven months, I worked on Green Island. Again, I’d ride my
bike to meet the 7am ferry and be on the island by 8am. Staff took the last boat back at 4.30pm. The Cairns yacht club was next to where the boat docked. I have one knock off drink which led to another drink, before we knew it we were in the night clubs. Rinse and repeat!
I’d describe the first 25 years of my life as exceptionally social, adventurous and brave. I have lived life to the fullest.
When I returned to Melbourne, I continued with my Event Management work for two years. I worked for AVS Catering, in the role of recruitment for the Spring Racing carnival in 1996. I then moved across to recruiting a team to work the Ford Australian Open. The following years I moved into Corporate Sales for both of these events. I loved these roles. Dealing with people both clients and staff at these events I really enjoyed.
Travel and work
The next four years, I did the quintessential Australian backpacking/working gig, I travelled with my boyfriend Tom. We went straight to Austria, working our way through the Eastern Block onto UK when we were out of funds so we could work. I worked with Gardener Merchant in London, scoring a role in charge of recruitment and onsite management for the summer circuit of events. Events included Wimbledon, The Paris Air Show, Scotland Golf, Chelsea Flower Show, and Royal Ascot.
When the summer events were over, Tom flew home but I was still keen to see the world. I flew to Whistler, a ski resort in British Columbia, Canada. I worked in ski school sales. This is when I took up snowboarding. When the season was over, I just couldn’t go home. Thankfully, I received a call from Gardener Merchant in England, they sponsored me to manage their recruitment and on-site management again. ‘Please come back,’ they said. So, I returned to Europe, with a renewed visa.
When my visa ended, again, I still did not want to come home. I was in luck; a business owner I had worked with the previous season Bill Murray, offered me a job and the all-important seasons ski pass. I was an in-resort rep, looking after guests arrival, ticketing & ski school requirements. We are actually still in contact. My family caught up with Bill and his wife Steph in January this year whilst we were over on a family skiing holiday in Whistler.
When I finally came back to Melbourne I was lost. I have been away for four years. I took a job with the Housing Industry Association in the events department. It was a male-dominated industry and the particular manager I worked under was an absolute male chauvinist. He was a Hawthorn supporter. To this day, I cannot stand the Hawthorn FC as it reminds me of him!
Kickstarting my life
Whilst I was working in this toxic environment, my, Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over a six-week period, she was travelling from Ballarat to Melbourne for radiography as Ballarat did not have the facilities to treat her. It was a very dark and angry time for me. The anger and unfairness of being a woman just really got to me. Unfortunately, my anger resulted in the of my relationship with my boyfriend, Joe. I loved him, I thought he was the man I was going to spend my life with. But I wasn’t in a good place, I respect that he had to move on.
At that point, I needed change and positivity. I decided to kickstart my life and started looking for a home to purchase. I was priced out of the Inner North and Footscray was the only affordable area that I had the deposit for.
I purchased my first home 2003, just behind Franco Cozzo. I held on to that place for 15 years, and only recently in February this year sold the home I have a lot of memories there.
When I moved into Footscray, I was ridiculously social and was a crazy party girl. I moved into a role in the marketing department of Metricon Homes. I met some great people at Metricon and have made some very close friendships from these two years.
In January 2005, one of my girlfriends suggested we holidayed in Byron Bay. As we booked at the last minute all the affordable accommodation had been snapped up, so we had to take our tents and stay in the campground. One evening we were in The Railways sharing the communal table with two English blokes. One of the lads, Dave, looked like Robbie Williams, my girlfriend eyed him off and I met his mate, Matt. Matt was fun, lively, bought me lots of drinks, danced with me but had a wedding ring on. We had a lovely evening however, not quite with the activity my girlfriend got up to with her English beau. A week later, Matt contacted me, he said he would like to see me again before he headed home to Holland. We spent a few nights in Port Douglas and then Mission Beach, falling in love! When Matt flew back to Europe, I knew he was the one. He returned three months later and moved in with me. He had given up his life to be with me in Australia.
