Three Minute Squiz With… Jo Fort and Nichelle Hodgson

(Jo Fort and Nichelle Hodgson out the front of the Innamincka Hotel)

Innamincka has a special place in The Squiz’s heart with more than 15% of the town* subscribed to The Squiz. We have Jo Fort and Nichelle Hodgson to thank for that claim to fame. They’re the ladies behind the iconic Innamincka Hotel, about 1,000km from Adelaide in north-east South Australia. The town has 40,000 years of history, including a starring role in the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition. Please welcome Jo and Nich to this outback edition of Three Minute Squiz.
*Innamincka pop. 12

First of all, how on earth did The Squiz make its way to Innamincka?
Jo – I discovered the Squiz a few months ago and I’m not sure how that happened but from the first ‘squiz’ I was hooked. Nich lives and works in Innamincka and I live and work mostly in Adelaide. We think we make a great team and we constantly encourage each other by sharing good news stories. The Squiz was one of those stories.

Take us back to life before Innamincka and how you ended up at the Innamincka Hotel?
Jo – I was a remote area nurse based in Birdsville. Before that, I lived in Adelaide working as a neonatal nurse. Before that I was a country girl from Gloucester in NSW. There are lots of things in between but it’s fair to say that the outback got into my blood and I’ve made it my life. Or maybe it’s the outback that’s made me the person I am today.

Nich – Before Innamincka, I was a mother to three energetic girls living in Wagga Wagga NSW. They went off to school and I re-educated myself through TAFE, eventually becoming the manager of Treasury for the NSW Health Department. Then it was time for a change. My husband is a coxswain and came to Innamincka in that role as a Guide and Coxswain for Inna Cruises. That was seven years ago, and we haven’t left!

Innamincka is 1,000k north of Adelaide and a couple of days drive west of Brisbane. For those wondering if they should visit, give us the Innamincka pitch.
Jo – I think Innamincka is one of Australia’s best-kept secrets. Innamincka is a dry little outpost perched on a ridge overlooking a great desert river, Cooper Creek. This may not be the most attractive pitch but outback pubs are cherished waterholes where travellers and workers meet to share yarns washed down with beer and embellished with belly laughs.

Nich – That’s one pitch, another way of talking Innamincka is to say that it’s a desert oasis where after a long day of travel you can drop your bag, settle into a comfortable cool motel room, check your emails and then make your way to Outamincka dining. We say ‘expect the unexpected at Innamincka’ – our menu and wine list is built on the best South Australia can offer.

What the toughest thing about running a business that is so remote?
Jo – The extremes. And the isolation. You learn to be resilient and resourceful. The extremes are also extremely beautiful – our sunsets are stunning.

Nich – It can be hard in the outback with no medical facilities. Saving people’s lives to the best of your ability and first aid knowledge. Plus taking medical advice through a phone call with a doctor in Broken Hill and then waiting for a medical team to arrive to collect the patient.

Who are you inviting to the dream dinner party and what’s on the menu?
Our dream dinner party is a degustation menu with the Wine Ninja (Steve Haley) of Yalumba Wines. The degustation menu is lobster bisque, blue-eye trevella ceviche, lemon sorbet, lamb rump with a shiraz reduction on a bed of sweet potato mash, baby carrots, broccolini and pannacotta.

At our table, we’d have our good friends from the Birdsville Hotel, the Prairie Hotel, Marree Hotel and William Creek Hotel. It’d be a sort of outback hoteliers gathering where we’d share our challenges and turn them into successes.

Oh, and we’d be entertained by our special guests the Crack-Up Sisters.

Your favourite book?*
Jo – Lots of favourites but The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd comes to mind.

Nich – Leading on the Edge, by Rachael Robertson. She is an Australian author and keynote speaker, and is best known as an authority on living in extreme environments. She’s a former Antarctic Expedition Leader – it’s a great inspirational read.

What skill or talent don’t you have but wish you did?
Jo – I wish I could fly.

Nich – I wish I could sing and dance well.

What would you say is the most overrated virtue?
Jo – Patience comes to mind. A lot of time in the outback is about waiting. Waiting for rain to fall, waiting for rain to stop, waiting until it gets cooler, waiting until it gets warmer, waiting for the supply truck, waiting for the mail plane. Patience is a virtue, for sure. But don’t underestimate the agitation when the fruit and veg order fails to be loaded on the weekly supply truck.

Nich – I would agree with Jo, patience is a virtue in the outback, summers can be hot long and drawn out.

What’s your worst and best habit?
Jo – Best is being focused and organised. Worst habit – expecting everyone to be as focused as organised as me.

Nich – Best habit is being organised ’cause if you didn’t have this as a best habit it would be hard to run a business like ours in the outback. We can’t just run down to the supermarket if we run out of supplies or grog! Worst habit – failing to delegate – sometimes it’s easier to do the job yourself.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story we should know about?
We both agree it is the role that volunteers play in our communities, the unsung heroes who keep small towns like Innamincka functioning. Volunteering goes with a generosity of spirit and working together using mateship to underpin actions. We see a lot of this in the outback.

*Buy a book using the links provided and The Squiz may get a little commission. 

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