Monday, January 16, 2017


Central Hotel, Normanton
The Purple Pub, Normanton
The Albion Hotel, Normanton

Outback Stockman

The stockman's face glistened under the torrid outback sun
Weather-beaten wiry and worn, his teeth tobacco-stained
Alone he rides o'er the dusty dry land his day never done
His love of the vast brown land remains forever ingrained

Parched by day the unforgiving copper luminary beyond
Unrelenting in its punishment upon all that wander below
As if obeying the devil's command it does eagerly respond
Silence is broken by bellowing cattle and the call of a crow

 (Graphite drawings and poem by me)

The heat and humidity we’re experiencing here at present is very oppressive.  The not so good news is from Wednesday or Thursday forth it’s going to get even hotter.   

Whoopee!  I can’t wait!  I might put the oven on in the meantime!!

These temperatures, of course, are nothing new.  It is summer down here in the Land gets hot in summer; every summer it's gotten hot as far back as I can remember.   

When I was younger, as it is with many other things when one is younger, the summer heat didn’t faze me; but now that I’m older and am growing older as each day comes and goes, my tolerance for heat is diminishing...rapidly.

Yesterday I was sharing similar sentiments with an empathetic young woman.  She was empathetic because she, too, was sweating like the proverbial “pig”. (The poor old pigs cop the blame, when the truth is, pigs don’t sweat much. The origin of the terms refers to pig iron...a form of smelting, which requires high heat...hence the link to sweltering, I guess).

The young woman told me she was from Canberra, to which I replied; 

“Canberra has been copping the heat lately, too...but, I guess, it’s a dry heat, not humid...” 

We conversed for a brief while as we almost melted into puddles on the car park bitumen. 

I’d shot out early, at 7 am, to our local supermarket and newsagency. Primarily to beat the heat, but also to be back home again in time for the commencement of the tennis, the Australian Open.  While this heat (and the tennis) sticks around when or if I need to go out again that is the time I’ll be venturing forth from my four walls.

After my chat with the friendly young stranger my mind, with a mind of its own, returned to the time in early November, 1989 when I was acting as relief manager at the Central Hotel in Normanton....out in Queensland’s Gulf Country...way up western Queensland. 

Normanton, having a tropical savannah climate, has two distinct seasons.  One is the very hot and very humid “wet season”; the season when the monsoon trough usually pays a visit from December to March, bringing with it the torrential downpours (or it should); and the other is the hot, dry heat through the “dry season” that runs from April through to November.

Temperatures in November are around 36C (98F); sometimes higher; sometimes not much lower.  Of course, as summer gets into full swing it becomes even hotter, and the humidity even more overbearing.   

During April to November it’s a “dry” heat. 

Normanton’s “cold” winters crash to a low of around 29C (84F) during mid-winter which is July.

When I was in Normaton in November I really didn’t need the use of a bath towel.  (Certainly a saving on the laundry bill)!  A moment after stepping out of the shower I was bone dry – no towel required!

After living in Normanton for a while, my eyes felt a little gritty because all moisture was not only absent from the hot, dry climate, but it had been sucked out of me, too!  I wasn’t used to the “dry heat”, having lived most of my life on or near coastal areas.  This was all very new to me.

At the end of my stay in Normanton I flew back to Cairns by light aircraft. As I saw tropical Cairns looming in the distance to the east, to my surprise, I found myself looking forward to the humidity!  I was sick to death of Normanton’s dry heat.

While managing the pub, I was also dog-sitter for the two golden retrievers, the dogs owned by the managers whose duties I'd stepped up to the plate to perform while they were away on holiday.  

Each day, after making sure the dogs had attended to their respective ablutions, I made sure they remained in my accommodation unit (the managers’ abode) in air-conditioning comfort.  When I returned in the afternoons to shower and change for the evening session, “Duke” and “Duchess” would be let out to do what they had to do before I brought them back inside again.  There they would remain until I returned home after I’d closed the pub later in the evening; and then they’d go through their routine once again before we all settled down for the night.   

Some habits become habitual.

My time at the pub in Normanton was an interesting, learning, fun adventure.  An adventure I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience. 

Almost half of Normanton’s population of around 1,460 (as at 2011) is Aboriginal - indigenous Australians; many of whom drank each day at the “Mango Lounge”.  The “Mango Lounge” was just off to the side from my abode.  A couple of large mango trees gave necessary, much-needed shade to the drinkers.  The majority of those, if not all, who drank at the “Mango Lounge” chose not to drink in the pub.  It was their pub “lounge”.

