Billy Hoade on how the buzz of serving coffee made him a Cairns legend


Tucked away in the hustle and relentless movement of Cairns’ famous Rusty’s Markets in the middle of town on Sheridan Street, is a local institution.

Billy’s Coffee has its own loyal gathering of locals every market day, and behind the coffee machine coordinating the barista symphony is the ever-smiling Billy Hoade.

He came from Papua New Guinea as a student 25 years ago and since then has built up his business into one of the main meeting points in the renowned tourist centre.

“This town has something amazing about it, it’s a nice community and people love to just rally,” he says.

Billy’s smiling visage is so well known it is also now the face of his business, seen on t-shirts around the city.

He’s been serving up coffee from his beloved Papua New Guinea for more than 15 years, expanding now to running his own roastery.

“I remember early on in my early years I was at a servo and I asked a milkman what it takes to have a nice little business so I could support my family, and he said ‘as long as you work hard people will support you. Just go for it.’

“And I’m like ‘is that all I have to do is work hard? That’s awesome!”

Billy tells us on Streets of Your Town podcast what keeps the locals coming back.

“From the beginning it was one table, just myself six bottles of milk and two kilos of coffee I borrowed everything else to now six staff and I get to play backgammon and chess quite a lot,” Billy says.

“Generally the people have been really resilient, amazing, a lot of ups and downs but pretty much everyone is very positive.

“The secret is just listening to the person in front of you order what they want. If they want soy milk and you give them skim milk you’re in trouble.

“I do try to buy the beans directly from the farmer because we roast them ourselves and we try to make sure that energy, that love, that they get something back from the industry that we’re in. So that helps make me happy roasting coffee that I know the money is going somewhere.”

He’s now looking at expanding Billy’s Coffee to make a deal with local dairy farmers to supply for an iced coffee version of his famous brew that could be shipped around Australia.

Billy is grateful to the people of Cairns for continuing to support him after so long, saying Rusty’s Markets is something special.

“It’s one of the rarest places where you come down on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you don’t make an appointment with any of your friends but you know they will be there, and you just turn up and they turn up and you guys catch up and the following week you do it all again.

“I’m really proud of my wife, and my sons that are now in the business and all the staff all the people that come and grab a coffee off us every day. When you roast a coffee and someone drinks it I still get a buzz, that it’s like a painting you paint and people like it. You’re not sure if they’ll like it or not but when they do it’s like phew they like it!"

Behind the Scenes

This month I was lucky enough to be invited onto the Freelance Jungle’s special project “The Redundancy Program” to do a live video link interview about my Wandering Journo ways. A grant from Good2Give and Facebook made that project possible, and aims to provide people affected by COVID, the bushfires and the economic downturn within Australia some tips on the transition from employment to freelancing. It includes the opportunity to learn from people who have already faced redundancy as well as those flourishing in their fields.

You can watch my interview, which I did live from the back of Mildred the Cantankerous Kombi—best behaved she’s been in months, at this link:

It’s all about how to keep the balance with you and your side hustle, how to discover life after the newsroom—even if you miss it—and understand you are more than a byline and find that new identity that is totally you.

It was lovely to be able to pass on some of my hard won lessons from my three years as The Wandering Journo, and give some tips on how to translate some of those hard fought journo skills into freelancing well.

The Freelance Jungle is an award-winning grassroots community that helps Australian freelancers navigate working for yourself in real terms. It’s a great group I highly recommend joining if you’re in the freelance game at all. It focuses on ending the isolation inherent in freelancing, reminding you that stress has a productivity cost, raising the knowledge bar and advocacy. It has thousands of members from all around Australia.

If you have an idea for a story you’d like me to cover on Streets of Your Town—or just want to chew the fat with me for a while—please just hit reply to this newsletter. It’s as easy as that to get my ear.

Thanks to my loyal paid subscribers whose support keeps filling the tank of Mildred the Cantankerous Kombi to get me out to my next adventure for your ears. This week’s shout out of thanks goes to John Maume who gets extra thanks and bonus points for holidaying with me and the fam at Rainbow Beach this week, and of course my loyal and ongoing paid subscribers who have been with me from The Wandering Journo outset. Their support enables me to continue this newsletter. I’m very grateful to you.

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Streets of your Town podcast would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians on whose land this story was gathered.

I acknowledge that for tens of thousand of years Our First Nations people have walked this country and shared stories on this great land down under, and I walk in their footsteps today.

I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.