Earth Oven Food Feast at NAIDOC

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—What a bonus to sample the aromatic pleasures of an Aboriginal earth oven feast in Sydney’s Hyde Park last week.

The earth oven food was part of Naidoc in the City, where visitors could enjoy a taste of Indigenous food and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures while listening to live performances from artist such as Radical Son, Green Hand Band, Jessie Lloyd and Mi’Kaisha.

Apart from a host of activities such as storytelling, language workshops, bush tucker talks, weaving and demonstrations by Aboriginal chef, Mark Olive, the food sampling seemed to be of particular interest, judging by the long queues.

Lamb, beef and pork were slow cooked from pre-dawn using a traditionally styled ‘earth oven’. The oven is created by digging out a shallow pit and lining it with native Gymea Lily stems – the heating comes from the addition of burning hot rocks.

Wet hessian bags and sand seal in the heat and the result is a rich smoky cuisine – a method that ‘steams, roasts and barbeques’ the native herb-infused meat all at once.

NAIDOC SydneyAnd while the lunchtime patrons and spontaneous tourist passers-by may not have known the intricacies of this ancient cooking technique, the appreciation was palpable. Mounds of pork, beef, lamb and vegetables subtly infused with flavours such as pepper berry and lemon myrtle were memorable – and entirely delicious.

Hearty and flavoursome on a crisp winter afternoon, this earth oven food celebrated the rich diversity of Australia’s bush flavours while ensuring that this age-old tradition received the recognition it deserves.

Middle-Aged Dread

IN MY MOTHER’S ERA, middle-aged mothers were content to be middle-aged mothers.

They wore comfortable clothing and would not have dreamed of trying to fit into their teenage daughter’s jeans or befriending her friends on Facebook.

There were a couple of ‘glamour pusses’ in the small town in which I grew up – perhaps the local boutique or beauty parlour owner – but on the whole, they were all of similar elk. I don’t remember anyone being particularly reed slim unless born that way, and I don’t recall anyone power walking with weights or hiring a personal trainer to work on their ‘abs’.

There were no gym junkies because there were no gyms and a weekly game of tennis was the sociable ‘exercise’ of choice. The more adventurous souls took up yoga when the fad hit town and I recall my nicely rounded mum proudly showing us how she could stand on her head. They settled into middle age with an accepting sigh and laughed off a couple of gained kilos or a midriff that bore testimony to three children and a tad too many cream scones.

They occasionally went on diet ‘on Monday’ after a particularly ‘naughty’ weekend of too much Chicken a-la king and trifle at Daphne’s (such a good cook!) but generally, everyone embraced their age without much fanfare. Well, that’s what it seemed anyway.

Now that I’m the same sort of age – middle aged and beyond, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. I blame it partially on middle-aged women such as Elle and Cindy – the supermodels who are now super-middle-aged.  Cindy graciously admitted recently that even she doesn’t look like Cindy Crawford with the amount of air brushing prior to a magazine spread. Even so, she’s undoubtedly a hard act to follow.

And Elle? Well, let’s just say that Elle has great genes and leave it at that. She is not your average 52-year-old woman and no-one should even aspire to measure up. She also confessed recently that her flawless school run paparazzi shots are the result of two hours of hair and make-up prior to going to work. She gave us that, at least.

The problem, it seems, is that certain middle aged women are buying into the idea that middle age is the new 30-something. Here’s a thing: It’s not. I don’t remember maintenance being part of my general beauty routine. I don’t recall sprouting hairs in wholly unreasonable places in my Thirties, finally putting to rest the theory that God has no sense of humour. He does. Why else would he suddenly allow eyebrows to sprout unusually long hairs? And why, after all these years, would he consent to benign and once fondly-regarded moles to start propagating? We did not see that one coming.

He is compassionate too, allowing the eyes to grow dim just at a time when every minute detail needs to be taken care of before leaving the house. Soft focus is what I get when I peer in the mirror sans Jerry Hall, says she never wears her glasses when checking her appearance for this reason – her vision may be blurred but her self-image remains totally in focus. Go Jerry!

