In My Kitchen by the Sea, April 2019

My annual family holiday, from the end of January through to the end of April, involves maintaining two kitchens. It’s a schizophrenic life involving a disciplined routine. Three days by the sea, four days back at home, or vice versa, is very manageable now that the drive takes only 95 minutes or so along two freeways.

After the trip, we unload a few things from home and then drag our chairs down to the beach. The sea is so calming and hypnotic and instantly relaxing: it’s worth the effort. On warm nights we set up the dinner table on the sand or in front of an old boat shed and watch the ships cruise by. On cooler evenings, we have a quick aperitivo and a snack by the sea, watch the sunset, then return to the warmth of the caravan annex.

The ship of fools

The food is simple: we eat a lot of locally caught fish and Mt Martha mussels, supplemented by my vegetables and preserves from home. I’ve found some lovely fresh fish sold in a seaside van at Safety Beach. The caravan operates from Friday afternoon through to Sunday. I always end up choosing the sweet gars, a fish that is overlooked by many Victorians who are scared of bones. There’s a trick to bone free garfish eating. Once they are cooked, prise open the fish, grab the head and lift it gently towards the tail. The whole bone structure will come away, leaving the sweet fish fillets on your plate. The other trick with gars is to coat the fish in seasoned rice flour and gently fry them for only two minutes on each side. The flesh is so delicate, it only needs a simple sauce. Once cooked, remove fish onto a serving plate, add some butter to the pan, turn up the heat, scraping all the fishy bits into the butter, add lots of lemon juice and parsley, then pour the sauce over the fish. Buon appetito.

Gars ready for gutting and cleaning, a most sustainable fish. Garfish sell for around $12 a kilo at the Safety Beach fisho. I usually by 6-8, at a cost of around $6, a greedy feast for two.
Local garfish, simply sauteed, then sauced with butter, parsley and lemon’

The local mussels are readily available in fish vans as well as at the Dromana supermarket for around $8 a kilo. I love these mussels and limit myself to a kilo a week. The classic French Mouclade is my favourite recipe at present. There’s just a hint of old-fashioned British curry powder- think Keens or Clive of India- and some creme frâiche /sour cream, shallots, butter and all that salty strained juice. Did you know that Mouclade hails from the seaport of La Rochelle? These days when I eat Mouclade, I can’t help thinking of Das Boot! Have you seen the original film and the new series?

My favourite mussel dish, Mouclade from La Rochelle.

My beach kitchen is not entirely basic. I have everything a girl could want in terms of implements, gadgets and serving ware. There’s a small stove top inside a caravan which I never use- cooking and sleeping in the same space doesn’t appeal. There’s a canvas annex with a two burner stove top, and a small Weber BBQ outside. I’ve finally mastered the art of making pizza in the Weber. It’s amazing how good food tastes when you cook and eat in the open air- even when the nights are chilly.

These Garfish were coated with flour, turmeric, salt and pepper before a quick saute in olive oil.

I’m looking forward to the next two weeks down at the beach, with lots of  hungry grandchildren in search of their favourite soups. The cooler weather will be accompanied by spectacular sunsets: the slow cooker will come out of hiding for the Easter season by the bay.

Thanks Sherry once again for hosting this monthly series. Participating bloggers all have a very different take on their approach to life in the kitchen. These can be found at Sherry’s Pickings.

 

A Break in the Weather

At last there’s a break in the weather, a cool snap with a little rain. Is it time to rejoice or was that last shower just another drizzle of hope? This summer and autumn have been hot and dry, pleasant weather if you’re by the seaside, but not so kind for those who love their gardens and farms. An omen of what’s to come? To date, we have had around 60 ml of rainfall over the last three months. The tanks and dams are low, the fruit trees are dropping their leaves too early: rabbits crawl up and over fences in search of something green to eat, starting with their favourite snack, the ring- barking of fruit trees before looking for small gaps in the well fenced vegetable patch. The figs look like hard little bullets and have given up the battle.

Midst our paddocks of desiccation, there are some welcome surprises. The quinces are fabulous this year, picked just in time before the birds got desperate. Such an old-fashioned and demanding fruit, I love the way they turn from hard golden knobbly lumps into the most exotic concoctions. How do you describe the flavour and colour of poached quince?

With the sound of the rain on the tin roof, my thoughts turn to food and preserves. Quince jelly, quince syrup, perhaps to use as an exotic base for gin, a torta of ricotta and quince cubes, quince ice cream, the syrup swirled through a softened tub of good vanilla ice cream, perhaps some Spanish membrillo.

Long thin eggplants have been fruiting for months. While not as useful as the fat varieties, they grow more abundantly in our micro-climate.

After chopping the eggplant for a Chinese dish, I noticed their resemblance to the cushions.

The Pink Lady apples are the star this year. We grow 13 varieties of apple, and each has its year. The crop has been well protected by netting, though the desperado cockatoos are beginning to notice. Picked and stored in the fridge, they are reasonable keepers.

With the change of season, I hope to return to my usual pattern of posting and cooking. There will be more recipes coming and anecdotes of one kind or another, simple stories about the beauty of life. As the saying goes, ‘I’ll keep you posted’.

 

 

Afloat in a Sea of Generosity. Black Saturday Bushfire Donations, 2009-19

I never sent my thank you letters to all who donated so generously after the Black Saturday Bushfires. This is a sign of ill breeding, I know, but the task seemed overwhelming at the time. For the first year I had difficulty concentrating on defined tasks, looking for addresses, remembering phone numbers, handwriting, and finding things. I was always distracted, anxious, tired, alarmed or annoyed. Burnt out.

And so my thank you letters are rather late. Ten years late in fact, but I have chosen to write the letters today, February 7, 2019. The list will be rather long, dear reader, and so you may want to stop reading here. I remember every gift, donation offer of kindness, and all the faces of every volunteer I met in the weeks and months that followed the Black Saturday bushfires. These memories are very clear. It’s never too late to express my enormous gratitude to the Australian people who volunteered and donated money or gifts during that time. It was a tidal wave of kindness, to which I owe my recovery. If I have forgotten you by name, forgive me.

