Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Week in Broome

Last Thursday I headed off with my intrepid travelling companion, Ilka, for an excellent adventure to Broome to celebrate our friend Sal’s 50th birthday. For many Australians, including myself, Broome is one of those enticing destinations you dream of visiting at least once in your lifetime. Established as a port for the pearling industry in 1883, Broome is 2,200km north of Perth in Western Australia.

Our QantasLink plane touched down just after 6pm Broome time (9pm Barham time), walking down the steps of the plane we were enveloped by the hot, humid air of tropical northern Australia; it felt as though I was breathing in warm bath water… I don’t think tropical climates would have suited me prior to the invention of refrigerated air-conditioning.

Dave Shannon’s relly, Marita met us at the airport and delivered us to the Blue Seas Resort near Cable Beach where we would stay for the next week. Barham’s well-known international jetsetter, Jen Cox and her friend Sharna from Perth, joined us the next day.

Our week in Broome was at the tail end of the wet season and cyclone season, which luckily for us meant very affordable accommodation and no crowds. However, on the down side it was still in “stinger season” and this meant no swimming at the iconic Cable Beach. From November to May people are warned to avoid swimming anywhere near Broome because of the deadly box jellyfish and the tiny Irukandji jellyfish. Tempting though the crystal clear turquoise waters were, the paragraph I read amongst some Broome information (see below), kept us out of the water:

“Because of the potential for life threatening complications it is a good idea to take the patient to a hospital as quickly as possible. (The victim will probably be screaming for morphine anyway...)”

Thanks to the three-hour time difference between Barham and Broome, we had no trouble bouncing out of our beds at 5.30am each morning for a sunrise walk along Cable Beach.
The beach was named in 1889 after the undersea telegraph cable that stretched from there to Java, effectively linking communication between Australia and the rest of the world.

We celebrated Sal’s big day with an hour long camel ride along Cable Beach as the sun disappeared behind the Indian Ocean.
Marita and her family and their friends Nick (Broome Visitor Centre Manager) and his family joined us that night for an entertaining evening beside the pool. Ilka cooked up a feast on the barbeque of the freshest and most delicious threadfin salmon and barramundi (thanks to Garry the fisherman from Kimberley Seafoods) and Marita’s husband Scott, their daughters Meg and Nellie baked two sensational chocolate birthday cakes (because what is a birthday without chocolate cake?).

On Sunday we drove ourselves out to the Willie Creek Pearl Farm and spent a fascinating few hours learning about the pearling industry (and melting our credit cards in their showroom). Thanks to my raucous travelling buddies, I was “volunteered” from the audience to extract a pearl from underneath the gonad of a live oyster (every girl’s dream really). That night Ilka and I watched “Silver Linings Playbook” from our deckchairs under the stars at the Sun Picture Theatre in Broome.

Monday morning Sal, Jen and I boarded a seaplane and flew to Talbot Bay in the Buccaneer Archipelago north of Derby to see the Horizontal Falls. Described by David Attenborough as "one of the greatest natural wonders of the world" the Horizontal Falls are caused by massive tidal flows being drawn through two narrow gaps in the McLarty Ranges that surround the bay.

At Talbot Bay we all enjoyed a swim in the shark/crocodile cages on the pontoon and got up close and personal with some of the large local sharks. From there we hopped aboard the very fast jetstream boat (powered by two 300hp outboard motors). The highly experienced, knowledgeable and very modest “I’m the best boat operator in the world” Captain Adrian piloted us around the bay, including several adrenalin-producing passes through the falls, before it was time to load onto the seaplane once more. The scenic flight home took us over the top of Cape Leveque, Willie Creek and down the length of Cable Beach.

All the good food and adventuring finally took its toll so our final day was spent getting massages at the Bali Hai Resort… wish you were here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Producers Picnic

Eating out of doors or alfresco dining, is a simple pleasure enjoyed the world over. Back in the 1600s the French (who introduced us to such culinary delights as baguettes and croissants) were enjoying the pique-nique; a social gathering held outdoors where attendees brought food to share. By the 1800s the English had gotten in on the act and were packing a basket of food, grabbing a rug to sit on and picnicking regularly. (And so ends your somewhat brief etymology lesson for the week…)

Last Saturday the 16th March, the boys and I along with some of our extended family and friends, converged on the lawns overlooking the Murray River at the Barham Lakes Complex for the inaugural “Producers Picnic”. Hosted by our energetic foodies, The Red Gum Food Group, the Producers Picnic was part of the annual Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.

Some of us opted for the pre-booked hamper box for four people and we weren’t disappointed. Each of the hessian lined timber hamper boxes were packed full with a picnic rug, wine glasses, napkins and cutlery and plenty of locally produced goodies: sour dough bread, ham, wine, avocado, pork pies, cheese, quince paste, walnuts, honey, dried figs, chocolates and delicious dessert muffins. Other members of our picnic party went for the “graze as you go” option of buying directly from the ten or so local stallholders. Epicurean delights included Dorper kebabs, Angus beef burgers, cheese platters, Vietnamese fried rice, Japanese savoury pancakes, chutneys and other condiments, wine, coffee, hot chocolate and desserts to die for… lemon tarts, pavlovas and chocolate mud cake and cream (my favourite).

The Barham Lakes Complex provided the perfect setting with lots of lovely lawn between the gum trees along the riverbank to lay picnic rugs and set up deck chairs. Our talented local musos, The Curlew Brothers and Sean McConnell played and sang all afternoon and were very much appreciated by the crowd of two hundred plus people attending the picnic.