Each morning before I opened the pub I made a point of sitting down with my “Mango Lounge” regulars to have a chat with them.  They always put the “ hard word” on me for free drinks and cigarettes, but I never succumbed to their sweet talking. 

Laughingly I’d tell them:  “I didn’t come down in yesterday’s shower!” (even though no rain had fallen for months)! 

Or I’d say: “You guys had better come up with new stories; you told me that one yesterday – it didn’t work then; and it sure won’t work today...or tomorrow!” 

“Aww! Missy!” They’d chorus.  “Okay, Missy!”  And we’d all laugh.  I enjoyed those moments crouched down on the red soil, listening to their stories.  They were a happy lot.

I told them I didn’t mind them using the “Mango Lounge” as long as they kept the area clean and tidy; for them not to leave any litter around because I didn’t want the cops coming down on me; and, in turn, on them.  I said I was sure they didn’t want either to happen.  If that were to eventuate the “Lounge” would be shut down – forever made out of bounds to them.

They’d been using the area for years apparently. The police kept an eye on them, from afar.  The “cop shop” was just up the road a bit from the pub, within easy walking distance. 

There was never any trouble when I was at the pub, other than one time. But that was caused by a couple of interlopers one Saturday morningThe brawl that never really got off the ground started on the footpath up from the "Mango Lounge". It was quickly broken up by my "Mango Lounge" regulars.  I told the would-be brawlers to move on before the cops arrived. They did as asked, without a backward glance.  And the cops didn't arrive.

Pleasantly, each day I’d remind the group to keep the “lounge” tidy...that, by doing so, was to their own benefit.  Did they want the cops to draw the curtain  - shut the lounge down, and move them on?

 “Oh, no, Missy!” they'd reply in melodious unison.  

Clean and tidy they kept it. I could tell by their beaming smiles they were extremely proud of themselves for doing so...daily.  And almost daily, when I passed by, with wide smiles they would point to their handy work, to ensure I'd notice their handiwork!

On any normal day, by noon or thereabouts, the “Mango Lounge” was vacated...and no mess was left behind.

The Central Hotel had the main public bar, and it also had the “Black Bar”. 
There was no political-correctness back in 1989...and there was no need for it.  Political-correctness probably still doesn’t exist in Normanton. 

There was nothing derogatory, belittling or racist in the bar’s name.  The town’s Aboriginals themselves so christened it. 

Others who chose not to frequent the “Mango Lounge” drank in the “Black Bar”.   

Many chose the “Black Bar” over the public bar; preferring “their bar” to the public bar even though they were welcome to drink in the main bar. 

Some drank only in the “Black Bar”; others meandered between it and the public bar, depending on the day and who else was drinking in either or both. And some drank only in the public bar.  No whites drank in the "Black Bar", or the "Mango Lounge".  I probably was the only white who spent time in the latter.  I doubt very much the managers who I was relieving ever stopped there for a chat.

Normanton is surrounded by cattle stations.  Many Aboriginal stockmen worked on those stations.  They didn’t come to town often, but when they did, some drank at the Central Hotel, either in the “Black Bar, or in the public bar, never at the "Mango Lounge".

I’ve written about this before, but a special vision - a special moment - remains embedded in my mind. The day one of the most striking men, if not the most striking man I’ve ever seen, walked into the public bar of Normanton’s Central Hotel.

He was a tall, proud black man, probably in his 50s, at a guess. The stranger bore a pepper and salt, trimmed, pointed beard that suited his imposing stature and highlighted his high cheekbones. His back was as straight as a die.

I found myself mesmerised by the man.  He was oblivious to his impressive presence; but, to me, an aura appeared to surround him. 

I asked my staff who he was, but no one knew his name. They told me he was the head stockman on one of cattle stations. They also told me he didn’t visit the pub often. 

I only saw him once during my time in Normanton, but the image of that noble, dignified gentleman standing in the bar that one day has always remained with me.  He may have not stayed in the bar for long, but my memory of him has stayed.

There are three hotels in Normanton - The Central Hotel, the Purple Pub and The Albion Hotel.  

The situation may have altered now, but in those days of the late 1980s-early 1990s, the Purple Pub was the chosen hang-out of most the black community, rarely were any of its patron white; at the Central Hotel, blacks and whites were welcome.  The owners of the Purple Pub and I got along very well.

At the Albion Hotel, across the road from the Central Hotel, the then owner welcomed whites only. No Aboriginals were allowed in the Albion.  I had a couple of dealings with the guy who owned that pub...I didn't like him.  

