Thursday, January 31, 2013

Australia Day and Lilo Racing

Last Saturday, 26th January was Australia Day. A day to inspire national pride, put aside our differences and feel proud and grateful for the country we live in, no matter who we are or where we came from.

Australia Day was pretty much a non-event in my childhood, I can’t remember any significant memories of the day until 1988 when I watched via television, the tall ships sailing into Sydney Harbour, re-enacting the First Fleet’s arrival on 26th January 1788. Since then however, the day has grown with people all over the country taking the time to attend community gatherings, Australia Day Awards and citizenship ceremonies and catching up with family and friends.

Last weekend arrived with a welcome cool change that dropped local temperatures to a very pleasant 30°C and sunny. Unfortunately a Saturday morning sleep-in caused me to miss our local Lions Club’s Australia Day breakfast in the Riverside Park but I survived nicely on Vegemite toast courtesy of Sam, with some of my favourite locally grown produce; avocados and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Nowadays I celebrate Australia Day with epicurean patriotism. Like Hush, the baby possum from Mem Fox’s classic Australian children’s book, Possum Magic, I like to eat Vegemite sandwiches, lamingtons and Pavlova… as well as chops, salad and watermelon on our national day.

This year for lunch, the boys and I set up our table down on the riverbank and together with family and friends we enjoyed barbequed lamb chops, boiled spuds, a mixture of salads and fresh bread and butter. To finish the meal we indulged in that great Australian icon, the lamington. Squares of jam-filled sponge cake rolled in chocolate sauce and desiccated coconut, this marvellous gastronomic invention is attributed to Lord Lamington the Governor of Queensland (1896 – 1901) and his household.

Sunday was the day of the annual Great Aussie Lilo Race organised each Australia Day weekend by the Koondrook Barham Football Netball Club. Competitors gathered at the Koondrook boat ramp for what is arguably the most colourful community event of the year. A rainbow of air mattresses and life jackets, inner tubes from trucks and tractors and various other inflatable water toys.  The race is floated, swum and paddled (in varying degrees of competitiveness) from the Koondrook boat ramp, downstream on the Murray River to the Barham boat ramp. With cooler morning temperatures than Saturday, the boys decided 23°C was too cold and abandoned all ideas of entering the Great Aussie Lilo Race.

Although I felt deflated (like last year’s punctured lilo) by this family mutiny, I was still looking forward to the big float. A quick phone call had me securing a spot in the girl’s team, Aussie Sheilas, with Mandy, Erin and Theresa.

For just over half an hour we laughed and splashed our way downstream on our lilos with Erin setting a cracking pace in her hydrodynamic Havaiana inflatable thong. We emerged at the Barham boat ramp to bask in the glory of second team home – go us!
- Annie Barr
Team Aussie Sheilas

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Loving Summer Holiday Traditions

For the last week the boys and I have been hanging out on the New South Wales South Coast, soaking up the sun, sea and sand at Merimbula. Since our inaugural trip to the coast in 2004, when Henry rather infamously broke his leg at seventeen months and Max discovered first hand why blue bottle jellyfish are best avoided, we’ve had eight trips over here.

The great “pack up” that leads up to this annual trip is something I prefer to ignore until the last possible moment; I detest packing. The upside of this, is the boys have all become adept at packing their own clothes, fishing rods and boogie boards from an early age. Typically I can be found throwing things into the Trusty Nissan around midnight on the night before we leave and promising myself that “next time I will be more organised and start packing earlier”.

There is no easy short cut to Merimbula from Barham but part of our family’s beach holiday habit is an overnight stopover at Sandy and Dave Litchfield’s property at Nimmitabel. A night at Sandy and Dave’s (along with Cloudy the little fluffy dog and Lenny the even fluffier and now somewhat matted and ancient cat) is a highlight and synonymous with going to Merimbula and makes the 770km journey a lot easier for all of us.

Last Tuesday, I woke the boys at 4.50am with the unrealistic view of embarking on our 680km trip to Nimmitabel by 5am… still we were on the road by 5.30am. Packing I may hate but driving is something I enjoy (so long as it’s not through city traffic), as we motored out of Barham on the Moulamein Road, I started to feel relaxed and that our holiday had begun.

The beauty of getting on the road early for a long trip is you can get half the day’s driving over with by the time you stop for a late-ish breakfast. Wagga Wagga is our breakfast stop and we arrived before 9.30am to indulge in our annual Scottish breakfast at McDonalds. I must say the menu of the Golden Arches global empire has improved over the years (either that or my nutritional conscience regarding mass produced fast food has slipped) and this year I thoroughly enjoyed my “Boston Deli Bagel” of bacon, egg, tomato, cheese and avocado.

From Wagga Wagga is seemed an easy, albeit slow, drive along the Snowy Mountains Highway, past Blowering Dam and through the Great Dividing Range to Nimmitabel. After saying goodbye to Sandy and Dave the following morning, we travelled the final 90km, down Brown Mountain to Merimbula and the little cottage above Bar Beach, kindly lent to us by cousin Vicky.

