If you saw a funny little octagonal office-on-wheels in Norfolk Island’s Burnt Pine in the 1980’s you might have been forgiven for wondering what was going on within it’s walls. If you ventured in, you’d have been able to book a Sound and Light Show, a Fish Fry or an Island Bushwalk. Still guessing? The unconventional building was a neat sidestep to some pesky planning rules, and the home of Pinetree Tours which was to become, over the next 20 years, an iconic island business. Today Pinetree Tours employs around 100 full and part-time employees (from a permanent building!) and offers visitors to the island 17 different tours a week. Boo Prentice first developed the Sound and Light Show with a cast of local actors bringing the convict era to life, which was the first time something like that had been tried on Norfolk and was immediately successful.
Boo subsequently took over Marie’s Tours which had originally belonged to Marie Bailey, who was really the pioneer for the touring industry on Norfolk. Max Hobbins is a driver who worked for Marie in the early days and still works for Pinetrees today. Max Hobbins tells us, “I’ve been a tour driver off and on for about 21 years and I’ve seen a lot of things in that time. You need to be a bit of a showman, a bit of a salesman and have a good sense of humour! I remember bogging a full bus in the mud out at Puppy’s Point one time, loaded up with a group of elderly people from a retirement home. Well, I was at the wheel, and there was nothing to be done but ask them to get out and push… in the end I was the only clean person on the bus and the whole island heard about how I’d asked them to push the bus out of the mud! I think it was one of the highlights of their trip.”
Many people on Norfolk pick up part-time work here and there, and it’s highly likely that they may have worked for Pinetrees in some capacity, often as actors in one of the many theatrical offerings – your local market gardener just might have played Fletcher Christian for a stretch, or the friendly face in the supermarket might have been a sneering Captain Bligh, strutting upon the deck. It’s also possible that you may visit their house with Pinetrees for a progressive dinner, or get to meet them in one of their diverse behind-the-hedges tours showcasing local industry, gardens or culture.
The observant visitor might also note that all vehicles belonging to Pinetrees have a name like Doggy, Turk or Hodder. These are all names of significant islanders who have passed away. When the team get a new vehicle in, they have a staff meeting and bring suggestions for naming it. When they have decided on one, they approach the family to see if it is ok by them. Max says, “one of the nicest things about working for Pinetrees is the great staff we have. We all work as a team and the girls in the office are just wonderful.” When pressed for some of his favourite comments through the years from visitors (who are obviously a little distracted by the stunning scenery) he laughs and comes up with a beauty “here’s a good one… if the island enjoys such a low crime rate why do people put electric fences around their properties?” If you’ve been to Norfolk before you’ll know the answer to that one, otherwise we’ll give you a hint… something to do with four-legged creatures who ‘mooo-oove’ around the island. You’ll probably even stop for one in your Pinetrees bus!