Billy of Billy's Coffee

Billy’s Coffee: Collaboration is Key

Published On May 24, 2013 | By Amy Bishop | Organisations

Collaboration can be key when it comes to the art world, and it’s always great to see new and interesting ways that collaborations can start and how they can work, which is why I find Billy’s Coffee and Crate 59 such an interesting partnership.

Casual, laid back and personable is how I’d identify Billy’s Coffee. There’s art on the walls, a mish-mash assortment of styles of old furniture, with some cobbled together out of pallets and milk crates, and a straight forward range of coffee, cold drinks, and the occasional snack.

While I sat and enjoyed my cup of coffee, regulars wandered in and out, some washed travel mugs themselves and others came with young children, wandering to the back to pull out a woven mat clearly kept there for youngsters to sit or crawl about on besides their parent’s table. One customer asked about how a book had ended up in their collection (another of their regulars brought it in one day and said people would enjoy it) and this person started talking about how they knew the author and fond memories they had of them as the paged through it.

Called Cairns’ favourite smiling barista, it’s not hard to see why Billy and his wife Sokara are popular… Everyone was welcomed and they took the time to chat with everyone – taking the chance to ask them where they were from, how they’d heard about them, how they’d ended up in Cairns.

Billy’s Coffee used to run out of Rusty’s Markets down the road, but they’d always wanted the chance at getting a real “hole in the wall” but unfortunately local rents were just too high for that to be possible. Enter Liz Dunn: Talking to them about how Cairns still needed more collaborative spaces, they realised their goals could match up. Suddenly (although no doubt after a lot of hard work and good organisation) they were moving in during December of 2008 on a day Billy labels “surely one of the wettest ever”.

Billy’s Coffee runs in the front of the building and being there and having doors open at set hours, also means that “Billy’s Gallery” can be viewed at regular times too. The art on the walls isn’t maintained by Billy or Sokara, Crate59 – the collaboration of artists that includes Liz Dunn – do. The exhibitions change regularly, and they have night time launches, but the main appeal for the Crate59 crew is what happens behind Billy’s Coffee – the building extends back further than the café/gallery space, and in there is housed a collection of studios. The people using the studios changes as needed, although there is usually about 9 at any given time.

Like any good collaboration it’s required some give and take and a lot of conversation. They’ve needed to be clear on who maintains areas, who pays what portions of the bills, and how to work together for all parties to get the best out of the situation, but I feel they’re really managed to overcome some of the hurdles other collaborations get caught on.

Billy’s Coffee is still about keeping it to the basics. Apart from some snacks, they don’t do breakfasts or lunches although they encourage customers to come bring their lunch and enjoy their coffee and the art while sitting at one of the tables.

They’re good people running a great location and I fully recommend a visit to anyone living in or visiting Cairns. I’m sure they’d love to see you or have a chat.


Billy’s Coffee is open Mon-Thurs 6.30am-12.30pm at 59 Sheridan St, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

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About The Author

is a New Media Arts and Business graduate from James Cook University as well as a business development officer at Artgaze magazine. She is more often found in libraries, galleries, and coffee shops than her own home, dabbles as a facepainter, loves bad movies and turning regular parties into costume parties, and once moved to Germany for 6 months despite not speaking the language. She hopes to have many more adventures to ensure that any future ill-conceived memoir won't be completely boring.

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