This month’s In My Kitchen post takes the form of a small, April journal, interspersed with photos of ingredients and dishes that entered or exited my kitchen recently.
At the Beach, Easter ’21
I’m lying on a comfy bed inside my caravan on Good Friday afternoon. The day is hot and still, though the cooling sea air finds its way through the windows and ceiling extractor, making a little lie down even more enticing. The small space is darkened by blockout curtains: it’s womblike, cocooning, soothing. Someone is tuning a guitar in the distance, followed by a sampling of acoustic bluegrass notes. Wattle birds make scratchy chatter in the nearby banksia trees. It’s not quite #vanlife because it’s a caravan and I’m probably disqualified anyway. I think it must be the small space that is so appealing about a van, reminiscent of the cubby houses I used to build in my childhood, with planks of old timber, worn blankets smelling of shed and dusty hessian bags.
There’s not much to do except walk, read, write or plan the next meal. Fortunately, some good things, like hot cross buns, were made at home and brought to the beach camp to share with others. This year’s hot cross buns were a big hit with me, and I’m a very fussy customer. Over the years I’ve attempted quite a few different recipes and I may have finally found one to suit my discerning palate. The two recipes I used this year were similar with regard to ingredients but differed in technique. I’ve learnt quite a few things along the way, and am happy to say that the 32 buns were all eaten, with praise offered by my appointed samplers, Daisy and Helen. Sourdough buns last much longer than yeasted buns. Cinnamon affects the rising action of sourdough so should be added later, or at least after an initial autolyse. Butter is better added in chunks rather than melted, and is also best added at the end of the mix. In hindsight I preferred using a stand mixer for the dough over the hand built version, given the wetness of the mix and the delay in adding the butter. An overnight proofing in the fridge makes the dough much easier to shape. Allow 24 hours once you begin your mixing and monitor ambient temperature: around 23c-24c is ideal. I’ve finally invested in a thermometer/hygrometer, an important tool in the bread making process. I may make some Not Cross Buns to practise my technique throughout the year.
If you’re not into sourdough, yeasted hot cross buns are fast and easy to make, assuming you have a hungry horde to feed, as they don’t keep very well. Why bother making your own buns? The answer partly lies in the image below, taken from a Coles packet of HC buns. Bakers Delight and Brumby’s buns are also loaded with numbers too, with 27- 32 listed ingredients. Small independent bakeries are more likely to make buns without a bunch of numbers: they are more expensive but then, they’re meant to be an annual treat. Real butter goes on top of a good bun, not a mixture of oil, dairy and numbers, known as spreadable butter.
Coles Hot Cross Bun Info
The best shared meals at the beach are fairly well planned. We either decide on a particular cuisine or theme. Indian nights are good value, with family members bringing their favourite curry, which drives nearby campers mad with desire as the onions and spices slowly cook. Pizzas done in the Baby Q Weber work well but are very slow, giving new meaning to the notion of slow food. I usually bring 8 balls of 48 hour fermented dough from home for our beach pizza night, but supermarket pizza bases work well enough when desperate. My favourite flour for pizza, buns and bread is Wholegrain Milling’s organic stoneground baker’s flour which I buy wholesale in 25 kilo bags.
April 11. Thoughts from the couch on a wet Sunday.
I’ve been reflecting on the idea of the anti-cook, and whether I might become one. You know those days when a bowl full of numbers in the form of a packet of Indomie, a popular Indonesian instant noodle brand, is all you can imagine. Adding a chopped spring onion is going too far down the road of kitchen mess. Or a cup of instant miso soup for an overdose of salt, the zen answer to bonox. There’s no shortage of good food here: I have a garden full of it. But putting it all together requires a herculean effort as well as a desire to eat well. No one told me that one of the side affects of the Covid Jab is loss of appetite and a disinterest in wine. This is outrageous! Why didn’t they tell me on the carefully printed side effects sheet? Along with kitchen apathy comes a keen desire to spend more time in a horizontal position watching streamed TV series. An Easter Lindt chocolate or two and a heat pack are my new daytime friends. If you’re over 50, join the club and suffer a few days of sloth and achy joints, or perhaps smoke one, but don’t become vaccine reticent. That packet of Indomie has 17 mysterious additives which are more likely to cause more blood clotting than the Astra Zeneca Jab. An anti- cook I may become, but I’ll never be an anti- vaxxer. I’m part of the herd, and hopefully part of the solution.
