Angophora camping

Between Christmas and New Year the Suzuki and I and a friend went camping in the Goulburn River National Park.

The camp site itself was far more civilised than I’d expected: mown grass around moss-capped and lichen-patinaed rocks emerging at different levels in best landscaping style, under beautiful big angophora trees that leant and twisted over all.


There were even fireplaces, tables and a pit toilet that was almost as good as mine except that it had a door, so no view!

Unfortunately the river was in high brown flood, with quite large casuarinas laid flat in its current. No chance of swimming.

I was expecting this camping experience to be like at my place only more primitive and by a river, but I had to adjust to the fact that it was actually more public, for other people came and camped under the angophoras, not really close by, but even so I felt crowded!


But the surrounding bush offered much to look at, not least the erratic but amazingly intense blooming of the angophoras, with their clouds of clotted cream blossom on arching or drooping branches.

Food and fun

dandenong forest


Sharyn&AnneWhile in Victoria I spent an amusing few hours on a community radio (3MDR) show with host Ann Creber. This dynamic pixie of a woman also hosted me for several days at her home, which she shares with husband David, two large poodles, Nina and Georgie, and hundreds of antique dishes and pots and pans — props for her food photography styling — plus more modern gear for menu testing as well as cooking for her ‘Whispers of Provence’ lines of preserves, jams and vinegars.

Rose petal vinegar was in process, the petals collected from Ann’s wonderfully wild Dandenongs garden, where natives like fern trees and giant mountain ash eucalypts happily share the slopes with oaks and birches, lawn daisies and buttercups, foxgloves and heritage roses.

At the bottom of the garden she keeps alpacas, ducks and chooks. And I can vouch for the quality of Ann’s omelettes.

Being a professional foodie, Ann gets invited to cookbook launches like the one she took me to, somewhere posh, high above the heart of Melbourne. It was for a truly beautiful book called Turquoise by Ann’s friends, Lucy & Greg Malouf. Published by Hardie Grant, it’s as much Turkish travelogue as recipe book; the photographs are stunning.

The gathering included the sort of glitterati and fashion followers that you just don’t see in a country town. I was gawking unashamedly as I scoffed whatever vegetarian offerings passed by on platters carried by extremely aloof young men.

Preston market

The other Victorian food treat was a visit to Preston Markets, where people of every colour and culture mingle around shops and stalls offering every imaginable type of produce.

They even have a wine stall, where you can refill your ceramic stoppered glass bottles! Now that’s civilised.

Clearly not everyone found the experience as fascinating as I did.

I came back to NSW determined to use more fresh dill as well as mint and parsley in my Middle Eastern concoctions, to have another go at keeping the possums off my roses, and wishing we had more migrants in our Hunter Valley towns! Woollies just doesn’t compare as a sensory shopping treat.

I love libraries

November was another month of library talks for me. Victoria’s Eastern Regional Libraries booked me to address their Reading Café at Lilydale.

This is a most civilised affair where the audience munch on sandwiches and cake and sip a cuppa while I read from my book and generally rave on.

Sharyn reads

Sharyn with booksAt the marvellous mudbrick Eltham Library they nibbled on cheese and bickies and sipped wine in an equally civilised manner. Hot question times followed, and at Eltham we only stopped because the library was closing.

But the most civilised part about Victorian libraries is that they pay their speakers! They appear to understand that writers need to eat in between the free fare do’s.

Back in NSW, I was treated to an underground tour of the warrens beneath the State Library as their vibrant PR person, Deb McBurnie, guided me up from the car park to the elegant Friends’ Room. Once again the audience nibbled while I talked, only this time they paid for the privilege.

As part of the Library’s free exhibition, ‘Impact: A Changing Land’, I thought it a good chance to go to town about the impact of coalmining in the Hunter Valley, showing large photos of treasures like Anvil Hill that will become trash if that mine goes ahead.

NSW Talk

Given that the State Parliament is only a few doors up the road in Macquarie Street, there was a lot of fingerpointing and blame allocation from me. The audience didn’t exactly stand up and shout ‘Shame!’ when I mentioned Mr Sartor’s name, but there was a great deal of vehement head-nodding.

