Bobby Pate wiggles his eyebrows comically as he hangs his head out of the passenger window of a newly purchased Kombi van, parked on the front lawn of his family’s Clayfield home in northern Brisbane.
It’s a quirky talent that never fails to trigger a smile on the face of whoever he’s with.
The aqua kombi, converted into a coffee van, is Bobby’s next big adventure.
“Come on! Let’s see my van. Looks stunning, hey?” he calls to his sister Molly and her boyfriend Xavier Cooke.
Bobby is giving a guided tour of the vintage van.
Over the coming months, with his family’s help, it will become Bobby’s business venture.
There are plans to sell coffee and sometimes flowers from Stradbroke Island to the Scenic Rim.
According to his parents, Tracy and Stephen, Bobby has come a long way since he was born with Down syndrome and serious health problems 20 years ago.
“He’s a real survivor — he came into the world with quite a few complications,” Mrs Pate said.
“He had a hole in the heart and pretty much spent the first six months of his life in hospital and quite a bit of time in intensive care.
“When you reflect to when Bobby was born, it was a time that was stressful.
“We had a lot of concerns around his health and just imagining what sort of a future he had.”
While there have been challenges, two years after finishing high school, Bobby is thriving.
As well as the coffee van, he works behind the counter at Brisbane’s Centenary Pool, where he is known among colleagues and customers for his work ethic and humour.
Centenary Pool manager Logan McGuire said Bobby had been “growing constantly”.
“To begin with we educated him in how to make coffee and greet customers, and we’re starting to expand his skill set,” Mr McGuire said.
“He’s also pretty good dancer — he’ll make a coffee and then give a wink or a smile to the customer and put on a bit of a show.
“It’s really good to have Bobby behind the counter with us.”
At the pool, Bobby works alongside Kate Montefia and Izzy Hansen, who have shown him the ropes and become firm friends.
The young women have created a workbook for him and write a list of the jobs he needs to do each shift.
On the front, they have painted a picture of all three of them.
“This is Kate – I call her tall girl. This is me and this is Izzy – I call her small girl,” Bobby said, pointing at the painting.
Bobby is also a swimmer and competes in pool and open water events, and has also started branching out into triathlons.
“It makes me fit and strong and healthy,” Bobby said.
He mostly trains at Brisbane’s Valley Pool with friend and coach Cameron Preval – whom Bobby affectionately calls “Big Boy Cam”.
“Bobby is one of the most competitive people I know,” Mr Preval said.
“He always loves winning whether it’s against family members, mates or anyone he comes across.
“We are looking to get him in the best position come national championships and look to get him to the INAS Global Games.”
Bobby is good at many things, but perhaps his greatest talent is an innate ability to bring people together.
“I like giving them the high-five. I’m a people person.”
His parents said he had always been this way.
Mrs Pate remembers how Bobby loved interaction with other people.
“We’d be at the beach and he’d say, ‘Would you like to come over for a wine tonight?’ to people he may not have known that well,” she said.
“I’ll often hear that people have seen him … dancing while waiting for his bus.
Bobby is at the centre of a supportive and committed family.
“Bobby is the great connector in our family. Not that we’re all shy, reserved types but Bobby stands out as the person who makes connections,” Mr Pate said.
“I get called Bobby’s dad — that’s how I’m known — because his personality carries a lot further and has a lot more repercussions in the broader community than I have.”
His mum is the organiser, guiding her son with snippets of advice in a firm, but gentle way.
“Yes, OK Mum, thank you,” Bobby said with mock sarcasm, the glint in his eye typical of any young man weary of mum’s instruction.
“He’s always keen to give anything a go and he is just an absolute joy to have in our life,” Mrs Pate said.
“He’s taken us on a path that perhaps we wouldn’t have been on originally, but he’s definitely enriched our lives.”
Mr Pate, a leading Brisbane landscape architect, grasps Bobby in a playful headlock which becomes a hug.
“Over the last year or two since COVID, Bobby decided to change his name in my phone and call himself ‘Mr Indo’ – being short for Mr Independent,” Mr Pate says.
“It was quite a marvel — just coming from school and all of the structure, and finding this new-found freedom and calling himself Mr Indo.”
Older sister Molly and younger brother Jack, both university students, provide both encouragement and banter.
Molly cranks up the volume of Fleetwood Mac’s song Dream.
Bobby starts singing along as he grooves around the Kombi, stopping up his disco moves when ABBA’s Dancing Queen starts playing.
“We don’t quite know what’s ahead of us,” Mr Pate adds, “but we know there’s going to be some fun along the way.”
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