Thanks once again Sherry for hosting the IMK series. At present I like writing more than cooking and so my contribution may seem a little curlballish, or googly to use an old cricket term, but that’s life. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more inspiring world kitchens.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Sunset views and Pinot Grigio.
I love shells
Making decor in my kitchen del mare
Local garfish, simply sauteed, then sauced a la meunière with butter parsley and lemon’
Portsea hotel. Great view. Which table will we choose?
Portsea hotel Pizza
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.
The morning beach snap featured above might seem incongruous in a post about kitchens. This is the view just past the banksia trees and over the gravel track from our camping kitchen, around 30 steps away. On still days we carry the table and chairs down to the beach, placing them in front of an abandoned boat shed, and dine in style while watching the light shift over the bay.
From February to April, we travel between two kitchens-a camping kitchen by the sea and our home kitchen, the more demanding task master during this season of abundant garden crops. As the two kitchens are only 1/¼ hours apart, an easy freeway drive, we alternate every three or four days. When setting up the beach kitchen, we aim for functionality with solid metal stands, stoves and shelves and frivolous decor mostly sourced from local opportunity shops. I’ve tried minimalism and it doesn’t work for me.
In my beach kitchen I usually mix 1970s Chinese enamel ware and cookware with a few old Balinese sarongs ( my curtains) and junk from the local op shops. Old hippy mid-century retro Chinese vintage, with a touch of Greek fishing village might best describe the style. Things change each year, depending on what floats my way.
The beach suburbs from Dromana to Sorrento are loaded with vintage shops and ‘oppies’, Australian term of affection for a charity shop. Today I found some wonderful treasure to add to my beach kitchen. These Balinese placements were a steal and are both functional and decorative. They turned up in Vinnies (St Vincent de Paul), Rosebud.
I can’t resist old dolphin bottle openers. Neither can my eldest son, who owns quite a few and displays them swimming together along a loungeroom cabinet. These two have found a home in the beach set up and get a workout on hot days. Pass the dolphin.
An old preserving pan for $3 from another op shop found its way into our beach kitchen. So many uses and lightweight.
A birthday gift from my children, this wok burner is perfect for camping. With fierce heat and stability, it’s a joy to fire up a big wok full of mie goreng. This one will be added to our home verandah on our return.
A pile of books for a few gold coins. Freshly donated, all new looking and many unread, they were stacked in piles on a table, the eager volunteers keen to do their job and get them up on the shelves. I remarked to Mr Tranquillo that books on a table are far more appealing than those shelved in bookcases. Books on tables invite fondling, turning and perusing. He reminded me that it’s an old marketing ploy. When a line in a shop isn’t selling, you simply take it off the shelf and display it on a table. No price reduction, no promotion needed. This stash will live in the caravan and once read, will be returned to the op shop or perhaps the communal laundry, which has become a freecycle centre at our beach camp.
A five-minute meal, a bowl of lightly curried mussels, French style, served with some chunky bread. Easy food from my beach kitchen.
The secret is out- best op shops on the Mornington Peninsula:
The Rotary Warehouse, Capel Sound
The Habitat for Humanity, Capel Sound
Search and Rescue op shop, Blairgowrie
Jack and Andy’s, Sorrento
and plenty of smaller oppies in each small beach suburb along the way.
The best time to travel around New Zealand in a hired camper van/RV/motor home is in May, given that the weather is still pleasant, the Autumn colours, particularly in the South Island, are spectacular, and the rental price on a large motorhome plummets to around AU$29 a day.
Camping in a 7.6 metre long motorhome is not exactly roughing it. The back seats convert to a comfortable queen sized bed, a TV/DVD player is situated close by, the internal lighting is bright, there is a built-in toilet and bathroom, a fridge, gas stove top, microwave and heater. Basic pots and pans, cutlery and linen are also supplied. I enjoy the independence this form of travel provides, being able to pull up in front of any view for morning tea or lunch or a quick snooze. The other main bonus is getting away from commercial restaurant and pub food, which jades the palate after the novelty wears off. Stocking the fridge with all sorts of wonderful New Zealand farm products and wines to enjoy en route is one of the joys of travelling in this fertile land.