We married in 2007, and had twin boys in 2009. I had been a stay-home mum until the boys commenced prep at Footscray City Ps in 2014.
Can I run a disco?
I was ready to go back to work by the time the boys had started school. I asked the then principal, Steve Warner, ‘Can I run a disco for the kids?’
The school was small with approximately 180 students. 160 of them came to the disco, it was SO fun. I worked with Steve for three years, taking on the fundraising role organizing movie nights, Christmas parties and the music department event, The Big Day Out. He is a fabulous person, I learnt a lot from him.
The boys loved that I was involved with their school. They loved being at school in the dark when everyone had gone home! For three years, events were ‘Lindy Benwell’ events. I had complete creative direction, it was a little like when I was young and putting on concerts with my cousins. I was conscious though that many more parents were in the community and it was about time that not all the events were organized just by me, and other people needed to be involved. I stepped down, but still wanting to do something around school hours. My girlfriend Mookie said to me ‘Why don’t you run the school canteen?’
Steve’s response was ‘Do it.’
The Lunch Box
In 2006 February to May, I worked with Ambyr Wood on the creative look for Lunchbox. She was amazing to work with, her creativity and enthusiasm were infectious. I worked around the clock on the menu as well as with Maribyrnong City Council ensuring the kitchen fit-out was compliant. Setting up a business was a massive learning curve for me. Dealing with ASIC, Worksafe, Super funds and sourcing an online ordering system, gosh, I look back now and wonder how I accomplished all of this in just four months.
In June, the canteen opened. I operated three days a week. The canteen and its healthy menu was really well-supported.
In June 2017, a parent at West Footscray Primary School contacted me asking if I was interested in servicing their school. This came as a shock to me as I was a stay-at-home Mum, cooking homemade food. I believed in my product but just didn’t know a wider community than Footscray City PS knew about it. I met with the principal, Brendan Miller, which led to presenting a proposal to the school council. The Lunch Box launched at West Footscray at the commencement of 2018.
In June 2018, David Lombardi, the then Principal of Footscray North Primary School, reached out to me and asked me the same. In October 2018, The Lunch Box began serving food to the kids at Footscray North too.
Shortly after the launch at North, St John’s reached out as well. I met with principal Gemma Goodyear and commenced service the following month.
The hardest part of The Lunch Box is, I still see it as a hobby and a service to the school. I am now becoming to understand that the community see it as a successful business and a natural entity of their schools. I have had no business plan; the growth has been organic. I have somehow, however, managed to control the growth and look after myself along the journey. I’ve been contacted by a few other schools, but have declined as I wanted to keep it controlled, as I knew my family’s needs had to come first.
I love being in the kitchen and chatting with the kids. They are so honest; they know what they like and what they don’t. We are limited to changes we can make to the menu as kids order the same thing every week. I do have parents asking me ‘How do you make your cheese toasties; my kids will only eat the ones from Lunchbox’.
Another aspect of the business I thoroughly enjoy is being able to provide an opportunity for parents to gain employment during school hours. Just recently, a mum I had hired texted me saying ‘I have given her back her self-confidence and self-worth, and she would be forever grateful for the opportunity.’ This just feel amazing to me, it really does make those long hard days worthwhile.
We recently moved into Seddon, in January of this year. We simply needed a bigger house. We have moved from an amazing street and community; we miss them every day.
In the last 15 years, this area has gentrified so much. I see many more Subaru outbacks and Vietnamese restaurants serving craft beers!
I love the Footscray area. I love that my boys have grown up in a highly diverse multicultural neighbourhood. One of our favourite things to do on the weekend is to grab a bowl of Pho for breakfast.
I’m still a party girl at heart! On weekends, (mainly outside the soccer season) I enjoy having friends around especially now we have more space to entertain. I’m an avid snowboarder and very much enjoy a glass of champagne.”