Monday, November 17, 2014

CHAPTER TWO...MUSIC TO MY EARS...PURRRFECT....OR...TO ALL THE CATS I'VE LOVED BEFORE...AND STILL!

Sasha looked very much like this cat
A Russian Blue...this is what Smocka looked like
Randall & Me in our courting days in the Sixties
Mum & Kittens....sketch done by me.


As far back as I can remember I've had a cat in my life...see my post - "Saturday, September, 28th, 2013 - 'My First Love'"

 
Sasha never wandered far, preferring to stick close to home, hearth and me.  My bed was his bed; my sofa, his sofa; if push came to shove, my chair was his chair; and, of course, he showed keen interest in the kitchen, particularly come breakfast and dinner times.  He was loved and well-taken care of; and in return he gave me unfettered devotion.  Ours was a mutual admiration society.

After about 18 months living in the New Farm flat I found a two-bedroom, furnished unit in a newly-built block of six in Toowong, an inner-western suburb of Brisbane.  When I first moved to the city I lived in a flat in Toowong, so I was returning to familiar territory.   

Once again, I packed up my possession.  I hired a removals’ truck - not a huge one, but a truck all the same - to assist me in my relocation.  It served a couple of purposes.  At that stage, I didn’t own a car.  The car, a VW Beetle I’d shared during my marriage had remained with my ex-husband, Mervyn.  After all, it really was his - he'd bought it before we'd married or even thought of marrying each other.   

Not only would the removalist and his truck move my worldly possessions, which mainly consisted of books and more books, clothes and LPs (yes...it was that long ago); but he would also be my transport from my old abode to my brand new dwelling.   

The Saturday morning of the move arrived.  Sasha had been examining the boxes throughout the week while carefully monitoring my every action.  Being of foreman material, he didn’t assist physically, but his role he took seriously, and he did conscientiously oversee every detail.

The loading of the truck/van was almost complete.  I looked around for Sasha.  Calling out to him, I couldn’t find him anywhere.  Sighing and feeling concerned, I hoped he hadn't disappeared, disturbed by all the out-the-normal activity. He needed to be placed in a carrying cage because the plan was for him to travel with me as passenger in the cabin of the truck.  I was feeling very anxious by his sudden disappearance, but my concern quickly turned into laughter when I spotted him sitting in the back of the van amongst all of my possessions with a look on his face that clearly said: "Hurry up!  Let's get this show on the road!"  It was obvious I wasn’t going anywhere without him!

It didn’t take either of us long to settle into our new home…and it was sparkling new.  Other than the young owner-landlord and his mate with whom he was sharing his own accommodation I was the first tenant (along with Sasha) to take up residency in the newly-erected building, 

The landlord, Greg, was the son of a Central Queensland grazier who had a large beef cattle station west of Rockhampton.  Rockhampton is known as the “Beef Capital of Australia.  Greg’s mate, Ian Millroy was from Rockhampton. We three were of similar ages at the time – all in our mid-20s – and we became good mates.

Ian’s family owned a well-known department store in Rockhampton, James Millroy Ltd. The business had originally been established in 1888.  Greg and Ian had gone to school and then boarding school together where they’d forged a firm and lasting friendship.  From memory, I think the Millroys also had cattle holdings around the Gracemere area, too.  Sadly, just a few short years after having Ian as a neighbour he was the victim of a fatal road accident on the highway between Gracemere and Rockhampton.

Upon applying to Greg for residency in one of his units the first thing I told him was I had a cat. If he’d not accepted Sasha, I would have looked elsewhere, and kept looking until I found a home for the both of us.  Where I went, Sasha went, and neither the twain would be separated. Fortunately, my having a pet didn’t concern Greg, but I was the only tenant permitted to have a pet of the four-legged, furry kind, feline or canine (bovine, ovine or caprine, too).   

Sasha was the unofficial Mayor of the Estate!  I did think of getting him a robe, but he already had a fur coat.

A while after I took up residence in the block of units Greg married his lady love, Priscilla aka Prissy.  They bought a home elsewhere. Ian returned to Rockhampton and the family business.  Greg asked if I would like to take on the management of the block of units on his behalf.  I agreed to do so, and by agreeing he offered me the unit he’d been living in during his bachelor days.  It was a much bigger and better unit than the one I’d been renting.  It was a townhouse situated on the far end of the block with two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs; the kitchen, dining and lounge area were on the lower level.  Sasha settled in immediately without even a flick of his whiskers.  He just picked up his food bowl and followed me.

Shortly after Greg married he sold the units to Tennyson Lau, an Australian-Chinese who lived in and operated a business in Lau, Papua New Guinea.  Tennyson retained my services as manager.  I remained living in the townhouse so nothing changed on my home-front.

Except, that is, for the arrival of an unexpected visitor who moved in, minus luggage, taking up residence with Sasha and me.

A stray, pregnant female cat wandered onto the property. After looking around she liked what she saw so she decided to stay.  Sasha, by the way, had been neutered so he’d not been up to any midnight mischief. He wasn’t the father, in case that thought passed through your mind! I'd given him the story about the birds and bees and all things pertaining thereto when he was still a wee kitten.

