Sunday, March 31, 2019

Woolworths Supermarkets Appear Hell-Bent on Destroying Life in Rural Australia

Ten years ago this month, I moved my family to Barham. I had built up a little weekend clientele in Barham while completing my Diploma of Remedial Massage in Echuca and figured a few months in Barham with my friends, Ilka and Simon Oster, would be fun before the boys and I returned to our home near Hay.

Six weeks after arriving, we rented and moved into a beautiful and much-loved family home on the river, Willow Bend in Teddy’s Lane. The months went by and the boys settled into school at Barham Primary. Thanks to the support from the local community, my new massage therapy business, Rosedale Health and Wellbeing, flourished and thoughts of returning to Hay began to fade.

Fast forward to 2019 and I while I will always have a soft spot for Hay and its community, I now well and truly regard Barham as my home. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to live and work in such a beautiful part of the world and to have raised my three sons here; I find our local community supportive and inclusive. 

While poor seasons and even poorer government water policies have badly impacted our farmers and in turn all of us, Barham has continued to bat well above its average for a little country town. We have a diverse range of quality shops, restaurants, pubs, numerous accommodation options, clubs and sporting facilities, schools, hospital, medical clinic, pharmacy and two excellent supermarkets.

A couple of weeks ago, a post shared locally on Facebook greatly disturbed me. The post was shared widely throughout our greater district along the Murray from Echuca to Swan Hill. This post was advertising that Woolworths Kerang was now offering online shopping with delivery for a fee. And would deliver to numerous locations, including Koondrook, Barham and Cohuna. 

Within a very short amount of time from that post being put up, the Woolies delivery van could be spotted on the streets of our town. That white delivery van with the Woolworths insignia and the people who choose to support it could well herald the retail decimation of our community. 

Never has it been so important to “shop local” in rural Australia. If we want our town to be a vibrant, healthy community then we have to support its businesses. These businesses in turn, support us. In particular, I want to highlight our two supermarkets, Barham IGA and Barham Foodworks. Both supermarkets are owned and run by local families. Both supermarkets provide employment stability and flexible working hours to many local adults as well as providing an excellent start for our district teenage children in the form of after school hours work. This is a fabulous grounding for our children’s future, teaching them: commitment, responsibility, reliability, punctuality, team work, social skills and interacting with a diverse range of people and at the same time, providing an opportunity for our children to begin managing their own finances. 

Woolworths is a massive multinational supermarket spread throughout Australia and New Zealand and owned by the ASX listed public company, Woolworths Group Limited (well known for “screwing” farmers but I digress…) and while I acknowledge, its Kerang store provides employment for many people who live in Kerang it is not a business that supports our Barham community to my knowledge. Every business in our twin towns of Barham and Koondrook, are regularly asked for donations towards local noble causes (our schools, various sporting clubs, hospital, nursing home, local not-for-profit organisations etc) and pretty well every local business I know, contributes in some way, shape or form throughout the year.

And while I’m not immune to out-of-town shopping myself, I do not and will not make a specific trip out of town to shop.

I enjoy supporting our local businesses and in particular my numerous-times-a-week trips to our supermarkets, I appreciate how fortunate we are to have the variety and quality of produce at our convenience, I enjoy the social interaction as I cruise down the aisles and a smile and a chat with whoever happens to be manning the checkout. 

Imagine for a moment, our town minus its supermarkets. Imagine our main streets lined with empty shops. Imagine our children with no part-time, after-school-hours job opportunities.

Will that white delivery van with the Woolworths insignia, fill that void? 

Is this (imagined) town, with no supermarkets and empty shops a town you would like to raise your children in? Is this a town you would like to start a business in? Is this a town you would like to retire in? Is this a town you would like to visit and holiday in? 

Each and every one of us has a role to play in the long-term health of our local town and community and it starts with a commitment to do the majority of our everyday shopping in town.

Annie Barr

Monday, May 23, 2016

An Eighteenth Birthday and an Excellent Adventure

The day of Max's 18th birthday - Max and I swimming with a whale shark.                        Photo: Leith Holtzman

A few weeks ago, just after lunch on a Friday, Max and I headed off on our excellent adventure to celebrate his eighteenth birthday. Instead of a birthday party or material present, my gift to Max would be some lifetime memories.

