Monday, 4 January 2010


It is an absolutely perfect summer's day as I sit outside at my little mosaic table with my laptop cord plunging unceremoniously inside through the dog flap in the wire door to the power socket in the laundry! Behind me are my two deliciously delicate begonias, meekly displaying sprays of pink and red flowers on tall, elegant stems, and nodding gently in the cool breeze to the raucous laughter of two local kookaburras. It is hard to concentrate on my writing with these 2 comedians laughing so loudly and unselfconsciously from the branches of a gum tree, only about 10m away from me. One even had what looked like the last thin15cm of a snake hanging out of its mouth at the same time as it was sharing a joke with the other. Now that is something..... Hang on while I go and get my camera.......

While lazing about at the shack, without technology, I read 2 lovely books, both of which happened to be by Australian authors and set in Australia. Kate Grenville's: The Lieutenant is an historical fiction story of an astronomer accompanying the First Fleet's arrival in Australia in 1786, and his close association with some Aboriginal people. This book begins slowly and seems scant and superficial at first but it is worth getting into and develops well, leaving you wishing for more. The other, Amanda Hampson: The Olive Sisters, is set in modern times and is a rare treat of a book, captivatingly telling the story of some Italian ancestral discoveries made by a woman escaping a failed city life..... sounds corny.... but is oh so well written and complex.

In between these, I drooled over Juleigh Robins: Wild Food.... 100 recipes using Australian ingredients. Here is a little taste of Juleigh's introduction, which tells how she and her husband came upon bush tomatoes grown by an Aboriginal community, about 20 years ago.....

....About 2 weeks later, 20 large boxes of all sorts of native foods arrived. Ian and I were like kids at Christmas, and eventually we found the much sought-after bush tomatoes in box number 5, labelled 'katyerr' in the Anmatyerr language. I immediately rang Janet and Rita to thank them and see if some more of these marvelous fruits could be harvested for us..... we said please send as much as they could harvest - after all, how much could anyone gather out in the desert? It couldn't be more than 20kgs, right?..... Shortly afterwards we took our first delivery of 2 tonnes of bush tomatoes!

I am so looking forward to making some of the foods, like bush tomato (solanum centrale) and roast pumpkin risotto, and fig, fetta and pomegranate salad with wild rosella (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and pepperberry (Tasmannia lanceolata) syrup, and wild lime (Citrus glauca) friands.

The ingredients are available through Robins Foods (branded Outback Spirit), in partnership with Indigenous Australians, and are sourced from pristine wilderness areas from the Top End and the Central Desert and from rainforest, alpine and temperate coastal regions of Australia. A guide to retail outlets is included. There are even growing instructions for those of us keen enough to seek out plants for our gardens. 

In the car, on the way to the shack, with no interest in the cricket which was on my favourite station, I was searching the radio waves for something  worth listening to and came across Radio National's The Book Show and later, The Science Show. Now, I am not much of a fan of Radio National on the whole..... full of discussions about classical music minutiae and interviews with artists and dancers and poets .... all much too much about people, for me. But, this particular day I happened across a talk (related to his book) - Nicholas Stern: Blueprint for a Safer Planet.... and how it related to economics and Copenhagen. It sounds rather dull but he is a superb speaker and it is well worth listening to since the whole Copenhagen thing hung very much on his report. (Coincidentally, son Alex also happened to hear this talk.... but he was there in the audience, in Oxford!)

On the way home from the shack a few days later, once more in the car, I tuned in to an hour long reading from Tim Severin: The Brendan Voyage , again on Radio National 729. I absolutely loved the idea of rebuilding a boat out of ox hides and seeing if it could be sailed from Ireland to what is now the USA, by an Irish monk hundreds of years ago.....

The illuminated manuscripts that recount the epic voyage of the sixth century saint Brendan from Ireland west across the seas to an unknown land were long considered apocryphal. But explorer, author and film maker Tim Severin was fascinated by the story they told, and after painstaking research managed to build a replica of a sixth century curragh just as the monks of medieval Ireland would have sailed, and set off to cross the Atlantic. With her small crew, the Brendan - forty nine ox hides stitched over a wooden frame - survived pack ice, storms and inquisitive whales to eventually reach Newfoundland, and prove that it would have been possible for St Brendan to have done so also, thus reaching the New World many centuries before Christopher Columbus.

Having discovered some good things I am hooked on Radio National and have listened to many interesting talks, so often in the car, but also online where the manuscripts and audio are readily available. Lord Bob May: The evolution of cooperative behaviour and Martin Rees: Controlling the Future  are two from this week, both of which I want to write about as they are so stimulating and thought-provoking.

Barb rang me this morning and reminded me about Landline, on ABC TV. Langhorne Creek.... home of Newman's Horseradish

.....while fads will come and go, some traditional spreads are finding new favour in a range of dishes - take the humble but fiery horseradish. This root vegetable began life in Germany, but according to second generation horseradish producer Brian Meakins, when the root vegetable's name was translated into English, a Frenchman botched the job, and what should have been sea radish ended up with an equine identity.

Brian grows and processes Newman's horseradish beside South Australia's Lower Lakes, his father having been given permission to use the name by Fred Newman back in 1947. The Meakins have ten hectares under production, from which they harvest 30 tonnes of horseradish to process and sell to supermarkets and communities around the country.

Then of course there is ABC TV's iView where, for 14 days, you can watch all those things you didn't know were on until someone said "Hey, did you see that great show on TV...." but of course you didn't know and missed! I watched a wonderful thing about a man who wanted to make the world's best chocolate so he sold his home in England and went and set up a cocoa bean farm in South America....

And then there is East of Everything...... Like Sea Change, but about some pretty cool brothers in their 30's / 40's, who inherit a sort of hippy beach resort at Australia's eastern most point. I love Art.... he is complex, creative, romantic, interesting, difficult and attractive. Is there anyone else like Lizzy? 

So, when it's too hot to go to the beach or be in the garden, fill your days with the wonderful world of words.....


John L said...

At last! Proof that Newman's Horseradish is nothing to do with Paul Newman.

Kate said...

hahahaha... so true John! We can claim it as South Australian at last!

And proof that at least one person bothers to read the whole of this very long winded blog post! Thank you.