A couple of likely lads living in my previous unit upstairs took Ms Mumma Cat under their wings.  Within a couple of weeks she gave birth to four kittens – in one of the bedroom built-in wardrobes.  A few days or so after giving birth Mumma Cat, probably following a chat or two with Sasha, decided to bring her kittens, one by one, down to my laundry.  The laundry was a secure room, just off from my kitchen.  It was part of my unit. Other than not having an outer door at the top of two concrete stairs leading to the yard, it was secure.  It housed a washing machine, two washing tubs and a bench.  I watched Mumma Cat deposit each kitten safely behind my washing machine before she returned upstairs for the next one.  Not have the heart to disturb her or try to change her mind I let her do what she was determined to do.  So now I had Mumma Cat and her four kittens as tenants in my laundry.  Sasha couldn’t have cared less.  He’d obviously given the little family his tick of approval.  Their mother obviously had been living on the streets before she found us. How could we be so cruel to toss her back out there?

I kept my eye on the little family. The mother cat came and went about her business not taking much notice of me; but she knew I was there, and that I was not a threat to her and her babies.  I left milk and food out for her…she needed sustenance to help feed her babies.

This all occurred in November of 1972; my mother was due to visit me for Christmas that year.  She was going to take the Sunlander (train) from Mackay to Brisbane and planned to stay with me for three or four weeks.

Mum arrived shortly before Christmas.  I remember clearly that Christmas was exceptionally hot.  We were suffering a heatwave of excessive temperatures.  My ginger cat, "Cat" had died earlier in the year or the year before. I wanted to give Mum one of the kittens as a Christmas present; for her to take back home to Slade Point when her holiday was over - for her and Nana to have as their new pet.  She declined my generous offer.  The boys upstairs had found two friends to give two of the kittens to; and I was left with the remaining two.

One little grey fellow made up my mind for me.  As Mum pointed out, he’d chosen me. I had no say in the matter whatsoever.

Everywhere I went, the steely grey kitten followed. He was a little, solid, yet fluffy ball of steel-grey fur. I’d go upstairs to the bathroom and when coming back down again the poor little guy would still be struggling up the carpeted stairs trying to reach me.  I’d pick him up and carry him back downstairs with me.  He was my shadow; but I didn't complain.  I may have gotten under his fur; but he'd gotten under my skin and into my heart.

I was good friends with my ex-fiancee’s (later to be my second husband, Randall) parent.  We’d met when Randall and I first started going out together back in 1963.  He and I got engaged on his 21st birthday in January, 1965; in November 1965 he headed off overseas for the next nine years, living and working in New York City, in between visits to other worldly places.  

 I married Mervyn in the interim in April, 1966 as a defiant revolt against humanity - otherwise known as "on the rebound", I guess!  (Mervyn was a good guy...life is life.  Actually, he rang me on my birthday, which has just gone – 11th November…he never forgets; and I never forget his, either).    And as I wrote in an earlier post, Mervyn and I separated in September, 1968; we divorced in 1973.

Throughout the years Randall was overseas, his parents and I remained on close, good terms.  Christmas was rapidly arriving.  Randall’s parents, that December, received from me as their 1972 Christmas gift a little fluffy grey and white kitten.  They had no say in the matter; but they fell under Snoopy's spell immediately, and Snoopy lived a long life in their loving care

So now there was only one kitten left…the steely grey one.  Well…what could I do?  Sasha had taken him under his sage wing, or furry front legs.  He and Smocka got on like a house on fire.  The little fellow looked up to his older ginger mentor.  Smocka joined the family; Sasha, Smocka and me; and yes, that was pecking order!  Who was I to argue?

Smocka was a most adorable cat.  He was a domestic moggie, not of royal or aristocratic blood, but he looked very much like a Russian Blue.  But then, I was unaware of his heritage; of his family tree; with whom his mother had cavorted!   

Smocka's thick, steely grey fur disguised his humble breeding. His amber eyes reflected the gentleness of his nature.  His nose was black as was the padding on each of his paws; and amongst all the grey and black his little bum was pink; a situation that caused me much amusement!  I’ve never denied my sense of humour is a little off the wall!

Both cats were loving and loyal, not only with me, but with each other.  There was never an angry hiss between them.  Sasha was the elder citizen and he took his role seriously.

I wrote in an early post about the morning Sasha attacked the boxer dog that had a terrified Smocka bailed up against my front screen door.  The dog didn’t stand a chance when Sasha took control of the situation.  He was protecting his mate, and no dog was going to hurt Smocka while Sasha was around.  I’d never seen a dog get such a fright and take off so quickly!  And I stood back, cheering on the sidelines!

Both cats didn’t wander far, preferring to hang around close to home. They spent most of their time indoors other than when nature called.  A downstairs window, secured with a strong piece of dowling was always open a little; just enough to allow them egress at will. Ninety-nine percent of the time they were inside eager to greet me upon my arrival home each day/night after work; or they’d be in the carport that ran along adjacent to my front door.  The other one percent of the time they didn’t wander far out of a few yards radius.  They had it too good at home to cut the apron strings.

Upon Randall’s return to Brisbane in late November, 1974, he and I literally took up from where we’d left off nine years previously; except for one difference.  The evening of the day he set foot back on Australian soil, he moved into my unit and we commenced living together.  We married in March, 1976.

