It’s every mother’s dream to be a role model their daughter can look up to, to create a life that inspires, and to build a legacy she can pass on to her children. For hospitality queen Helen Moyle and her daughter Kim Starkey, that’s exactly what happened…
From humble beginnings in a Newcastle butcher shop, Helen Moyle and her husband Alan built a hospitality empire that spanned almost 40 years and included ownership of some of the Hunter’s most iconic pubs. Along the way they also found time to raise a family – Kim and her brother Michael.
For Kim, being the daughter of a working mum and local publican meant since the age of two she spent her childhood growing up in pubs. She remembers it as an experience most kids would envy.
“One of the pubs Mum and Dad owned was one block from school so I used to walk home at lunchtime for whatever was on the pub menu, sometimes lamb cutlets if I was lucky, then I’d grab a chocolate from the bottle shop on my way back to school,” Kim said.
“Living onsite meant we also got to play the pinballs and video games whenever we wanted. It was a pretty good way to spend your childhood.”
There were some downsides though according to Kim, including having to attend six different primary schools as her parents bought, sold, and built what would become a remarkable legacy.
“I did get to stay at a single high school, that was the deal and my parents made sure that happened one way or another,” Kim said.
“Looking back, I understand what they were trying to achieve, and the truth is, when it comes to female role models, I’ve never had to look farther than Mum when it comes to work and financial success.
“She showed me the value of working hard and the importance of balancing family and business.”
“Looking back, I understand what they were trying to achieve, and the truth is, when it comes to female role models, I’ve never had to look farther than Mum when it comes to work and financial success. “She showed me the value of working hard and the importance of balancing family and business...”
Having worked alongside Alan at every pub in their vast stable, including the Chelmsford Hotel at Kurri, the Australian Hotel at Young, the Gunyah Hotel at Belmont, the Iron Horse Inn at Cardiff, the Stag & Hunter Hotel Mayfield, the Royal Federal Hotel at Branxton, Ettalong Hotel on the Central Coast and numerous other venues, at one time or another Helen played a role in almost every aspect of running a pub from managing the bar, balancing the books and everything in between.
“It was 1976 and I was 26 when we took our first hotel lease, The Chelmsford Hotel at Kurri,” Helen said.
“Kim was two years old and I didn’t even know what a shandy was when we started out.
“In terms of employment, with the exception of the publican, it was almost exclusively women working in pubs. But back then the bar staff were older, married women who took on second jobs to help out in the hours after their husbands came home from work.
“Socially though, there was still a lady’s parlour with a half bar window in those days and the women would ring a bell to order their crème sherry or other drink. Men were not allowed in unless accompanied by a lady, but at the Chelmsford we worked to instead create a modern, mixed crowd environment by introducing music and sports teams, including a lady’s darts team.
“I’d like to think we were instrumental in helping to lift and relax that sense of gender separation,” Helen said.
“Women would not go into the main bar and I never believed things should be that way.”
“In terms of employment, with the exception of the publican, it was almost exclusively women working in pubs. But back then the bar staff were older, married women who took on second jobs to help out in the hours after their husbands came home from work..."
For Helen, taking on a new business, working alongside her husband as an equal partner, and raising two young children was not without its challenges.
But despite business goals and plans for the future, both she and Alan were always determined to always put family first.
“We always had dinner as a family and on Wednesday nights we would go out for tea together,” Helen said.
“No matter how hard we worked I was always a mother first and foremost. Above and beyond anything else we were a family. Alan and I were very committed to that.
“When we had the Iron Horse Inn at Cardiff everyone there called me the Iron Lady and yes, we worked hard, but it was always for our kids.”
Like most mothers and daughters, Helen and Kim don’t always agree on everything, and when Kim and husband Mick Starkey took on their first pub, the Australia Hotel at Cessnock, the couple had their own ideas on how to do things. But what she and mother Helen have always agreed upon on is the natural desire to create an amazing life and legacy for their children.
Kim and Mick have since been the driving force behind the Australia Hotel at Cessnock, the Royal Federal Hotel Branxton, and currently the Stag & Hunter Hotel Mayfield and Customs House in Newcastle.
“I’m proud of what Kim’s done,” Helen said.
“She had the background. I mean, she learned to count tills at age seven so there was never any doubting her capability, or Mick’s. Together they are the perfect team and I couldn’t have wished for a better partner for my daughter.
“We retired in 2000 when they came in with The Australia Hotel at Cessnock as their first. It was a good starting point and Alan and I really stepped back to let them make their own way.
“Sometimes that was a challenge for me as a mum and former business owner, but I knew we had to let them create a life and business that was their own.”
For Kim, in addition to the financial success she watched her parents achieve over the years, it was the ability to spend time and focus on family that enticed she and Mick to inevitably follow in her parent’s footsteps.
“Looking back, I remember Mum and Dad always being there,” she said.
“When we started to plan for a family Mick was working in a role that required him to spend time away, but it was important to both of us that we be there as much as possible for our children.
“As a kid I played a million different sports and my parents were always there. Mum would pick up other kids from sport, she would work in the school canteen. They were present and that’s what Mick and I wanted for our own family.
“Financially I was also very lucky growing up. Thanks to Mum and Dad we never wanted for anything. We had our own responsibilities sure, we worked in the pubs doing odd jobs, but we were fortunate to have a childhood like that.
“I think as a parent that is what you really want. To be present and to have your children’s needs met. If you can spoil them all the better. Seeing your kids happy and loved is the goal. My Mum showed me how to do that. She personified that legacy and it’s one I hope Mick and I have been able to give our family as well. That would be more than enough to qualify as a success for me.
“Seeing your kids happy and loved is the goal. My Mum showed me how to do that. She personified that legacy and it’s one I hope Mick and I have been able to give our family as well. That would be more than enough to qualify as a success for me..."
“If our kids or my niece or nephew decide to carry that legacy through to a third generation that is up to them. The point is, it’s there and really, that’s what all of this has been about.
“Creating something for the people you love most.”