People Making a Difference.

Most of the large gifts and monetary donations were distributed in a coordinated and egalitarian way. The large donations collected through Red Cross were distributed through government agencies: the amounts varied, according to loss, and were apportioned in parcels over a 12 month period. A significant amount of this fund was set aside for whole community recovery such as town infrastructure, small grants to artists, film makers, workshop providers and so on. Those who lost their homes were appointed a case manager to assist in negotiating the applications for these funds, other services and information: they eased the pathway through the mire of administrative and bureaucratic nightmare facing those who lost everything. I never formally thanked our case worker, Linda Fabb, though I did along the way I am sure. Linda visited and rang us often to see how we were travelling. She stayed with us until we finally re-settled one year later. She visited armed with information, tick sheets for grant applications, forms to fill in, and discreetly checked on our psychological well-being as well. She was on our wavelength, we got on well. Not all survivors were so lucky with their appointed case managers. After we found our new house, Linda visited twice with boxes full of little plants made from cuttings. These were made and donated by her mother. Through these random gifts of kindness, I also learnt how to strike cuttings in recycled plastic containers just like Mrs Fabb senior. I have one garden in your honour. Now I strike, grow and give away plants. Thanks Linda.

Not long after the fire, a wonderful association emerged, thanks to Catherine Lance of St Andrews North. As Cathy’s house survived the fire, she decided to establish a regular morning tea venue for other women in St Andrews who were affected. 65 houses were destroyed overnight on February 7, 2009, and others lost shedding, crops, and outbuildings. We went by the title of “Ladies of the Black Belt”, a geographical reference to the area burnt in St Andrews North but also with visual and psychological connotations too. St Andrews North was black and treeless, as was the outlook of those affected. After the first get together, it became necessary for Cathy to limit the membership of the group to those within a defined boundary to protect the vulnerabilities of its members. We grew as a community over a two-year period and shared enormous friendship and a common bond. Cathy’s neighbour, Barb Barbetta, also offered her house for similar get togethers, morning teas and shed nights. The shed nights started as bloke nights but were soon converted to family nights. Tony Barbetta’s shed became our local town hall, complete with its own clock. These gatherings also defined us as a community, albeit a traumatised one. Cathy Lance was also a font of information along the way, with reminders of grants, events, warnings, funerals, and organised a fine Christmas party catered by Maree and Rodney Adams, restauranteurs at Latrobe University. She also connected us to a caring group of folk in Inverloch, who hosted us for a fine luncheon and then kindly donated home-made little Christmas puddings and cakes for the Black Belt Ladies’ first post fire Christmas. Thank you friends from Inverloch. Through this umbrella, we also enjoyed several women’s’ getaways to Phillip Island, offering us a chance to chat in a completely different environment. To balance this, men’s getaways ( otherwise known as fishing trips) were funded and organised, mostly through Helen Legg. Thanks Cathy and David Lance.

Volunteers

  • Helen Legg and all the friendly volunteers at the Hurstbridge Bushfire Relief Centre, Fiona, Jane, June, Annie and so many others. I’ve written previously about the extraordinary efforts of Helen here .Volunteers also go through enormous trauma during times of national disaster and I am aware that Helen’s team was emotionally exhausted after a long two-year stint. Thank you for making such a difference.
  • Thanks to the owners of the building which became the Hurstbridge Centre, in main road Hurstbridge, who donated the property for a lengthy period.
  • All the volunteers at the Hurstbridge Church Hall, the St Andrews Bushfire centre,  Diamond Creek Sporting Stadium, the Whittlesea Bushfire Centre on the showgrounds, and the Clayton Warehouse Bushfire centre. We came to collect wonderful new and second-hand goods from your vast emporiums which only functioned because of your time so freely given. Thank you.
  • The guys from Hurstbridge, friends of Helen Legg, who came up to our burnt landscape and helped clear the mess, and Sunny Cross who helped clear the toxic stuff on the block. Of course, my immediate family also attended working bees on and off for months. There were many others, too many to mention all by name.
    Sunny Cross (right) and daughter, Rachael Morgan( left). Angels cleaning up the toxic mess. They spent four days on this unrewarding task, and in my daughters words,  ‘we were looking for something.’

    One of those wet yourself laughing moments. Sunshine Cross in full protective gear, takes a ride on my burnt bout exercise bike.
  • Terese, a local landscape gardener and teacher, who designed a garden for me, provided a colour coded plant list and helped me begin my new garden once I resettled. My love of gardens developed further thanks to your inspiration.
  • Louise Ferguson, of Ferguson winery in the Yarra Valley, who voluntarily gave a series of simple cooking lessons to groups of women in the months after the bushfires. We loved going out together and eating your samples. I still make your toasted muesli.
  • Chris, an amazing teacher of mosaics, who freely volunteered her time to organise workshops in the old St Andrews School. She ran these workshops for years after 2009, such was her dedication. You can visit the amazing mosaic bench chair, a masterpiece of history, coordinated by Chris and completed by the bushfire affected in the area. Those who lost their homes added small fragments of old plates and vases to the work. The chair is near the St Andrews hall on the market site. I attended a few sessions but found my artistic skills were sadly lacking after the fire.
  • Jenny Cox, whose name became synonymous with the Knitted Chook for a few months. Jenny and her crafting friends began knitting colourful and exotic knitted chooks ( hens) after the bushfires. These were entered into a grand final competition and comedy night, hosted by Denise Scott. The funds raised from that event were used to gift knitting baskets and hand spun wool to the women who had lost their homes ( and their knitting supplies). This hilarious event, along with the chooks themselves, lightened the mood along the way. It also helped forge a bond between the two burnt communities of St Andrews and Strathewen. Giving comedy, a craft outlet and joy. Thanks Jenny.