Each hire company uses its own detailed contract. While there is no standard form, most share common features that often parallel car rental contracts. When a booking is made in advance, the hire company supplies a summary of contract to be signed on collection of the vehicle. I treat this document as an important and lucrative (or loss-making) issue. The one finally presented usually adds some additional onerous terms.
The hire contract will contain many restrictions. For example, most campervan contracts prohibit the hirer from driving on unsealed roads (or off-road), unless it’s a short defined distance on a well maintained road to a recognised camping ground. I hire a 4wd camper if I want to explore on dirt roads or go off road.
2. When to hire
Prices are highest at peak holiday times, particularly around Christmas, Easter, school holidays, and at seasonal times when demand is likely to be high. In Australia, winter holiday-makers flock north (to northern New South Wales and Queensland, northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory) to escape the cold or cooler weather further south. The reverse migration pattern applies in summer.
Camper hire companies cut hire rates drastically out of season. For example:
(a) In New Zealand and Tasmania, May to September rates are relatively cheap.
Factor in the weather if choosing to hire within these dates. My own experience is that the North Island in NZ is fine to visit in May (as is Tasmania) with sunny days, little or no wind, days that are around the high teens to low 20s (celsius) in temperature, and cool nights. Nice for camping. Higher altitudes will be colder, of course. A larger campervan should have a gas or diesel heater for warmth if required. (Check the contract).
Hire companies regularly offer specials. For example, Britz in November 2015 offered a 25% discount on hire charges for Tasmania over March and April.
(b) Relocating a camper can be very cheap, sometimes for nil to $1 a day.
A relocation may also include reimbursement of fuel costs, and if relevant, a sea crossing (in New Zealand between the North and South Islands, and in Australia, the Bass Straight crossing between Melbourne and Tasmania).
There could be major savings involved. I recently read a quote of AU$750 for a return crossing of Bass Strait – Melbourne to Tasmania – for a 7 metre long motorhome. As a reference, a Mercedes Sprinter motorhome is about 7.6 metres long.
However, watch the insurance issue as noted below. It also applies to a relocation.
The main negative of a relocation is that the hirer is only given a limited time to complete the journey.
3. Liability and Insurance
Essentially, the hire contract provides that the hirer (renter) is responsible for any damage to the vehicle or its fittings (usually including tyres and windscreen) or for damage to another vehicle or other property. The liability is regardless of fault.
Here, major savings can be made.
(a) Use an appropriate credit card to pay for your campervan hire, one that includes travel insurance cover, specifically covering your hire vehicle accident liability. Read your credit card contract carefully, as the terms differ from issuer to issuer. Examples of some differences and issues:
Some cards only cover passenger vehicles.
All have limits on the maximum accident liability cover. The ones I’ve checked have an upper limit of $5,000. Some hire companies impose a higher sum for liability, for example, $7,500 for a Britz motorhome and some of Apollo’s larger motorhomes.
Some cards, like my ANZ Visa Platinum Frequent Flyer card, apply to passenger vehicles only in Australia, but also apply to passenger vehicles and campervans overseas.
If you rely on your credit card for cover, ensure that you have activated the cover. For example, the credit card contract may require a minimum amount to be spent on travel costs using the card before the cover applies.
If you do rely on your credit card for cover, hire companies generally require a payment of the full amount of your accident liability under the hire contract. With my last hire, I was required to pay $5,000 (the accident liability amount) to the hire company (Apollo) – only by credit card – for the amount to be refunded within 28 working days of the completion of the hire. Plus their 2% surcharge. In fact, the refund was made after about 3 weeks.
This practice seems to be designed to strongly discourage people from opting out of the hire company’s insurance scheme. If you have a lazy $5,000 of credit with your card, you will incur fees – cash advance interest – before receiving a refund.
If it’s an international transaction, an overseas visitor hiring a vehicle in New Zealand for example, then the credit card payment to the hire company attracts currency conversion fees from the hirer’s bank, and the hire company’s bank initially, then the same again when the refund is made.
