Saturday, July 22, 2017


The Silkwood Pub
A Section of the Johnstone Shire, North Queensland

Paronella Park, Mena Creek
Above and below...Paronella Park, Mena Creek

Sundown on the jetty at Cape Richards, Hinchinbrook Island...Goold Island in the background
Painted Crayfish
Orchid Beach, Cape Richards...the resort's main beach.. My little abode looked down on it to one side; and to the ocean across to Goold Island on the other.

Kurrimine Beach

Over the years I’ve lived in some beautiful areas throughout Queensland, not the least being Hinchinbrook Island and its mainland surrounds, north and south.

In the late Eighties, early Nineties friends of mine (earlier, in 1986, one of their daughters was a member of my staff at the resort on Hinchinbrook Island), having, in the late 1980s, moved to North Queensland from Brisbane – first to Cairns, and then a little later to Silkwood, a sugar cane area southwest of Innisfail.  For a time, prior to building a new home for themselves on acreage at nearby Japoonvale, they rented a house on a cane farm a couple of kilometres out of Silkwood

 “Just up the road a bit and around a corner or two” is a verdant, magnificent area called Mena Creek.  Its waterfall, natural pool, rope bridge and lush surrounding are perfect backdrops to the legendary, wondrously mystical Spanish castle that was built in the 1930s by José Paronella as a monument of love has been a tourist drawcard throughout the years.

In 1913, José, a Spanish immigrant from Catalonia ,arrived in Innisfail to start a new life for himself and the love of his life, Matilda. Matilda had remained behind in Spain while he went about setting up their future.  José became an Australian citizen eight years after he stepped Australian soil.  He diligently put his nose to the grindstone.

From his hard work, within little over a decade José became a wealthy man. He bought cane farms, improved them, and then sold them.  It was during this fruitful process he discovered the lush forest, waterway and waterfall at Mena Creek....the perfect answer to his dream.  Paronella purchased 13 acres of Heaven.

With a happy heart and a healthy bank balance, Paronella returned to Spain. Upon his return, to his dismay, he learned Matilda wearied from waiting for him. She, of little faith, had married another, leaving poor José momentarily stranded.

“Determination” was his second name.  With no intention of return to Australia without a bride, José married Matilda’s younger sister.  A year later, with an exciting future ahead of them, the newlyweds set off to Australia.

At first the couple lived in a stone cottage, but soon José set about fulfilling his dream of building a castle reminiscent of the Catalan castles of his former homeland.  Tennis courts, entertainment/refreshment areas, a picture theatre, staircases and a ballroom with mirror balls were incorporated into the grand structure. 

José Paronella planted thousands of trees in the already dense forest.   

In 1933, it was on this property that Queensland’s first hydro-electric plant was built.

After a few years of neglect and decay, it has been restored to its former beauty...and the story goes does Mena Creek’s Paronella Park. 

Ted, my head maintenance man when I was manager of the resort that once held pride of position at Cape Richards on Hinchinbrook Island originated from Silkwood, (Ted now lives back in the little township, enjoying his retirement years) often spent his time off,  spear-fishing in the waters off Murdering Point and Kurrimine Beach (other friends of mine owned and managed the Kurrimine Beach Motel…I had a wild week there one night helping them demolish their wine cellar, but that’s another story!), which is east of the highway, opposite Silkwood.

My staff and I benefited when Ted took time off, which, in fact, was rarely, because invariably he’d arrive back to the island with a large esky or two full of Painted Crayfish upon which we would dine in style in the staff room, away from the prying eyes of the island guests.
“Painted Crays are magnificently armed and brilliantly coloured. Because they are vegetarians, it’s only possible to catch them by nets or spearfishing.

After one of his trips to Silkwood and Kurrimine Beach, Ted returned to the island armed with a large esky full of large crays just in time for one of my staff members’ birthday.

Daina (correct spelling…pronounced “Day-na”) turned 18 the day of Ted’s return.
I was in the midst of arranging a party for her to be held at my little abode on the island. In my not-so-infinite-wisdom I had declared it to be a “Toga Party”!   

My little studio-style house was off-limits to everyone other than me and Ruska, my beloved ginger cat.  I was rarely there because most of my time, every day and every night, was spent over at the main building that housed the restaurant, cocktail bar, office, kitchen, cold-room, store-room, laundry etc.   I valued and protected my privacy and time alone when I was “home”.  And my staff respected my wishes.

David, my head chef, unburdened Ted of his load of painted crayfish. Wasting little time, David proceeded to prepare them for dinner...for the staff, not the resort feast upon.