When we'd been dating years before, I still lived at home until I moved to Brisbane.  Randall shared a flat with a co-worker (an other radio announcer) from when he arrived in Gympie to work at the local radio station, 4GY.  And then when Randall left Gympie to take up a job as one of the "Colour Radio Guys" at Colour Radio 4IP, Ipswich, which was then the most "with-it, modern radio station around, he found accommodation in Ipswich for the duration of his employ there.. Randall gave up that job when he headed off overseas.   . 

Sasha and Smocka barely ruffled a fur or twitched a whisker, but an invisible undercurrent had begun to stir.

More to come......  

Sunday, November 09, 2014

IT’S ONLY WORDS AND WORDS ARE ALL I HAVE



Poet Judith Wright in her younger years
A more mature Judith Wright

A Tamborine Mountain Local


The Bee Gees had a way with words.  Often I’ve warbled and croaked along with Barry and the boys mostly under the shower out of the earshot of others!

John Denver, Jimmy Webb and Kris Kristofferson are just three of many brilliant wordsmiths whose lyrical poetry has kept us enthralled for years.

There are many so-called “songwriters” who write garbage. Thankfully, however, there are those who are the poets; creative exponents of expressive, expansive, emotional and, at times, whimsical thoughts; magically marrying their words to music, stirring within myriad sensations.

Late August every year the Queensland Poetry Festival is held at the Judith Wright Centre.  Now there’s a lady who had a genuine fondness for words! 

Generously, the late highly-revered poet, environmentalist, social activist Judith Wright...(31st May 1915 – 25th June 2000) shared her love of words with the rest of us.  

Born in Armidale, New South Wales, Judith Wright and her partner, philosopher Jack McKinney moved here to Tamborine Mountain in 1950.  Their only child, a daughter was born shortly thereafter. Deciding to make things legal they finally tied the knot in 1962. McKinney died in 1966. Wright stayed on the mountain for another nine years following his death.  Wright began losing her hearing when she was in her 20s, by 1992 she was completely deaf – but she still heard the words. Nothing would take that away from her.  Words remained within; they were a part, a major part of who she was.

Is poetry still a part of today’s education agendas?  Poetry played a large part when I was growing up, not only at school, but at home as well. 

I hope today’s children are encouraged to read poetry; taught to appreciate it, and in turn, become inspired by the power and beauty of verse.

Where does one start? The question in itself is enticing! The poetry world is vast, varied, versatile and abundant.

I hope the young are encouraged to experiment with pen on paper or fingers on keyboards. No better way to while away a rainy day – or a dry day! It matters not if it’s raining, mid-drought or cloudy.

One morning one of my young staff on Hinchinbrook Island hovered annoyingly at my office door while I was busy trying to sort out the day’s agenda. 

On her four-day break Bronnie had made the decision to spend her four days break on the island rather than on the mainland. My staff worked 14 days on – 4 days off.  The staff chose their work roster. I’d left it to them to choose what they felt suited them.  Having four days off allowed them ample opportunity to spend their time off on the mainland; and the majority of times they chose the mainland as the place for their “play time”.

Shuffling her feet, twiddling her thumbs, Bronnie, leaning against my door frame, whimpered and whined, “I’ve got nothing to do! I’m bored! What can I do?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Bronwyn!” I growled back at her. “I’m busy! Go for a swim! Get out of my hair! Stop annoying me!  Go! Write me a poem or something!”

 “A poem! I can’t write poetry!” She grumbled, shuffling from one foot to the other. 

Sighing heavily, I asked if she’d ever tried to write a poem.

 “No…” She replied grudgingly.

“Well, don’t say you can’t do something until you’ve tried! Scoot! Skedaddle! I don’t want to see you again until you’ve written two poems for me! Bye! Bye!” I barked back at her in an effort to reclaim my office and my peace.

With a look querying my sanity, Bronnie skulked away in a sulk as if I’d confiscated her last lollipop!

Hours later, around 4 pm, excitedly she bounded up to me; a proud, eager smile upon her face, and in her hands, two poems – two original, quirky, pensive odes.   

How sweet my victory was!  I remain the custodian of the poems!

Mint Humbugs: Combine 350g sugar and 5tbls liquid glucose in saucepan; add 250ml water; heat gently, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add 1/2tsp cream of tartar; bring to boil; boil gently until the mixture registers 140C on a sugar thermometer, the small crack stage. Remove from heat; add 1/2tsp oil of peppermint; pour onto lightly oiled slab; divide into two portions; add a few drops green food colouring to one portion; cool until workable; then pull each portion separately; using oiled scissors, cut into 1cm pieces, turning the rope at each cut; cool; wrap individually in waxed paper.

Fruit Jellies: Prepare 6-inch pan by wetting it lightly. Place 4tbls gelatin in 4tbls water to soften. Place 2/3c strained fruit juice of choice, 6tbs sugar and 4tbls corn syrup in med-saucepan over med-heat; stir until sugar dissolves; stir in gelatin; stir until dissolved. Add food colouring, if desired; pour into prepared pan; set completely; then cut with sharp knife into shapes. Roll in caster sugar or serve plain.

Cherry Marshmallow Fudge: Place 1tbl water, 90g butter and 250g pink and white marshmallows in saucepan; heat over very, very low heat; stir often until marshmallows melt. Break up 200g dark cooking chocolate; add to pan; remove from heat; stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir through 1/4c chopped red glace cherries; pour into lined 16cm square pan; cool; refrigerate until set.