(b) Take out your own insurance cover. If you have travel insurance, it may cover you. On my recent 28 day campervan hire, I paid $125.80 for my own insurance cover that simply covered hire vehicle excess liability instead of paying $1,232 to the hire company.
I used RACV, one of Australia’s motorists’ organisations. See:
Apollo is representative of hire companies in only accepting payment by credit card. It charges a non-refundable fee of 2% on Visa and Mastercard and 4.5% for American Express or Diners Club.
This means that you cannot take advantage of saving by paying by direct deposit or in cash.
4. Other extras and issues to watch out for
It’s convenient to hire various extras along with the vehicle to make your holiday more comfortable. On the other hand, some can be easily obtained elsewhere at better prices.
GPS – Hire companies charge around $10 per day (usually with a maximum of $100). Bring your own if possible. Most smart phones now have a GPS, although you may need an app or map if visiting a foreign country. Paper maps still work.
Outdoor table and chairs. Rather than pay the hire fee of $17 per chair and $24 for the table (total $58), I buy them from a shop like KMart or Bunnings for around $7 per chair and $19 per table (total $33). Donate them to a charity (Opp Shop) or give them away at the end of the holiday.
Don’t assume that the daily hire rate is cheaper the longer the hire period. This is true up to a point, but with my most recent hire the daily rate increased after 28 days.
5. Cooking for yourself
Buying meals constantly can be both expensive and unattractive, depending on your food preferences. Travelling provides opportunities to buy fresh produce at markets and farmers’ outlets, and seafood along the coast.
I prefer a picnic or meal in the open air with fresh local ingredients, together with a cheeky local wine, rather than a deep fried generic meal in a pub or cafe that offers nothing notable about its taste, location or origin.
Of course, eating out is important when it’s notable for the food, view, ambiance, or cultural experience, laziness….
As one whose culinary skills are most advanced in the fields of kitchen hand and washing up, I am acutely aware of the importance of observing the views of the chief cook on the issue of eating in or out.
6. Check the state of the vehicle at the time of hire, and at the end
Make sure that the vehicle report you sign when collecting the vehicle accurately states any pre-exisiting damage. I’ve found Britz and Apollo good on this issue of vehicle condition, but have experienced the opposite elsewhere. Take similar care on the vehicle’s return.
7. Where to camp – expensive, cheap or free?
Camping fees can be a major part of holiday costs.
In Australia, the nightly fee for a campervan with on-site power at a commercial camping ground/caravan park/holiday park will generally be about $35 to $45 for 2 persons. Extra fees are charged for additional guests.
As an illustration, my daughter recently paid $66 nightly for a powered beach front camping site at Tathra on NSW’s south coast for 2 adults and 2 children.
Higher fees are usually charged for peak periods, popular locations, and where there are more facilities (swimming pools, water slides, entertainment centres and so on). My experience of New Zealand is that the fees are at least as high.
Cheaper paid camping is available, although not necessarily in the most popular or well known destinations. National parks, and campgrounds in less frequented locations generally offer lower fees or none, usually for fewer facilities, or none.
Most hire campervans and motorhomes have a dual battery system that allows camping using 12 volt power from the auxiliary battery for lighting, while the cook top and refrigerator use gas. Therefore, it’s feasible to camp away from mains elecricity for a few days.
One potentially relevant issue is whether your campervan has an onboard toilet, as many municipalities require free camper vehicles to be self-contained in terms of toilet and waste water facilities. On the other hand, experienced Australian campers know that in the bush, a short walk with a shovel can solve those issues.
New Zealand is generally more accommodating than Australia towards free camping, and doing so at beautiful coastal locations is much easier than on Australia’s east coast. On the other hand, Australia has great free camping opportunities away from the coast. One of my favourites is to camp on the Murray River, our longest river, where there are numerous free camp sites stretching over hundreds of kilometres where you can enjoy Australia’s unique timelessness, most often without anyone else around.
Linked to Ailsa’s travel theme this week, Camping.
This is a tale of three kitchens plus two BBQs in a camping ground by the sea, but as I only have photos of two kitchens, and the title has a more Dickensian ring to it, two kitchens it will be.