For a week we have swum; spent hours catching waves at Main Beach with our boogie boards (who would have thought hydrodynamic foam could be so much fun?!); buried ourselves in sand; fished; eaten a substantial quantity of delicious, plump Sydney Rock Oysters from the award winning Stirling Oysters of Merimbula Lake (owned by friend and former Hay district resident, Stirling Cullenward); Sam and Henry played touch footy on the beach in hotly contested Riverina versus Monaro matches; snorkelled around the rocks near Bar Beach; jumped off the Merimbula Wharf (well, Max did); enjoyed early morning walks along Middle Beach and caught up with old friends.

Heading to the beach for a week in January has built up over the years to become a summertime tradition for our family and even if we were never to come again, I hope these carefree coastal memories stay with the boys for a lifetime.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Setting Goals in 2013

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”                  – C.S.Lewis

With the arrival of the New Year, I looked back on my “Goals for 2012” list I had written twelve months ago. It always provides me with a sense of satisfaction and achievement when I’m able to cross a significant number of things off this annual list.

There were twenty-four goals I had written down on my list for last year and I managed to tick nineteen of them off as either achieved (Goal 19: visit somewhere new – hello Edgar and Annie’s Excellent Epic Adventure to England!) or partially achieved (Goal 14: de-clutter house and life…)

Of the five things that I didn’t cross off (Goal 23: put photos into photograph albums), two will go onto my list for 2013 (along with my partially achieved goals) and three I’m giving the flick to because I’m no longer interested in pursuing them. That’s the beauty of goals and dreams; you don’t have to stick rigidly to them. Goals can be passionately pursued, modified or completely discarded in favour of new ones as you wander along that long winding path that is uniquely yours in life.

Having a tendency towards making impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decisions based on whims, I feel it’s to my benefit to write down a list of goals at the start of every year. Like other people who believe in the power of manifestation, I am a firm believer that it at least helps to guide me towards what I’d like to achieve… even if it’s only on a subconscious level.

Taking the time to stop and think about what I’d like to achieve in the coming year gives structure and purpose to my day-to-day life and encourages me to try new things.

This year’s list is far from complete but one big goal I’ve written down for myself in 2013 is completing the Great Victorian Bike Ride (GVBR).

I first became interested in the ride when I lived in Melbourne during 1989 and 1990 and thought, “I’m going to do that one day.” Needless to say life got busy and I didn’t have the GVBR down as a priority. Move forward to 2011 and the GVBR landed on our doorstep (literally) as the ride came through Barham. Since then I’ve thought a bit more seriously about taking part; cue manifestation…

Once you start focussing your energy on something, it’s amazing how things start falling into place. Suddenly I’m running into people everywhere I go who have done the ride. Every one of them is wildly enthusiastic, full of helpful advice and encouraging me towards my goal. In my mind, this is clearly a sign…

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Summer in the 70s

Happy New Year readers and hello 2013. This week we are being blasted by a heatwave like summers of old. While some people are convinced it is a sure sign of global warming, I’m lost in the nostalgia of the summers of my childhood on the Hay Plains.

When my mother arrived as a bride at Red Hill Station in 1966 there was only one tree on the 20,000+ acre sheep station. It must have been quite a shock to her system, arriving from her lush family farm in New Zealand’s north island, where she had grown up with hills covered in green grass and abundant trees, fat, white sheep and no bush flies, red-back spiders or snakes.

The Hay Plains are naturally treeless and the trees that my parents planted took years to grow into anything significant (those trees that actually survived that is). The summers in the ‘70s out there were hot and relentless with very little shade. When they built their new homestead in 1967, my parents had a “cool room” built into the kitchen; a large walk-in fridge that could easily hang a side of beef or several sheep, boxes of fruit and vegetables and other groceries. My mother still says it’s the best room in the house during the summer and we used to take turns at locking ourselves in it as kids (and snacking on whatever yummy food we could find).

The air-conditioning in the family chariot, our ’72 Datsun 240c consisted of rolling down the windows and you had to be careful when sliding in on the black vinyl back seat (I was always a little envious of those fluffy lambskin seat covers that Mum and Dad had for their front seats).

After the flood years of ’73 and ’74, I remember scorching hot summers that seemed to stretch on endlessly. Until the mid 1970s at Red Hill Station the only room in the house with air-conditioning was the dining room (where the bassinet was parked when we were babies), the rest of the house baked. In those early years there was just one portable fan that moved between the kitchen and the bedroom my brother Tom and I shared.

We loved that fan, not just because it kept us a bit cooler but because we used to amuse ourselves by talking into the spinning blades to distort the sound of our voices… we weren’t the only ones thinking distorted voices were fun; a couple of years later in 1977, George Lucas and Hollywood delivered “Star Wars” to the world and the now famous distorted voice of Darth Vader… “Luke, I am your father!”

The hose on the back lawn, with or without sprinkler attached, provided hours of cool, wet fun. Later on Dad set up an above ground pool; a circle of tin with a plastic liner and waist-deep muddy water from the ground tank; we all thought it was brilliant despite the fact the water was infested with water beetles that would get tangled in our togs and bite us.

At some point in either the late ‘70s or early ‘80s the four of us Simpson kids were presented by our Gran with what was (and probably still is) arguably the world’s greatest summer toy of all time… the Slip ‘n Slide. An ingenious invention of a long sheet of plastic you wet down with a hose, added a bit of washing detergent for extra slippiness and ran towards full till before throwing yourself down for an adrenalin-producing slide… ahhh, happy days.