Singapore to Kurrajong: The Story of Diane Koh
You may not know Diane Koh’s face, but Hawkesbury residents certainly love her work. If you’ve ever made the drive from North Richmond to Berambing, you’ve passed no less than three of Diane’s business ventures; Mountain Palace Chinese restaurant (North Richmond), Barrel 58 (Kurmond) and Chapel Hill (Berambing).
This hardworking entrepreneur arrived with no assets, but has built her very own formidable contribution to local culture and economy. She provides employment for residents west of the river and speaks no less than seven languages. She lives and works in the Hawkesbury and mostly enjoys her downtime surrounded by the comforts of home.
What are your memories of your birthplace, and do you visit often?
“Most of my childhood and teenage years were spent between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I try to visit at least once or twice a year. My memories of my birthplace are the assorted street foods that are available in Singapore and Malaysia. They are heaven. I often plan a list of must-eats for the whole trip!
I’ve seen the transformation of Singapore. I am very grateful and proud to call myself a Singaporean even though I have been living in Australia over twenty years. I realise how lucky I am to be born and raised in Singapore with the education, opportunity and equality that the nation fought to provide to the citizen. With this influence, I am brave enough to pursue my dream. Without it I would not be what I am today, proudly owning and managing multiple businesses in Australia.”
What prompted your move to Australia? Who came with you?
“Sadly, my parents separated in the late 80s/early 90s, forcing my mum to join my late brother who was studying in Sydney then. So in 1993, I decided to join them, to try out if I could live here fulltime.”
How did you find the adjustment in the few years after moving here?
“The first couple of years were hard. Different city, cultures, and slang in the language. I was living in Wahroonga for six months before moving to Bilpin. I drowned myself with work so I didn’t have time to get homesick. What was difficult about adjusting? Living too far from the shopping centre and from assorted yummy foods! I had to travel just to even get bread and milk. Shopping centres were shut after 5pm and not open on the weekend. I love living on acres, in a close-knitted community, and most of all the opportunity to run our own businesses.”
You have multiple businesses right here in the Hawkesbury, when you could've had businesses anywhere. Why do you like the Hawkesbury so much?
“Why waste time travelling all around when there are decent venues within reach? All our businesses are on this side of the river. Everyone knows everyone. I might as well use it as an advantage in the businesses we have; especially with staff. It’s great! All venues can borrow staff from each other when there are big events on.”
There are stereotypes of Chinese people, but what do you think people might be surprised to learn?
“Even though Chinese are found everywhere in the world and have the same skin colour, I do find Chinese who are raised in different countries have different cultures, beliefs and mentality. So, people will be surprised when they get to know a Singaporean and a Chinese from China; how different they are and yet they may have the same ancestry.”
I've seen that you bring lion dances to Mountain Palace for Chinese New Year.What has been the response of the community surrounding Mountain Palace?
“The community love it, as it is quite fascinating to watch the lion dance, firework and martial arts. We are always fully booked for the event.”
Why do you think it's important to hold events and activities that reflect our diverse community?
“So we don’t forget where our roots were originally from, and respect all different cultures that we have.”
What's your favourite thing to do in the Hawkesbury on your days off? (Do you ever have days off?)
“When you run your own small businesses, it is your entire time and life. I choose to sacrifice my time for this career, so I don’t really have a day off. Occasionally when I do, it is out of Hawkesbury. Otherwise I just stay home to enjoy my own space.”