Those who have bought into the idea that they should, at 45-plus, still appear 30-plus should stick to themselves. By all means, hone your bodies to unnatural perfection, severely limit your intake of carbs (pass the potatoes, please!) and partake in every  age-defying potion out there, just don’t let us all know about it. You clearly have far too much time on your hands and should not be allowed to inflict your skewed take on middle age on those of us who are graciously trying to acquiesce.

I speak, particularly, of a rather acerbic remark directed at a fellow middle aged friend recently. She had returned to her country of birth to visit family with her two teens and husband. Her ticket home was booked a few days earlier than her family’s, who were invited out in her absence, by long-time friends. Back home, her daughter relayed a question from her family’s glamorous host who asked, supposedly without a hint of rancour, whether her mum ‘had lost any weight yet’. The shocked daughter said, no actually, she hadn’t but she was quite content with the way she was.

An observation: There was no mention of ‘how is your mother?’ or ‘how is her business going?’ or even, ‘is she well?’ The friend in question is a perfectly adequate size 12 to 14 – she has character, a brain and far more to offer than a weight loss report.

The shallow comment brings me to another point. Surely, at this age, women should work far harder on honing something rather longer-lasting and important – such as character, for example. Surely goodness, kindness, compassion, grace, love and laughter should be our goal. Perhaps we should pursue reaching out to others less fortunate and dare I say it, taking an interest in others, instead of a narcissistic pursuit of unattainable perfection.

And while this grumpy middle aged woman is at it, please don’t do ‘selfies’ on Facebook. Leave that to the teens. And don’t airbrush your profile pic. Posing in a bikini is also not acceptable – I don’t care how gorgeous your bod has become after those daily two-hour gym sessions, I really don’t want to see you posing in cyberspace. Cover up already.

One more thing: I’m not advocating letting it all hang out and not taking care of yourself. There’s no harm exercising and eating properly to remain healthy and strong.  All I’m saying is please give us middle aged women a break. Let us eat, drink and be merry. Let us grow old gracefully, guilt-free and graciously.

We’ve certainly earned it.

PS. Perhaps my headline should have been Middle-Age Dread and Revenge of the ‘MERDS’  – that’s Middle-aged, Enlightened, Robust, Delectable Sisters. Feel free to join us!

A House of History

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—The humble simplicity of a quaint little wooden cottage in the leafy Brisbane suburb of Kelvin Grove belies its illustrious roots with the source of its building material from one of the world’s densest woods, Darwin stringy bark milled in Napranum, Cape York and salvaged from vast mining tracts in the area.

The home’s owner, environmental scientist, Mark Annandale helped run the saw mill in Napranum, Cape York. Western Cape York traditional owners had previously set up a venture, Nanam Tawap Ltd with Queensland Government which included operating the sawmill, a masonry block plant and sand quarry.

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Under conditions of their lease, mining companies can mine the area with the proviso that existent timber can be cut before mining begins. Approximately 1000 hectares of forest is cleared by Rio Tinto Alcan prior to mining operations each year. Without milling, invaluable wood is burnt and lost for good as this is the cheaper, quicker option.

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Mark’s idea to build a home from wood salvaged from Cape York has been four years in the making. “I wanted to build a recycled house and carted around 45 tons of wood looking for an opportunity to build for four years. It took two semi-trailer loads and a loader to transport it.”

By then, the wood was well and truly dried out and ready for use. “Most posts were too heavy to lift so had to be rolled on the ground – each comes from a tree some 200 years old,” he said.

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There’s been a fair amount of curiosity from passers-by in the tree-lined suburban block where the two-bedroomed wooden house has been taking shape over the past eight months. It’s been a long haul, with builder, Craig Riddle of Aaron Building and his son, Zachary overseeing the age-old method of post and beam construction with an expressed hard wood frame.

Carpenter, Darren Smith had his work cut out for him as handling this rare hardwood was not an everyday occurrence and construction was often challenging. Some joints took up to five and a half hours to cut and chisel in order to fit two large pieces together. The pieces of timber were too big and heavy to ‘trial fit’, and had to be cut correctly within one to two millimetres, allowing for the natural features like twists and bows.

