THERE'S a small sign in the shadow of the South Gippsland Highway. It implores the south-bound to do the right thing. Welcome to Bass Coast is an afterthought as drivers speed past on their way to the penguins or the pirate ships of Maru Koala Park. Further down the road there's food for the fast and furious as they fuel up for the next race against the clock.
For those with a more leisurely itinerary there's the other part of Bass, the by-passed town itself. Trundle past the footy ground – go the Panthers! – the Post Office shop and the V/Lline bus stop; there's plenty of space around the reserve. Landcare has an office in the gap between the op shop and the community hall.
The banner outside that hall proudly proclaims “Everybody All Together – EAT@Paul's Table”. More pop in than pop up, Paul's Table opened in March 2017. Inside that big hall there's lots of space around one long table at which Ross and Tracey Denby are growing a community of diners who value companionship and conversation.
The result of years of planning and dedication, Paul's Table is named after their son Paul who had a disability. The couple were always mindful of how the general community accepted them and their son. They have also worked in Myanmar with children who have been affected intellectually due to malnutrition. The “table” is representative of the community coming together and socialising over a meal. The cafe's going well though it's “not making a profit” rather than officially “not for profit”. There is huge local support for meals cooked with love and conversations included.
One of the more recent topics of conversation is the move to permanent premises. Tracey and Ross are renovating a house on the other edge of town but there is a lot to do before they can realise their long-term plans.
The Bass River bisects the town and a defiantly historic bridge links the two sides and leads to the surviving trees that mark the avenue of honour. These trees were planted to commemorate the district's contribution to World War One. On the edge of this row of trees sits the house that will, one day, become the new home of Paul's Table.
Originally the town's police station, the house was built during the post-World War Two boom. Tracey and Ross are the third owners and the renovation has been a labour of love as they alter the interior to suit a new purpose. Eventually this will become a home for them as well as for the cafe.
Ross points out that the move is still subject to approval so it's good to be able to share their dream. Landscaping and gardening are high on the to-do list as Ross and Tracey work toward a possible spring move for Paul's Table. Their plans include a co-working space for small business start-ups and a small bed and breakfast operation.
"We look forward to welcoming all our old friends and making new ones," Ross says as he reaches for a paint brush.
Paul's Table is currently operating at Bass Valley Community Hall from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.