In February 2023, after seven years in the fire brigade, Margaret River local Luke Robins hung up his helmet for good and made a highly unexpected career change. He began making and selling non-dairy ice-cream from a food truck.

Robins, who spent the better part of a decade dealing with people on the worst day of their lives, now travels the state selling the aptly named Sun Cream ice blocks in some of the most idyllic locations around Western Australia.

While it might seem like a dreamy job, Robins tells Broadsheet it’s been a tough journey that is only just starting to pay off.

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“I went from getting paid every Tuesday [working in] a job I enjoyed, to being an accountant, a trailer fabricator, an ice-cream maker, marketing manager, bookkeeper, strategist. You’ve got to do every job. It was really humbling to go back to what felt like square one and learn everything all over again,” he says.

“Leaving the fire brigade, I set myself some core thing to live by: surfing every day, living seasonally, working for myself and, whatever I do, doing it with love.”

Robins joined the fire brigade at 26 years old after spending his early twenties travelling the world. As he moved into his thirties, he grew restless with the mundane and stable pace his life was moving at. He wanted out. The idea for Sun Cream came to him while on a winter surf getaway in north-west WA.

“I was in Exmouth catching up with a friend. [As we were] driving down to Yardie Creek for a surf, we got talking about what the town needed and we got talking about ice-cream,” he says. “I bought a caravan shell and started building a food truck during the day. At night I was learning to make ice-cream in my kitchen. It was a very intense summer, but within 10 weeks I had built a truck and learnt to make a product in my style.”

The result is an ice confection that uses coconut milk instead of dairy to offer an inclusive, plant-based alternative to ice-cream. Robins believes the plant-based route best represents the fruit-producing background of the Gascoyne region where he began his ice-cream journey.

“I contacted a bunch of different suppliers and players in the ice-cream industry. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel necessarily, but you do need to be creative and imaginative to make something your own. I got a little bit of advice, but otherwise it was just trial-by-fire in my kitchen.”

Finally, with the business ready to roll, he quit the fire brigade and packed his car and caravan and headed north for the winter. But while the Ningaloo Reef was a beautiful place to work, it came with its own unique challenges.

“It’s a pristine wilderness in such a remote area, and that’s great, but running a business it’s like, ‘how do you generate a reliable power supply to run the scale of equipment you want?’ Working out what people want, how to operate [and] when to operate. That’s the real challenge.”

Ultimately, Robins found a way through. After a summer season spent back down in south-west WA, he is headed north for his second season and is stoked to be back on the reef and bringing smiles to people’s faces.

“There’s a wilderness up there that you just don’t find in other parts of the country. And it’s been right on my doorstep this whole time. I just wanted more time in it. This sort of business idea really serviced a need up there… It’s a very seasonal life, and with tourism I found that works really well. It’s a beautiful way to be able to travel with purpose.

“The reef is truly one of the most beautiful ecosystems on the planet. And giving ice-cream to a smiling kid? There is truly nothing better than that.”