No one was late for dinner that evening.  Pre-dinner drinks at the bar were even ignored as everyone eagerly gathered around the large staff  table, drooling , waiting for the festive feast.

The staff dinners were always held early...before the guests began to wander down to the bar and restaurant.  Everything was done fairly leisurely on the island...that was our style; that what people wanted once they realised it was a world unto itself...totally divorced from mainland style of living.

That evening our poor island guests didn’t partake in the same tasty fare we did, but “you don’t miss what you don’t have”...but I feel certain some of my staff couldn’t resist bragging!  

As soon as the staff dinner was completed my staff, those who were not on kitchen and table duties, rushed off to the laundry to clothe themselves in “togas” using the older stocks of bed sheets as substitutes for the real thing.

In the meantime, I played hostess to my guests, joining and chatting with them at their tables.

One by one, my “kids” (by habit, I often referred to my staff as “the kids”), chanting "Toga! Toga! Toga!" happily strolled through the restaurant area donned in their “togas”, en route to my house, much to the guests'  interest and amusement.

Laughter filled the night air.

The party-goers each made a detour to the bar, for a warm-up drink before progressing out of the restaurant to the track leading across to where the party was to be held.

To my surprise, the last two members of my staff to parade through the restaurant were Ted, followed soon after by my brother, Graham.  I’d not expected Ted to get dressed up, and I definitely hadn’t expected Graham to do so.  He, even more so than Ted, wasn’t a “group” party person; and, normally, he definitely was into fancy dress of any description. 

My mouth fell open in shock at the unexpected, hilarious sight before me.

At the appearance of Graham, the last toga-wearing renegade to walk through the dining area, I heard one of the guests exclaim good-humouredly;

 “There goes another one!”

Seeing my brother dressed in a “toga”, for one thing was surprise enough for me, but to see him strut through the restaurant with a wide grin on his face really “knocked me for a sixer”, as the saying goes!

Such a display was not his normal style. If you’d known my brother, you would understand.

Eventually, everyone gathered together on the deck overlooking the ocean at my little house.

I was the only “civilian” present, opting not to wear a “toga”.

Generously, knowing what was underway elsewhere, the resort guests didn’t linger long in the restaurant that night.  It wasn’t too long before the bar, restaurant and kitchen staff joined the party.

David, my chef, and the others who'd been on shift arrived armed with platters of tasty finger foods for us to nibble upon.

By the time they arrived, the party was well under way.  My staff were always "up" for a party, and never needed urging!  Every day was a party!

What a fun night we had.    

Ruska spent the night, sleeping on “our” bed, with one diligent eye on the high jinks going on out on the deck, a couple of metres away.

Daina and I are still friends.  She now lives at Japoonvale, near where her parents built their home.  These days she’s manager of Innisfail’s K-Mart store.   

She has never forgotten her 18th birthday spent on Hinchinbrook Island.

Where else could she have had such a feast of fresh painted crayfish for no cost, followed by a toga party to end all toga parties, accompanied by the sounds and view of the ocean on either side of the venue?

Thursday, July 13, 2017


The cat is out of the bag!  The truth has been revealed!  I can hide it no longer!  I am an ocker.  However, seeing I’m female, if you must insist in my being pedantic - if I must split hairs - I am an “ockeress”. I’m a bogan; a Gimp from Gympie; I even have the limp to prove it.  Satisfied?

I don’t sit with the ladies, straight of back, legs neatly posed and positioned correctly, while daintily sipping on Twinings tea-filled finest bone china gold-leaf antique tea cups from Royal Albert or his first cousin Royal Doulton, or their second cousin, Wedgwood – with my pinky appropriately poised, making delicate small talk. 

I’d be most welcome at, and more suited to the Mad Hatter’s tea party... hat or no hat; probably even the guest of honour.

Perhaps I should purchase a handbook of rules and hints, such as “How to Become a Lady for Dummies”... germane to the subject herein, I do declare.

All of the above freely-gifted information is not to say I’m not capable of mixing it with the best if the situation arose, or when it’s necessary for me to do so.  I learned at an early age the “rights” and “wrongs” of sipping and supping.

Also, another invaluable lesson I was taught when young, invaluable advice, was to be able to converse with anyone of any standing, from the Queen to a street-sweeper, and all in between. I've not met Liz, but I'm sure we'd get on like a palace on fire! (I've no desire to meet Camilla, so I shan't be inviting her to tea).

