Penultimate Day

July 20, 2011

group290.jpgSaturdayOur departure day last year was marked by a lashing southerly wet wind blowing out of the Antarctic fridge, forcing us to huddle our farewells to Joy before hitting the road and sliding up the greasy track out of here. No such day to day. A gorgeous sunny, mild morning greets us. Rod has sorted most of the kitchen last evening so we have a head start this morning. Everyone is packed surprisingly quickly, Frank arrives when he said he would and we start rushing about to be finished by nine. The promise is a “shoot” if we are done by then. Read more

Letter to Charles 15 May 10

May 14, 2010

palmdale290.jpgDear Charles,

I hope being that familiar so soon is okay. I just wanted to say thanks for the excuse to run up to Palmdale today.  There  is no town centre to speak of but I am sure the couple of women I crept past as they walked their Clydesdales in the shadow of giant Norfolk pines would have it no other way. It was one of those clear blue shiny days Sydney does so well. Brooklyn shone and glistened and there was not a cloud to be seen. Read more

Mama’s Bistro, Ballan

July 15, 2007

Small towns scattered around the goldfields of Victoria offer a certain charm thanks to their architecture, their memorials, Mechanics Institute Halls, old churches, and just all round rural charm. Other towns offer none of that, especially those which have lost their way after freeways have diverted traffic around them. Ballan, squeezed between the railway and the freeway but generally lost to view and mind is one of those bleak places you try and avoid actually. The local cafes offer rubbery sausage rolls, the local pub has paper table clothes, stained from previous meals, and the sub zero chill factor keeps you from wanting to stop too long.

Thankfully we stopped on this bleak day for a quick look at Mama’s Bistro to see if we could get a hot lunch. It turns out Mama came out from Italy after the war (1945) and soon had the locals coming in and ordering “Mama’s pyjamas” (parmigiana). She still cooks there. A sprightly little lady, with a headscarf catching up her hair. Her cackling laugh is infectious and she had us feeling at home straight away. Her daughter helps out. They made us laugh by warning as we placed our orders that “they had not very much of anything”! In the end they served us nine home cooked meals, piping hot and delivered with good humour and a cheeriness in stark contrast to the bleak conditions outside. The human story that we discovered here, along with the hospitality and family table atmosphere Mama created were worth the effort to stop and brave the cold to see what the town offered.

Bastille Day in Dunolly

July 15, 2007

The discussion about small towns is entirely appropriate given I have spent the last week visiting a few of them. On Saturday evening I had the good fortune to sit around an open fire in the Cockatoo Cafe in Dunolly. It was near freezing outside so the fire was a good start. Even more rewarding was the warmth of the company, and the sparkling atmosphere created by the trio called Continental Drift – their range of folk and gypsy music from Turkey, Araby (!), Russia, Ireland and any other number of points had our feet tapping. And of course songs from France and some lyrics in French to suit the occasion of the 14th of July. Mix all that with the general din of chat, families connecting, children playing, good food and wine, and reminiscing, without being maudlin, about our good friend, son, brother, partner Jonathan, and it crossed my mind on more than one occasion during the evening that there are things country folk know that city folk never do (apologies Banjo). If we could recreate that family warmth, connection, hospitality, and joy of life found this evening in the Cockatoo Cafe in our cities we would probably never want to leave them!