By Robbie Swan, Co-founder of Mountain Creek Wholefoods
Mountain Creek Wholefoods had its origins in consciousness expansion. The initial business plan was actually founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1977. He asked Transcendental Meditators around the world to set up new businesses and he asked the proprietors to build expanded consciousness into their businesses via their daily meditation.
With this brief in mind, four Canberra meditators got together with a range of different skills and decided to build a new style of health food store. Greg Carman had the necessary health food retail experience, having been involved in launching the ANU Food Co-op a few years before. Gavan Evans was a graphic designer and all-round ideas man who had co-founded City Graphics. Phil Kinmond had been in the building trade for many years and Robbie Swan hosted a local radio program and had some media experience. Evans, Kinmond and Swan also owned a 200 acre property on Mountain Creek in the Wombat Ranges west of Canberra, where they built small huts to do fasting, cleansing diets and spiritual retreats.
Each person took on an area of expertise that roughly equated with their lot in life, and the shop’s name seemed to select itself.
In early discussions we wanted a return to the days when ‘service’ meant that someone actually ‘served’ you, which meant they also packed the products in front of you and handed you a parcel of food that was as personalised as you could get. What we wanted was the ANU Co-op arrangement but where someone interacted with you to help you make good selections. The Co-op used an open bin system so that the food was easy to get, but it was on the floor and open to anyone to touch, which put many people off. Our design incorporated a series of big bins that held up to 20 kilos of various foodstuffs (brown rice, Chinese dates, lentils, walnuts etc.) all lined lined up in a nice old mahogany-style counter, so that customers could not only choose to have a kilo out of that 20 kilos but have someone actually serve them.
To build such a system we employed another meditating carpenter who had been involved in building much of the hippy/organic apple scene in Pialligo in the mid 70’s. Dave Corbett was a craftsman who knew how to translate our ideas into reality and his carpentry skills were backed up with stained glass and other crafty abilities.
It took about a month to pull the shop together (it had previously been part of the fish and chip shop next door). There was no big opening, no big statement – just an opening date and the doors were open. Greg organised the shop from there and it developed a name for good produce, old-fashioned service and the most unique style of any health food store in town.
After a few months we all began to realise that we were not cut out to be shop-keepers and if the concept that we had created was to prosper and grow, it needed new parents who would love it like we originally did. So we sold to Mark and Sally Tolley. In 1984 they sold Mountain Creek to John Needham and Jenny Billington.
The Maharishi was fond of saying: “that which is closest to truth, last longest”. Mountain Creek has now had three sets of owners in 36 years and just gets better the older it gets. While the other health food shops come and go, Mountain Creek goes on and on in the tradition of Satwa (purity). The Tolleys continued to refine and stabilise the original concept, and when John and Jenny took over from them, their expanded vision saw the shop move ahead to where it is today. Possibly the best health food shop in Australia.
Postscript: After 36 years of holding up the shop, the counter top that Dave Corbett built finally wore out. The rebirth of the counter is thanks to Sam and Thor from Thor’s Hammer. (http://www.thors.com.au/) A stunning piece of craftsmanship. Photos are in our gallery.