Often, my brother and I accompanied our Nana when she visited her cousin and her husband, who just happened to be Gympie’s top and sole tailor.  My brother and I called them “Aunty Annie” and “Uncle Joe”, but, as the experts explain in their most discerning ways, your relationship with your grandmother/grandfather’s cousin is similar to the relationship you have with your grandmother/grandfather.  

In simpler terms if you find yourself in this confusing position on the family tree – if you’re out on a limb - you are their first cousin twice removed. 

It was simpler to call Nana’s cousin and her husband, “Aunty” and “Uncle”, rather than complicate the situation further.  Young brains can only handle so much.

Aunty Annie and Uncle Joe lived in a lovely Federation-style home in Mellor Street, Gympie. Adjoining the stately home, to its left side was Uncle Joe’s tailoring business.

Quality, antique furniture and objets d’ art filled the home.  Beautifully-maintained gardens surrounded the house. A paved pathway in the back garden meandered leisurely between trimmed hedges, flower and vegetable beds. Large aviaries were dotted throughout, each standing well over seven feet high and double that or more in width.  A peacock or two often strutted free, much to my brother’s and my delight. Pigeons, finches, budgerigars, and other colourful bird varieties graced their large cages. Quails kept the bottom of the aviaries clean.  

Personally, I don’t like seeing caged birds, and would never consider keeping them so confined.   My enjoyment is to see our feathered friends fly freely at their own will. I have many that are my regular daily visitors.  We're on first name basis.

When I was a little girl, we did have “Sweetie”, a very melodious, yellow canary who kept us entertained with his wonderful whistling.  Also, for a few years, my brother, Graham put into practice what Uncle Joe had taught him, and he, Graham, built a large aviary in which he kept a variety of small birds, along with a pair of quails to do the housekeeping.

While I mostly spent our visits to Uncle Joe and Aunty Annie’s home sitting quietly, politely, genteelly sipping tea with milk and one sugar from one of Aunty Annie’s best bone china tea cups (secretly praying I’d not drop, chip or spill), my brother was in his element, out in the back garden with Uncle Joe learning everything there was to learn about plants and bird-keeping!
How unfair!  

All was not lost, I did learn how to behave myself when in company, how to sip and sit in a ladylike fashion.

On the flip-side, I also learned to enjoy certain unladylike sports, as my loud yell testified when I learned Australian professional boxer, Jeff Horn, from Acacia Ridge, a suburb of Brisbane had won his WBO Welterweight world title in his boxing match against Manny Pacquiao on the afternoon of the second Sunday in July, 2017. 
Pacquiao, from The Philippines, is considered by many aficionados of the sport to be one of the greatest boxers of all tim.  He has won 11 major world titles. Manny Pacquiao has also won titles over five different weight classes. 

Jeff Horn, (with not a tattoo on his body....I hate, hate, hate tattoos) when he was still an amateur, as a light-welterweight, reached the quarter-finals at the 2012 London Olympics.
Fortunately, my primal scream on Sunday 2nd didn’t shatter any bone china, or glass within hearing distance when Brisbane’s humble ex-school teacher Horn won against his most worthy opponent,

When we were kids, before the advent of television, as a family, we sat with our ears were glued to the radio listening to the big fight broadcasts. Aussie Jimmy Carruthers, bantamweight champion of the world, was a household name, as was the great Rocky Marciano, the unbeaten world heavyweight champion from the US.  

As a teenager, my brother was in the Gympie Police-Citizens Youth Club, part of the boxing group, and from what I was told by a member of Gympie’s police force at the time, a John Landy, that my brother showed great promise and was very good at the sport, but during competition Graham’s nerves came into play, forcing him to battle two opponents.  (For five years after leaving high school at the age of 15, I was employed by a Gympie law firm as a legal secretary; the office, of course, had many dealings with the “Men in Blue”).

I’ve written previously that our father played no part in our lives, ever, other than planting his seed.  He and our mother separated, and divorced, when Graham and I were very young.  (In fact, our parents separated when our mother was pregnant with me).

Joe Nicholson, our biological father, I learned only about eight years ago, was, back in the 1930, the Central Queensland boxing champion.  He was born and raised in Rockhampton, on the Capricornia Coast. 

I don’t know what weight class he was in, but he was being considered to be a representative in the Australian Olympic boxing team.  However, his mother, our grandmother, a feisty little Irish lady who’d immigrated, with our grandfather, from County Armagh, Northern Island in the early years of the 1900s, apparently put up her own fight; put her foot down, and firmly, declared she believed her son, Joseph, to be far too young to go off across the ocean to do battle in a boxing ring, Olympics or no Olympics!  And, that was that...Mother had spoken!