The itinerary, somewhat to his frustration, was a complete secret from Max and I, somewhat to my amusement, only revealed it bit by bit as we went along. We drove straight to Tullamarine airport near Melbourne and boarded a plane to the other side of the country.

The first part of our excellent adventure was a weekend in Perth. We caught up with cousins Warwick and Thelma in Dalkeith and our friends, Jen and Iain near the Swan Valley.
Max with Thelma and Warwick

Max with Jenny and Iain

Late on Monday morning we flew off on the next leg of our journey; a two-hour flight to Exmouth, 1,253km north of Perth, where we would spend the next four days.

Situated near the northern end of Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth is a base for people wanting to see one of the world’s largest fringing coral reefs. Teeming with marine life, the underwater world of Ningaloo is famous for its whale sharks and one of the few places in the world you can swim with them.

Monday afternoon we settled into our self-contained accommodation at the Exmouth Escape Resort; did a grocery shop at the local Exmouth IGA supermarket and booked ourselves onto a charter fishing boat for the following day.

Just after 7.30am the next morning Max and I and a dozen or more other people, boarded the Blue Horizon Charters’ 60-foot fishing boat for a day of fishing, or in my case, observing.

There was no shortage of fish but there was also no shortage of sharks... within twenty minutes or less of finding a good fishing spot, the sharks moved in and chomped up the fish before we could land them onto the boat. Exciting to watch but no good if you’re trying to catch your dinner! Unluckily for Max, twice he hooked big spangled emperor fish (that would have been just perfect for Tuesday Night Dinner) and twice a great big lemon shark relieved him of his catch.
The lemon shark, munching on Max's fish!

The next day was Max’s birthday and I had planned our whole Excellent Adventure around it. Months earlier I had booked both of us onto a full day tour with Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours to swim with the mighty whale sharks.

Arriving every year from March until August to feed in the plankton rich waters of Ningaloo, these enormous sharks are the biggest fish in the sea… and fortunately for Max and I, "filter feeders" and harmless to people.

Marine biologists and our instructors for the day, Zoe and Sasha, arrived at our accommodation at 7.15am and drove us out to the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp on the western side of the North West Cape. From here we, along with about eighteen other keen swimmers, were taken out in a tender to the Magellan, our boat for the day.

Max and I were put into Zoe’s group and she was a font of information about the whale sharks and the reef in general.

We were fitted up with a pair of goggles, snorkel and fins and given instructions on whale shark swimming etiquette: a maximum of ten swimmers in the water at any one time (plus Zoe, our spotter/instructor and Leith the photographer/videographer) we weren’t to swim in front of their mouths (in case we were inadvertently swallowed), to keep a minimum of three metres from the side of their bodies and a minimum of four metres away from their tails.

A practice snorkel on the reef ironed out any equipment glitches and gave us our first glimpse of the magical underwater world we would be in for the day. A multitude of different coloured fish of all shapes and sizes swam in and out of the coral around us and Max caught sight of a large turtle cruising past.

Once everyone felt confident with their snorkelling ability, it was back onto the Magellan and we headed out into the deeper water, where the whale sharks would be found. With a spotter plane overhead searching, it wasn’t long before Bill, our skipper received a call on the radio from the pilot, directing him to the closest whale shark.

Our group quickly assembled on the marlin board of the boat and seconds later we were in the water, swimming in a line next to Zoe who directed us to put our faces into the water and look down about five metres to our right.

Out of the dark blue deep water came a sight I will never forget: a huge spotted whale shark about seven or eight metres long, glided silently up towards us.
Max and I, swimming with a whale shark.                                                      Photo: Leith Holtzman

The whale shark set a gentle pace, swimming smoothly and effortlessly through the crystal clear water, seemingly oblivious to us as we swam along beside it. I found it difficult to judge just how close we were in the water and a number of times I felt as though I could have easily touched it, if I had stretched out my hand only slightly.