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Taking this type of care cutting the joints allowed two pieces to be joined together, and not impose unnecessary tension that might distort the structure. “This also favoured the building, that it would remain straight, square and level. The special joints meant steel plates and bolts were not required to connect these large timber pieces together,” said Craig. Instead, 25 millimetre dowels were used to secure load bearing Mortise and Tenon joints.

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All material used in the construction was hardwood which included posts and beams, floor joists, wall and roof framing. Even the timber for the window manufacture and door joinery, carport decking, chamferboard cladding and tongue and groove flooring all came from the same logs. The only digression was plywood used for the wall and ceiling linings.

The end result is a beautiful, lovingly created home that sits comfortably alongside neighbouring Queenslanders. The natural insulation means it’s warm in winter and cool in summer and isn’t reliant on costly heating and cooling. Best of all, there is history and longevity in the solid beams and trusses – each with its own rich patina and story.

“It will be here for way over 100 years and definitely won’t rot or blow away – and if it floods, it can simply be hosed down,” says Mark.

Letter in Post for Putin

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA―While the G20 leaders were ensconced in Brisbane’s Convention Centre yesterday, flexing political muscles and espousing views on solving the world’s problems, they may have been better off visiting the City Tabernacle Baptist Church for a rather more honest and sobering take on where the world is at.

Surely they would have been enlightened and relieved that former Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Hon John Anderson AO, had the gall to tell it like it is in his message,’Resurrecting Order Out of Chaos‘. (Audio – They would have also been inspired and uplifted by a host of angels―the church choir. And rather than having to mingle with puffed up politicians, they may have rubbed shoulders with some rather interesting characters.

Behind me, for example, looking a little flushed and flustered was a delightful young guy with a disarming smile and, it turns out, chutzpah to match. He had just risked arrest by brazenly approaching a ‘cop’ at the Hilton in the hope of hand-delivering a letter to Putin as he left for the Convention Centre. It transpires that he has had a heart for the formidable Russian leader for years and has been faithfully praying for him.

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Unfortunately, the bemused and sweaty policeman guarding the hotel dignitaries was having none of it. He wasn’t about to lose his job over a letter even when delivered by a charming young man in a rather dapper black velvet jacket and leather shoes that had seen better days. The fact that the letter bearer was also battle-scarred from a skateboarding incident a day prior, didn’t help his cause. He looked as though he’d been crash tackled by a policeman in a previous encounter.

Mate, I really don’t know what’s in that letter

Commemorative-G20-BibleThis little interlude was probably the most excitement the poor policeman had seen all weekend and he was congenial in his rebuttal, offering: “Mate, I really don’t know what’s in that letter,” in spite of the young man’s insistence it was simply a heartfelt note explaining his sentiments.

I’m encouraged, however that perhaps the carefully crafted message will land on the Russian leader’s desk after all. You see, undeterred, the young scribe is intent on getting it to Putin.

“I’ll just have to use snail mail,” he shrugged, flashing that disarming smile.

Watch this space …

PS. I hope the G20 Leaders are enjoying their gift of a commemorative G20 Bible―they’re bound to find pearls of wisdom in its pages.

Happy New Year from Down Under!

Across Australia, tens of thousands witnessed an array of spectacular firework displays in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane. Thanks to those Twitter and Instagram users who were there in person, we collated a few images of the action!

Happy 2014!

Happy Campers on Fraser Island

CAMPING is a bit like childbirth, you forget the pain until you go through it all again.

The main problem with our family is that no matter how organised we think we are when embarking on a camping expedition, we’re very soon proved otherwise. This is a fact I have come to not only expect, but accept. Our latest mission did, however, have all the potential of a smooth operation. This lay mainly in the recent acquisition of a second hand box trailer so no-one had to endure a two hour journey enveloped in bedding and the occasional cooking pot.

Yes, we were well and truly ready for Fraser Island. So we thought. The truth is, our camping is too sporadic to be truly organised. Years may lapse before we say yes to the pleas of friends and our children who are now old enough to toss around guilt-inducing comments such as: “We never do anything exciting.”

