The owners of Kittawa Lodge sat down with the Good Weekend Magazine to talk about their relationship and the creation of Kittawa Lodge.
You can read the full article by Ute Junker here.
Aaron Suine, 39, and Nick Stead, 38, met and fell in love as students. After building careers in Sydney, they moved to King Island in Bass Strait to build and operate a luxury lodge. They have a five-year-old adopted son, Abraham.
Like all good gay relationships, ours started on Oxford Street in Sydney. We met in a club one night in 2005 and arranged to meet the next day. As I waited for Aaron to arrive, I had this moment of concern that maybe this person wouldn’t be that attractive in daylight. But when I saw him, I got butterflies in my stomach and realised, “Wow, he’s even better than I remember.”
I instantly knew Aaron was someone special and I was desperate to get to know him better. We met again a few days later for dinner. When Aaron went to pay, his credit card didn’t work and I had to pay for dinner. I’ve been looking after the finances ever since.
We were both in the final weeks of university and both had graduate jobs lined up at great firms, me at a top-tier law firm and Nick at the federal finance department. Aaron had ambition; I could tell he was going places. We worked hard to be successful but we saw the toll that career success can take on people and we didn’t want that.
Aaron and I share a passion for travel, and we talked about one day opening our own boutique accommodation. One night in October 2015, we were watching Landline on the ABC and King Island was featured. We decided to take a look. We travelled to King Island the following month and found a piece of land that ticked all our boxes. We exchanged contracts the same month.
“We worked hard to be successful but we saw the toll that career success can take on people and we didn’t want that.”
Aaron was the leader in terms of the philosophy and concept of Kittawa Lodge, as well as design, project management and construction. I gained a huge amount of respect for him through the process. I already knew he had a huge amount of tenacity, but this was a whole other level. He had a creative vision for the place. He would literally research 40 or 50 light pendants and come to me with the final three options.
Pretty much from date number four, he made it clear that he wanted to have children. At that point I had no desire to be a father, but as the years went on I realised how important it was to him; I didn’t want to take it away from him. We started the [domestic] adoption process in 2015, and Abraham came into our care in June 2017, aged 16 months.
We were very pragmatic about who’d care for him. I had the better parental leave policy, so I spent 10 months at home with him. I had a lot of low moments, struggling as a new parent, but Aaron was constantly there to pick me up, to give me a hug when I needed one.
Aaron shows his love through affection and food. A month or so ago, Abraham and I were having lunch and Aaron walked in with a huge smile and said, “I just love seeing my two boys eating.”
I was immediately drawn in by how calm, considerate and warm Nick was, but also how driven and intellectual he was. When you meet him, you see an incredibly confident, very well-spoken, engaging bloke. It took me a long while to understand that he’s incredibly introverted and needs quiet time in an empty room to recharge, whereas I need a dose of a crowded room filled with happy people.
When we started living together, I said, “If something I do annoys you, tell me; I’ll do the same. If we can stop doing it, we will.” It was silly little things. I have a sensitivity to eating noises; Nick likes to have a clean and tidy kitchen before we go to bed. We ironed it all out then.
I’ve always felt far more comfortable about making decisions immediately. I know I need to give Nick time to sort things through internally. The only time he’s beaten me to the punch was when we bought the land on King Island. He was so confident this was the right thing for us. I remember him saying, “I think we should do it”, and me thinking, “If you’re ready, that means I’ve got to be ready.”
Kittawa Lodge wouldn’t be what it is without Nick, and not just because he makes the best bloody carrot cake on earth. He handles all the operations, the housekeeping, the accounts. He did something I don’t think I could ever do: he trusted me enough to give me full creative licence. He also kept me on budget. Being an emotional person, at times I would see something bright and pretty and want to buy it.
We ended up adopting Abraham around the same time as we started building the lodge. You would think that’s the point where we might start to fray at the edges, but it just never happened. We’ve never had a moment where we were apart on something of significance.
We opened the lodge in October 2019 and by January 2020 we had occupancy rates we’d never dreamed of. We were on cloud nine. Then COVID-19 hit and, within 48 hours, every single booking was gone. We didn’t reopen until September 2020. It was just devastating, and it tested both of us more than anything before. But being able to look back at it all and see how strong our relationship has stayed is a lovely thing.
“We ended up adopting Abraham around the same time as we started building the lodge. You would think that’s the point where we might start to fray at the edges, but it just never happened.”
An aspect of me wished that I was the primary caregiver, but Nick and I are pragmatic: he had parental leave entitlement and I didn’t. In hindsight, he was the perfect person for the role. His patience is saint-like.
My role is to be an active and present father, to support Nick, and to carve out moments in every day where it’s just Abraham and me. There will be moments when Nick is the first person Abraham wants and reaches for – and that’s totally okay.