Located 400 km out of Adelaide along the Princes Highway, between Mt Gambier and Kingston, the town of Millicent was better known for its paper- and sawmills than for its thriving trade in PCs.
Pricing pressures led to the closure of the sawmills while, the pulpmill replaced much of its staff with machines. Many of the 6000-strong Millicent population was left with little alternative but to pack up and shift to areas where they could find work.
With a legacy of five generations behind her and her own children and grandchildren to consider, Charmaine Dangerfield was not ready to give up. She decided to take a chance, as a computer reseller. In July 1995 Dangerfield launched her new business with the sale of a computer system.
While this sale represented the official launch date of the company, Dangerfield believes the seed was sown much earlier.
"When the Ataris came out the kids wanted one, then they moved onto the Commodore 64. I also realised how much time we could save at the school where I was working if we had computers instead of typewriters," Dangerfield said. "I went on long service leave and told the school I expected to see a computer on my desk when I got back. I got my way."
With no professional IT training to her name, Dangerfield says she learnt how to use and repair computers out of necessity and was constantly astounded at how scared others appeared when it came to dabbling with new technology.
"I'm not frightened of machines. If things broke down I would open up the box to see if I could fix them up," Dangerfield said. "Even now a lot of people buying computers are frightened of the darn things."
Dangerfield set up a business model which specifically caters to PC-wary users by providing one-on-one tuition as part of the sale. Her customer base consists of home users, farmers and fisherman - who are after PCs to run their businesses.
"The wives take more of an interest in the business and the men hand the bookkeeping over to them," Dangerfield said. "They are looking for computers to save themselves some time, so I put together a package of software products and show them how to use it all."
So far the model has been a success. Dangerfield has found enough business in Millicent and the surrounding area to bring her son into the company and open a shop front in the town. There has been a struggle to convince the locals to buy in Millicent, rather then going to larger towns such as Mt Gambier. However, Dangerfield has picked up some work from the extra support she offers.
"The shop front in town has helped people realise we are here and we can provide service locally. No one wants to take the machine back to Mt Gambier to get it serviced," she said.
As for the future, Dangerfield is quietly confident the Comp-U-Lern brand, a name deliberately misspelt so that "people would remember it", will become a recognised name in the surrounding towns.
"I am toying with the idea of opening up in Penola [Milicent's closest neighbour], but we will see what happens," Dangerfield said.
Comp-U-Lern at a glance
May 1995 - Dangerfield registers the Comp-U-Lern business name with a deliberate misspelling so it would stick in people's minds.
July 1995 - Dangerfield sells her first system and begins to run the business part-time while still working at the local school.
December 1996 - Dangerfield leaves her day job to dedicate all her time to Comp-U-Lern.
June 2000 - Comp-U-Lern expands into a family business as Charmain's son Tim comes onboard and they open a shop front in Millicent.