    One of those chooks, photo courtesy Melbourne Museum. There were hundreds of chooks knitted. I also made two: mine were quite ugly.
  • A big thank you to all the bands who played at SOUND RELIEF, a huge benefit concert held in the MCG, Melbourne. The highlights included Midnight Oil, Hunters and Collectors, Jett, Kings of Leon, Paul Kelly, and many more. There was a similar benefit concert held in Sydney with a different lineup of bands. The funds raised from this event were huge and were added to the Red Cross funds for equitable distribution.

Temporary Accommodation

Some people have commented over the years on my resilience. I don’t think I’m resilient, just very fortunate. In the early days after the fire, all sorts of offers of short-term accommodation became available. I could have stayed in the city, but felt it important to be near my tortured land, my burnt out home, my community, and to own my recovery in the place that I had always lived and loved for the previous thirty years. Community and support came through being among those who had experienced the same catastrophe. During those early months, I found new neighbours and rejoined with others with whom I had lost contact.

  • Within three days of the bushfire, a large and comfortable caravan arrived in the front yard of my daughter’s house in Hurstbridge. We stayed there for a while, and the van was left there for months for when we needed it along the way. Thanks Rachel Brown and Jason.
  • Tess Baldessin offered us a little cottage on her bushblock. It was simple, beautifully crafted and quite monastic. It came with its own bathroom but no kitchen. Her partner Lloyd soon installed a little gas stove which enabled us to cook simple meals there. My friends, Diane and Brian Gilkes, stayed in another nearby cottage. Together we became a little commune and stayed for three months. Thanks Tess and Lloyd.

    Our little stone cottage at Tess’s place
  • As winter approached, we needed a warmer environment and were delighted to be offered a house in St Andrews to care for, along with an aging cat, Bonnie, while the owners were travelling. Thanks dear friends, Helen Hewitt and Chris Warner. Since then, our friendship has grown, and Chris and Stuart now share a regular music practice together, a sort of musical men’s shed for two.

    Noah and Bonny
  • We were also given a large, 1970s unroadworthy caravan, donated by a woman from Anglesea. The caravan was moved by tilt tray truck to St Andrews, the 160 kilometre journey courtesy of Nationwide, who donated their trucks, drivers and time to move old unwanted caravans to bushfire sites around Victoria. The caravan adoption movement was coordinated by Helen Legg at Hurstbridge Bushfire Relief Centre ( a year later, she also coordinated the distribution of loaned shipping containers). Our Caravan of Courage provided shelter on our burnt out block for 9 months. It was a place to escape the howling winds, which were horrific due to the absence of trees and bush, nature’s windbreaks. After we sold our block, my son-in-law, Kyle Bradley, renovated the van at his own cost: it’s now roadworthy and spends a few months at the beach, providing retro accommodation for my children and grandchildren. Another tiny van was also donated: this was gutted inside and served as a lock up shed for our disposable safety gear, overalls, tools, buckets and so on. We called it the Kebab van. Thanks Matt O’Connor.
  • Transport donated by Nationwide trucks . Donated caravan 70s caravan from Anglesea. Organisation of this gift through volunteer time, donated by Helen Legg.

    The same caravan today. Renovated and roadworthy, but retaining original 70s vibe. At the Mornington Peninsula by the sea. The gift that keeps on giving.

Organisations and Charities

While thousands of Australians donated money to the main fund-raising body, Red Cross, many other organisations and charities collected funds and directed them to those displaced by bushfire. The Salvos distributed shopping vouchers for the IGA supermarket and Kmart, Sussan and Sportsgirl. Vinnies offered vouchers for petrol and the local hardware chain, Mitre 10. The Holden Car company gave us a new car, free of charge to use for one year which included  servicing. The Country Women’s Association provided a farming grant which we used to buy a ride on mower, ( thanks  once again Cathy Lance for coordinating this)  while the RSPCA provided an animal focused grant. We used this to re-establish a chook house and run, along with 6 chickens. ( 50 or so of my chickens perished during the bushfire ) An organisation emerged for the replacement of musical instruments: a rep from Resound personally delivered a beautiful new electric guitar to Mr T, who lost 9 collector guitars in the fire. For guitar aficionados, it’s an ESP LTD EC-1000 with Seymour Duncan pickups. There was also library grant replacing some of my books, including an academic Italian dictionary, gardening books and classic novels.

  • Red Cross
  • Salvation Army ( the Salvos )
  • Holden Car Company
  • St Vincent de Paul (Vinnies)
  • RSPCA
  • The Country Women’s Association
  • Small Business grant to buy computer equipment
  • Library, new book donation
  • Musical instrument grant from Resound

Personal Gifts.

The personal gifts of money and/or items were many. My immediate family, my parents and siblings were all very generous. My niece Louise replaced my Stephanie Alexander book, her friend sent over a bowl made by Leon Saper, local potter, a platter came from a lady in Cockatoo ( Jan?). There were gifts of books and a book voucher. Beautiful hand-made quilts were distributed by key women within the community. When my grand children were little, they could pick one to cuddle each night when they stayed with us. These quilts are our heirlooms and will be handed down to them one day.

Anonymous star quilt. 2009 bushfire donation.

Companies donated linen- new sheets and pillow cases, often remainders in odd colours which are still in use 10 years later, tea towels and a doona. These company gifts came through the Bushfire relief centres in Diamond Creek and Whittlesea. Enormously valuable in the first month was the donation of safety protection gear, full suits and masks, as well as wheelbarrows, spades and tools. A brand new generator arrived from another company. New socks and underwear came from another.

And then came the second-hand things, as Australia cleared out their cupboards and donated goods, useful clothing, and toys, a national KonMari moment in history. We wore these clothes with pride. I remember one evening when Mr T went off to work in an odd assortment of second-hand clothes. He thought he looked pretty dapper. Some of his work colleagues thought he looked more elegant in his new attire, a step up from his pre-fire dress sense. Often when I look at our 2009 photos, I am a little amused at my clothing style back then. Skirts, boots, and odd colours, a sort of aging hippy op shop couture. We obtained second-hand towels with plenty of wear still left in them as well as pots and pans, cutlery, an old Kenwood mixer, crockery, books, you name it – we made use of all your wonderful donations.