Treacle Toffee: Put 450g brown sugar and 150ml water in large, heavy-based saucepan; heat gently until sugar dissolves; add 1/4tsp cream of tartar, 75g butter, 100g treacle or molasses and 100g Golden syrup; boil; brush insides of pan with water just above syrup level; boil to 149C; pour into lightly-oiled shallow tin; cool 5mins; mark into squares with oiled knife.   

FEELING GROOVY! 
Birds twitter dancing from branch to branch on high
Blossom to honey-scented blossom butterflies flutter
A gentle spring breeze wafts as if it were a lover’s sigh
Foaming cumulus hover over the horizon like a comforter
Seasons change while in silence I long for your embrace
The warmth of the day reminds me of your magic touch
Loving memories of moments spent with you I cannot erase
Your luminous presence remains and I still care too much

INTO A SOMBRE OCEAN OF OBLIVION

Lost in a dismal murky mire of immeasurable despondency
callously cast aside a counterfeit caricature of ship’s ballast
wretched descent to the dank pits of hell having no buoyancy
eclipsed by life’s engulfing twilight
my existence I lambaste

Forthwith summarily ‘twas vividly visible I was invisible
words unheard emotions shattered into severed fitful pieces
how could it not be known my fragile heart was breakable
desolate days tormented nights envelop
my heartache increases

Becoming in essence a nihility a soon forgotten evanescence
misplaced bittersweet gaiety fraught with invasive dreams
silent solitude dejected spirit crying a faded luminescence
an alabaster moon shrouded by dank darkness
my heart screams 

Plunging further deeper into a bottomless quagmire of oblivion 
like autumn leaves blown in the wind my quintessence strewn  
impenetrable suffering a feverish addiction life a fictitious illusion
unrelenting oppressive incubus reckless incursion
my life in ruin  

MOMENTS IN LIFE                                       
Along the way we say foolish words we regret
With moments we pray to become invisible
Puerile silly misunderstandings on which we fret
Our battered tainted emotions no longer concealable
Endless angry silences their reasons we soon forget

Progressing to games of cat and mouse hide and seek
Hearts and minds held by ransom emotional blackmail
Hours pass slowly sad nights dim days turn into a week
Frail sensibilities in disturbance as if buffeted by a gale
An eternity time wasted…over something so oblique
                                                                               
Poetry written by Me....

I wrote this post in the interim....I'm in the midst of writing my story of Sasha and my other furry, four-legged rascal....their tales shall follow....

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MUSIC TO MY EARS…PURRRFECT!



Ian Fleming's home "Goldeney"  in Jamaica
Another vista from "Goldeneye"
Interior....Goldeneye

I'm allowed to dream....

One thing leads to another. How often has that been said, I wonder?   Speaking on my own behalf, I’ve said it many times over; and no doubt will repeat the phrase ad infinitum - a slight exaggeration, I guess; but you know what I mean.  

It’s really very simple how I know this to be so. It happens to me all the time- the starting off in one direction, with one purpose in mind, and then becoming waylaid. 

For example – I start searching for something on the Web. Simple and swift it should be. It shouldn’t take me very long to find an answer to my query. It might be a word; an historical person of interest; information about a celebrity/sportsperson/writer etc; a song; a singer, songwriter and so on.  Within a blink or sometimes even half a blink, I become distracted from the initial search; stolen away as if kidnapped. 

Giving little resistance, I find myself being led along corridors; entering doorways to the left and to the right; even aloft into attics if they're on offer; being guided further and further into a world of wonder; a world of knowledge. No shoe leather is ever wasted or worn thin because my fingers do the walking.  I’m transported to foreign, exotic places without having expended a cent, let alone a dollar, on travel tickets; without having to pack a suitcase.  

A few years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon leisurely roaming around Jamaica.  While sipping on a drink more suited to a pirate than James Bond – Captain Morgan rum and mango juice, I spent hours enjoying the ambience at Ian Fleming’s estate “Goldeneye” in Oracabessa, on Jamaica’s north coast.  I found it very difficult to drag myself away. In 1976, twelve years after Fleming’s death the late Bob Marley purchased the property, but Marley resold it a year later, in 1977. 

It’s a most wonderful estate spread over lush green landscape. The home situated on the edge of a cliff, overlooks a private beach and the Caribbean Sea.  So, you see - you must understand how easy it was for me to willingly become lost in a fantasy world of dreams; of a reality I’d love to have been a part of, and probably would have never left if I had been so fortunate.  It is my kind of place!

In case you’re thinking otherwise, this is leading somewhere – really, it is.

Over the weekend I was searching for a song via today’s worldwide, endless highway…the Web. The Web Highway has myriad side tracks, and once on it, I dart off here, there and everywhere, never knowing where I’ll end up.  That’s half the fun, I guess.  Sometimes I become so engrossed I'm not aware I've ventured off the beaten track.  Next time I should pack myself a picnic lunch, grab a blanket; some fresh water, and fill a thermos flask with coffee.  Sustenance is needed.

I forget the initial song that kick-started my search, but I stumbled upon an old, all-time favourite – “Gentle On My Mind”. Glen Campbell made it famous, as did crooner, Dean Martin.  I prefer Campbell’s version, but that’s just my opinion and taste. It’s a beautiful song, and a melody difficult to be ruined by anyone - except when sung by me.