There is a word that fittingly describes people like that fellow!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


My older brother Graham and I had been raised to have good table manners  we were taught to have good manners in all instances), but knowing how to conduct one’s self at the dinner table didn’t mean I didn’t suffer from nerves when I first began to dine out.  

As a child the only times I dined outside our home were at the birthday parties of friends, around a campfire or in the club house when I was a Brownie and Girl Guide (or in our own yard on Guy Fawkes Night). Also on Saturday nights when strolling along Mary Street, Gympie window shopping with my Nana and Graham after we'd followed the kilted Gympie Scots’ Pipe Band as they played and marched down the main street.   

The pipe band came to a halt at the Memorial Gates...and, conveniently, very conveniently, next to the Gates was “Nick’s Fish & Chips” shop!  It was then when fish & chips-eating-in-public-good manners came into effect.

Wrapped snugly in newspaper, much finesse was applied to extract the golden potato chips and crispy-battered fish from their classy swathe. Even more finesse was required to find those few elusive chips and crispy bits of batter that hid at the bottom of the folds.   

The licking of one’s fingers was allowed, if done with artful delicacy and discretion.

In those days, before I left Gympie in 1965 to live and work in the city of Brisbane, dining out in restaurants wasn’t in vogue; primarily because there were no restaurants in Gympie back in the Fifties and early Sixties.   

The only “formal” dining venues available to the public were the Dorith Coffee Lounge, various cafés and the dining rooms of the local pubs.  The cafés were far more modest and humble than today’s cafés. They were places where you could indulge in a golden meat pie with mushy peas and mashed spuds while sipping on a tall glass of icy-cold Cherry Cola or a Golden Circle Pineapple juice. Tea or coffee, if so inclined, were more the inclinations of the older generations. 

As it was, the Dorith Coffee Lounge didn’t arrive on the scene until the early Sixties. It no longer exists. Back in the day, I enjoyed many a toasted cheese, ham and tomato sandwich there, with glasses of apricot or peach nectar to help wash the sandwiches down.

I’ve written previously about the small parties/gatherings my friends and I enjoyed when we were teenagers and our weekends spent at the coast. We first explored the beaches at Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headlands, and not as frequently, Maroochydore, before we settled on the best (and nearest) - Noosa Heads and Sunshine Beach, with the odd visits to Peregian and Coolum when we could hitch a ride or were offered one, 

During those weekends and our mid-week gatherings I somehow was the one who donned the apron; not that I complained.  I enjoyed doing so.

From those simple beginnings and environs, however, not only had my taste buds been alerted to all sorts of interesting fare, but the cooking and hosting seeds were planted. My love of restaurants was born; and more particularly, what went on in the kitchens of those restaurants!  What went on behind the scenes intrigued me. I was fascinated.  I began reading as much material I could lay my hands on; and I laid my hands on a lot!

After spending the first five years of my working life as a legal secretary in a Gympie law firm, I spent my first six or seven weeks in Brisbane doing similar work for a city law firm, but I soon tired of the taking dictation; typing page after page on the troubles of others.  I was in search of something different; and from attending a party one Saturday evening, I found it.  

To my mother and grandmother's despair (they were back in Gympie), but even more so, my older brother Graham's displeasure, I left my legal secretary role to take up a position within the fashion industry (the Queensland office, showrooms and warehouse of a national company). There I remained for the next 14 years.  

At the time of my switching jobs, Graham threatened to come down to Brisbane (he was then living in Mackay, in North Queensland), and, in his words: "Drag me back home to Gympie!"  

That I should dare change jobs within such a short period after having remained with my first employers, in Gympie, for five years was beyond Graham's comprehension of what his "little" sister should be doing.  That I was 20 years old made no difference to him I was still a little kid!   

He never did drag me back to Gympie, by the way.  And I told him, holding nothing back, to mind his own business!

In my new job, I became secretary to the Queensland Manager, as well as taking on the mantle of Office Manageress, and later, States Sales Coordinator. For our promotional evenings, which we held three or four times a year, when launching new lines, the company hired caterers to cater for our retail buyers; those buyers included the major department stores such as Myer and David Jones.

All the time, my inner, latent “chef” was biting at the bit; rearing to be let loose! I could no longer deny its demands.  My desire to lash out kept nagging at me.

Frequently, I used to host and cater my own private dinner parties within my own home.  Rarely a Saturday night went by that I didn’t have guests sitting around my dinner table...or some kind of party going on.