It was truly a sight to behold.
Me, swimming with a whale shark.                                                            Photo: Leith Holtzman

After what felt like a good swim, maybe ten or fifteen minutes (I had no idea of the time), we swam back to the Magellan and the second group had their swim with the whale shark. We kept swapping like this for the duration of our whale shark swimming experience. All up, we were lucky enough to swim with three different whale sharks and a total of about six or seven swims.
Max and I, in the water with the whale shark.                                                    Photo: Leith Holtzman

The second whale shark we swam with was a young male, about five metres long. He set quite a pace and we were all feeling pretty puffed by the time we got back to the boat. Our last deep water swim for the day was with an enormous whale shark, over nine metres long at Zoe’s estimation. I felt completely overawed by this huge, gentle shark as it dived down and disappeared into the dark blue water below us.
Max and I, after our whale shark swimming experience.

Back on the boat we motored out of the deep water and back through a break in the reef to the calm waters of the lagoon where we enjoyed our lunch of cold meats and delicious salads and then afterwards, snorkelling amongst the corals and brightly coloured fish.

As we made our way home, the sharp eyes of one of the crew spotted an ornate eagle ray; a large spotted and striped ray with a very long, 12-foot tail, classed as rare and endangered. Cameraman, Leith quickly got into the water to capture the ray on film. He said afterwards, it was like winning the underwater photo lottery and there had been less than a dozen sightings of the ornate eagle ray in Australian waters.
Ornate Eagle Ray                                                            Photo: Leith Holtzman

Before we arrived back at the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp, the crew from Kings has one final surprise – a beautiful dark, rich chocolate birthday cake for Max – a yummy end to a memorable day.
Our tour group on the Magellan                                                           Photo: Leith Holtzman

The next day Max and I hired snorkel gear from the Exmouth Visitors Centre and drove out to Turquoise Bay in the Cape Range National Park. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the “drift snorkel”.
Max at Turquoise Bay, Cape Range National Park

Starting at one end of the beach, we swam out into a current that allowed us to drift over the coral and get out at the other end of the beach. I felt as though we were on the magical film set of Finding Nemo. There were so many different types of colourful fish swimming around the coral…  I was relieved we didn’t see any sharks.

On the drive back through the national park we came across a large dingo chasing down a small kangaroo. The kangaroo didn’t stand a chance and the dingo killed it within seconds, right in front of our car; no doubt a welcome meal for the dingo.

The third and final part of our Excellent Adventure was a trip out to Hyden for a short weekend with our friends Astrid, Andy and their son, Max M.

Hyden is a small rural town, 323km east, south-east of Perth in Western Australia’s “Wheatbelt”. Two years ago, Max had flown west and stayed with Astrid and Andy for two weeks work experience in their family run business, The Ag Shop.

Andy met us at the airport on Friday afternoon, along with Astrid, who had just flown in from the eastern states. It was a happy surprise for Max, who had no idea we were going to Hyden for the final leg of our Excellent Adventure. On the way back to Hyden we collected Max M from his boarding school at Narrogin.

Hyden is famous for it’s geological feature the granite inselberg, Hyden Rock and in particular, the northern side, known as Wave Rock. Shaped like a tall, breaking ocean wave, it is around 14m high and 110m long. After a tour of The Ag Shop on Saturday morning, Astrid, the two Maxs and I drove out to see Wave Rock.
The two Maxs at Wave Rock, Western Australia
Max, Max M, Andy and Astrid

Sunday was our final day of Excellent Adventuring: back in the car to Perth, onto a plane to Melbourne and then back into the Barrmobile to Barham – all up, a total of 3,350km for the day. Home before midnight, safe and sound and with memories to last a lifetime. Happy Birthday Max!
Max and I at Wave Rock, near Hyden Western Australia

Annie Barr

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Parenting, P Plates and the Next Step

Max with his ute when he gained his "L" plates... independence just one short year away.

A disturbing event occurred in my life last year… back in August 2015, my eldest son, Max, graduated from learner driver on "L" plates to probationary driver on "P" plates. Unbeknown to me, those little plastic square plates with a bright, red “P” stamped on them would change our family dynamics and herald a new chapter in my parenting life.

With a weekend job bringing in a handy income and an old Ford ute bought from his uncle, suddenly Max was independent. No longer did he have to rely on me to get him where he wanted to go.

I found the change unsettling.

After years of single parenting, I was used to calling the shots, making the decisions and making things happen in general. Overnight I had to adapt to relaxing my control, trust Max to make good decisions and hope like hell my way of parenting had laid a solid foundation for Max to step out into the adult world.

Just as I was adapting to having an independent teenager in the house, Max upped the ante in December by announcing his intention to leave school before finishing Year 12, got himself a job three hours away and promptly left home.