An interesting piece of trivia evolved out of my search.  John Hartford who wrote the song stated he was inspired to write it after seeing the movie, “Doctor Zhivago”.  Hartford wrote the song the same night he’d seen the film.  Engulfed by memories, it took him only 30 minutes or so to pen what was to become a chart-topper and a classic.   

Our memories can inspire us to do many things; to want to do many things; and to relive past moments- the good, the happy ones, in our life.  I wish some of my memories were capable of making me enough money to purchase “Goldeneye”. I’m just saying….I’m allowed to dream!

“Doctor Zhivago”, both the movie and the book inspired me, too…in a different way.

It was during my first marriage, in 1968 I saw the movie and read the book. I immediately fell in love with both.  How could anyone not fall under the spell of Lara and Zhivago; or drown willingly in the large, compelling, brown eyes of Omar Sharif?

(An aside: An aunty of mine – through my marriage to Randall, my second husband – was an avid and competent contract bridge player, as was Omar Sharif.  During a visit by Sharif to Australia to play contract bridge, Ethel, said aunt, played with him…contract bridge, that is!  She found it very difficult to concentrate on the game with him sitting across the table from her.  A very good ploy by the opposing team, I'd say)! 

Somewhere amongst my memorabilia I have a photograph taken at that moment in history.  I don't know where to start looking for it!

When I left Gympie in July, 1965 to move to the “big smoke”…the city of Brisbane...I had to leave my beloved ginger cat, suitably named “Cat”, behind with Mum and Nana.  Cat had such a unique personality from when he was just a little kitten, I couldn’t think of a name that suited his wonderful character, so he was stuck with “Cat”; and as it turned out, it fitted him well.  

I’d had Cat for years…a long time before “Breakfast at Tiffany's” hit our screens. I didn't see the movie until 1963; and I didn't read Truman Capote's 1958 novella until a number of years after I saw the movie.

Holly Golightly’s cat, also ginger, for the uninitiated, was, coincidentally, called, “Cat”.   "Breakfast at Tiffany's" remains on my list of top movies...movies that I love and have watched many times over.

Each afternoon my cat, Cat loyally would wait at the edge of the footpath outside our home  – waiting for me to arrive from work. He'd greet me with gusto and follow closely at my feet, fighting not only with possession of me, but for the stairs as we climbed them to enter the house. He never tried to hide the joy he felt at seeing me.  It broke my heart not being able to take Cat with me, but I had no other choice. I was to stay with friends for a couple of weeks or so until I found suitable accommodation of my own, and I couldn’t have my beloved furry mate with me wandering the streets of Brisbane looking for a flat in which to set up our camp. 

The day I left Gympie Cat sat forlornly on the very same footpath, right on the concrete edging of the gutter, watching me leave.  That moment was more of a tear-jerker than “Doctor Zhivago”; movie and book combined!  I think I cried most of the way to Brisbane.  It felt as if my heart had been wrenched from my chest.  

When Mum and Nana left Gympie to live at Slade Point via Mackay, Cat went with them. Cat remained in the loving care of Mum and Nana until he died at a grand old age.  More tears were shed.

Between my moving to Brisbane mid-1965 and shortly after seeing "Doctor Zhivago", the movie, I’d not had a cat in my life; and that was the longest period I’d ever been without a cat.  All through that period, which seemed like a lifetime to me, I felt something was missing from my life. The time had come to rectify the situation.

And then one Sunday evening a week or two after watching the film a friend visited, unexpectedly bearing a gift for me.  The gift was a fluffy, six-week old ginger kitten. I was immediately smitten.  Our feelings about each other were mutual. The little ball of joy was mine; and I was his (I wasn't a little ball of joy, of course!). From the moment he was placed in my hands there wasn't a moment of doubt.

I christened my little ginger friend – “Sasha”…named after Zhivago and Tonya’s son.

Sasha became my constant.  When Mervyn and I separated - when I moved into the flat with the rose garden on Oxlade Drive, New Farm (my post of September 16th, 2014) - I didn’t go alone.  Sasha went along with me.  He packed up his food bowls, his fur coat and moved out, too.

Wherever I went, he went.  There was never any thought about debating the situation.  It was clear cut. No contracts needed signing.  Sasha was smart; very savvy; and extremely loyal.  There was no pulling the fur over his eyes.

I told you there was a point to this story...I may have gone the long way around it...but I got there in the end...I hope you've not jumped off halfway through....

More about Sasha to come....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ME, EMU, YOU AND ROO...AND IT AIN'T A CROCK!



Cartoon by Tony Turton

Red Wine Marinated Emu

Large Emu egg...in comparison to chicken eggs

Lake Elphinstone


Lately, it would seem, I’m unable to get off the subject of emus…but I will after this...I promise you.

There is no denying Australia is a country filled with many weird creatures.  Some (probably quite a few) would say that I comfortably fit into the “weird” category …but that’s okay with me.  I don’t mind being a step outside of the “norm”.  I look forward to becoming an eccentric old lady…I may have already achieved my goal!

