September 29, 2021
Spicers Hidden Vale, near the village of Grandchester, an hour’s drive south-west of Brisbane, has just welcomed a rising star of Spicers Retreats, Cameron Brooksby, as an energetic new general manager.
Cameron has moved to Queensland from the Hunter Valley where he ran Spicers Vineyards Estate, and while there completed the 12-month ‘Star Anise’ future leaders’ program. “What resonates with me at Spicers is the complete commitment to exceptional food and wine, which starts in the kitchen garden, whilst also providing an experience of the ‘real’ Australia in these incredible landscapes,” says Cameron.
The magnificent, 12,000-acre historic Hidden Vale property is on fertile farming country near the foothills of the Border Ranges. The main Homestead is home to Homage Restaurant, and just down the road is the back-to-nature thrill of the Hidden Vale Adventure Park and 110kms of trails.
Before joining Spicers, Cameron’s career in food and beverage management had taken him to high-end hotels and restaurants in regional Australia. In 2017 and 2018 Cameron worked as restaurant manager with executive chef Robin Wickens at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Victoria, and had a whirlwind year at Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island over 2015 and 2016.
“The one element that makes one venue stand out from the rest, is the team of people who offer the experience,” explains Cameron. “I believe that a culture driven by sustainability in people, not just the environment, is crucial for any team who strive for service excellence.”
Setting the standards
Cameron Brooksby was born in South Australia but started his hospitality career in Queensland, as a school-based trainee from 2001 at the Radisson Hotel in Cairns, where he learnt the basics of operating a 5-star hotel and became hooked on hospitality.
“My first aspirations were not necessarily to be the general manager,” Cameron explained, “it was more about leadership. I loved sports growing up and I always wanted to lead the team.”
A move to Melbourne led to a hospitality management traineeship with Radisson in 2007 and eventually an invitation in 2010 to join the 5-star Radisson Blu Hotel Hong Quan in Shanghai as Food and Beverage Manager.
“To travel and work in exotic places has always appealed to me,” said Cameron. “So of course, I took the first opportunity I had to work overseas, which then really kickstarted my drive to become a general manager.”
Hospitality is about people
Cameron’s career has been built on strong relationships with his team and mentors who recognised and rewarded his obvious enthusiasm and talent for luxury hospitality.
“Andre De Jong, Steve Finlayson, Lyle Lewis and Arne Heuwerkemeijer with Radisson Hotels all inspired me to reach a little higher up the ranks,” said Cameron.
After four years in Shanghai, Cameron decided to brave the culture shock and returned to Australia. While pulling beers at the local pub, an opportunity arrived to run the restaurant of the renowned dining destination, The Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Victoria.
“I learnt a lot during my first year at the Mail,” Cameron recalls, “I made some lifelong friends and fell even more in love with wine – I believe the Royal Mail has the largest collection of Bordeaux and Burgundy in the southern hemisphere!”
“Working with the executive chef Robin Wickens was inspirational. I’m not sure I’ve ever worked with someone so dedicated to their craft.”
In the winter of 2015 Cameron swapped country Victoria for tropical Hamilton Island, to take the reins of food and beverage at the stunning Qualia resort, where he discovered first-hand the difference between regional and island hospitality in Australia.
Time to travel
Over the years Cameron has travelled to the USA, Thailand, Bali, Jordan and Egypt; and his food senses are drawn to Piedmont, Toulouse and Tokyo.
In 2016, Cameron and his partner were ready to start their own concept restaurant, however, a meeting with Royal Mail Hotel general manager, Mark Whitnell, saw Cameron return to his previous workplace in 2017. Eventually the two friends moved from The Royal Mail to the Hunter Valley to open Spicers Guesthouse in the Hunter Valley in 2018, with Cameron as the regional food and beverage manager.
“Opening the Guesthouse made me realise how much of an impact a property like a Spicers Retreat can make on a regional community,” Cameron said. “The Guesthouse was the talk of the town and will be for years to come.”
Cameron says, “Spicers’ properties to me represent a more relaxed, intimate experience of regional Australia, but with all the luxury of a five-star retreat.”
After the success of The Guesthouse opening, Cameron was given the opportunity to move into the general manager role at its sister property, Spicers Vineyards Estate, in 2019, and achieved outstanding results over the next two years, before taking over at Spicers Hidden Vale.
A homage to nature’s bounty
Set near the foothills of the Border Ranges, Spicers Hidden Vale is intimately connected to its spectacular environment. It offers privacy and serenity with a view you could gaze at forever, over a landscape offering a generous range of nature-based activities and ‘farm gate to plate’ dining at Homage Restaurant.
A 3000-bottle cellar sits at the heart of the restaurant, as Homage dining areas flow across a series of airy lounges, framed by the stunning Spotted Gum bar and floor-to-ceiling rock fireplaces, leading onto deep, spacious verandas and the verdant gardens beyond.
Executive Chef Ash Martin and his team embraced a ‘cooking with fire’ concept, searing, toasting and grilling on an imported Mibrasa grill, fuelled by coals from local Mulgowie olive tree prunings.
The talented Homage team unlock the natural, organic and seasonal treasures of the regional food bowl: Fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables are harvested daily from their own market garden or trusted local growers, and their own artisanal edibles are drawn from the smokehouse, preserving room and hen house.
Eco-experiences in luxury
“In terms of sustainability, Spicers are leading the way in our industry,” says Cameron, “they show that embracing sustainability at all levels of the business and team culture, is financially viable and extremely beneficial for all.”
Appealing to a young adventurous guy like Cameron, Spicers Retreats have received development approval to expand access to Hidden Vale with an adventure eco-tourism campground village in a bush creek setting for nearly 300 visitors.
Spicers Hidden Vale and their new general manger Cameron Brooksby may find their brand of relaxed luxury, with a spectacular landscape to explore, becomes the region’s preferred 5-star experience.
Spicers Hidden Vale
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