by Victoria McGuin

Kay Ridge is a breath of fresh air. Her welcoming smile, her enthusiasm, and her passion for everything she is involved in is infectious. Maleny is in good hands with Kay as the recently elected president of the Maleny Chamber of Commerce.

Kay Ridge and I met in Shotgun Espresso, Maleny, just before the last snap lockdown, a popular local café with exceptional food and drink, funky décor, and a great atmosphere.

Kay is on a mission for the town of Maleny and its surrounds. “I really aim to nurture an environment in the hinterland that supports people in business all across the Range. Everywhere is interlinked and it is important to highlight and promote that, but Maleny is obviously my main focus.”

A New Zealander by birth, Kay moved to Australia when she was 20. “I basically lived very cheaply in Darwin.  When I arrived at the airport, the terminal was a tin shed. I couldn’t work out why it was so hot and thought it was the jet’s engines!” Kay laughed. After a year there, Kay caught the bus to Sydney, which took three days. 

“It was disgusting. Hot, sweaty, dirty, and the bus broke down five minutes away from the terminal. I didn’t know how far away I was, so I just sat on the bus for an extra hour!” Kay lived with her brother and his girlfriend for a while, and it was during this time that she met her future husband, Richard.

“My brother and Richard both worked for LEP International (a freight company) and Richard was having a birthday party, which I gate-crashed – that was 36 years ago.”

The couple lived in Sydney for ten years. “I was working for the airlines as a sales rep and had a promotion to Brisbane, but before that I did a secondment in Darwin. It was so different the second time around, I loved it! It all comes down to the situation you are in at the time,” Kay smiled.

Once settled in Brisbane, Kay and Richard drove up to the hinterland and immediately loved how green it was. “I thought it was just like New Zealand or Ireland,” Kay said, “So we moved up and commuted to Brisbane for work.”

The couple had two lovely children, Matt (now 26) and Georgia (now 24), but there were many challenges, highs and lows over the years. 

“I learned the hard way; had a business that went bust, lost the house, but we worked our butts off not to go bankrupt! We moved from Mapleton to Maleny, started a business chimney sweeping and recycling.” 

This business then led to a furniture removal business called Maleny Hired Hands, which was a success, and Kay and Richard sold it to two employees ten years ago, when Richard was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

“The town was amazing, they really rallied around us,” shared Kay. “They built a deck at the back of our property for Richard to enjoy.” 

Kay got together with a group of friends, and with Maleny they raised $46k for brain tumour research (No Brainer Maleny).

“Richard is still here after three brain tumours,” continued Kay, “so we sold up our acreage last year and moved into the town – it’s easier for us both, less work and I can walk into Maleny.

“Richard was diagnosed in May 2011 and told he had three months, then he had until Christmas; then 18 months, four years, and now they say no idea!

“After 12 months of the disease, we moved to Ireland for six months to spend time with his family, then we travelled to Europe and Dubai, it was a wonderful experience.”

Kay’s stoicism, resilience, optimism and compassion are admirable qualities, and they translate to her work ethic. 

“I have more than 25 years of experience in small business, corporate and government, so I think I have a broad understanding of business and I have something to offer the community,” Kay said.

Kay also founded Dash Social, a social media and marketing company that specialises in organic reach. “We basically concentrate on your target market and your digital footprint so your business will be found,” explained Kay.

With her experience in social media, marketing, travel and real estate, Kay is excited to help locals with Maleny Means Business, the new business strategy for the Maleny Chamber of Commerce.

“The Chamber is focussed on creating a business community that really supports each other and can put forward our ideas and concerns to government bodies and Council. The more people who come on board, the more clout we have.”

Kay is clearly all about championing Maleny, and it is wonderful for the town to have her on board.

“I am a bit busy,” Kay admitted, “Alongside the Maleny Chamber and Dash Social, I’m also a panellist on the Digital Toolkit Q&A Panel, a facilitator for the Hot and Healthy Academy in Business, Advisor/Educator for the Australian Small Business Advisory Services (ASBAS), and Marketing and PR Chair for Lions Australia Q3.”

She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, “But I love it!”