Each year we set up a huge family camp over four sites which directly face Port Phillip Bay in Victoria. Our camping season begins on Australia Day in January and ends some time in late April. Most of the workers in our group travel to the beach camp each weekend but their presence has been continual and strong this year, with Easter and the school holidays falling so early. The kitchens and BBQs pump out food all day, any time and on demand, but often the evening meals are late when we become distracted by the brilliant sunsets and each other’s company. OK, and also the sunset drinks.
Each season, our kitchens take on rather odd themes, based on the junk we find around the local charity shops or discarded items sitting by the side of the road.
My beach kitchen has always tended towards a mid-century Chinese look, but this year we have added a few touches of ‘ Greek fishing village’, along with some vintage Australiana, sourced from the fabulous Rotary Warehouse where an outlay of $2 goes a long way.
My son Jack found a Sunbeam Pizza Bake and Grill oven sitting next to the rubbish bin, and I know what can be baked in these ‘Toy Ovens’, thanks to Maree at Around the Mulberry Tree. When our old friend Denis came to dinner recently, we used the oven to bake potatoes and eggplant parmigiana and some Spanish styled garlic prawns in terracotta pots. I am yet to see how it handles a real home-made pizza.
Then various members of my family began to score freebies every week. We became the Steptoes by the Bay. Jack found and restored a discarded BBQ, followed by a clean three-man canvas tent in very good order. I found a cast iron table and matching chairs sitting on a nature strip. It’s amazing what can be shoved into the back of my tiny hatchback car. Then my daughter Rachael found a brand new stainless steel kettle. Andrew found a large square of rubber matting in good nick- the list goes on and on. People who camp by the beach for a weekend or a week often throw away new things at the end of their stay. Consumerism gone mad or no storage at home?
Maxine, my daughter in law, set up her kitchen this year in my old canvas camper trailer. Maxine should really be a stylist: she can turn the most humble of finds into marvellous decor.
Her area took on a nautical theme including a coffee corner complete with two old captain’s chairs, along with found odds and ends, while my son Andrew set up an array of LED strip lighting which he bought from Alibaba on-line, his favourite shop, along with an LED chandelier called Sputnik. Andrew has become the Mr MacGyver by the sea- he fiddles with our 12 volt lighting, often powered by old computer parts, and devises gadgets to make our camping life easier.
Food is usually simple. Jaffles filled with cheese, tomato, egg, onion, avocado or anything else are popular. Sometimes we fill them with left over bolognese sauce and call them pies. A Jaffle is an old-fashioned toastie, the name stemming from the brand name stamped on these old circular irons. Jaffles taste far better than toasties, as they acquire a golden hue on the outside as they slowly cook over a naked flame, along with a crispy seal and slightly charred edge, providing the bonus of tasty free radicals.
Another choice breakfast offering is Shakshuka, a one pan delight. The tomatoes and eggs come weekly from my home in St Andrews.
Thanks Maureen, of Orgasmic Chef, for hosting the In My Kitchen platform. I can’t seem to ever let this series go.
From February to April, I travel between two homes and I always feel divided. I rather like my caravan and canvas life by Port Phillip Bay and I prefer its kitchen to the one I leave at home. Life is much simpler, the sea air wafts through open windows making sleep non Macbethian. Children play, making new friends and ignoring their IT devices. The food is uncomplicated. I call the bay my laguna.
Internet and phone service is patchy in Far North Queensland and non-existent in the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. Hooray. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I’m not sure: a break from constant contact is like a breath of fresh air. More conversational time spent in communal kitchens with world travellers, and more time to indulge in lazy afternoon reading.
I’m back in my camp kitchen for the last time this season. After Easter, it’s time to pack up the van and tuck things away for another year. My camp kitchen is always on the go, along with my daughter’s neighbouring van kitchen, feeding a fluctuating family of four generations. There is always a big pot of vegetable soup or a minestrone, simple casseroles for the kids who are always hungry, rice cookers and woks and jaffles for breakfast. This Easter weekend, there are hot cross buns, a Lentil shepherds pie for good Friday, and stashed chocolate eggs for Sunday.
I love old Chinese enamel ware, most of which was produced during the Cultural Revolution, that difficult period in Chinese history. This set of bowls with lids is so handy in my camping kitchen. Just for you, Nancy!
