Welcome to Maryborough, on the Fraser Coast.

The creative birthplace of Pamela Lyndon Travers, the author of the marvellous Mary Poppins novels, later imaged into a Disney musical, and more recently, the live stage shows at QPAC in Brisbane, Australia, and world-wide.

Mary Poppins; what a peculiar woman with a remarkable wit. She was as neat as a pin and orderly. Fair and decent with an enchanting self-regard and above all else, thrilling and exhilarating.  Those fortunate to cross paths with her, were left changed and happier.

She was extraordinarily good, and wonderful - she was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

I’m headed Northbound on the Bruce Highway to visit MAD Providore. You read that right, ‘MAD’ by name, not by nature. It’s an acronym for Mother and Daughter, and one of my favourite cafés we supply that I get to visit. Indeed, the coffee is always moreish, married perfectly with breakfast and lunch to grab and go, or dine in and indulge in that old school regional hospitality. You know it, the one with the smile, and enough time for a yarn.

I only gave Alisha and Helen a heads up yesterday, that this International Women’s Day, we wished to put a spotlight on these two amazing women. We’d like to learn what this day means to them, and more so, what are the qualities of the women who they’ve met or been supported by, that enable them to see out their vision as local food heroes with high standards, inspiring ambition, and a real knack of sharing joy.

‘In every job that must be done there is an element of fun’.

Driving through Tiaro I think, what good company we keep?

Sipping my warm filter brew from my thermos, I share a little nervous giggle thinking back to some of the memories together.

One busy day at the café, a small spot fire broke out inside the coffee machine, and Alisha and I hurriedly blew it out. Firstly, because there was a fire (!), and secondly, we didn’t want Helen to know what we’d done (!!).

Eyes wide open we both turned around, and right on que, - it’s Helen, to the rescue.

She was already on the phone to Boris, the coffee technician from Hervey Bay and he had it sorted within the hour.

‘Everything is possible, even the impossible!’ 

MAD Providore has had a few growing pains and it’s morphed over the years - indeed, changed for the better!

At first a successful catering business specialising in grazing platters. ‘Well begun, is half done’.

Then in September 2020, Helen and Alisha launched MAD Providore Deli and Cafe for the community to enjoy all week long.  It’s a space dedicated to speciality deli goods offering quality cheeses, meats, pasta sauces, gourmet ice cream, and fine pantry items. Oh, and just a little café offering on the side – a POD machine in fact – that will do they thought!

Hmm, by the end of that year, a little regional country feedback and a spoonful of sugar forced their hand to relaunch, with a larger and more dominant café offering including a full size 2 group commercial coffee machine and a smaller deli component on the side this time.

Yay, enter Montville Coffee. More change – for the better! 

A COVID lockdown here and there, another significant flood event in the township, and one café relocation later, I now pull up to the new home of MAD Providore on the comer of Tooley and Kent St.

I wonder what the inner qualities of these two women are, and what makes them so adaptable to change?

‘Open different doors. You may find a you that you never knew was yours’

I’m greeted by a familiar warm hug and a smile from Alisha and Helen whom I view in such high esteem. Through the above setbacks and reincarnations, these two visionary women remain creative in business, inspiring in attitude, tenacious in endeavour, and resilient in the face of adversity. ‘Well, if you must you must’, Mary says. 

Though, I’m not here today to provide Barista Training, or talk shop…  

I’m here to capture the story of these two MAD women, and to appreciate how they will view and celebrate this International Women’s Day.

I’ve got an appetite to dig into understanding who inspired them, and who influenced their values helping to craft out these two characters I now know.

I was nervous… feeling desperate… I so wanted to capture an authentic representation of Alisha and Helen to share with you.

Mary’s voice again ran through my head ‘Why do you always complicate things that really are quite simple?’

Adamant that this wasn’t my International Women’s Day story to tell, I simply pre-wrote a series of questions on some blank cards, mic’d up my two friends, and pressed record, allowing the camera to roll.

Helen and Alisha playfully embraced the questions they read, pondered their answers, explored the topics, and classically finished each other sentences.

I gushed when both women naturally synchronised their admiration for ‘Grandma’. What a timeless moment of gratitude that captured.

I wondered when I should allow the conversation to come to a close but chose to trust the process. ‘I’ll stay till the wind changes’.

Helen: “We do rant and rave and carry on like pork chops…”

Alisha: “but we wouldn’t have it other way.”

Southbound now, passing through Tiaro, I was lighter, and charmed by the good company we keep.

I returned to the Coast a little changed, and happier, and thought to myself, there must be something in the water in Maryborough.

Alisha and Helen; are practically perfect in every way.


April 05, 2023 — Sean McGowan