When I first needed childcare, back in 2000, I first looked at council-run places. There were none without a long waiting list, so I looked at private. I found a place nearby called Wilmar, run by a lovely couple called Neville and Pat, with a handful of staff. So I signed the kids up there. It was based in two adjacent houses in Ormond, with a garden out the back with some chooks and other animals in it.
Jeremy, then about two, didn’t like it much initially. For a time I had to distract him each morning, by giving him a different coloured paperclip each day to show the staff. To my surprise several months later, they gave them all back in an envelope.
Anyway, both my kids went there on various days, until they reached school age. They both ended up enjoying it, and made friends there who went along to school with them too.
It was there, I think, that they picked up the theoretically insulting but ultimately inoffensive “silly duffer!” exclamation, which still pops up from time to time in conversation.
Over those years I earned an awful lot of credit card points thanks to Neville and Pat, but that’s part of being a working single parent, and I knew that the kids were getting good quality care from people who cared.
A couple of years ago when my sister was looking for childcare for her son Leo, I recommended Wilmar. She went along and signed him up there.
Then the news broke: Neville and Pat had decided to retire. They had sold the business to ABC Learning.
ABC Learning has been controversial at times, accused of being the McDonald’s of childcare: rapid expansion fed by cost-conscious budgets, and a cookie-cutter approach to operations which many said led to a decline in standards.
Nobody would begrudge Neville and Pat leaping at the chance to retire well. But my sister didn’t want Leo looked after by ABC Learning, and she moved him elsewhere. The last time I went past Wilmar, it was Wilmar no longer — it was ABC Learning Ormond, just another branch of Eddy Groves’ empire.
Now that empire is unravelling. ABC Learning’s share price (ASX: ABS) has plummetted over the past couple of weeks, before being suspended from trade.
Pat and Neville must be very pleased they sold up and retired when they did. They certainly weren’t silly duffers.