Thank you to all Australians who responded so generously and with an open heart in 2009. Your money, gifts and clothing found a new home and was valued and appreciated, both big and small. I know I have forgotten a few people. Remind me if you can. And, dear friends and readers, if you recognise anyone in this post, please pass on my personal thanks.

About Donating. If every working adult in Australia put at least $50 aside each year, imagine what a difference we could make during times of natural disaster, either here in Australia or abroad. If 1 million people give $10 tomorrow to a reliable charity, $10 million would become available to distribute aid to those suffering from the floods in Queensland right now. Multiply this by 5 causes per year, and you have a good recipe for giving, and for changing people’s lives. Other ways to give during disaster: volunteering your time and expertise, assisting in clean ups, donating food parcels or meals to neighbours, sending your unwanted goods to charities that arise during these times.

Donated by Resound music.

This is my last post on Black Saturday bushfires. It is meant to be a happy post and a suitable finale to my previous chapters. By reading and commenting, you have assisted me and my family during this difficult anniversary. We thank you.

Black Saturday Bushfire Anniversary. A ten year old post.

Today I’m sharing a post I wrote 10 years ago. It was written on February 12, just 5 days after the Black Saturday Bushfire, Febrary 7, in 2009. I remember writing this in my daughter’s house in a confused and anxious state. It appeared on Blogger, a platform that I used back then. I have added these photos: the rest is unedited. After 9 months, all my writing just vanished overnight, thanks to a takeover, without warning, of my registered domain. This piece was mercifully preserved by Pandora Archive- National Library of Australia.¹  I’m sharing it again today because I want my children to keep these records. They need them more than I do. As I re-read it, I can’t help but think of all those people throughout the world who experience displacement on a much grander scale than I did on that day- refugees from war-torn countries forced to flee to other lands, to live in camps for years, those displaced through flood or cyclone, left homeless for years. I understand how fortunate I am. The gifts and financial assistance offered to us was overwhelming during the first year and deserves a post of its own, simply to document and thank every individual and organisation. It’s a huge list. Here’s that original post from February 2009.

Citrus grove, post fire 2009

And the Nightmare Continues

” I have been looking back on my previous posts. That life last week, up until February the 7th, seems so distant already, and yet only 5 days have passed. Each dawn brings the fear of more bad news, more neighbours and friends who are dead. My dawns last week took me to the vegetable garden or fruit trees for the day’s picking, or the chookhouse to gather the eggs. So many beautiful dreams for the future of the vineyard, the olive trees. Colourful imaginings of salads of tomatoes in four colours. The figs, although the leaves had already dropped in the furious heat of the previous fortnight, clung bravely to the branches, reminding me each morning that autumn would be along soon and figs would be part of the menu or preserving plan. My partner had planted Albarino grapes, he was excited by this Spanish variety as they are said to be drought resistant. Each morning or late evening he would move water from one dam to another to ensure that these new grape plantings would have sufficient water to survive this summer’s blasting heat. This was our work, these dreams kept us too busy, we had hopes for a small wine making barn, we planned to preserve the tomatoes in the old Italian way, to breed prettier hens, to pickle our young olives, to cart our excess of produce to neighbours, family and friends. It was work, it was our identity. And that’s what we lost in last week’s inferno.

We are reminded daily of the horror that was last Saturday as the death toll rises. We grieve beside our friends, we hug neighbours and are so pleased to see them again as they walk into the Community Centre. We cry as we get over our embarrassment and accept donations. We laugh sometimes as we model our donated new or second-hand clothes. We are overwhelmed by the generosity and the food that comes from unknown people who arrive at the community centres with car loads of items.

We eat food as a matter of course and are very grateful to be offered it from family and strangers. But nothing tastes the same anymore. Like travelling, you are always waiting to eat something that is normal, homely, nourishing. Displacement from a life, from a lifestyle is not about ownership or things. It’s an identity loss.

We are the lucky ones who left St Andrews early. Part of the nightmare puts me back in the house, unprepared for the inferno, like so many other poor souls who have lost their lives. I can’t remove this fear, it’s disabling.”

Electricity pole took a week to burn out
Vineyard. 2009
We were not allowed back into our properties until after February 10, three days after Black Saturday, February 7, 2009. We had no idea what we would find, what might be left. As it turns out, everything was destroyed except for a few amazing items. One of the most insane things was a red plastic petrol container which sat beside the dam. It survived, with all the petrol intact!

¹https://pandora.nla.gov.au/historyachievements.html

Black Saturday Bushfire,10th Anniversary. Finding a Way to Memorialise.

Memorialisation takes on greater significance and more noble heights during milestone years. After one, five, ten, twenty- five years and so on, commemoration of significant events in history or in our personal lives is important to remember, celebrate, mourn or commiserate and in some instances, to learn. As Victorians begin February, they are being presented with an intensification of 10th anniversary events commemorating the Black Saturday Bushfires of February 7, 2009, the day that a firestorm of unseen proportions killed 173 people, destroyed over 2000 homes and left more than 6000 people homeless. These are the figures that scream the loudest. Further facts and figures reveal the impact on the whole State.¹

The commemorative events are many and will appeal to different sections of society: academic presentations at a symposium, a flurry of new documentaries and films, books, interviews, art and photography exhibitions, talks, church services, meetings, newspaper articles and many private commemorative get- togethers. Most of the fire survivors I know will avoid these events. I can’t help thinking that there is a considerable level of opportunism in the timing of some of these new books and films which deal with this national disaster.

One of my deepest residual psychological blocks from 2009 is the issue concerning those who overstepped the mark in terms of opportunism and lack of sensitivity. Within days of losing my house, the vultures were out – first came the tourists with cameras, but they were quickly dispelled thanks to the installation of road blocks soon after the fires. Then came the media, artists and photographers. Some behaved appallingly during those early days, eager as they were to cash in on the spectacular nature of the event and, in the process, make a name for themselves. During a time when people were mourning the loss of loved ones, or their homes, their way of life, the ‘recorders of bushfire’ were on a mission to get in early, at a time when the army was still scouring the hills for bones of the dead, when the helicopters above buzzed like a scene from Apocalypse Now, and when ancient eucalypt trees glowed red in slow death, the white ashen ground still hot.

