“RUUUUTH”, the instantly recognisable call from the Catalina kitchen. Paul’s German accent remained strong even though he moved to Australia at the young age of 23.
There were a number of occasions he might have died: as a young urchin playing war with live ammunition in post-war Germany; unknowinglyswimming with crocodiles after work at a Northern Territory mine (it’s okay, they were Johnstone River “freshies”); or dropping an axe on his head while clearing vines at the original Catalina – “Ruth, I think I need
to go to the doctor.” It was cancer that finally got his number on 26 April 2020, two months shy of his 80th birthday.
Paul, restaurant pioneer, iconic chef and mentor to many, was unaware of the impact and sunshine he brought to the community and wove into the fabric of Port Douglas.
Growing up diving in the Mediterranean, he yearned to dive the Great Barrier Reef. This dream was realised in 1963 – spearfishing barra under the wharf, collecting sea urchins and crays off Fourmile Beach, trapping mud crabs up the inlet and skin diving the pristine waters of the reef. These idyllic days were funded by stints as a cane cutter, car mechanic and house builder. He was home. Dressed as a Native Indian, he met his squaw at the Sugar Wharf New Year’s Eve fancy dress party. Ruth and Paul lived on the “Octopus”, a fishing boat on the inlet, cooling off in the evenings by swimming to shore. No crocodiles in those days!
Their first venture together was the fish and chip van, built by Paul. They would park by the Anzac monument with three year old Tamara in a playpen outside, and baby Maygan in the car. There were no babysitters then, with a population of only 200. Paul would take his boat out in the morning and catch mackerel to serve at lunch. Customers would queue up the street for the best fish and chips in Australia. The van would go on tour of the northern show circuit and the trots each year. The “Showies” were always the best customers.
In 1979 when the lease for the original Catalina became available it was time to upgrade. Ruth and Paul became restaurateurs: a coin was flipped, which put Paul in the kitchen and Ruth out front. They were the pioneers of footpath dining, fighting with Council for that right. Tables which would soon be fought over by customers every Friday night.
The original Catalina building, which was also their home, was very old. Whilst customers loved going to the toilet because they went through the kitchen and could say “Hi” to Paul, they’d also occasionally surprise the kids mistaking the shower for the toilet. It was time to move on. The new Catalina opened next door in 1985, with a two-storey house attached. Always featured in the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide, Paul mentored many great chefs, and set the benchmark for great Australian dining. Those who dined on Paul’s exquisite food, and drank from Ruth’s exceptional wine list, always left richer for the experience. Locals still fondly remember Paul’s Bugs and Catalina flourless Chocolate Cake; if only we could order that now.
Paul and Ruth retired to their beautiful tropical house in Mowbray, overlooking the Coral Sea. Paul, always the creative and energetic do-it-yourself-er, built the long steep driveway and created the prolific gardens using his D2 ‘dozer; rewarded in the evenings by watching the sunset over his beloved ocean, with his beloved Ruth, and a beloved Scotch.
They enjoyed their newly-won free time travelling, taking several European and Asian trips, as well as camping all around Australia. He continued to cook his fabulous dinners for friends, and his mouth-watering Thai chicken curry for Ruth’s book-club buddies every month for 16 years.
For every wonderful adventure he enjoyed in his life, the most he treasured were his two daughters, Tamara and Maygan, his five grandchildren, and his “Ruuuth”.
A celebration of his life will be held later in 2020.