So, the preparation began. Probably not soon enough, now that I think about it. I did Google a camping list, having mislaid a highly organised friend’s personalised list and being too proud to ask for a reprint. I do recall trawling through reams of camping advice but was distracted a few times by things like how much food a 16-year-old might need over a four-day period, given that he’s prone to eating a full dinner again after dinner.

Another distraction was the impending campsite midnight loo visits. I was determined to nip any dingo angst in the bud by finally acquiring my own throne. This took some searching – yes, camping stores have ample loos, but I wanted something a little more subtle and given our infrequent camping, a little less costly. My journey took me to my local army surplus store which I know from experience stocks everything but bazookas.

I had a feeling they would have exactly what I was looking for. And of course they did. Even though the helpful assistant first mistook my clandestine whisper of: “Do you have a potty?” for “Do you have a patty?”

She found what I was looking for in no time at all once I’d spelt out ‘P-O-T-T-Y.’

So for a slightly inflated twenty bucks I obtained a toilet seat that fit snugly onto a bucket. Better still, I discovered a novelty UFO torch – a disc shape that lit up exactly like a real UFO – enough to scare the living daylights out of any dingo that came within a whisker of my tent.

After days of preparation, we were finally ready to embark on the camping journey. It did seem strange that we were packed to the rafters once more in spite of newly acquired trailer. Our retriever stared forlornly as we trundled off with trailer and loaded roof racks.

We had organised house sitters so our eight chickens, one chick, one dog and a cat who thinks it’s a dog would be well taken care of. Our rendezvous was 5am. We set off at 4.30am. Way on schedule. Smugness set in. This soon dissipated when we realised we had not left a key for our house sitters. Long story cut short … there was a brief delay as we retraced our steps to deliver said key.

We realised we were outclassed by our fellow campers rather early on in the equation. Immediately, in fact. As we took off, we were handed a walkie talkie through the window.

“So we can communicate while in convoy …”

The instructions were swift.

“This is ‘Eagle’, could you tell me your name, over.”

A brief consensus resulted in ‘Night Hawk.’ Our third car was ‘Rover One.’ We practised our repertoire.

My husband took on a different persona each time he relayed a message. His voice became a deep drawl – slow and suspiciously emulating one of those old war movies. So slow and deep it was soon wrenched from his hands from his long suffering children.

After a three hour’s drive, we arrived at the ferry.

A long drive later and with much: “Night Hawk, this is Rover 1. Where are you? Over.” sort of talk, we arrived at our campsite. Oh the joys. There was a communal, powered kitchen with a fridge, a shop stocking essentials within walking distance. Pure luxury compared to previous trips.

The tent was erected without fanfare and tables and chairs laid out in a more or less organised fashion. Or so we thought. We happened to glance over at our neighbours. Both layouts were perfect. The one had a cupboard – a sort of fold up apparition that housed their tinned goods, eating and cooking utensils. They also had a special ground cover. This, I later discovered, allowed sand and water to filter through rather than pool in an uncomfortable muddy mixture underfoot after an early morning downpour.

Their site remained pristine for four days. Our site, on the other hand, had all the haphazard charm of a hoarder’s hovel. Where to put everything? A perusal of fellow campers made it clear that we were alone in our disorder. These were seasoned campers. Everything had a place. They were not swamped by towels hanging from every tent rope but had neat little fold up mini clothes drier. They didn’t bring two camping toasters because unlike yours truly, they had reviewed the contents of their old camping container prior to leaving.

Come evening, I discovered another oversight – no pillows, save one lone one belonging to my youngest son. I shamelessly offered him $10 for a four-day loan. A pitiful sum perhaps but I promised to make him one out of my beach bag and spare T-shirts.

My throne was also proving a little inefficient. Terrified of the dingoes I heard pattering round the campsite at night, I decided the throne was a viable option. But where to dispose of contents in the morning? Surrounded by busy Easter campers, were I to walk to the ablution block carrying anointed black receptacle, it all but screamed: “Wee bucket coming through!” So after one night’s use, I chose the dangerous method of waking up husband and dragging him to the loo – and playing ‘scary UFO’s’ with my new light en-route.

