serviced Cape Jervis from Adelaide to meet the Philanderer Ferry,’
she says. ‘If there were only two or three passengers going to Cape
Jervis, my mum and I would meet the bus at Old Noarlunga and drive
them down in our family car.’
In contrast to the Briscoes small-scale service, SeaLink transports
over eight million passengers around Australia each year. But
Julie-Anne’s philosophy remains the same. ‘We keep doing what
we do, and we make sure we do it well, no matter where we are
operating,’ she says.
Over the years, SeaLink has had its fair share of competitors start up
on the Kangaroo Island route ... and inevitably fail. The first of these
was the ‘Island Seaway’, which was owned by the State Government
and operated between Port Adelaide and Kingscote until 1995, when
it was discontinued. Then came the high-speed ‘Super Flyte’, which
carried up to 510 passengers between Glenelg and Kingscote, until
the cost of a fast boat, rough weather and poor facilities at Glenelg
forced it to close in 1997. ‘Enigma’ took its place with limited services
until late 1998, when it was withdrawn because of a lack of viability
and ‘shallow water’. In 2004 the short-lived KI Ferries SA catamaran
operated between Wirrina Cove and Kingscote for just five months,
before the business failed financially.
Throughout all these ventures, SeaLink continued to operate with
little fanfare, instead focussing on promoting Kangaroo Island as a
destination. ‘We never slashed our prices, we never tried to compete
in their world,’ says Jeff.
The approach paid off, not just for SeaLink but also for Kangaroo
Island, where tourism has become the biggest industry and thirty
percent of passengers are now from overseas.
Using the same business model, SeaLink has grown to have eighty
marine vessels, as well as a fleet of sixty-two coaches, four-wheel
drives and other touring vehicles. The company now operates in every
state except Victoria.
Most recently, SeaLink made a bold decision to branch out from
transport and bought two resorts on Fraser Island, which are being
refurbished and upgraded. ‘We were already providing over a hundred
thousand meals a year on our cruises and at our lodge on Kangaroo
Island, so we knew that we certainly had the potential to move into
resorts,’ Jeff says.
Julie-Anne shows me the glossy brochures they’ve created for Fraser
Island. They depict enticing white-sand beaches with azure water
and untamed rainforests. The caption reads: ‘Fraser Island, where
memories are made.’
But in making memories for tourists, SeaLink is also changing the
lives of small business owners across Australia, who are reaping the
rewards of a thriving tourism industry. And the company is creating its
own legacy; proving the benefits of a smart business model, foresight
and a sense of generosity. ‘It’s been such a wonderful journey being
part of SeaLink’s story,’ smiles Julie-Anne. ‘We’re so proud of what
this South Australian company has achieved, and there are many
great things still to come.’
Top: The ferry terminal has been modernised and upgraded for the comfort of travellers. Bottom left: One of the original ferry services to and from Kangaroo Island: ‘The
Philanderer’. Bottom right: Managing Director, Jeff Ellison.