Weekly Local Biography

  Niel Lake

By: Elle Faraday

It’s not often you meet someone who can claim, truthfully, that on their CV, aside from a career in the police that involved coordinating operations against organised crime and narcotics, they also managed to find time to run restaurants and grow pumpkins. Niel Lake can. Niel, a native of Sydney, Australia, spent a large portion of his working life with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) before taking the somewhat drastic career move of becoming a cattle and vegetable farmer. He has worked with the Australian Embassy in Bangkok as the Regional programme manager for managing projects to combat people trafficking and, most recently, has just opened the “Down Under” restaurant here in Chiang Mai, on Nimmanhamin Road. A busy life, to say the least.
Niel was born in Sydney and originally joined the police due to a desire to work with people. After a number of different roles within the police he joined the Australian Federal Police at its inception in 1980. Niel’s work with the AFP, Australia’s National Police Service, took him all over Australia He was mainly involved with coordinating various disparate agencies in the fight against organised crime and narcotics. His most public work came with the Fitzgerald Inquiry; an investigation into corruption within the police and public administration in Queensland. The results of the inquiry laid the groundwork for increased accountability and transparency within the Queensland Police Service, including the establishment of the Criminal Justice Commission, the watchdog for the Queensland Police Service.
Whilst Niel was working from the AFP, Niel’s Thai-English wife, Tina, opened a Thai restaurant in Ipswich, Queensland. Tina had moved to Australia when she was 13 years old and her family operated a number of restaurants. After marrying Niel, opening her own restaurant seemed to be a sensible step. What started as a small restaurant soon grew, eventually winning a Small Business of the Year award from the state government and local chamber of commerce.
In 1997 Niel’s career with the police came to a sudden halt with the onset of cancer. Although he eventually beat the disease, Niel took early retirement from the police and moved to the countryside to establish a small farm. Like his police work and the restaurant, what started ‘small’ eventually ended up as quite a large business. The farm, Glenrock Station, is now rated one of the top 5% of ‘quality assured’ cattle stations in Australia. In tandem with the cattle station, Niel also started a vegetable farm that uses freshwater skimmed from a local tidal river to irrigate a range of crops, from pumpkins to cauliflowers to broccoli to a hybrid strain of cantaloupes.
Niel’s next career move took him to the heart of what is increasingly being recognised as a major social problem - people trafficking. In an increasingly globalised world, with rising income disparities, people, especially the most vulnerable, are being viewed as commodities. People trafficking involves the coercion of people into locations and jobs they do not want. The most obvious and unpleasant aspect of this phenomena is the buying and selling of women and children for work in the sex industry, although it also can involve indentured labourers or people forced into work in order to pay off debts.
Australia, along with a number of other western countries, has recently enacted laws aimed at combating extra-territorial crime committed by Australian nationals. The laws have already been used to prosecute a number of child-sex offenders. With this in mind Niel took up a position in the Australian Embassy in Bangkok in 2006 to manage a range of projects involving people trafficking and work with contractors to set up legislative packages, and effective communications structures between Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia, in the hope of facilitating information exchange regarding people trafficking along South East Asia’s porous borders. Part of this project also involved training sessions with regional police, especially with regards to how victims of people trafficking are handled.
Niel’s contract with the Australian Embassy finished 3 weeks ago, and he headed to Chiang Mai where Tina had been working to establish a restaurant. The “Down Under” restaurant is located on the corner of Nimmanhamin Soi 11 and features both Thai food and steaks imported from Australia and New Zealand. Niel hopes that “Down Under” will become a place for both himself and his customers to relax and enjoy good food and good company.
The “Down Under” restaurant and steakhouse is located on the corner of Nimmanhaemin Soi 11 and can be reached at tel. 053-895209.