It’s a cliché, I know, but it really does seem like only yesterday I was teaching Max to ride his pushbike without training wheels or holding his hand to cross the street.

Next month Max turns eighteen and to celebrate this milestone, the two of us are heading off on an excellent adventure for a week or so. Realistically, I see it as the last opportunity I have to kidnap him and spend time together, just the two of us, before he disappears completely into that exciting, parent-free world that is young adulthood.

Instead of shouting him a party or giving him a material present, my gift to Max will be some lifetime memories that (hopefully) won’t give him a hangover or be discarded at the bottom of his wardrobe.

Annie Barr

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My Personal Weight Loss Experiment

An example of my new style of eating: low carbohydrate, healthy fat.

Four years ago, in February 2012, I completed a 27-day juice fast. I felt fantastic and documented my little experiment here. I maintained my weight easily enough for the next year or so but then as I entered my mid 40s the weight started to creep up again.

My weight gain started innocently enough. Following the successful completion of my first ever Great Victorian Bike Ride in late 2013, an epic cycling journey of more than 610km, I decided to reward myself with a “calorie amnesty”.

I ate and drank my way through the festive season that summer with gay abandon; avocado on several of pieces of toast every morning for breakfast, a big bowl of last night’s risotto for lunch, working days often concluded with a packet of kettle chips, a selection of dips accompanied with half a packet or more of water crackers and a generous glass of wine or three down on the riverbank before a substantial serving of dinner. In hindsight this was not one of my finest ideas.

By the end of that summer, I’d gained 5kg and my appetite had increased considerably, to the point where I always felt hungry. Initially, I had optimistically thought the weight gain may have been muscle. You know, from all that bike riding.

It was the arrival of winter 2014 and my winter wardrobe that dispelled any illusions the extra weight might have been muscle. Muscle does not bulge over the top of your jeans like… like the top of a banana muffin!

Admitting to myself that I needed to trim down and actually doing anything about it were two different things but I did try.

I decreased my alcoholic drinks and increased my exercise… and swapped kettle chips for dark chocolate, all the while allowing myself generous servings of pasta, rice and wholegrain bread because I was a cyclist riding anywhere between 100 and 200km per week and I needed carbohydrates, right? I gained yet more weight in 2015.

Last month, despite the fact I had added swimming three times a week to my exercise regime, I topped my scales at 72kg - proving to myself you cannot out exercise a bad diet or even a good diet that is far too generous in portion sizes. I had begun to feel quite self-conscious about how I looked… and how my clothes no longer fitted me. I decided to get serious about losing the weight.

First of all I wanted to do some research into weight loss diets to try and figure out what would work best? Unfortunately, weight loss diets are renown for their long-term failure rate.

It’s all very well replacing meals with “diet shakes” and smoothies or dramatically cutting out whole food groups for short-term weight loss but if you go back to your previous eating pattern once you’ve reached your target weight, the excess weight comes straight back on, plus a bit more.

I was confident my general diet was pretty healthy and I certainly wasn't slack in the exercise department but I always felt hungry and ate far too much; far more than my body really needed.

A good mindset, I felt would be essential for losing the excess weight and I allowed myself nearly the whole of January to just think about a healthy eating plan. To help keep myself accountable, I also told my family and many of my friends and clients that I would be beginning my personal experiment into weight loss on Sunday 31st January.

The more I read, the more convinced I became that the amount of carbohydrates and refined sugars in my diet were the principal cause of my hunger and weight gain.

My personal weight loss experiment began with a 5-day juice fast; every morning I juiced a variety of fruits and vegetables to drink throughout the day. For the next five days I continued on with the juice but added an avocado and/or boiled egg, a small portion of meat and vegetables and some dairy in the form of cheese or plain yogurt. By this stage I’d read a considerable amount of information on low-carb/healthy fat diets (LCHF) and the similarly principled Paleo diet and I was encouraged by what I’d learnt.

I gave up alcohol, tea and almost all coffee and refined sugar for the month of February.

As the weight started to come off, my appetite decreased and my energy levels started to increase. The less carbohydrates and refined sugar I ate, the less hungry I felt.