Out of the blue one day when I was the chef/cook at “Lorikeets’ Restaurant”, Glenden back in the early 90s, upon unpacking and storing away my ordered stock that had been delivered from the Head Office of Morris Corporation/Catering, to my surprise, I found amongst my meat order a few kilos of emu meat!  I hadn’t ordered it; and, to be honest, I didn’t particularly want it.  But there it was as fresh as the day was long – waste not; want not. 

I’d never cooked emu meat, but I wasn’t going to let that faze me!  Always up for a challenge even if I wasn’t too keen about it, I pondered upon my dilemma for a while. 

I didn’t have Mr. Google to guide me towards a recipe, so I forged forth and made up my own as I went along.  Having no intention of putting emu permanently on my menu, I decided the best thing to do was get rid of what I’d received that night, if I could, by putting emu up on my “Special of the Night” board; and then that would be that – done and dusted.  Emu no more!

Some feather dusters are made with emu feathers; so, too, are ornate earrings. The emu I received had already been plucked, so I wasn’t faced with that problem.  Emu eggs are preferred for ornamental use; I never cooked with them because they took up too much room in the pans!

Emu oil is claimed to have many healing health benefits; research is ongoing in that department.

According to historians, emu oil was, and probably still is in some area, an Aboriginal traditional medicine. The then unadulterated oil was used for bites, cuts, sores, bruises, fevers, aches and pain. An all-purpose solver of problems it would appear. Nowadays it’s not as “pure”, of course, with additives added to the mix; but its healing uses and benefits are many, according to some “experts”.  The jury is still out in some instances.

However, when confronted with a parcel of fresh emu meat that day, the healing power of emu oil was the last thing on my mind.  

I’d cooked kangaroo meat; and crocodile many times.  A very popular entrée on the restaurant’s menu was Crocodile Kebabs.  To my taste there were (are) far more interesting and tasty foods to eat than crocodile! Crocodile isn’t on my list of things I want to eat; although I have tried it, of course.
I cut the croc meat into approximately 1-inch square pieces before marinating the pieces in brandy, garlic, fresh ginger, a pinch of chilli, a splash of soy sauce and some other spices just to infuse a bit of flavour into the blandness; and then I’d thread it onto skewers, alternating with similar sized pieces of capsicum/peppers and onion.  Crocodile meat not marinated tasted like cardboard drink’s coaster, I reckoned. Using a coaster would’ve been cheaper! 

However, as the saying goes…”there’s no account for taste”…who am I to questions the reasons why so many diners ordered my crocodile kebabs…and enjoyed them?  And doubled up and ordered them again when they re-visited the restaurant…..

Figuring emu was a very lean meat similar to kangaroo meat I decided to treat it similarly.  In other words, close my eyes and hope for the best!  What did I have to lose…just a few diners!

I cut the meat into serving-sized fillets, and then I marinated the “steaks” in a quality red wine, either a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon – one or the other - crushed fresh garlic, freshly-cracked black pepper and some chopped fresh herbs; whatever I had on hand and ones I felt suitable to what I had in mind.  My intention was to grill the fillets briefly as the orders came into to me in the kitchen that evening.  Over-cooking would not do.

I then lived in the hope the dish would be ordered.

I wrote it up on the “Specials of the Night” menu; I invented a suitable description for my creation; and the rest was in the laps of the Gods…hopefully not in the laps of the diners!

One of the restaurant’s bookings that evening was for a table of some of the “big bosses” from MIM…Mount Isa Mines…the owner/operator of Newlands, the large coal mine just outside of Glenden.  Along with the MIM hierarchy were local top drawer representatives from the Newland Coal Mine; all of whom were playing host to visiting financiers and bankers from the US.  

After gathering for a somewhat brief interlude at the restaurant’s cocktail bar for pre-dinner drinks the party converged upon their table, with their appetites intact.  

Soon their meal orders flowed into the kitchen and were stuck on the spikes above my cooking range.  All systems go!

I’d struck it lucky!  Every one of the overseas visitors, plus some of the Aussie hosts ordered the emu! 

By the end of service, I had not a sliver of emu left in the restaurant, in the kitchen or the cold room, for that matter!  They’d depleted my stock.  I was so grateful and, out of the sight of others, proudly gave myself a pat on my back.  My emu dish had been received like first prize in the lottery!

Accolades were passed onto me from all and sundry. I humbly and graciously accepted the generous praise sent my way. 

Next day I phoned Head Office and told them never to send me emu meat again; in fact never send me anything I’d not ordered ever again.

On the subject of the crocodile kebabs - another night and another diner from the US – said diner stopped me as I passed his table to ask where I got my crocodile meat from.  Without missing a beat and with a very straight face, I told the inquisitive, quite naïve gentleman that every Sunday, my day off, I grabbed my rifle and headed off to one of the nearby local creeks; but I steered clear of Lake Elphinstone because it was too big and always filled with water skiers.  Once there I’d find a likely spot; take aim and nab my prey.  His host, one of the restaurant’s regular diners almost choked on his meal and tried to slide under the table out of view. 

His guest believed every silly word that had spilled out of my mouth.  And then, I just continued on to the kitchen, leaving our US visitor wide-eyed in wonder. 

I wonder how many people he repeated that story to!

It’s marvellous what you can get away with if you keep a straight face!

One day I did tell a tourist  to save fuel I sometimes hitched a ride on a kangaroo...and hopped down the mountain road, and then along the motorway up to Brisbane to do some shopping.  It was handy in a couple of ways because I could store my purchases in the kangaroo's pouch.