I also took the chance to plead for environmentally-minded Senate voting the following Saturday.

And it would seem that they and thousands of others did just that. Let’s hope the new gang finds the courage to take us beyond coal.

Victoria, here I come!


Next week I’ll be passing once more through the dust-laden skies of the poor old Hunter Valley. Looking north to Muswellbrook, you’d think it was Los Angeles smog, but no, just way too many coalmines.

I’ll be heading south, booktalking again, to Victoria. Having won two national short story awards given by Victorian Shires in the past, I’m happy to be returning.

On Monday November 12th I’ll be speaking at Lilydale Library’s Reading Café at 12.30.

On Tuesday afternoon the dynamic Ann Creber will be talking with me on her 3MDR radio show, ‘The Good Life’.

On Wednesday 14th at 7pm I’ll be speaking at the Eltham Library as part of their Red Chair series by artists.

Back in NSW, the following week I’m speaking at the State Library in Macquarie Street, Sydney, as part of their exhibition, ‘Impact: A Changing Land’.

This will be at 12 noon on Wednesday 21st and I’ll be doing a double act on the topic of ‘Choosing the good life’ with Adrienne Langman, author of ‘Choosing Eden: the real dirt on the coming energy crisis’.

Railway writer

Have just returned from a heady week of ideas and words at the Watermark Literary Muster in the village of Kendall, NSW. Being broke as usual, I was most grateful for an offer of free accommodation from Peta Simmons, a woman whose generosity is as large as her laugh. She’d never met me, just wanted to help writers.

Her guest ‘humpy’ turned out to be to be a cute cottage behind her house, all on one large deck. Hidden behind trees, it was right beside the railway line, the railway crossing and the railway bridge over the lazy brown river.

railway bridgeThis gave me a novel experience – being awoken by the dinging of the level crossing bells before being shaken by the rising roar of the train as it belted past and over the metal bridge. The house is built of steel, on big recycled steel posts, deeply embedded in the ground on rubber-topped pads. The train tremor reverberates through the whole house and the bodies of its inhabitants. Yet this was a thrill rather a worry: the place felt extremely secure and I went back to sleep each time.

Its other plus is that it is right on the river, which, in between long slow drifts of leaves, blinked with the coloured reflections of a passenger express or a goods train as it flew over the criss-crossed steel suspension bridge.

tree stumpOn the last day of the Muster, we were taken by the Kendall Historical Society up into the mountains behind the village, for a walk along the old Longworth Logging Tramway.

Here logging trains were inched over wooden rails, past giant trees, and across log bridges in gullies, to take the timber down to the very river next to which I’d been sleeping. This was how delicate selective logging used to be before giant companies and giant machines invented clearfelling.

Our guide had owned a timber company: we agreed that unsustainable logging practices were unnecessary and had caused many of the industry problems and the closures.

We both shook sorrowful heads at the waste of good timber in the whole wood pulp disaster. Good greenies and good loggers are in agreement here.

Going troppo

I’d imagined Port Douglas would be like Byron Bay, only hotter. In fact it is more like Double Bay gone troppo.

Built for well-heeled tourists, the town is composed of man-made tropical gardens, tourist accommodation, shopping and eating places — and day spas. There is one petrol station, hidden in a back street. The petrol is cheap; the accommodation is not. The range of designer and exotic clothes was vast, and surprisingly inexpensive for their quality.

At half the price of the Peppers Day Spa, we had a fantastic long massage each at the friendly Port Douglas Day Spa in the main street, near Paddy’s Irish Pub. I highly recommend this Spa: instant results.

When I returned to the waiting room, all pink and relaxed and oily, a man seated there said, ‘I hope I come out looking as beautiful as this young woman’. He wouldn’t believe I was nearly 60, and I wouldn’t believe the owners hadn’t paid him to sit there and say such things.

Painted my toenails hot pink for the first time in 30 years after that!

The many restaurants seemed dear to me, and were astonishingly lacking in even token vegetarian options. Seafood is big, of course, and Emily made the most of that.  Daytime — the coffee, the whimsy and the background music at the buzzy Re-hab in the main street is great.