Media journalists at the time lacked an ethical framework for dealing with a national disaster of this size.² They were simply told to go; get the scoop, the best story. Road barriers were often ignored, especially at night if unmanned: in the day time, fabricated identities were used to gain entry. Some behaved like paparazzi, while others, when faced with the enormity of human tragedy they witnessed, revealed respect, restraint and empathy in their reportage.

Now that ten years have passed, I need to purge this anxiety, a sort of PTSD, from my memory. That’s the plan. I did try to do this back in July 2009. I took up the offer of 10 free psychology sessions at a nearby clinic. I had a rather naive plan in place- the sessions would help remove all that adrenalin from my brain, which included this distaste for these bushfire vultures. I lasted only 3 sessions. I wanted to talk about fire issues: my anger at telcos, bureaucratic nightmares, the insensitivity of media: my psychologist was heading somewhere else. I lost faith in the process when I watched her eagerly jot down some notes after I mentioned the word ‘MOTHER’. Just another Freudian obsessed counsellor. I left, not in a huff, but with all my residual angst firmly intact.

I won’t be attending any major memorial events, I won’t be looking at any documentaries or films with bushfires roaring in the background: I have never watched any TV news or documentaries dealing with fire over the last ten years. Some of these blazing reports are now appearing on my Facebook feed: Facebook, everyone’s pocket TV. I won’t be sitting in the local hall watching the latest film offering, and I won’t be attending any art exhibitions portraying bushfire. No churches for me, no gatherings in silence with a cuppa. No trip up into the hills to see how my old bush block is recovering. But I do plan to do a few things on the day and during the following year. I will look out for an eagle in the sky. It was mighty Bunjil circling in the overheated and smoky sky who warned my dearest friend to leave her home on that day. I will also visit a local gathering in Hurstbridge, one being organised by Helen Legg, an amazing and dedicated volunteer who gave most of her days to assisting those who had been affected by bushfire for two years: a drink is on the agenda. I will give thanks, once again, to all those who assisted my family after that National Disaster. I also plan to read a lot more about fire. I’ll start with works by Stephen J Pyne.³ It’s time to learn from sources that are objective and well researched, especially as the reality of global warming makes wildfire more common around Australia and around the globe, in places that have never experienced them before.

Old man tree with tin and wire.

¹ Wikipedia Stats included in full here.

  • 450,000 ha (1,100,000 acres) burnt
  • 7,562 people displaced
  • Over 3,500 structures destroyed, including:
    • 2,029+ houses
    • 59 commercial properties (shops, pubs, service stations, golf clubs, etc.)
    • 12 community buildings (including 2 police stations, 3 schools, 3 churches, 1 fire station)
    • 399 machinery sheds, 363 hay sheds, 19 dairies, 26 woolsheds, 729 other farm buildings
  • Agricultural and horticultural losses:
    • Over 11,800 head of livestock,consisting of 2,150 sheep, 1,207 cattle, and an unknown number of horses, goats, alpacas, poultry, and pigs
    • 25,600 tonnes (25,200 long tons; 28,200 short tons) of stored fodder and grain
    • 32,000 tonnes (31,000 long tons; 35,000 short tons) of hay and silage
    • 190 ha (470 acres) of standing crops
    • 62,000 ha (150,000 acres) of pasture
    • 735 ha (1,820 acres) of fruit trees, olives and vines
    • Over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) of boundary and internal fencing destroyed or damaged
    • 7,000 ha (17,000 acres) of plantation timber
  • 98,932 ha (244,470 acres) of parks damaged, 90 per cent of which was national park. It was claimed that 950 local parks, 70 national parks and reserves, and over 600 cultural sites and historic places were impacted or destroyed
  • 3,921 ha (9,690 acres) of private bushland
  • Over 55 businesses destroyed
  • Electricity supply was disrupted to 60,000 residents
  • Several mobile phone base stations and telephone exchanges damaged or destroyed

² https://apo.org.au/node/19735

³ Stephen J Pyne’s works are listed here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_J._Pyne

A film I may consider watching might be Afterburn- in the Tigers Jaws. ‘The Steels Creek community invited the research team to use them as a case-study because they believed that something lasting had to come from this terrible tragedy and future communities would benefit from partnering with the academic and creative industries. Afterburn has the potential to influence future policy development at all levels of government in the areas of collaborative community recovery and the long-term impact of trauma on communities and individuals.’

On my block in April, 2009. Autumn had softened the disaster zone. I’m wearing a red armband, as did all those who lost their homes. This indicated our identity to the police staffing roadblocks. I wore it for nine months and still have it tucked away.

I have great admiration for a few journalists whose work stood out from the pack during Year 1. Thanks to Ian Munro of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers and to Gary Hughes, a St Andrews resident and Warkley award winner, who wrote so poignantly of his own survival. And to Jon Faine, radio presenter from the ABC, whose broadcasting efforts and interviews, particularly in the Strathewen community, were remarkable.

In My Kitchen, February, 2019. Ten Years Ago.

There’s a lot on my mind this week as we approach the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday, the monstrous bushfire of February 7, 2009, that redefined my life and that of more than 2000 other Victorians. I’ve started to look through my old photos today, the first day of February, to renew my acquaintance with my old house and kitchen from 10 years ago. I’m still coming to terms with why things changed so much. In the end, it’s not really about the possessions, the things. Something else happened on that day, an indefinable sense of loss. Was it the house itself or the setting, the way it incorporated the rising moon through the kitchen window?

