Frank Walker’s voice on the radio is distinctive, angular and alive with a ‘wake up and take notice’ tone. In real time, it’s quiet and reflective with a tinge of self-deprecating humour and an undeniable grit that has guaranteed his family’s financial and serendipitous success. We meet in Mount Martha, where the National Tiles founder and his “glue of the family” wife Rhonda are renovating their gloriously positioned house. All of their six adult daughters plus their kids (12 in total) have houses in the area. Kate (KWD) and Amy (another bespoke interior designer) live there permanently.
“You could throw a stone on the rooves of each other’s houses, I reckon. We all descend on Mount Martha for the holidays. We’ve been coming here for the past 15 years, had weddings in the garden, big dinners around the table. We think of Mount Martha as our spiritual home in every sense. I still catch my breath when I come down Coolangatta Rd and see the bay. Over the last six years since our only son (Nick) has taken over as CEO of National Tiles, Rhonda and I have had the freedom to move around. We originally had a house on the Bellarine Peninsula, then my sister bought in Mount Martha and that started the family’s migration.”
For anyone who lives in Mount Martha, there’s nothing quite like South Beach and the connection the village across the road from it brings. Frank continues. “It’s a delight to walk down to the shops and chat with the traders. We’re a tight family. We like being together and this is the perfect place to do it.”
But things haven’t always been ideal for this family man who started out in his grandfather’s plaster and ceramic tiles business. “I was the black sheep of the family and went out on my own at 25. It was hard. We had three little kids and Rhonda was about eight months pregnant. We were living in the flat above the shop in Pakington St, Geelong West, which the landlord had given to us for free. We are both born-and-bred Geelong people. Rhonda would bring the kids down the stairs, load up the Ford Cortina with tiles and do deliveries. I threw away a $25,000-a-year job in the family business to go it alone. I’d been washing trucks for five bucks each since I was 11 years old. I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I’m no oil painting, Liz. It’s a bloody miracle she’s stayed with me; she’s an absolute bottler.”
Frank says luck, persistence and judgement all play a part in success. He used to get up at 4am just to get ahead of the game because he’s a “slow thinker”. He’s currently working with the Family Peace Foundation he and Rhonda founded in 2015, which deals with the impact of family violence. “We aim to make real social change in this area, and will. It’s time to put back into the community.”
And feed the spirit Mount Martha-style.