On the third night we discovered ‘Gone Bananas’, and fell in love with its unique indoor rainforest atmosphere, its cheery and efficient staff — and its fabulous food. Great value for its very reasonable prices — we’d have thought so at higher ones.

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Tropical mountains


Up there beyond Cairns they have spectacular mountains looming close to the coast. Like my own mountains, they too are often shrouded in mist – and mystery.

There is a sharp contrast between the well-used flatlands of sugarcane, cow pastures, and, increasingly, housing estates.

Head up into those hills, dodging the little sugarcane trains whose tracks meander over the paddocks and across the roads, and there is sudden primeval rainforest, too steep to have been cleared.

We peeked in at the edges of the World Heritage Mossman Gorge, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Daintree River, where signs warned us of crocodiles and tourist buses and adventure tour 4WDS flowed as abundantly as the water.

My friend Emily last came here 40 years ago, when Cairns was but a tiny village and there were nought but a few dirt tracks to threaten the Daintree. I guess this is Progress.


The Woman wallows in Luxury

 My friend Emily won this trip for two to Port Douglas as a result of purchasing pyjamas for her husband, my old mate Ken, when he was in hospital. Sadly, he didn’t get to wear them for very long.

At his wake, Emily had invited me to join her on this trip, and many months later, here we were — two aging but sparky battlers, swanning about as if they were born to it, at the very expensive Pepper’s Beach Club.

Our room was actually a suite, very posh — and tasteful — which don’t always go together. Only nine months old, it felt like it had been designed for better things, as there were a surprising amount of glitches in maintenance. And a most disappointing meanness: all goodies were extra, like real coffee with your breakfast.


Five star suite – half a star breakfast

In the delightfully situated open dining area by the fake lagoon, each morning we faced a truly boring packet cereal, tinned watery juice, greasy spoon option breakfast. I’d imagined tables groaning with tropical fruits, but here we groaned and the baked beans were the safest bet.


Our suite had a full kitchen – stainless steel, of course – and a full laundry, in which I faced the most annoying washing machine ever invented. I put the clothes in and searched long and hard for a hollow for the washing powder. I eventually found it, but only by reefing out a whole section of the machine.  I poured soap powder into the hole and replaced the part. How stupid! Obviously designed by a man! ETC.
Then the dumb machine kept going straight to ‘dry’ – wouldn’t let me select anything else but times!

Yes, you know why: it was a dryer. The washing machine was beneath it.
Sometimes I think I should just stay on the mountain. I can’t keep up with these new-fangled androgenous machines.

From the far side

For once I am looking down on cloudland instead of up or across. Only it’s not my cloudland, for I’ve flown to far north Queensland for a four-day holiday, to keep my friend Emily company. The things you do for friends!

Once my nervous system settled down from the take-off, I could kid myself it was all just a passing panoramic picture and I wasn’t really up here in a man-made, man-maintained, flimsy, fallible metal thing, pretending to be a bird.

Then I could marvel at the extraordinary topsy-turvy cloud world below.

There were flat cloud lakes, fields of clouds raked like Japanese pebble gardens, with now and then a tall cloud ridge rising above them. Rarely did the world below intrude, like this dark mountain ridge like a man waving – ‘Hey mountain woman, what you doin’ up there?’

mountain cloud

Once we were nearing the Whitsundays, the sea blues changed to aquas and greens as the coral reefs appeared.

It seemed as if every island of any size had developments on it, and the tiny white darts of boat wakes were plentiful.

Barrier Reef island

I was spared the Qantas idea of vegetarian food because we forgot to tell them about my inability to eat the beef or chicken options. I could at least have the coffee, but since I didn’t put my glasses on to open the sugar sachet, I flavoured it with black pepper and had to ask for another. Darn nuisances, these vegos!

Landing at Cairns was as scary as landing anywhere else: I hate the feeling of uncontrolled speed after the bump of re-connection.

Cairns felt warm and looked overdeveloped, but we only saw it through the windows of our airconditioned limo as the driver whisked us off along the narrow coast road to Port Douglas. Life can be very hard at times.