Front door near kitchen and hand built pizza oven, 2008

We began work on the building of our old house in January 1980, and moved in around August that year, just before my youngest son, Jack, was born. No electricity or running water back then but we didn’t care. The initial house, constructed in mudbrick, consisted of one huge central room with a soaring ceiling, a hand crafted fireplace, old Victorian four panelled doors, leadlight windows, and a staircase leading to our mezzanine bedroom which was neatly tucked into the ceiling at one end. It was, in many ways, an impractical design, hard to heat in winter and rather hot upstairs in summer but we loved it. We were idealistic, young and ready to embrace our new life. The house came to symbolise everything we were choosing ( and rejecting) at the time. This was not a suburban house: its design and quirkiness grew out of the mudbrick movement that was prevalent in the Shire of Eltham, a romantic building style that began with Montsalvat and was developed further by Alistair Knox. This local style was adapted throughout the 70s by other mud brick builders. The house reflected our new life in the bush which centred around the ‘back to the earth’ ideology which incorporated self-sufficiency in food production, small-scale farming, wood gathering for heating, and a building culture based on a preference for natural and recycled materials, mud, straw, large old bridge timbers, Victorian doors and windows, second-hand red bricks, and any other ‘found’ materials that could be recycled. The more modern notions of ‘tree change’ ‘sustainability’ and ‘repurposing’ had not yet enjoyed linguistic currency. The materials used made each house in the area quite unique. Many of these houses were destroyed on Black Saturday and current building regulations now make them too expensive to replicate.

Hopes and Dreams. A new vineyard planting of Albarino grapes struggled with the drought of 2008.

As the children grew, so did the house. The first addition was a small two roomed mud brick cottage out the back of the house. Each weekend friends arrived to help on the construction: they soon mastered mudbrick wall building and rendering along the way. I pumped out the pizzas and other goodies from the kitchen in the main house. Then in 2004, we added a new modern kitchen and dining room to the main house, an expensive project that took more than a year to complete. That huge farmhouse style room became the focus of my life as a cook and a grandmother for the following four years. It was the place to bath a baby, celebrate a birthday, enjoy a wine, stroll out to the BBQ and terrace, make a mess, play guitars or listen to music. It was a kitchen dedicated to my family. I’ve never really found that life again: the disruption after the fire was too great. Of course I see the family in my current home, but that old ‘hearth and home’ feeling has been lost. The moon rises in the wrong place. I know my children feel this too though they say little.

Most of the internal shots below were taken in my old kitchen. It’s a media file so you can scroll through these by clicking on the first pic in the collage.

These few photos of my old kitchen and pre-fire life have been acquired thanks to friends over the last ten years. Of course our PCs died in the fire on that day, and so did the history of our life in that house, but there were a few pics on an old laptop, and others have been sent to us. 

Today’s post is the beginning of a little series I have been working on to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday. Words and stories have been swimming around in my brain at night for months, keeping me awake. I hope these see the light of day and finally get transferred to the digital page. I know more thanks must be given, more pictures aired, some myths dispelled, and some anger vented too. And after this year, I might let it all go.

Funky old house.

Thanks Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series. I know there’s not much kitchen stuff going on in this post, but at least I’ve made a start on my memorialisation and for this I thank you.

The header photo shows apples baked by bushfire. See also my In My Kitchen post on this topic from 6 years ago.

 

 

 

 

Melbourne for Kids. The Old Melbourne Gaol.

This story was written six months ago, and for some reason, sat idly in my draft folder. Although these activities took place last winter, the same or similar code breaking scavenger hunts take place every school holiday period in The Old Melbourne Gaol. The current summer holiday activity for kids, A Word from Ned , is similar to the  activity described in the winter programme below.

 It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, bitterly cold outside and the gang of three has arrived for a week. Keeping three youngsters aged 8, 9 and 11 busy AND away from their glowing devices is a challenge. I was warned by their parents that I would probably fail in my attempt to limit their iPad time to 30 minutes per day. ‘Good luck with that’, they laughed. An activity programme was called for, one written in consultation with Oliver, who wrote the timetable and costed the events. We decided to check out the Old Melbourne Gaol, a great spot for some morbid entertainment. During the school holidays, all young visitors receive an activity booklet, Escape the Gaol, which keeps them busy, frantically looking for clues on each floor of the gaol, in order to receive an official stamp and finally ‘escape’. Younger children may need a hand with some of the trickier questions and riddles: the constant walking up and down narrow metal staircases provides some physical exercise for the accompanying adults.

Inside the corridors of Old Melbourne Gaol.

After a mad search for clues on the floors and walls of cells, the children learnt to co-operate with each other and share their answers, a fine learning goal and one I encouraged. The activity took over an hour to complete. Many gruesome spectacles can then be enjoyed on each floor, especially the hanging rope area and trap door drop, the copies of death masks on display throughout many cells, and the Ned Kelly paraphernalia and other stories of woe. ‘Such is Life‘ to quote Ned’s last words.

Hanging platform, Old Melbourne Gaol
Hanging Scaffold

I had a particular interest in visiting the older part of the gaol, originally called the Eastern Gaol. My great- great- grandmother, Catherine, was locked up in this dungeonesque place for a brief time in 1857. She had been found wandering the streets of Melbourne and locked up for vagrancy and madness. I am still trying to piece together her story. As her seven children were eventually admitted to the Melbourne poor house for orphans, the Eastern gaol became her last refuge and place of demise. After a short stay, she managed to find the store containing a bottle of poisonous cleaning fluid and drank the contents. Her consequent death guaranteed an instant escape from gaol, and what must have been a tragic life.

Almost steam punk.

The Old Melbourne Gaol was erected in stages between 1851 and 1864 by the Public Works Department of the Colony of Victoria, the design is attributed to Henry Ginn, Chief Architect of the Department. The oldest remaining section ,the Second Cell Block (1851-1853), consists of a long block with three tiers of cells terminating in the central hall (1860), the site of the hanging scaffold. This is the site you will visit. Included in the total tour cost is a visit to the City Watch house, a more modern building next door, where actors dressed as police yell and intimidate you before you land in a darkened cell with your other fellow inmates. This building, although not as evocative as the older building, is well worth a visit for the 1960s lock up experience. The graffiti on the walls speak of sadness, racism, and poverty.

Graffiti etched walls of City Watch House
The Watch House has been left perfectly intact since it was vacated.

This is a great day out for kids over 8: they eagerly donned replicas of Ned’s armour and after the tour, we chatted about the Ned Kelly Legend, came home on the train and sang this song.