Once I’d got over an extreme bout of camper envy, I settled into my surroundings. Accepted that sand underfoot was unavoidable on a sandy campsite. Embraced midnight dingo encounters, the night sounds and blissful lack of computers, mobile phones and schedules. Loved the laughter brought on by card games, campsite chatter, the sleepy tent banter of my precious family as we settled in for the night.

I revelled in the waves crashing onto the beach as I drifted off to sleep. By day, was infatuated with the beauty of inland lakes, of unspoilt beaches and unbearably beautiful rain forests.

Another bout of camping? I know that in spite of myself, I’ll be there trailer and all. The pain will again be a distant memory.

And I’ll be organised this time, because, you see, I found the old camping list … folded neatly alongside the two unused camping toasters.

Text and Photos Copyright 2012 Lois Nicholls

Liar, liar, your pants are on fire!

It’s local election time again in Queensland and politicians are out kissing babies, riding on tractors and planting trees.

In other words, they’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes. They are also resorting to smear campaigns, digging up every last little nugget they can to try and convince an embattled public that they are the more deserving candidate. It’s ugly out there.

And how out of touch they are. Exactly how short a memory do they think we have? When is Anna Bligh going to stop dining out on her tearful flood speech ie. “We are Queenslanders…” I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. I’ve witnessed her poisonous vitriol in parliament  – I tend to think people show their true colours under pressure and that, she did, going as far as suggesting her opponent, Campbell Newman was destined for jail on account of his business dealings.

Another thing, Anna, I ‘aks’ you with tears in my eyes … please learn how to say ask. You’ve had enough practise by now.

I get that politicians have to convince us of their prowess – of their strength in the case of adversity – of their ability to get the blinking job done, but kissing hapless babies? A word of advice: don’t do it if it doesn’t come naturally. We are not taken in by photo opportunistic poses. Babies are insightful little souls – few appear to actually enjoy the prospect of being kissed or hugged by a politician. They’re a bit like animals in that way, they see through the smarminess. They recognise authenticity.

And that’s a bit thin on the ground right now. Am I alone in glazing over when they start their policy talk, their coined phrases and empty promises of a better, brighter future for all “working families”.  Aren’t we all working families? Sorry, perhaps I’m cynical but the sad truth is, I don’t believe a word they are saying.

And while I’m on the subject of kissing, we also remain unmoved by great shows of public affection, Mr Newman. I love that you love your wife and family, but enough already! You can hold hands, just don’t smooch in public. Also, come clean on all your business dealings, please.

Perhaps I will go with the mad hatter, Katter after all … at least he has an honest interest in the farming community.

Personally, I remain unmoved by great shows of sensitivity, of earnest displays of affection, of teary speeches, of mine visits, of mingling with the crowds so to speak. Perhaps all the recent back stabbing within the Labour ranks has simply left a bitter taste in the mouth. Who to believe? Politicians speak with forked tongues – the past few weeks have proved that. What you see is not what you get. What they say is not what they’re thinking.

It will take a lot more than a tractor ride or another photo opportunity at a native tree planting ceremony to convince me anyone is a worthy candidate at all.

The Greens? Don’t like them either – dig a little deeper and you’ll find they’re not all about tree hugging and preserving the planet. They’re a little too conniving for my liking. Smarmy too.

Perhaps I will go with the mad hatter, Katter after all … at least he has an honest interest in the farming community.

But there again, he has been known for a touch of foot in mouth so there is still plenty of time for him do something downright irritating – and then, I suppose, it’s back to the drawing board, or is that ‘drawring’ board, Anna?

Vanessa Rowe and ‘The Low Flying Duck’

GRAPHIC DESIGNER, VANESSA ROWE, is the founder of The Low Flying Duck, a blog that captures her everyday experiences living with Coeliac disease. JournoNews spoke with her.

Why the name, The Low Flying Duck?