So the story goes...and then the Second World War loomed, and all thoughts of further representation at future Olympics and boxing tournaments hit the canvas.

One of the sad things about this story - if one looks at it that way - is my brother Graham passed away in 1996, and he was never aware of it.   

However, knowing my brother so well, I feel certain he would have turned his nose up about it, stating he couldn’t give a damn.  He’d drawn a firm, thick, unbreakable line through the paternal side of our family. He wasn’t interested, or on the outer, he displayed disinterest, in anything to do with the clan Nicholson.

I was thrilled a few years ago when briefly, very briefly, I chatted with Joe Bugner, the Hungarian-born, British-Aussie former heavyweight boxer, and actor. Bugner moved to Australia in 1986. For a while in the late 90s and early 2000s he lived and ran a business here on Tamborine Mountain. He and his wife (singer, Tom Jones was their Best Man) left the hill, and now live on the Gold Coast.

One day, a couple of years after I came to live here, while purchasing a bottle of wine at a local bottle shop, I’d bumped into the towering Joe Bugner!  

Oops!  Being a lady, I apologised, and we had a brief, polite chat.

Tea-Smoked Duck: Heat 2c water, 1/4c salt, 2 pears, quartered, 4 crushed cardamom pods, 6 crushed juniper berries and 4 crushed cloves until salt has dissolved. Remove from heat; add 2c ice; stir until cool. Make cross-hatch pattern on skin side of 2 duck breasts. Place in cold brine; chill overnight; remove breasts from brine; pat dry. Place Dutch oven over med-high heat. When hot, add breasts skin side down. Fat will render quickly; gradually pour off fat; When crust begins to develop on breasts, and they’re slightly charred, remove; pour off fat, leaving a little, if desired; drop 3tbs loose-leaf green tea into the Dutch oven, over the heat. Cover 30secs; open quickly not to let out too much smoke; replace breasts, flesh side down. Cover; sear 2mins; quickly open; turn breast to skin side down; re-cover; sear 2mins for med-rare. When cooked, slice on bias into strips; serve with cranberry compote, pea shoots and sweet potatoes roasted in duck fat.

Matcha-Zucchini Noodles: Cook 240g matcha green tea soba noodes in boiling salted water, according to directions; drain.  Julienne 1 or 2 medium zucchinis into long noodles; then place in colander; salt well. Drain over bowl, 20mins. Heat 3tbs olive oil in pan over med-heat; add 1tbs grated fresh ginger and 3 grated garlic cloves; fry 2-3mins; stir constantly; remove from heat; stir in 2tsp sesame oil, 2tbs honey, 2tbs soy sauce and juice from 1 lemon; stir until smooth sauce is formed; add to noodles; toss to coat.

Matcha Vanilla Pound Cake:  Combine about 3c plain flour, 1tsp baking powder, 1/2tsp baking soda, 2tbs matcha powder and 1/2tsp salt. Place 2c sugar, 3/4c softened butter and 1tsp vanilla extract in bowl: beat on med-speed until light and fluffy; add 3 large eggs, one at a time, beat well after each addition.  Add flour and 1-1/3c buttermilk to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Spoon batter into a couple of greased loaf pans; bake in preheated 175C oven, 40 mins or so. Cool in pans 10mins; then cool completely on racks.  

Wednesday, July 05, 2017


Cedar Pocket (above and below)
Photography by revered landscape photographer, Steve Parish
None other, of course, than Dame Edna...aka Barry Humphries

Stop! Please!  Sit on your hands!  For Heaven’s sake, don’t take me literally!  Don’t do as I say! The best advice I can give you is not to start patting the cakes in the bakery, or in the supermarket. Doing so won’t make you very popular.  As I’m not speaking from hands-on experience, I imagine you wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms if you did.  
Honestly - cross my heart (and hope not to die) - I do NOT go around patting cakes. 

Back in the days I had freckles sprinkled across my nose and pigtails swinging in the breeze, when I had a doll named “Patty”, frequently I visited my friend’s home at Cedar Pocket, via Gympie. My friend’s parents owned and operated a dairy farm. Cedar Pocket was, and still is, a lush dairy farming area.

During my visits to the farm I stepped around many cow patties.   Doing so was far better than stepping on one, particularly if it was still moist and warm. 