Daisy in Ned Kelly helmet.

Other free activities nearby include a visit to the State Library, an historical landmark and a grand building from the Melbourne Boom era. Kids are keen to climb the stairs to the top level and to see a busy library, full of readers and others playing board games. At present there’s a display of wonderful old manuscripts and books on Level 3.

View from above. Melbourne State Library.

The shot tower inside Melbourne Central is opposite the State library, which rounded out our short historical tour of colonial Melbourne.

Shot tower, Melbourne Central.

We travelled by tram and train to the city. Many kids who live in the outer suburbs spend most of their time being driven about in cars: public transport is a novelty in itself. The cost of $70 for a family of 5 for the tour of the gaol was quite reasonable. I can highly recommend this tour to Melbourne residents as well as tourists looking for something a little different in the centre of the city.

Trams are a novelty for many suburban kids.
Melbourne city views
Melbourne, always changing.
Melbourne central

In My Kitchen, November 2018

It’s around 5 pm and my mind reluctantly begins to address the question of dinner. Lacking inspiration, I pour myself a drink, an encouraging white wine and immediately think of risotto, a dish that asks if it may share some of the bottle. There are tons of broadbeans ( fava beans) and leeks in the garden and plenty of herbs: a risotto primaverile could be the answer. At other times, I do the common thing and google a few ingredients in the subject line, hoping for an instant answer, fully conscious of the fact that random internet recipes are unreliable and are simply another form of procrastination. I often ask Mr T what he would like for dinner. In our household the answer always comes back as a one word statement indicating a particular ethnic cuisine. “What about some Indian?” (or Thai, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, French, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese)? he responds. Vietnamese is off my cooking list- I save that cuisine for at least one economical dining option when out and about. When Melburnians eat, they choose from a huge array of influences and are familiar enough with many cuisines to cook them confidently in their own kitchens.

Risotto Primaverile. Inspired by spring vegetables and white wine and of course, Italy.

It’s one of the reasons why I love Melbourne so much. Sitting in the A1 Bakery yesterday, a cheap and cheerful Lebanese restaurant in a vibrant inner suburb, we were surrounded by Australian people of the world, dressed in all manner of clothing styles, from Hijab to Hipster. The decor is eclectic and a little quirky. Above the counter stands a large statue of the Virgin Mary, draped in all her blue and white Catholic glory, an outfit not dissimilar to that worn by some of the customers, while displayed in front of her is a long row of 1 metre high golden hookahs. An odd assortment of pictures decorate the far walls:- a primitive painting of Ned Kelly, the Irish- Australian bushranger legendary hero, an oil painting of Saint Sharbel, a Lebanese Maronite saint dressed in brown monastic garb, a large velvet rug featuring some knife wielding Ottoman Cossacks, and a childlike painting of a cockatoo. The place is always noisy and very busy. On a nearby table, a large group of girls are enjoying a shared lunch together: they have just finished their final year school exams and are celebrating at one of Melbourne’s most affordable eateries. They are Middle Eastern, Turkish, African and Asian Australians. A couple wear glamourously draped head-dress over their teenage uniform of jeans and t-shirts. They speak Melburnian – time to recognise that Australian English has many distinct dialects – and their youthful laughter is infectious.

Below, my home-made falafel, this time with more Egyptian influence and lots of herbs

 

My next door neighbour in the city has just returned from her annual holiday in Greece. For the last 22 years she has tried to teach me basic Greek. We chat in a mixture of broken English and, in my case, almost non-existent Greek – a case of trying to recognise as many Greek roots and suffixes or Italian sounding words, over a some warm Tiropsomo, a fetta cheese bread snack. Like a little bit of Ouzo, says Anna at any time of the day. Oooh, my favourite Greek word: yes please. She pours herself a thimble full while I receive a good little glass, enough to change the flavour of the day. Cheers, Stin ygiasou . She is now 86 and I want to spend more time in her kitchen. Greek influence in my kitchen extends to old favourites such as Spanakopita, that famous greens and fetta pie, Gigantes, the best of bean dishes, home-made taramsalada and dolmades. I’m keen to learn a few more Greek tricks.

Crostini with smashed broad beans and Greek Fetta. Italy meets Greece via Sicily often in Melbourne. Pick one kilo of broadbeans ( fava), shell them, boil for one minute then remove tough outer casings, mix and smash, season well. Top grilled sourdough with mixture, then add some crumbled sheep fetta, olive oil and mint leaves.

The annual Spring BBQ at Barnardi’s place took place recently: this is one of the culinary highlights of my year. When I arrive at most parties, I usually reach for a glass of wine before perusing the food offerings. At Barnadi’s, I head straight to the buffet table- the anticipation of his traditional Indonesian food is so overwhelming, I become outrageously greedy. Barnadi is a chef who once ran a famous Indonesian restaurant, Djakarta. Lately, he has returned to his roots and is cooking more traditional Indonesian recipes. The Australians attending this event all share a diverse background- Indonesian, Thai, British, Greek, Italian and Swedish, a healthy Melburnian blend. The dessert table included a tray of sticky rice green and pink Indonesian cakes, some Javanese Gembong, a rich Spanish flan, a chocolate cheesecake and a Hummingbird cake for Adam’s birthday.

Barnadi’s sweet creations, photo courtesy of Adam. The long dish second from the left contains Gembong, my favourite Javanese sweet, sold in streets of Cipanas, West Java.

 

My mother recently moved into an elderly care facility, commonly known as ‘the place’. The first thing we checked out was the menu. The food is fabulous and varied: the chef, who once had his own restaurant and is of Indian Fijian background, has a great approach to the menu. He hopes to eat this well when he is elderly and so he cooks as if he were a guest at the table. Yes, it’s Karma, we both agree. Visitors can eat with the residents with notice, and there’s always a spare dessert available when visiting during meal times. They are sensational. Each member of staff, from manager to cleaner, is genuinely caring and friendly: they smile, dance and chat to all. These Aussies have Chinese, Malaysian, and Filipino backgrounds and I am so thankful for their loving care of my mother.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite Australian comedy clips, each with a multi cultural theme.  Laugh or cringe. Thanks Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this monthly series.