Last week we celebrated Mischa’s 18th birthday and these left over frozen pizza came to the beach to be reheated in the camp oven. Perfect for a cool day.
On Good Friday, hot cross buns in the fresh air, slathered in butter, is a tradition worth keeping. Have you noticed that the big supermarkets begin churning these out on Boxing Day? I refuse to buy any before Good Friday. As well as explainng the significance of these buns to the children, we also sing this rather odd nursery rhyme,
Hot cross buns, hot cross buns,
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns.
If you have no daughters,
give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns.
I found this little pinch pot at one of the weekend markets in Mornington Peninsula. It now lives in the camper trailer kitchen.
This little corner of the van is used for drawing, writing and dining. This year we went with the cocky cushion theme: there are matching cups somewhere in my camping kitchen.
Mr T has collected some styling props for my camping kitchen. The bees are drunk on Banksia flower mead, and so far, four children have been stung. Despite that, they still refuse to wear shoes.
Cooking for a big mob can be demanding at times. Mr T and I like to sneak off to a winery on occasion and sample the wares from someone else’s kitchen.
Happy birthday Celia. May the next decade be even more wonderful than all the others. This post forms part of Celia’s monthly event, In My Kitchen, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.
Sitting on the banks of the ancient Murray River, the day is hot and still: I pass the afternoon with a glass of vodka and Passiona on ice, sunning my legs, followed by a dip in the water, while chatting with my daughter/best friend. Oh Happy Day.
I’m on a mission to explore the many beaches and banks of the Murray River, camping off the grid where possible. As the river is 2,508 kilometres in length and runs through three states of Australia, this could be mission impossible. Earlier Murray river posts can be viewed here and here.
This time, we set up camp on a sandy bank between Cobram and Yarrawonga in Victoria, one day after a holiday weekend. We had this glorious beach to ourselves, bar two canoeists heading down stream, and one tourist passenger boat. I’m glad I wasn’t perched on the throne of my river view toilet/shower on that occasion.
Thanks to Kyle, who should be cloned and packed away in everyone’s tool box, we had hot water on demand, many other unusual and handy camping gadgets, as well as ready help with anything to fix or adjust. His gadgets included a vacuum cleaner, a high pressure hose, an electric fan, radios, mobile phones, tablets and iPads, shower pumps and portable fridges, to name just a few. Solar panels supplied power to the 12 volt battery systems that had already been charged by our vehicles in the trip to the river. An inverter took care of converting 12 volt power from the batteries to 240 volts for those appliances that required mains power.
Our hot water service was fired up each morning and evening. Cold river water is poured into a funnel inserted in the top of the keg which is then heated on the campfire. A short time later, boiling hot water comes from the outlet, providing enough for showers and dishwashing.
Camping trips require good but simple food. Sometimes we cooked on gas or used Kyle’s Dutch ovens, partly buried in a shallow layer of hot coals with more hot coal on the lids enabling roasting, casseroling and baking. Lunchtime catering on hot days consisted of sandwiches and salads: the kids picked out the bits they liked. The pescatarians ate stuffed peppers with leftover Pesto Mac ( a variation of Mac and Cheese for pesto lovers) as well as curries and salmon burgers.
The family took the week off, cashing in on Melbourne Cup Day Holiday to take time out in a great month of the year. What did the kids learn? The oldest (10) learnt about solar energy and sustainability and the basic law of physics, via the water heater service. He observed our camping solar panels in action and asked the pertinent question, “If this is the sunniest spot in Victoria, why aren’t there more solar panels around? This area could produce enough power for the state of Victoria!” Good question Noah. A child can see the common sense in solar energy after a camping trip like this.
Are our political leaders slow learners, are their heads buried in the sand or inserted into another orifice of the dirty brown coal industry providers? At 10 years old, kids ask questions, at 18 they vote. At 50 what will their world be like without a radical change to address climate change?
The younger ones learnt to use the currents of the river to move downstream (with safety jackets on). They watched the full moon rise each evening. The girls found some instant $1.00 fashion in the op shops of a nearby town. The children had no need for shoes, they were always hungry, and they played and looked after each other. The cards came out, Ollie found a handmade sling shot, Lottie found an off cut of redgum wood which became an oiled cheese board. They skip jumped rocks on the river and dug vast holes in the sand and joined in night-time campfire conversations about dreams.
