Australia’s Most Remote Gyms

Living in the city or even large regional centres, it’s easy to take for granted the myriad of health and fitness services available to us on a day-to-day basis. But what about those living in more remote areas of the country, say in the outback or on islands? These types of facilities are less common due to factors such as profitability, the needs and wants of the community, and the challenges of simply being able to grab some fresh ideas from the gym down the road. We’ve hunted down a few facilities off the beaten track to see how they deal with doing business in some remote places in Australia.

Island Fitness and Massage, Kangaroo Island (SA)

Several years ago there was a large gym and a Pilates studio on Kangaroo Island (South Australia). Both closed down in the same month and left a hole in the now ‘fitness aware’ market on Kangaroo Island’s most populated town, Kingscote. Sheree Geci, who had left a retail job after 15 years to work at the larger gym was not only left without a job but felt that it was up to her to get some sort of fitness facility up and running. ‘People got so used to having the facilities that there became a real need for it, so I ended up almost having to do it, not necessarily wanting to… but in the end it became a necessity,’ says Sheree, owner of Island Fitness and Massage.

Sheree set up the business almost three years ago, partnering with Aurora Ozone Hotel. ‘Without the help from Ozone, I probably would not have ever started my business because of the overheads. They gave me a deal and offered me the space, I bought the equipment and we formed a bit of a partnership whereby the guests that stay at the hotel can use the equipment free of charge and they give me a good deal on the space,’ she says.

“By having the help of Ozone, that means my overheads are a lot lower and I don’t have to charge as much and that means I can touch a lot more people.”

The gym is not big by any means, measuring only 20m by 8m of floor space, with a smaller adjoining room used for massages. Word is getting out, and the community is showing its support by the number of gym users growing. She now has 70 members who usually buy visit packs. During her split gym sessions (the gym is opened for set hours in the morning and evening), Sheree runs mini circuit classes for two to four clients for those who are in need of some motivation as they need to book in as well as show up for the session. ‘I find a lot of people over here aren’t really motivated when it comes to fitness so they struggle with signing up for a three-month membership.’

‘When I did my course, they [lecturers] said that it’s like personal training a dollar a minute, I just laughed and said that there’s no way on Kangaroo Island that they would pay that.’ Sheree admits that the biggest problem running her business is low income as the island has a fairly ‘low income’ population. Charging the right amount to keep clients coming back is tricky, ‘If I tried to charge for personal training what the big city people do, I wouldn’t have a business. You almost risk devaluing yourself to make it affordable, there is a fine line between having it affordable and devaluing yourself.’

Admittedly, the isolation is a challenge especially when you want to do any further training on the mainland as island life is governed by the ferry and plane times and costs. Sheree does have a casual employee that she can call on when she does go away and a buddy on the mainland she met during her Cert III and IV courses that she often shares training ideas with.

Through a serendipitous call from Recreation and Sport SA offering to supply her with boxing equipment, Sheree, now a certified Punchfit trainer, is soon to embark on a ‘community engagement’ program that’ll see her getting people normally not involved in fitness off the couch and exercising outdoors for the cost of a gold coin donation.

“I got into the industry to help people; it’s not about making money. I just had to find an affordable way to help people.”

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Positive Movement Fitness Centre, Tennant Creek (NT)

Tennant Creek in the middle of the Northern Territory has a population of just over 3,000 people. The size and the remoteness of the town, it’s 1000km south of Darwin and 500km north of Alice Springs, didn’t stop Rocky Postrak and partner Leigh-ann Thomas from opening Positive Movement Fitness Centre a few years ago. After a three and a half year stint living on the Gold Coast they came back to Tennant Creek with Cert IV in Fitness qualifications and a wealth of personal training experience. With no gym in town apart from the government funded sport and rec centre, which is more focused on sports for youths, Rocky and Leigh-ann decided ‘to bring a bit of the Gold Coast back to Tennant Creek’ and opened Positive Movement Fitness Centre.

‘My partner Leigh-ann competed in NAVA competitions in the sports model category, and the passion grew from there,’ says Rocky, who also tells me that they were very involved in the bodybuilding industry while on the Gold Coast.

‘We’ve got about 20 members on the books, ideally we’d like it to be around 50 members to makes things viable enough to employ someone part-time.’ Rocky says that there’s not a lot of things to spend your money on in town, and although the support has been good, it can be trying to just get people in the door. ‘Tennant Creek is a great place to get into fitness as there’s not a lot else to do,’ he adds.

The real challenge they have found with running the gym is educating people. ‘A lot of people have been here most of their lives and it’s trying to get them motivated… and probably the hardest thing is just trying to get people to realise that it is important [exercise], and if you’re consistent it is easy to keep the weight off,’ he says. ‘We’d love our clientele numbers to be higher so we can actually afford to hire someone to help us out with the long hours.’

“If finances allow we do courses to keep up on our CEC points, and when we go away, or shoot up to Darwin we go and visit other gyms to see how they operate.”

Between September and March they run early morning outdoor Bootcamp classes and also offer personal training, charging clients per results on a monthly basis rather than per session. Rocky tells me that he has three PT clients, when you look at it, 3 PT clients out of 20 members is great odds!

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Karratha Leisureplex, Karratha (WA)

Deemed as the Pilbara’s premier sport and entertainment precinct, the $64 million Karratha Leisureplex recently opened (29 June, 2013) to much fanfare with visits from sporting celebrities such as Leisel Jones, Damien Martin, Liz Ellis and Scott Cummings, and a concert headlined by Pete Murray. Western Australia’s Pilbara mining region is booming and by opening such a facility, the Shire of Roebourne Council and local businesses are hoping to attract more families to move permanently to the town.

‘This region, with the mining boom is growing exponentially and the town particularly is growing very fast. A lot of the facilities up here were getting towards 30 to 40 years old and getting past their use by date, so we basically needed some upgraded facilities to not only cater for the current need but also for the future need,’ says Matt Plummer, Business Supervisor of Karratha Leisureplex.

“It’s been a long time coming, it’s basically a state-of-the-arts facility and the attendance since we opened has been extraordinary, the town’s really embraced it.”

The planning to implementation stage took about five years and a site adjacent to the local TAFE and high school was chosen for better use of the facilities. Since the new facility opened the two older facilities, a 1970s style outdoor pool and a very ageing Entertainment Centre, were decommissioned. ‘It was 40 years old and the air conditioning was costing us $1000 a day so we basically needed to knock it down and build something that was more appropriate to todays climate,’ explains Matt.

The aim of the new facility is to create a hub for sporting events in the Pilbara. The place is colossal, featuring ovals, squash courts, indoor and outdoor sports courts, and also a beach volleyball court. There’s a health club with a gym and group fitness room leaning towards a dominant Les Mills class timetable, Bootcamp, boxfit and aqua classes. For families, there’s a crèche, a splash pad and a separate leisure pool for young kids as well as a four-lane 25m heated lap pool (why you would need a heated pool in northern WA is beyond me), as well as cafes, function rooms and office space.

Matt says one of the big issues has always been finding qualified staff (he worked at one of the older venues), not only group exercise instructors but also for all programs and services such as netball and basketball umpires. ‘We try to contact the other regional centres close by to try and see what they need [instructor wise] or we send instructors down to Perth or to the East Coast to do some training while they are over there on holiday.’

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Article written by Toni Krasicki for What’s New In Fitness Magazine – Spring 2013 edition.

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