Well....I keep telling you I shouldn't be let out amongst the madding crowds....

Friday, October 10, 2014

OLD MAN EMU - IT’S TIME TO SHAKE YOUR TAIL FEATHERS!


Sunshine Beach

Tin Can Bay...circa 2014
Goomboorian Landscape
Another  view of Goomboorian





Yeppoon...circa 2014
Singing Ship Monument, the Emu Park land area was first discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770.

Emu Park Beachfront


Emu: Correct pronunciation – “eem-you”…NOT…”ee-moo”.

While on the subject of emus …those of the long, legged, feathered variety, that is, not restaurants wantonly using their name at will…I’ve a tale or two to relate about our large, inquisitive, native birds.

My grandmother, Ivy Flora Hose, was born at an area named “The Dawn”, across the Mary River on the south-side of Gympie. Not long after Nana was born, sometime in the late 19th century, I don’t know the exact date, the family moved from The Dawn to Goomboorian, a country area 20ks (12 miles) east of Gympie. 

My grandmother’s parents (Scottish, Irish and mixture of both) originally went to the Gympie area because my great-grandfather, Nana’s father. He gained worked at the Scottish Mine at Monkland, which is 2kms south of Gympie.

The Gympie region from the late 1860s onwards to the early 1900s was the site of a gold rush.  Many Scots ended up in the area in search of work and somewhere to settle to raise their growing families.  Monkland, in fact, was named after a Scottish town by a gold prospector.  By the 1870s the township of Gympie was well on its way.  Shops popped up as did hotels to servicing the growing population.   

It’s a slight exaggeration….slight…but at one time on almost very corner in Gympie there stood a pub!

By the way, Gympie was originally known as “Nashville” – named after James Nash.  In 1867 Nash, a prospector, born in Beanacre, Wilstshire was the first person to discover gold in the area later to be known as Gympie…and the rush began.  James Nash died in Gympie on 5th October, 1913 at the age of 79 years.

In 1889 Gympie was connected to Brisbane, the state’s capital, by railway.  Those who built the line didn’t take into consideration the fairly steep gradient between Monkland and Gympie.

For the ensuing half century and more the wonderful old steam engines had their work cut out for them as they huffed and puffed along the railroad tracks to their destination, the Gympie Railway Station; but in saying this, the sturdy steam engines did their job without fail, and in romantic style.

When my grandmother was young their mode of travel was by horse-drawn buggy, on horseback or by Shank’s pony (by foot).

Goomboorian, on the road from Gympie to the sleepy little fishing village of Tin Can Bay, is approximately halfway (32kms – 19 miles) between Gympie and The Bay.  Driving from Goomboorian to Tin Can Bay these days takes less than 30 minutes, but back when Nana was a girl and the family went to Tin Can Bay for fishing trips they’d break the "lengthy"  trip and camp overnight at Coondoo Creek before travelling on the following morning; and similar occurred on the return trip from The Bay to Goomboorian.

In the latter stages of the 19th Century, into the early years of the 20th Century Goomboorian was an unspoiled rural area; and to this day it remains so, pretty much.  The surrounding rolling hills and lush pastures lure many who enjoy a quieter existence to that of living in towns - in the built-up areas.  Small crop farming is one of the main activities, wherein a wide variety of vegetables and fruit are grown.  Pineapples, in particular, are a popular crop amongst many of the farmers.  A few dairy farms still exist, as well. People from all walks of life enjoy the rustic ambience.  Houses are on country acreages, and the population today stands below 500 (they do sometimes sit)! 

Goomboorian houses are of the more up-market modern variety these days than they were when my grandmother and her siblings grew up in the area.

Back in my grandmother’s day the life was far different to what we experience now. For one thing, emus visited daily. I doubt many, if any, do nowadays
 
My brother, Graham and I lapped up the stories Nana told us of the “olden days”.  We’d urge her on to tell us more, and we never cared if we’d heard a story many times before.  Nana was happy to relate her tales; she was a very good storyteller; and we could vividly picture the scenes and events as she described them.

Nana told us of how the family cutlery – silverware – had to be, at all times, hidden away out of view.  Once the dishes had been washed and dried the cutlery, in particular, was immediately put into the respective drawers or wherever else it was kept.  If, perchance, the wooden hopper windows in the kitchen were left open over the washing up area often inquisitive, passing emus would poke their heads through the open window to steal the silverware if it had been left out in clear view on the bench or table.  It was a lesson soon learned by the humans, not to leave the cutlery lying about within easy reach of the long-legged, long-necked, feathered thieves.

Many years later in 1981, a couple of years after Randall, my then husband and I moved to live on the coast at Sunshine Beach, he and I decided we’d hire a small caravan and go off on a trip north from Noosa to Mossman, in Far North Queensland, stopping off at beaches on our way north and on our return trip home.  

Actually, it was Randall’s idea to do the expedition.  He was very keen to do the Lucille Ball -Desi Arnaz “Long, Long Trailer” imitation. Our trip ended up a bit like that movie by the time we returned to Sunshine Beach, actually.  I collected coconuts along the way.  There was hardly any room left in the caravan.  Any spare space was filled with coconuts!  If you recall...in the movie Lucille Ball collected rocks....much to Desi's dismay, and their almost disastrous demise.  Well, instead of rocks, I stripped all the coconut palm trees in North Queensland of their crops!