We wound up with a moonlight ballet concert on the beach, spot lit by one of Kyle’s camping toys, with Daisy doing a great dying swan act on the banks of the river.
How nice it would be to take a tinny or kayak down the river from Yarrawonga to Cobram.
Song plants to go with this post, because camping is also about singing:
Take Me to the River, Al Green, nicely covered by Talking Heads.
I See the Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky -you know the one!
Oh Happy Day, 18th century gospel song first popularised by Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969.
Love is a Battlefield, Pat Benatar, a good tune to dance to in the wilds.
In his foreword to Steve Strevens’ book, ‘Slow River’, Stefano de Piero attests to his appreciation of the slowness and strength of the Murray River, noting that words like ‘mighty Murray’ are too clichéd. Stefano continues to quote poet and scholar Paul Kane, who describes the Murray in this way,
“The Murray, a river of work, cutting its way through time and all resistance: here broad and reflecting, there deep and gorgeous in confinement- scoriated limestone valleys of imagination – and stillness too, in swampy backwaters and billabongs, where the traveller, the river’s reader, can paddle about and muse on the curious vicissitudes of Nature’s Muse, who is like a river, only she is her own source of plenishment, whereas the Murray- refreshed by loss- is both less and more.” Paul Kane, 1995.
I have tried on a few adjectives too and I keep coming back to ‘elemental’ and ‘primordial’ to describe this river and its beautiful surrounding bush. Although not many of us are in the position, like Steve, to take a ‘tinnie’ (a small aluminium boat) down the Murray from source to sea, we can appreciate its wonder and hypnotic attraction by camping along its banks. One evening, a posse of around 20 pelicans came bobbing along, appearing as if from nowhere from a nearby fork in the river. For the first 10 minutes, like obedient troupes, they stayed in a neat line as they travelled upstream. Bills up and down in unison, they hugged the banks of the river for some time. Then, as if commanded by an invisible force, they simultaneously spread out in a wide circle, a choreographed show, and the hunt was on. Fishing time! Amidst the white troupe, one small dark cormorant had joined the gang.
Human daytime activities consist of walking and photography, noting the variety of flora and bird life, and watching the ever-changing moods of this slow river as it passes by. Other pastimes include reading books about the Murray ( see below), fiddling with the solar panels, and considering whether it’s time for another cup of tea or something stronger. Big decisions. The days are sunny and the nights are frosty in early September so a camp fire is recommended. From November through to May, camp fires are banned due to the risk of bushfire.
At times, a houseboat cruises by. The nearby Lyrup Ferry service operates 24 hours a day: it is a free service and one simply pulls up, presses the red button, and out comes the ferryman to take you and your car over the short stretch of river. Of course, I couldn’t stop singing Chris de Burgh’s, “Don’t pay the ferryman, don’t even fix a price, don’t pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side, ah ahh ahhahaah”. South Australia retains some fine traditions.
In the late afternoon, food is prepared and the fire is lit. Mr T chops onions, garlic and ginger: he is my favourite kitchen hand. Tonight’s feast includes a Keralan fish curry, loaded with fresh curry leaves found in the excellent Indian shop in Mildura. Alongside is an Aloo Gobi stir fry- a simple little cauliflower and potato dish with added Kalonji seeds. I put Kalonji seeds in many things these days, especially flat breads. The next day, a big shared Szechuan soup for lunch with wongbok cabbage, tofu and chilli hits the spot and at night, my favourite, jaffles cooked in the fire. Food tastes so good in the open air.
Camping by the river is one of the best ways to enjoy the Australian bush, especially in September when you have the place to yourself, along with the birds, and the silence of the slow Murray River. As the night descends, it’s time for a glass of local wine and perhaps a hummed tune, ‘Take me to the River’ ,after the wine has disappeared.
The banks of the Murray River at Lyrup, South Australia
Two excellent books on the Murray River:
Slow River, A journey down the Murray, Steve Strevens, Allen and Unwin 2006
The River. A journey through the Murray- Darling basin, Chris Hammer, Melbourne University Press, 2011