Within four short weeks, I have lost 4kg and amazingly, my symptoms from primary lymphoedema (excessive swelling in my lower legs, ankles and feet), have all but disappeared. Some long-term aches and pains that I had put down to aging have noticeably reduced and my skin looks clearer.

I’m still fine tuning my general diet and will write an update in a couple of months time to let you know how I’m going and what I’ve learnt but without doubt the biggest difference for me has been from dramatically reducing the amounts of carbohydrates and refined sugars I consume. I no longer feel hungry all the time, I feel clear-headed and my energy levels have increased. I’m happy with that!

There's nothing like some before and after photos when it comes to weight loss:
Not a recent photo but how my feet, ankles and lower legs typically look by the end of the day

What my feet, ankles and lower legs looked like the other night (21.2.2016)!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

MicroAdventure: Cycling the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail

View from the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail

The week before last, I had the opportunity to slip away for a two-day MicroAdventure with my bike-riding buddy, Trish. We loaded up our bikes onto the back of Trish’s car after breakfast on Tuesday and headed across to Beechworth in north-eastern Victoria.

Shortly before arriving in the historic and well-preserved 1853 gold-mining town of Beechworth, I made good use of my role as Designated Passenger by Googling a suitable spot for lunch.

After reading one reviewer’s description of the pizzas at The Bridge Road Brewers (the double smoked ham, cheese and mushroom pizza allegedly better than sex…), I suggested to Trish that a MicroAdventure should undoubtedly begin at a MicroBrewery.

The Bridge Road Brewers operates out of 150-year-old stables, once owned by Hiram Allen Crawford of Crawford & Co, a major horse and coach enterprise in northern Victoria during the 1800s.
A selection of the Bridge Road Brewers' beer and cider

Beer and pizza, a match made in heaven and the perfect carbohydrate combination to fuel an afternoon’s cycling expedition.

Naturally, I chose a double-smoked ham, cheese and mushroom pizza to accompany my large glass of Beechworth Pale Ale and for dessert, a rich chocolate mousse and strong caffeine-fuelled latte.

Tempting though it was to curl up and have a nap after lunch, we resisted, unloaded our bikes and set off on a 46km ride along the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.

The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail has over 100km of high-quality sealed off-road trail, stretching from Milawa through to Wangaratta, from Wangaratta you can peddle to Myrtleford or turn off at Everton and head uphill to Beechworth. From Myrtleford you can peddle on up to Bright in the Victorian high country.

Our post pizza ride took us downhill from Beechworth to Everton and along to the site of what was once the Tarrawingee Railway Station, towards Wangaratta. At this point we had cycled an idyllic 23km of gloriously smooth downhill, past bright, golden wattles and lush farm paddocks in the winter sunshine… at which point, Trish suggested we might like to bike back. Uphill. All the way to Beechworth…

By the time we reached the outskirts of town, the sun was setting and I felt quite sure my beer, pizza, chocolate mousse and latte had all been thoroughly metabolised by my body.
The welcome sight of Beechworth after our 46km ride
Cycling the rail trail mid-week, towards the end of July, (when it might snow), almost guarantees you will enjoy the trail to yourself. One solitary cyclist whizzed past us on the return journey. It is truly a magical route for bike riding and so relaxing, knowing you aren’t about to be inadvertently run over by a motorist.

After enjoying long, hot showers, Trish and I were ready to locate a suitable dining location for dinner… but not just any dinner. It was Tuesday night and Tuesday Night Dinner is a weekly occasion in my house; one that I often spend hours concocting in my head and then preparing. My first two choices for dinner weren’t open on a Tuesday, dagnabbit! So I decided to turn to Facebook friend and senior food writer for The Age newspaper, Richard Cornish, for advice.

Richard’s Tuesday night dinner in Beechworth recommendations were either Tanswell’s Hotel or the Indian restaurant.

It was a cold night (-2°C) so Indian was tempting but the thought of a good red and some nourishing pub grub won out.

Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel was established in 1853 and is located right next door to The Bridge Road Brewers.

I chose the oven baked gnocchi with leek and blue cheese as my main meal (after my last MicroAdventure, Trish insisted I stay away from steak, saying, "You are not going to be medevaced out on my watch!") and Trish, on the waiter’s recommendation, chose the lasagne with salad and we washed our meals down with a bottle of Cofield Sparkling Shiraz from Rutherglen.

