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.

Sydney’s Bondi Beach, New Year’s Eve and Opera House

Forget the Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach and even the thrill of being in this stunning city during the famous New Year’s Eve fireworks. It’s a celebrity sighting that got my daughter’s vote.

“I’ve just seen ‘Stretch’ from The Fantastic Four and he said hello!” she beamed, hardly able to contain her glee at seeing her first real celebrity face to face. I have to feel a tad sorry for the said celebrity (Ioan Gruffudd is his name for those out of the loop). Here he was, innocently enjoying the spoils of Aus on a remote little hideaway only accessible by boat, and he comes face to face with a fan. In the flesh, I have to say, he passed for any other fun-loving tourist pumping up a tube for his young sons to be towed behind a boat – and to his credit, he was amiable and appeared quite happy to be accosted by yet another star struck female.

More of a challenge was finding Australian poet, Dorothea Mackellar’s (‘I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping planes’…) gracious former home, Tarrangaua that looks out onto the water of Lovett Bay. I was in the throes of reading Australian author, Susan Duncan’s account of living in the poet’s home amongst the tight little Pittwater community she and her husband regarded as family. A friend’s parents had kindly offered to take us out on their boat to The Basin, a beautiful spot on the edge of a nature reserve. On the way, I scoured cliffs to try and catch a glimpse of the home – and what a thrill when I spotted it! The same sort of thrill, I gather, that my daughter experienced when face to face with her celebrity.

Earlier, there had been another ‘celebrity sighting’ at the infamously trendy Bondi Beach of the television show, ‘Bondi Rescue’ fame. My three children were certain they spotted Dean “Deano” Gladstone talking on his mobile phone. Bondi, incidentally, was pretty bleak compared to the tree-lined beauty of other beautiful Northern beaches. Give me Manly or Balmoral any time. But spotting “Deano” saved the day. Celebrities and iconic poets aside, Sydney has much to offer – even though it comes in a tad more expensive than our hometown, Brisbane. A former Sydneysider friend once warned that ‘you pay for everything’ and I understand why. Perhaps it’s because there are so many beautiful recreational spots to maintain. Paying for parking at every beach we went to was par for the course.

Our whirlwind week saw us take in The Rocks where the First Fleet landed and which now houses a stylish assortment of restaurants and high end shops. Our walk through the historical area coincided with the colourful Saturday and Sunday markets. Then it was on past Circular Quay, to the Sydney Opera House, and through the breathtaking Botanic Gardens where visitors are encouraged to walk on the grass and hug the trees! Further on was Mrs Macquarie’s chair – an exposed sandstone rock cut into the shape of a bench (by convicts), on a peninsula in Sydney Harbour. The seat was believed to have been carved for the comfort of Governor Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth in 1810 and folklore has it she would sit and wait for ships to arrive from England with much-needed letters ‘from home’.

Government House, in the north-west corner of the gardens, is quite spectacular. Built in 1845, it’s a grand example, apparently, of the Gothic Revival style. We missed out on the tours, but these happen daily for a fee. It was a long walk back to our friend’s home and our Sydney base, in Neutral Bay but worth returning on foot. Views from the bridge are sensational and allow one to take in the beauty of the harbour. The walk also enabled a perusal of the quaint federation style homes along the way. We even stumbled upon Nutcote, the former home of May Gibbs, one of Australia’s best known authors and illustrators namely of Snugglepot, Cuddlepie and the Banksia men fame.

New Year’s Eve saw us take to the streets again. The crowds were out in force so we were recommended a Bradley’s Head vantage point below Taronga Zoo (worth a visit) in the posh suburb of Mossman. Die-hards parked in the suburb hours earlier, wheeling large eskies (cooler boxes) of food and drinks to a lookout spot with a view of the bridge. Some eager revellers were already tightly packed on the beach overlooking the bridge, intent on sitting out the some eight hours before the much anticipated fireworks finale.

A jam-packed week interspersed with showers, included a trip into the city centre to view the ornate Queen Victoria building – an opulent precinct occupied by designer shops and beautiful people.

We drove home along the New England highway through countryside saturated by much needed rain, and passed breathtaking rural scenes of green pastures and imposing oaks. While we drove through the night on the way to our destination, we opted for an overnight stay in the quaint little town of Gloucester to break the journey back, travelling via Thunderbolt’s Way bypassing Armidale, Glen Innes, Tenterfield, Stanthorpe and Warwick.

The journey was made all the more comfortable by the recent addition of a portable dvd player that kept three children uncomplaining for hours on end. A road trip without the ‘are we there yet?’ is a successful road trip indeed.

I loved:

• Fish and Chips under a giant Moreton Bay fig at Balmoral Beach
• Daylight saving which sees beachgoers still enjoying the surf at 8.30pm
• Flying kites and skim-boarding at Manly Beach
• Boating through Pittwater
• Picnicking at The Basin, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
• Walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge in the early evening back to Neutral Bay
• Watching a spray paint artist at The Rocks market
• Seeing the New South Wales countryside drenched in rain
• Old wooden bridges
• Picture perfect farmhouses

A few things I want to do on our next visit:

• Walk from Clontarf Beach to Manly
• Walk from Bondi to Coogee
• Visit Paddington Markets
• Peruse Sydney Swap and Sell Market, Flemington. (Sydney’s biggest garage sale!)
• Indulge the senses at The Good Living Growers Market, close to Darling Harbour, first Saturday of every month
• Visit Palm Beach and walk to Barrenjoey Lighthouse

More photos are on the JournoNews Photostream at Flickr