Friday, November 25, 2011

Good manners... an essential life skill

Good manners and customer service are essential skills in business and life.
Many people believe a good tourist officer is all that is needed to put their town on the map and will campaign vigorously to their local shire council for one. A far more effective and economical means of promoting a town is through the local residents and businesses themselves. It won’t matter how great a tourist officer is, if the town isn’t friendly people won’t stop a second time or recommend it to their friends.
I am always astounded when I meet inhospitable people working in hospitality. When I think of a certain small town in South Australia I remember the sour-faced café owner who in April 1996 grudgingly made me a chicken salad roll. I was on my way to Broken Hill with my (then) husband Duncan to visit my mining engineering brother Tom. Thinking we would do our bit for this town’s local economy we stopped to buy fuel and some lunch.
What a mistake that was. It soon became obvious that we had ruined this woman’s day by requesting lunch. She grumbled her way through the task at hand, with a sneer she pushed the plates with requested rolls across the counter, snatched our money and then vanished into a room at the back of the café. No smile, no thank you, no “have a nice day”, “where are you from?” or “where are you going?”, nothing. I concede it is possible the other inhabitants of this little anonymous town are lovely, but I will never ever stop there again if I can possibly help it… I don’t think Duncan’s been back there either.
There was certainly no lack of hospitality on my excellent adventure to Western Australia that concluded last weekend. My second last night in Perth was spent enjoying a family dinner with Mary, Rod, Ann, Sam, Geoff, Rosie and Jack. My last day in the state’s capital included coffee in Kings Park with Mary and meeting up with Barham’s own Lisa Campbell. My trip ended as it had started with Lisa and I lunching on beer and pizza at Little Creatures and coffee at Gino’s. Jay gave me an early morning lift to the airport the following day where I caught a plane to Adelaide to spend a few days with the Osters of Prospect. By happy coincidence I also met up with the Osters of Barham who were visiting the Osters of Prospect as well.
Last Saturday morning on the final leg of my excellent adventure found me driving into the small Wimmera town of Warracknabeal around nine o’clockish and feeling famished. I was in need of a strong coffee and a bacon and egg muffin. The lady at the Café Peppercorn couldn’t have been more helpful. She smiled, she was polite, she made great food and excellent coffee and the prices were very reasonable. My knowledge of Warracknabeal is limited. Nick Cave the musician was born there in 1957 and the town’s name is taken from an aboriginal expression meaning “place of big gum trees shading the waterhole”. Now I can add: home of Café Peppercorn, good spot to stop.
In August this year my buddies from Hay were on their way to Wandella for the Under 14s AFL semi final and stopped en route at Barham for breakie and snacks. They emerged from the Riverside Café smiling and singing the praises of Gina and Hamish and the Riverside’s fantastically friendly staff. Will my Hay friends stop in Barham again? Will they talk to their friends and family about their very positive experience at Barham? You betcha.
Good manners in the form of a smile; a thank you; a helpful attitude are simple but powerful life skills that make all the difference, no matter where you are. I’m looking forward to implementing these life skills on Monday when we welcome the participants on The Great Victorian Bike Ride.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Western Australian adventure continues...

“Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.” Leo F. Buscaglia
Last week’s exploration started with a day trip to the historic township of New Norcia with my grandmother’s sister’s daughter Mary and her sister-in-law Sam. The very tranquil New Norcia is 132km north of Perth and founded in 1847 by a couple of Benedictine monks. It is Australia’s only monastic town and monks still live, work and pray there; as well as brewing a nice drop that goes by the name of Abbey Ale.
Tuesday saw me heading south courtesy of Bayswater Hire in my little Toyota Corolla. I discovered early on that there was an abundance of identical Bayswater Hire cars on the roads… and in winery car parks… most confusing. I quickly christened mine “one dessert to go 395” so I could remember the number plate 1DTG395. Arriving in Busselton I met up with my old friend, ex-Deni girl Sophie and followed her to the family farm near Nannup that she shares with her husband Matt and their children Alina and Xander and about 500 Angus cows.
Sophie had set aside Wednesday to act as a guide for me on an all-day tour of Margaret River wineries and food providores. Notably Voyager Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Cape Mentelle, Vasse Felix (our lunch stop… delicious albeit tiny amounts of food on very large white plates), Woody Nook, Margaret River Chocolate Factory and the Cambray Sheep Dairy.
By Thursday morning I was in need of serious exercise to compensate for the excesses of the previous day, so I walked the length of the Busselton Jetty and back again as a token gesture. Built in 1865 and measuring 1,841 metres it is the longest timber piled jetty in the southern hemisphere.
Leaving Busselton I drove out to visit and stay with more cousins; Barry, Jan and their daughter Emily, at their vineyard and olive farm at Margaret River. Later that afternoon we visited the Colonial Brewery to sample their five different types of beers. Colonial is an excellent microbrewery just down the road from the farm (I was starting to wonder why it had taken me till the age of forty one before getting to know this side of the family?).
Sampling wine made by Barry and Jan’s son Ryan and lunching at McHenry’s Farm Shop the next day, I was introduced to David Hohnen, one of the founders of the Margaret River wine region; he and his family established the Cape Mentelle winery and also Cloudy Bay winery in New Zealand. David took me to view his latest passion; free range Tamworth pigs, selling the end product through the farm shop and the Margaret River Farmer’s Market. Late that afternoon I joined Emily for a couple of hours riding through the state forest bordering their property; Jan lent me her beautifully mannered polocrosse mare Specs.
Saying goodbye to Barry, Jan & Emily I called into the Margaret River Farmer’s Market to take a few happy snaps to show our local Koondrook Barham Farmer’s Market aficionados Lauren and Katrina. Heading further south I discovered Cape Leeuwin, Australia’s most southwesterly point and where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet; then it was time to head east through the Karri forests to Albany. Stopping off along the way I climbed the Gloucester Tree, a huge Karri Eucalypt over 60m high (used as a fire lookout tree), explored the Valley of the Giants and completed the Tree Top Walk through the massive and very impressive Red Tingle trees near Walpole.
Waking up in Albany last Sunday morning I could feel every muscle in my body, the horse riding and tree climbing had caught up with me. Once again I had that run over by a Mack truck feeling, only this time it had reversed over me for good measure…

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hello Western Australia!

Greetings from Western Australia. The first day of my excellent adventure began with the four-hour flight from Melbourne to Perth aboard a Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800. The smiling check-in lady allocated me a seat with plenty of legroom just behind business class. I sat in between Stuart (an explosives expert from Melbourne) and Alex (a Macquarie Bank man from Perth). My grandfather’s sister’s grandson Warwick greeted me at the airport and gave me a ride into the city. For the next few nights I stayed with Warwick and his family Thelma, Emma and Will at their home in Dalkeith.
Focussing on my goal of visiting a brewery (purely for research purposes), I caught a train to Fremantle and arrived in time for lunch at the former boat shed and crocodile farm that is now home to Little Creatures Brewery.
Waitress Meeks showed me to a table handed me a menu and we discussed the merits of various beers. On Meeks’ recommendation, I settled on a small glass of their “Big Dipper” a hop-fuelled Double India Pale Ale. It went down very nicely in the Friday afternoon sunshine with a delicious bowl of garlic and white wine infused mussels. Remembering that culinary match made in heaven (beer & pizza), I went on to enjoy a small wood-fired pizza with a glass of Pale Ale (my favourite) and finished with a glass of Bright Ale (very nice but not as flavoursome as the Big Dipper or the Pale Ale).
By this stage I was starting to feel the effects of the three-hour time difference between Barham and Fremantle and seriously wanting a nap. Clearly it was time to set off for “Cappuccino Strip” the area in Freo known for its alfresco dining culture and Gino’s where I enjoyed an excellent latte.
That night I accompanied Warwick, Thelma and Will to the Cottesloe Hotel for dinner. The pub overlooks the famous Cottesloe Beach and the rather infamous shark-infested waters from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island.
Early the next morning I was swimming (very close to shore) through those shark-infested waters with Thelma and Warwick. John Williams’ film score he composed for the 1977 film “Jaws”, played continuously in my head…
Warwick, a three-time world champion yachtsman, organised for me to sail with his crew (Biggles, Viv, Bruce and Greg) in the 2011 Governor’s Cup Yacht Race between Royal Perth Yacht Club and Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club on the Swan River. We were aboard their 26-foot yacht Wafwom (an acronym for: What a F****** Waste of Money). Warwick didn’t accompany us for the race as he was in serious training aboard a “flying fifteen” (a two person high performance racing yacht) for the Australian Championships in January 2012.
I know very little about sailing but managed to successfully fling myself repeatedly under the boom as we tacked our way around the course. With over 100 yachts there were some hairy moments as large numbers converged on marking buoys. Things threatened to go horribly and irretrievably wrong and I thought our skipper (Biggles) would lose a kidney as the bow of another yacht came dangerously close as we rounded a buoy. Another yacht nearby lost a man overboard; he was happily rescued. Dangling over the side of Wafwom, with the sails full, the water whipping past and the rain bucketing down, I felt like a true sailor.
By Saturday night I was having dinner in Inglewood with Megan (who is a friend of Ash’s friend Trevor who is a friend of my friend Woolly), her husband Greg and their friends. Exhaustion overtook me between the main course and chocolate pudding and I had to excuse myself for what I anticipated would be a ten-minute power nap. An hour and a half later Megan woke me to say I was most welcome to stay the night but perhaps Warwick and Thelma would be wondering what had become of me?
(The next morning I no longer felt like a true sailor… I felt like someone who’d been run over by a Mack truck).

