By Hedy Khoo
THEY left Singapore a decade ago for Australia, hoping to start a business there, build a dream home, then ask their parents to join them.
It didn't go as planned.
Now deep in debt, to the tune of more than A$1 million ($1.25m), Mr Lemo Eer and his wife Caroline are desperately racing against time to raise money so that they can return to Singapore.
That is because Mr Eer's mother, whom he hasn't seen since 2000, has cancer and wants to see him before her time runs out.
Now they have a new plan: put up their A$2mseaside property in Port Arthur, Tasmania, as a grand prize in a lucky draw to promote their business.
They hope the money earned from the lucky draw promotion can be used to pay off their debts, with enough left over to come back to Singapore.
Their innovative plan even made headlines in the Australian media.
"My mother has breast cancer. We want to move back to be with her but we cannot afford to leave our business and there is no one to help us manage it now," said Mr Eer, 42.
"This is one way we hope to earn our way back to Singapore."
The couple, who got married before they left Singapore in late 2000, do not have children.
When they sought a new life in Australia, they did not expect their dreams to turn into a gruelling test of their endurance.
The couple ran a building and construction business in Singapore before moving to New South Wales where they set up a wholesale clothing business.
"Our intention was to ultimately find a piece of land, run a guesthouse and have our parents come live with us," said Mrs Eer, 41.
|SCENIC: This commercial building was designed and built by the Eers (below). It sits on a 9.3-hectare plot of land which overlooks the sea and is flanked by a man-made lake with trout.
They found that piece of land in Tasmania in late 2002.
Using proceeds from the sale of their house in New South Wales, they put a deposit on the land.
"We thought we found our paradise, but it was only the beginning of a very long road to it," said Mrs Eer.
They had to tear down the original chicken farm that was there and build a new commercial building to house their new restaurant and gift shop.
They renovated the three-bedroom cottage that came with the land. This was completed in 2004.
They also built a man-made lake for their trout-fishing business.
The construction was completed in 2007 and the couple launched their trout fishing business, restaurant and gift shop.
By then, they had sunk about A$2m into the venture.
|Mr Lemo Eer (left) and his wife Catherine Eer.
Soon they began to have problems.
As the area is rural, they couldn't find enough staff to work at their restaurant. So the Eers had to do everything themselves, from cooking, to cleaning, to serving the customers.
"It is very difficult to hire people. Most of the people here are either old folk or tourists," said Mrs Eer.
Mr Eer is the only chef for their restaurant.
Currently, they have only two teenage Australian part-time workers.
"It was insane. In the beginning, we had no workers at all. My husband had to do everything, from chopping the vegetables, serving the customers to doing the dishes," recalled Mrs Eer.
The couple found themselves putting in 16 hours of back-breaking work daily.
"We live surrounded by this beauty but we work so hard we have no time or energy to enjoy any of it," said MrsEer.
"Every day we worry how to pay the bills, how to clear our debts. West ruggle to pay the mortgage, but it's not just the money, our health hasn't been good in the last three years. My husband has chronic fatigue, but there is no way we can take a break.
"We can't even take turns to visit our families back in Singapore because one person cannot manage this land and the business alone."
The monthly mortgage payment is about A$6,000. In late 2008, the Eers considered giving up their dream home.
But, with the global financial crisis, they could not find a buyer. Then more bad news came: Mr Eer's mother had breast cancer.
|SPACIOUS: The three-bedroom cottage which the Eers renovated.
Said Mr Eer: "I cannot afford to brood over my sorrow, but this is what drives me to work hard and find a solution that can take us back to Singapore again."
Mr Eer claims he would need to pay the bank and his business partner over A$1m to wind up his business.
So they came up with the lucky draw idea.
The plan is to offer a lucky draw ticket for every A$220 spent at their establishment between 30 Dec 2009 and 30 Dec this year. They hope to sell 48,000 tickets.
The winner of the lucky draw will get their 9.3-hectare property (about the size of 15 football fields), which includes a three-room cottage, as well as A$100,000 in cash.
The draw may be held early if they have 48,000 entries before the closing date.
If they are unable to sell at least 40,000 tickets, they will give away cash prizes depending on the number of entries received.
|The Lemo Restaurant run by the couple where Mr Eer is the only chef.
Mrs Eer said that if they cannot reach the target number of entries and cannot give away the property, they will have no choice but to continue their business there.
"We are hoping for the best.We are trying not to think if this does not succeed," she said.
So far, the results have not been encouraging.
At the end of the first month, the promotion has attracted only 45 entries. This is way below the average of 4,000 a month they are targeting.
Still, Mr Eer is hoping for the best.
He said: "I have not seen my parents and family members since I left Singapore. With my mother battling breast cancer, all I want is to return home and see her as soon as possible."