There was a lot of dodging patties when we were running about the paddocks rounding up the cows, or when we kicked our imagination into high gear while pretending we were riding the ranges; circling the wagons, dodging arrows being fired by marauding “red injuns”.   In general, being heroes for one day

If, perchance, you’re wondering, with fancy footwork and speedy sidesteps I managed to evade the arrows, as well as the cow patties, and I lived to tell the tale.

Years later, however, I wasn’t averse to collecting cow patties.  No bull...if you stick around, I’ll tell you why.  

Once upon a time, for a number of years, I lived and worked in areas within the Bowen Basin and other places in North Queensland, information I have previously divulged, many times over.

A member of my menagerie in those days, which also included my two cats, Pushkin and Rimsky, was Missy, a cocky black and grey Cocker Spaniel, who reminded me, in some ways, of Dame Edna Everage, minus the decorative reading glasses and the gladdies aka gladiolus. 

I’m not sure if Missy and Dame Edna were related, but Missy often acted as if she was! 

Presently, the world is celebrating fifty years since The Beatles released “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, but what we should be celebrating is the wonderful Dung Beetle.

Sure, the now-elusive Christmas Beetles, with their iridescent coloured carapace, are much-admired – and rightly so for shining brightly, but on the highest flung rung of usefulness the mighty Dung Beetle perches.   

Even Steve Parish, the much-lauded Australian nature photographer, publisher and author of books for adults and children, honoured this wonderful critter in his book, namely -“Doug the Dung Beetle”. 

Sadly, I don’t have a copy sitting on any of my bookshelves. 

However, more than once, on a day off, if I wasn’t taking it easy reading a book and listening to music – and not cooking for the masses etc., I most likely could be found rummaging around a nearby cattle station, out of sight of the property owners, but more importantly, out of view and charging distance of Ferdinand the Bull...head of the herd and harem. 

By the way, I never wore red when I was out and about scrounging dung from the paddocks. 

The important little Dung Beetles from the far-flung fields were what I was after.
After having gathered together enough dried cow patties, I’d bring them home – in a heavy-duty garbage bag - and then, I’d scatter the pats around the back yard of wherever I was living at the time.

The clever little beetles, without fuss or ado - or demands for payment or rewards for their service, did what they were created to do.  

Because of their generous, selfless deed I never ever had to worry about Missy’s waste material.  It was all in a day’s work for complaints.

Everyone was happy, including the lawn and garden.  

I suppose in the mind of others there are more fun things to do on one’s day off than gathering cow patties, but freely I admit I enjoyed my pat-a-cake collecting; out in the fresh air; roaming the paddocks... circumventing the bulls... 

Red Lentil-Pumpkin Patties: Cook 1c red lentils approx 10mins, or until tender, split open, but not completely broken down; drain; cool. Heat oven 200C.  Peel and slice ½ butternut pumpkin; coat with a little olive oil; roast 20-25mins; cool; slice into small chunks, about 2cm in diameter. Combine lentils, pumpkin, finely-chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1tsp smoked paprika, 1tsp cayenne, 1-1/2tbs plain or rice flour and chopped coriander or parsley. Shape into 4 patties; chill 30mins. Heat a little oil in pan; fry patties about 4mins per side. Serve with salad.

Quinoa-Broccoli Patties: Cook 1/2c quinoa in 1c boiling water; bring to boil; let simmer 15mins. Once water is absorbed, put on plate; cool completely. Sauté 1 small onion, diced, until soft; cool. Cook 5 large broccoli florets until softened a little; cool; dice into small pieces. Mix everything together; add 1 large egg; season; mix well; add 1/4c shredded cheese. Form into patties. Heat olive oil in pan; cook,7-8mins per side over med-heat.

Kumara-Kale-Chicken Patties: Heat pan on med-high heat with 1tsp x-virgin olive oil or coconut oil; add 2-3 shallots finely chopped; cook 3-5mins. Add ½ medium kumara, cut into tiny cubes; cook until barely tender.  Add 2-1/2c finely chopped kale leaves; cook 2-3mins.  Add 450g skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks to processor; pulse until ground. Transfer to bowl; add 1/2tsp salt, 1 minced garlic clove, 1tsp paprika, 1tsp Dijon mustard, 1tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary, 1 egg and 2tbs coconut flour; add kumara mix; combine with your hands. Cover; chill 4hrs or overnight. Divide into 6 or 7 patties. Coat pan with a little oil; add patties; cook until golden, 5-6mins; flip; cook until golden and cooked.