Friday, November 4, 2011

An excellent adventure based on beer research

By the time many of you read this I will have set out on my excellent adventure to Western Australia. About two months ago I received a phone call from Janet (my former Mother-in-law), letting me know she and Denis were coming to visit for a couple of weeks of Grandparent-time in November and suggesting I take this time off to have a holiday. As other parents will know, opportunities like this don’t come around very often, if ever, so I took Janet’s suggestion and ran with it.
My mind was all turmoil, chaos and Libran dilemma; how to choose a destination? So many choices: Port Lincoln to dive with sharks; camping in the Flinders Ranges; New Zealand’s north island to see the cousins; New Zealand’s south island to walk the Milford Track; Tasmania’s Bay of Fires; exploring in the Kimberley region of Western Australia; a road trip to Byron Bay; the Amalfi Coast of Italy; the south of France to eat baguettes… (yes, I know I was getting carried away); horse riding through the Victorian high country, snorkelling in Palau…
My nearly final thought was Palau. A tiny speck of islands somewhere east of the Philippines and rumoured to be the world’s most beautiful diving location… not that I know anything about diving mind you, but I have snorkelled. I phoned my friend Rossco (a diving fanatic) to see if he wanted to join me on a two-week platonic holiday in Palau. Rossco thought this was a brilliant idea and the fact that we had yet to meet in person was a minor detail.
A couple of weeks later however, Rossco pointed out one major flaw in my plan… in the time since my initial suggestion of flying to Palau, I had started dating Ash (a clever and devastatingly handsome farmer) and perhaps Ash would think this was a less than brilliant idea? Good point, so I moved on to Plan B.
At a friend’s wedding earlier this year I acquired a taste for Little Creatures Pale Ale. By a fortunate stroke of serendipity I was enjoying a small bottle of this rather delicious beer while contemplating Plan B.
Looking down and admiring their label I noticed the Little Creatures Brewery was located at Fremantle in Western Australia, the only Australian State I had yet to visit. On this basis my holiday is now being formed around a brewery, which seems like as good a plan as any.
It got me thinking about the possibilities for “brewery tourism” and how this could be an excellent value adding idea for our district grain growers. Soon I had lapsed into global empire mode and started envisaging Club Barham building a small state of the art brewery at the picturesque Barham Lake Complex, using local grain, creating industry and a tourist attraction for our district as well as selling their (sure to be excellent) beer all around town. If someone would like to establish a cracker biscuit factory (utilising local wheat) it would compliment Jonesy’s Dairy’s planned gourmet cheeses and we could all enjoy local cheese, crackers and beer.
Meanwhile back to my excellent adventure: Besides visiting breweries I also plan to visit old friends I haven’t seen in years, friends of friends who I’m yet to meet and long lost relatives who are rumoured to be lovely. All in all I can’t wait.
Looking forward to typing my column to you from the other side (of the country)… cue spooky music.