Early 1969, a few months after my first husband and I separated, to earn some extra money, I obtained a part-time, casual evening job waiting on tables at “The Pelican Tavern”, an eatery in St. Paul’s Terrace, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane! 

Initially, I was to work only Friday and Saturday evenings, but in time, when required, I often worked five nights a week. I was in my element!  I loved it!

With keen interest, I watched, questioned and learned so much from Kyriol Wypow, the owner/chef.  He was a dedicated, self-taught chef/cook. 

Mr. Wypow recognised my interest wasn't superficial. He became a willing teacher; and a good friend. 

I loved teasing him...and he enjoyed my teasing; it was more baiting, than teasing, probably.  It was a two-way street,

The other waitresses were in awe of him (and a little fearful), but I wasn’t. I could see through his sometimes serious, abrasive exterior.  His eyes were dead give-aways.  The mischievous glint that always lurked was obvious to me.  He never fooled me; and he enjoyed the games of cat and mouse we played. 

Mr. Wypow originally came from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It was in remembrance of the numerous pelicans that inhabited the area around the Dnieper River the tavern was christened as such. 

Kiev was caught up in the turbulence of the Russian Revolution.  Kyriol Wypow wanted no part of the Soviet Union; of  communism. Therefore in 1920 or 1921 he packed his swag. Alone, he trekked his way south through Turkey, ending up in Australia. His first port of call was South Australia.  A few years later he wended his way up to south-east Queensland.

With his own hands, blood, sweat, and probably no tears, he personally built the tavern from the ground up. He was deservedly proud of his achievement.  He was married to a lovely lady who had her own hairdressing salon in the inner city.

Mr. Wypow was a fine, intelligent man.  And one I’ve always felt honoured to have known.  He taught me so much, and not only about cooking. His knowledge on most subjects was vast.

One day I approached my boss (of my day job) with a grand plan I’d concocted. Being agreeable to my idea he, in turn, approached Head Office in Sydney.  Without hesitation, they agreed to what we’d put before them. 

I believed I could do a better job for our promotional evenings than the commercial caterers who handled the company’s needs.

One is filled with bravado when one is younger!  Taking the dive off the deep end, my eyes were open, even if my heart was pounding.  But, I did believe in myself (as far as the catering was concerned, at least); and with that determination, in the first place, I refused to let myself down, or others thereafter!   I didn’t belly flop – thank goodness!

Under the banner of “John Galt Distributors” I would cater for the company’s future Brisbane promotional evenings.  No longer requiring the services of the catering company we had been using, I would purchase, prepare, serve, and then invoice our Sydney Head Office for the job performed.  The company would pay John Galt Distributors, which was, in fact, me.   

My little “company” was so named in honour of Ayn Rand’s protagonist in “Atlas Shrugged”.  Ayn Rand, herself, of course, in 1926 at the tender age of 21 years, moved to the United States from Russia.  She left her family behind, but over the ensuing years she made many attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the States, but permission was never granted for them emigrate.

I was on my way – still with many roads ahead - all of which at that point in time were still unknown - to explore, but on my way, nonetheless. Not in my wildest imagination would I’ve envisaged what lay ahead for me.

However, my first steps had been taken in the professional food industry...steps for which I would be paid, no less!   

So much to learn...and so much fun to be had in the learning...and doing.

Let the games begin!

Lamb Shashliks: Dice 500g lamb, into approx 1-1/2 inch square pieces.  Cut onions into wedges; separate the pieces of onion (the onion pieces should be about 1-inch to 1-1/2 inches in size). Cut a red capsicum, a green capsicum and a yellow capsicum into pieces about the same size as the lamb and onion.  You can also do similar to pieces of bacon, if you like. Combine the lamb, capsicums/peppers, onion, and bacon, if using, 3tbs olive oil, 4tsp finely chopped garlic, juice of 1 or 2 lemon and 3 rosemary sprigs together (or substitute white vinegar instead of the lemon and/or dry white wine; add some oregano, too.  Just make sure you’ve enough of the marinade to cover all ingredients.  My quantities are not exact quantities – I always make the shashliks without taking much notice of exact quantities – and I always make them using the white vinegar and white wine method – free-wheeler that I am). Season to taste  Cover and marinate overnight; or even for a day or two.  Thread ingredients, alternately onto metal BB! Skewers.  Place on grill; cook about 5mins...then turn over (the shashliks, that is, not you) and cook for a further 5-10mins, to your taste..