Fried and flaming quince ice cream
For dessert, I enjoyed the fried quince ice cream, theatrically set alight by our attentive and helpful waiter, with generous lashings of calvados (apple brandy). Trish was very pleased with her choice of pear, chocolate and walnut tart with crème anglaise.

Although I enjoyed my gnocchi, I will confess to a certain degree of food envy after sampling Trish’s lasagne. Its exquisite flavour was so exceptional that I went and thanked the chef personally after dinner and asked him how he made it.

Tanswells' chef extraordinaire, David
Chef David explained his lasagne recipe was inspired by the teachings of world famous Italian chef and restaurateur, Massimo Bottura, owner of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in the northern Italian city of Modena.

David told me that Massimo is not a fan of the southern Italian lasagne recipes with their minced meat, mozzarella or tomatoes (the style commonly cooked in Australia); instead, prefers the northern Italian version made with a slow-cooked, hand-chopped meat ragu (with no tomato) and besciamella (béchamel sauce) in layers between egg pasta sheets with some grated parmigianoreggiano cheese on top.

After dinner, Trish and I walked back to our room at the Carriage Motor Inn, turned the split system up to 30°C to combat the subzero outside temperature and promptly went to sleep.
Many Beechworth businesses are going out of their way to welcome cyclists - smart marketing!

Our second and final day of our MicroAdventure began with a substantial breakfast at the So Simple Café and some excellent coffee. Having already loaded up the bikes, we drove back down to Everton, parked the car and rode our bikes towards Myrtleford. It was a relatively easy ride, with a bit of a climb up to Taylor’s Gap before descending to Gapsted and on to Myrtleford.

Pygmy possum? Marsupial mouse?
Refuelling in Myrtleford on yet more excellent coffee and a warm, fresh-from-the-oven, raspberry muffin at Coffee Chakra, we got back on our bikes and peddled all the way back to Everton, a 55km round trip. Along the way we saw a couple of echidnas, something that may have been either a marsupial mouse or pygmy possum, numerous kangaroos and wallabies, fresh wombat tracks leading to a large, cavernous wombat hole and a great variety of birdlife.
Yellow-Tufted Honeyeater

Female King Parrot?

Arriving back at Everton, we loaded the bikes onto Trish’s car, having completed a total of just over 100km of bike riding for the two days. Heading home via Beechworth, we decided that no trip to Beechworth would be complete without visiting the famous Beechworth Bakery and a hot chicken pie each was the perfect conclusion to our day’s ride.
The bakery that put Beechworth on the map

Driving back into Barham that night, a mere 36 hours since we began our MicroAdventure, I felt completely recharged and as though I had been away and holidaying for more than a week. Perfect.

Annie Barr

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

MicroAdventure to the Flinders Ranges

Flinders Ranges, South Australia

My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." – Forrest Gump

Last Sunday night, my son Sam and I watched the 1994 classic film Forrest Gump - three days later I was heading off with my youngest son, Henry, on a microadventure to the Flinders Ranges in the South Australian Outback.

An ancient mountain range beginning almost 400km north of Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges have been on my “To Visit” list since 1996 when I travelled from Adelaide to Broken Hill via the Barrier Highway. Looking up to the north from the town of Peterborough, I felt drawn towards the landscape and made a note to return one day.

Suffering from parental guilt over the fact that I hadn’t organised any family time during the school holidays, I quickly cancelled out three days for a mini-break with the boys… only to have Max and Sam decline my invitation to visit the South Australian Outback… a ten hour drive wasn’t their idea of fun. However, twelve-year-old Henry was excited and suggested that he and I head off together.

Loading up the Barrmobile the night before with our swags, food and water, Henry and I motored out of Barham at 5.35 the next morning. Driving along in the early morning darkness we admired the almost full moon and the celestial conjunction of planets Venus and Jupiter, low in the sky.

Our first stop was a brief pause at the McDonald’s drive thru in Swan Hill – Henry felt a bacon and egg McMuffin would make a trip to the outback more sustainable.

We arrived at 27 Deakin Café and Good Food Store in Mildura before 9am for my breakfast of smoked salmon and avocado on a hash brown accompanied with excellent coffee and Henry’s second breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup along with a delicious mug of hot chocolate.