The name of the site originates from the very Australian and irreverent saying: “Iʼm so hungry I could eat the crotch out of a low flying duck”. It was suggested by one of my best friends after a couple of cocktails during a Japanese degustation meal. I now privately refer to her as Mother Duck. I donʼt think she minds.

What prompted you to set up the blog?

I set up the Low Flying Duck to share my new experiences of living with Coeliac disease, which I was diagnosed with in 2009. Initially I found the diet left me feeling quite sad and frustrated – particularly when I was eating out. Iʼd eaten whatever I wanted for my entire life – so to remove some much loved parts of it was difficult. The moment I started writing about the experience and enjoying the creative process of taking interesting food pics, my perspective on being Coeliac changed. Also itʼs provided a welcome break for my partner who was hearing way too often and too much about my insides and diet.

What sort of response have you had? Were you surprised at the interest?

Iʼve had an amazing, positive response to the site, and yes, I was surprised at the level of interest. People are sharing such great stories, recipes and ideas with me – itʼs brought a whole new depth to my own life, and hopefully I can inspire and share in return.

What inspires you?

Creativity. A desire to learn. Motivated people – in any profession. Passionate people. My family. Eating simple fresh stuff. Eating complicated stuff. Music – every kind everywhere.

Have you ever had a really bad restaurant experience?

I consider myself very lucky, as Iʼve yet to have a really bad restaurant experience. And the number of ʻbadsʼ could be listed on one hand. Over the years Iʼve kept something akin to a food diary/sketchbook – where Iʼve done quick food reviews. Either after an amazing, or in a few cases – amazingly average experience. I just found an entry in one of these diaries that just said DINNER DISASTER, with the word ‘disturbing’ after it. Followed by ʻnot even worth describingʼ. I canʼt recall what I ordered or where it was – but thinking about it – it must have been really bad to warrant that damning review.

What sublime meal comes to mind?

This is such a great question and has me mentally leafing through the years to pull out memories of sublime meals. And there have been many. The Char-grilled salt-crusted rib eye at the Icebergs in Bondi is up there in my top special occasion meals. Itʼs the kind of meal you starve yourself for all day, so you can dedicate your full stomach to it. The meat was melt in your mouth tender, and served with their luxurious mash – definitely equating to sublime. Iʼm not sure if itʼs still on the menu, but the recipe is in Maurice Terziniʼs cookbook ʻSomething Italianʼ. I will always have a permanent food memory of this dish.

Favourite things to do?

Projects. I love projects. Creative ones. The usually involve photography, design or food. I also love feeling healthy and fit. I’m a late bloomer runner – I started when I turned 40. I figure just go for it whilst the knees and body can hack it. Actually a run followed by a jump in the ocean is pretty favourite. I also love great coffee, watching my kids do impromptu dance performances in my high heels, reading, a good chat, watching sunrises/sunsets, being in the ocean and my regular weekly social rituals with my beautiful buddies and family.

Your photographs are beautiful – photography is clearly a passion?

Thank you! Yes – I have loved photography since I was a teenager – which was back in the dark ages I mean dark room age. My interest in photography gets greater every week – there is so much to learn and so much great material accessible now. I am lucky to have an amazing photographer as one of my best friends – who has helped and inspired me. He also has secretly managed to guide my partner towards great camera gear as birthday and Christmas presents – something I am very grateful for.

Holiday destination wish list?

• France (some hopeful planning underway)

• The Nordic countries – never been but always wanted to.

• NZ – also never been (itʼs so close and beautiful) and need to go.

• New York – I might have a mid-life crisis soon if I donʼt get there. Being in transit there doesn’t count.

• Hawaii – I’ve been told I need to go. Sounds good to me.

• Bali – I’ve been so many times but for complete relaxation, beautiful surroundings and shopping, I always love it.


Run, swim, draw, read, shoot, cook, eat, dance. Oh and sustained, unbroken sleep is a hobby Iʼm working towards as my kids get older.

Where to next?

Short term Iʼm focusing on learning as much as I can about gluten free cooking, food photography and blogging. And eating outside my postcode. Long term – wherever the Duck will take me.