Liquid Sunsets

Down by the shore of Port Philip Bay, Melbourne, there’s so much going on during the sunset hour. Seagulls frolic and chase phantoms, paddle boarders glide by, silhouetted in liquid gold, a passing puppet show on water, cargo vessels float weightlessly upon the shipping lane, black swans gently pose, and aluminium dinghies turn bronze. Mesmerizing and always new.

Aluminium turns to bronze
Sunset gulls and paddle boarders, Port Philip Bay, Melbourne
Swans,  silhouette and ships. Port Philip Bay, Melbourne
Paddle on by. Gentle and noiseless water sports by the bay.

Rainforest Paradise in Far North Queensland.

The first thing you notice when entering the lush rainforest world of Tropical Bliss B&B in Far North Queensland is the sound of rushing water and the deep umbrous green light of the rainforest. It’s a soothing sound, reminding me in many ways of Ubud in Bali. Tropical Bliss B&B sits high above Utchee Creek and just below the platformed gazebo, the rapids rush loudly. If you are lucky enough to stay in the Ulysses Butterfly room, you will feel totally immersed in this environment. It’s another world. The bedroom windows are flywired but open, the doors are French and best left ajar so you can hear the sounds of the night forest or the startling early morning chatter of the Wompoo fruit doves. An afternoon read is a luxurious pastime but it only takes a page or two before succumbing to that water world: the words blur and its off, once again, to the land of nod. Call them naps, or call them dreams or trance, they happen often here. Chillax, as the hosts say.

Driveway into Tropical Bliss B&B.

To get to Tropical Bliss B&B, drive south from Cairns down the Bruce Highway to the thriving country town of Innisfail, then head on through the sugar cane fields and banana plantations until you reach Utchee Creek. This is rich Queensland farming country but there are a few small settlements dotted throughout these fertile lands, especially along the creeks where the rainforest has historically been left intact. The rainfall in this area is the highest in Australia: it’s hard to imagine an average rainfall of 4,000 millimetres ( 160 inches) per year. The forest seems to grow before your very eyes. The thought of all this rain is quite overwhelming.

The wet season continued later this year, with huge downpours throughout April, making Utchee Creek more teeming than usual. You can swim here- it’s too high for crocodiles. The small rock pools below look very tempting, though the staircase down is precipitous. Peter, the host, will happily guide you through his rainforest garden of 2.5 acres. Some is accessible and safe: other steeper sections along the creek are wild and primordial. Some plants have thrived here since the age of the dinosaurs. There are colours, shapes and textures unseen in safer southern lands and stories and legends abound. We passed one plant with incredibly sticky leaves: when torn, they have the property of super glue. Then there’s the Wait- a While stinging vine, ( the only way to become disentangled is to wait a while so you don’t get injured by the toxic stinging barbs) and then there’s Gympie Gympie, the devil- like bush with extremely painful and toxic leaves. Along the driveway, lush red flowers remind me of hydrangeas- they are beautiful but apparently invasive.

The Pagoda Bush

Beyond, in a small grassy clearing, black bamboo canes soar above, while black sapote trees, strangler vines and pepper creepers compete for light. For those interested in tropical plants, Peter can give you a list of palms, ferns and vines in his garden. Research has been conducted on site by world-famous botanists who itemised around 20,000 plant species, including grasses and smaller microscopic plants. I was rather taken with the Zamea Furfuracea, or Cardboard Plant, a bush with thick leaves like sandpaper, good tucker for those ancient creatures from the mists of time. It’s a plant wonderland here.

In a tropical garden.

Peter can tell you about local activities, which might include a visit to Paronella Park, the Atherton tablelands, Mission beach, or the prosperous inland art deco town of Innisfail with its waterfront boats and fish shops. Perhaps you might be tempted to buy some fresh green tiger prawns or a slab of the beautiful white fleshed Coda fish or a coral trout? It is possible to buy some lovely produce in Innisfail to take ‘home’ to Tropical Bliss where you could use the BBQ or, by pre-arrangement, the kitchen.

A chilled white wine or G&T in the rainforest, a bird call, and a pile of freshly cooked tiger prawns with a squeeze of lime is a pleasant way to spend the early evening. Otherwise, the nearby Mena Creek Pub serves meals. Peter offers a variety of breakfast options. He has just mastered the art of sourdough bread so expect some good toast and sugar-free tropical fruit jams, along with a tropical fruit platter and home-made yoghurt, or banana pancakes, eggs and a good coffee.

Coffee and croissant on the deck.
Huge tropical breakfasts at Tropical Bliss B&B.

The house itself is an inviting open space, though most guests spend their time on the deck overlooking the jungle. Inside you’ll want to kick off your shoes and wander about in the shady lounge area, tastefully decorated in Graham Greene style, with wooden shutters, French doors and Chinese antiques. There are two tiny old dogs on site, both friendly and quiet, and the bathroom facilities are shared. It is, in many ways, like a small and friendly guesthouse. Many ‘celebrities’ choose to stay here, given its private location, to recharge batteries and commune with nature. Some come to write, others to watch birds, backpackers to learn about Australia, and family groups come to have fun. There are two bedrooms and one overflow bunk room for children. Your hosts, Peter and Steve, can be as invisible as Ninjas or delightfully hands on and entertaining; it’s up to you. All you need to do is leave all your preconceptions behind. A short stay at Tropical Bliss is restorative and unique.

Photo of Cassowary and chicks in the neighbourhood. Photo courtesy of Peter Dameaon. These chicks are now 30 months old and this male has cared for two more clutches since. I saw a Cassowary but I was too slow with the camera.

I stayed at Tropical Bliss for 6 days, courtesy of the owners. The views expressed here are entirely biased, and I can honestly say, I loved it all. Contact me with any further queries or book through the usual channels or ring the owners via the link below.

Tropical Bliss B& B,  257 Utchee Creek Road, Utchee Creek, Queensland. Australia