Our next stop was a few hours down the road at the historic South Australian town of Burra. Settled in 1845 and home to one of the world’s largest copper mines until 1877. Today Burra is a pastoral centre for the surrounding sheep stations and one of the best-preserved Victorian era towns in Australia.
Burra Police Station 1879 - 1971

We wandered through one of several antique shops, photographed some of the old stone buildings and Henry selected a nutritious bag of butter mints from The Burra Lolly Shop before we headed north along the Barrier Highway.

Further along the road I received a phone call from my friend, Fleur. She and her family were traveling through the Flinders Ranges with a group of friends from Hay. They had left a couple of days ahead of us and had been through Broken Hill and Yunta and were now at Wilpena Pound.

I said we were heading to Hawker and depending on daylight, we may even make it to Wilpena Pound to camp for the night. Fleur replied that they were staying on Baratta Station, about an hour or two’s drive east of Hawker which was possibly too far out of the way for me but perhaps we could meet up in Hawker?

Shortly afterwards we both lost phone range.

Henry and I drove on through Peterborough, Black Rock and Orroroo, the sun was heading rapidly towards the horizon and we still had over 100km to cover to reach the town of Hawker.

Consulting my well-worn 1995 edition of The Australian Motoring Companion, I discovered Baratta Station marked on the map about 80 or 90km north east of the next town we were passing through, Carrieton.

Feeling we had Buckley’s Chance of catching Fleur, Hamish and the rest of the Hay crew before they left Hawker, and knowing we had plenty of fuel, water and food on board, I decided to try my luck at finding Baratta Station.
A beautiful drive into the unknown

We had a beautiful drive in the failing light, down a rocky dirt road and I stopped a number of times to take photographs of the landscape and spectacular sunset. It felt as though we were traveling through our very own Albert Namatjira painting. The dark arrived quicker than I expected but not long afterwards we crossed onto Baratta Station. A while further down the road, our headlights picked up a signpost, “Baratta HS” (HS standing for homestead) and I knew we were on the right track.

The first house we came to turned out to be the shearer’s quarters and a rather surprised gentleman gave me directions on to the homestead where I introduced myself to owners, Sandy and Di. Explaining that I was originally from Hay and that my friends Fleur and Hamish had told me they were camping on Baratta, Di welcomed Henry and I inside. Johnny and Lisa and their family, the first of the Hay travellers, arrived shortly afterwards.

Chatting with Sandy and Di, I discovered that Sandy had jackarooed in the Riverina in the late 1980s and Di’s Great Grandfather, Sir Herbert Ramsay, was the first person to actually sing “Waltzing Matilda” when he sang it on 6 April 1895 at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, Queensland.

Tucked into swags around the campfire for the night
It was another couple of hours before the rest of the Hay crew turned up but once everyone had arrived there were nearly forty of us, including the children. Later that night, after a great evening with Di and Sandy and their family, we drove down to the campsite, a good half hour’s drive from the homestead. Henry and I unrolled our swags with the others around a roaring campfire and had a welcome sleep after driving 946km for the day.
Henry rolling his swag the next morning

Group photo with my fellow adventurers from Hay NSW

Station tour with Sandy and Di

Merino ewes and lambs on Baratta Station
The next morning we woke up to beautiful surrounds of a fresh water spring and impressive rocky hills. After breakfast, packing up and a group photograph, Sandy gave us a tour of some of the 100,000 acres that make up Baratta Station.

Sandy cleaning out a trough on Baratta Station

Saying farewell to Sandy and Di, we headed up to Wilpena Pound. Happily for Henry and I, the Hay crew decided they wanted to go back to Wilpena Pound before heading further north to Arkaroola in the Gammon Ranges National Park and we enjoyed their company for most of the day.

Wilpena Pound is a natural amphitheatre of ancient mountains in the heart of the Flinders Ranges. Measuring 17km long by 8km wide and covering more than 100km, Wilpena Pound is a spectacular geological feature in outback Australia.
Wilpena Pound

Later in the afternoon we arrived at the 1869, North Blinman Hotel in time for a drink and for the kids to play a game of pool. It was here that Henry and I said goodbye to our friends and headed west to the tiny locality of Parachilna and the Prairie Hotel.