Randall had to do quite a lot of persuading and cajoling to get me to agree to the trip.  At heart, I’m a home-body when it gets down to the nitty-gritty.  

We were living just a hop, skip and a half leap from the beach, anyway; one of the best beaches in Queensland.  I couldn’t see the point in going elsewhere.  Also, I didn’t want to leave my very spoilt, sooky, beautiful ginger cat, Ruska, for a length of time; nor was I looking forward to the idea of being away from the comforts of home.  

I put up many arguments (even making up a few, I'm sure), but to no avail.  Eventually, Randall won out; the van was loaded, overloaded.  I packed everything bar the kitchen sink and Ruska. Off we went headed north, the little caravan in tow. A good friend looked after Ruska during our absence.

Our overnight stays were always at beach-side caravan parks; the main purpose of the trip - visiting all the beaches along the way while making up our minds which ones we preferred and would stay longer at on our return trip south.  

I have a phobia about public toilets/shower blocks etc.  The first thing I did when we pulled into a caravan park before setting up was to check the facilities.  If they weren’t clean and in good order there would be no way in the world we’d stay there.  Fortunately, we never struck out.  Top marks for Queensland's caravan parks at that time.  I hope same can still be said these days.

We’d reached the Capricorn Coast. Central Queensland city of Rockhampton sits reasonably comfortably a short distance north of the Tropic of Capricorn; the city has capitalised on the fact that it is so close to the Tropic of Capricorn, which is fair enough, too.  Tourist dollars are important, as are beef dollars.   

Rockhampton is also known as Australia’s beef cattle capital; and that’s no bull!

The Berserker Range lies on the eastern side of Rocky and unfortunately the range blocks a lot of the sea breezes. Rather than set up camp in Rockhampton we decided to head to the beach - toYeppoon, 40kms (25 miles) east of the city.  Yeppoon is the major centre of the Capricorn Coast; but we were looking for something more laid back, so we continued on to Emu Park, a smaller, unspoiled seaside township 21kms south of Yeppoon.  Emu Park overlooks Keppel Bay, a bay that is home to Great Keppel Island, a popular spot for holidaymakers.

Having pulled into a suitable, shady spot at a local caravan park I made a quick dash to do my normal inspection of the public facilities/conveniences.  All boxes were ticked, so I began to exit the amenties' block to assist Randall in setting up our van.   

I stopped dead in my tracks when I came level with the doorway of the toilet/shower block.   

Gathered around the door, peering inside were about six curious emus.  They’d seen me go into the building so decided they, too, should have a look. 

Meanwhile, Randall had spotted the antics of the feathered, nosy critters and he was in fits of laughter, waiting to see my reaction.  Who was I to disappoint him?  Randall got what he'd eagerly anticipated - my response.  

I received the shock of my life when I came face to beak/s with the emus. I had no chance to disguise my surprise.  I sure as hell wasn’t expecting a welcoming squad…and definitely not one comprised of about half a dozen emus!  

Randall continued to laugh his head off at my unbridled shock. 

In a variation of the words once uttered by a stiff, upper-lipped Queen Victoria – “I was not amused!”

It didn’t take me long, however, to be amused at the image. We laughed for ages, and still do to this day whenever the episode comes up in conversation. What a shame the emus and my reaction wasn’t captured on film!

There is little wonder from where the name “Emu Park” originated!

Years later when I was chef/manager of the Mess and single men’s accommodation at Collinsville, for Collinsville Coal, I had to drive across to Glenden, another town servicing the coal mines of the Bowen Basin.  The company I was employed by also had the catering/accommodation contract in Glenden.  

Rather than go the long route, via Bowen along the Bruce Highway, south to Mackay, and then west to Glenden, I chose to take the “back” route, which in 1991 was just a narrow, dirt bush track.   

The distance between Collinsville and Glenden via the bush track was 119 kms; whereas the other route via Bowen/Mackay is much longer - approximately 437kms.  One didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to make the decision.   

At the time I had a little Suzuki 4-wheel drive.  It was the company’s car.  A nifty little vehicle that stood only a little taller than me; but it did the job required of it (as did I). 

So off I went on my merry way; country music cassettes at the ready on the passenger seat to help me while away the time and distance as I bounced over the rough, dirt track.  Thankfully, it hadn't rained for a few months.

In a world of my own surrounded by vast, beef cattle country of flat, grassed, barely-treed plains with George Strait or Ricky Van Shelton serenading from the car’s cassette player, I rounded a bend.  And then, without warning, I nearly jumped out of my seat…out of the vehicle.   

At eye level…level with my right eye (that’s where the driver’s seat is in our cars Down Under) – was an emu!  I’m not sure who got the biggest fright...the emu or me!

To this day I reckon the car and I lifted about three feet in the air; and I reckon the emu did, too.  

For a brief moment in time, the bird and I eye-balled each other, and then it veered off to the right.  At a reasonably leisurely pace it loped away without a backward glance. It’s long, lean legs easily scaled the brown grass and short bushes. 

I took a deep breath and continued on my way to Glenden without further excitement.

Both the emu and I had a story to tell when we both reached our destinations!