Drinks at the North Blinman Hotel
We received a warm welcome from Grant at the Prairie Hotel and were shown to our room. The beds looked extremely inviting however, we decided on hot showers, a change of clothes and headed to the restaurant for an early dinner.
Arriving at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna

Henry chose a serve of pizza, chips and salad and I chose the slow cooked harissa goat with zesty lemon and quince pearl couscous with a glass of southern Flinders sparkling Shiraz.
The goat... it was all looking so yummy!

Unfortunately my first mouthful of goat wasn’t as tender as I had expected but rather tough and gristly. Instead of discreetly spitting it out, I decided to be more discreet and swallow it… Big mistake.
The perfidious piece of goat lodged in my throat! (I know, there’s a limerick just waiting to be written there). Fortunately for me, it wasn’t obstructing my breathing.

I quietly excused myself and went to the bathroom to see if I would have any luck removing the firmly lodged piece of meat. No such luck.

Grant, who had checked us in, asked the other restaurant patrons if there was a doctor amongst them. There wasn’t.

I phoned my nurse practitioner friend, Trish, who was on duty at Kerang Hospital that night. Sadly, my infinitely wise friend informed me the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was possibly my only option.

The only other option was to call the closest hospital, situated in the coal-mining town of Leigh Creek, 65km north of Parachilna. Grant spoke with the nurse on duty who consulted with the doctor on call, who concurred with Trish and said the RFDS would need to be called in and I along with Henry, would be flown from Leigh Creek to either Adelaide or Port Augusta.

Ned the barman offered to drive Henry and I up to Leigh Creek and a lovely couple from Sydney, Rosie and Mark, who were also staying the night at the Prairie Hotel, offered to drive our vehicle south in the morning.

Looking wistfully at our unslept-in beds, Henry and I repacked our bags and headed north with Ned in the Barrmobile.

Ned the barman and Henry at Leigh Creek hospital

Doctor Jenny and the nursing staff at Leigh Creek hospital greeted us when we arrived and tried their best to make me feel comfortable, however, a long, uncomfortable night ensued. I was unable to sleep as I was spitting up saliva every ten to fifteen minutes.
Not quite the Thursday night I had envisaged

The RFDS was due between 6 and 7am but another medical emergency diverted the plane to William Creek, 320km north west of Leigh Creek. Paramedics, Matt and Dan picked us up around 11am and drove Henry and I out to the airport where we watched the RFDS’s Pilatus PC-12 come in to land.
The Flying Doctor, coming into Leigh Creek

Dan and Matt, wheeling me to the plane
The Royal Flying Doctor Service originated in Cloncurry, Queensland on the 15th May 1928. Instigated by Presbyterian Church minister, the Rev John Flynn. Today it is one of the largest and most comprehensive aero medical organisations in the world. Servicing an area of more than 7,000,000 km2 and flying more than 26,000,000 km each year, the RFDS provides 24hr emergency medical assistance to rural and remote Australia. Relying heavily on fundraising and donations from the community to purchase and medically-equip its aircraft, the RFDS is pretty much at the top of my list for noble causes and one I’m glad to have donated to over the years.

We met Neil, the pilot, RFDS Flight Nurse, Jacqui and onboard patient Ben and his girlfriend Liz.
Onto the plane with Neil the pilot and Jacqui the Flight Nurse

Ben and Liz were both pilots based at William Creek and in a somewhat bizarre coincidence; Ben also has meat stuck in his throat. In his case, roast pork. Flight Nurse Jacqui said she saw about one esophageal obstruction per year and to have two from two different locations on the same flight was unheard of.
Scenic Flight over Flinders Ranges courtesy of the RFDS

After a very scenic flight down to Port Augusta, we were transported to the hospital and operating theatre where both Ben’s roast pork and my goat were successfully removed. About five minutes before I was wheeled into surgery, Mark and Rosie arrived en route from the Prairie Hotel to the Barossa Valley with the Barrmobile and handed over my keys.
Ben getting unloaded to an awaiting ambulance in Port Augusta

Driving through the Mallee on our way to Mildura
Henry and I spent the night in Port Augusta where we both enjoyed a good night’s sleep before motoring off in the morning for Barham… 840km later we were home from our very memorable microadventure in time for dinner, which in my case was soup.

Forrest Gump’s Momma was right.

Annie Barr

Almost home: Boundary Bend on the Murray River... two hour's driving to go