Our love affair with food continues to grow, pushed along with high rating television cooking shows and glossy food magazines. The demand for food tourism is increasing, beneficially lifting the profile of rural Australia and drawing more visitors to our country towns. With less than two years under their belt, the Red Gum Food Group has already held a number of highly successful showcase events in addition to their popular monthly farmers market in Koondrook. Last year’s “World’s Longest Lunch” and last weekend’s “Producers Picnic” gave locals and visitors a delicious and entertaining introduction to the many fine foods and wines grown and produced around our region.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

National Ride2School Day 2013

Next week on Friday, 22nd March is National Ride2School Day. Launched six years ago in 2007 by Bicycle Network Australia, the day is aimed at encouraging as many school children as possible to enjoy the benefits of physical exercise by making their way to school under their own steam either by biking, scooting or walking.

Riding to school either on a bicycle or pony, or just plain walking, used to be the norm for most Australian children in days gone by. You only have to read our editor, Pete’s popular “A Chat With…” column, recounting the earlier lives of our older residents to realise just how cushy our modern lives have become.

Growing up over towards Albury in the 1920s and 30s local identity, Edgar Pickles rode a pony with his brother and sister, four and a half miles one-way (7.2km) to the little Morebringer Primary School (between Balldale and Howlong) and later by bicycle, thirteen miles one-way (21km) to the Corowa High School. These days some people would almost consider it child abuse.

While we congratulate ourselves on all our amazing technological advances and inventions designed to make our lives easier, I can’t help thinking we are going backwards in a physical sense. Obesity levels, mental illness and type II diabetes are just a number of symptoms and “lifestyle” diseases that are dramatically on the rise in Australia and other western societies where physical activity has declined and consumption of highly processed and less nutritious food has increased. 

The Ride2School Day is aiming to make physically active travel a normal part of the school day for families across the country. Not only will it reduce traffic congestion around schools, the benefits to children are significant. Students who ride or walk to school arrive alert and are more attentive in class.  Importantly, the responsibility of getting themselves to school develops essential life skills such as time management, builds confidence and increases resilience within each child.

Today and tomorrow of this week local police lady, Senior Constable Jane, will be visiting Barham Primary School in the lead up to next week’s Ride2School Day. In our somewhat idyllic and slower paced country lifestyle here in Barham/Koondrook, we can become complacent regarding traffic awareness, believing cars and trucks will just stop for us. Jane will be talking with the students and reminding them about the importance of road safety and traffic awareness as well as advising the children on basic bike maintenance, correctly fitting helmets and how they can become responsible road users.

Many children today have far less freedom and therefore, less responsibility than previous generations. We bubble wrap our children in a misguided effort to keep them safe. We either don’t realise or have forgotten how capable our children actually are. Children need opportunities to grow both physically and mentally; hopping on their bikes and riding to the local park for unsupervised play with other children, is good for them. No matter how well meaning we may be as parents, by chauffeuring our children to and from school when it is within easy walking distance, we are ultimately doing our children a disservice. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

It's All About The Bike

In January I recklessly typed in Behind the Barr that completing this year’s Great Victorian Bike Ride (GVBR) was one of my major goals for 2013. There’s nothing like quietly announcing a goal to a thousand or so people to motivate you into doing something towards achieving it…

Although I loved my old mountain bike I’d bought way back in 1989, I decided it was time to upgrade to a newer (and hopefully faster) bike for the GVBR. One night in late January I embarked upon some serious internet Google research into the world of cycling.

The bicycle is continually evolving and has certainly come a long way since the German civil servant, Baron Karl von Drais presented the world with the first commercially produced bicycle (known as the velocipede – a Latin word meaning “fast foot”) in 1817.

Choosing what type of bike I wanted from the bewildering array of different styles available was my first dilemma. There are literally dozens of different types of bikes to choose from. The three main ones that I knew about were the mountain bike, racing bike and hybrid bike. Mountain bikes have fantastic gears and are purpose built for off-road cycling but they aren’t all that fast or built for serious long distance riding. Racing or road bikes are built for speed however, their skinny, speedy tyres are only suited to good, sealed roads and I imagined just looking at my gravel driveway would be enough to puncture them. A hybrid bike as you would expect is a compromise between a road bike and a mountain bike but I didn’t think it was what I was after either…

After reading reams of internet pages on bikes and bike reviews, I discovered the Vivente World Randonneur (VWR) a purpose built touring bike designed by Australian Noel McFarlane. Randonneur bikes are built for long distance riding and touring; they come with the drop bars of a racing bike, tyres that are slim enough for speed but sturdy enough to be undaunted by dirt or gravel roads and a range of gears that would enable me to pedal up a mountain… (or the Otway Ranges in November). I was so impressed by the independent reviews, photos and the components used in the VWR that I emailed Noel directly to ask a few more questions. 

A few emails later in early February, I was headed down to Bendigo to meet Peter, the owner of Moronis Bikes and Mark, a bike mechanic and resident touring bike expert. They had a Vivente World Randonneur on the showroom floor that just happened to be the right size for me. Five hours after walking into Moronis Bikes and lots of discussion later, I left with my shiny new VWR fitted out with panniers (just in case I wanted to tackle the Nullarbor Plain… or cycle down to IGA or Foodworks for my groceries), clipless pedals, lights, mudguards, bike computer (for the time, distance travelled, speed etc) drink bottles, tool kit, helmet, cycling shorts and shirt.

My research has paid off and I am loving my new bike. In the last few weeks I’ve clocked up over 450km cycling around the Barham/Koondrook area and rediscovered the fun and freedom of bike riding… I’ve also discovered when riding with cleats it pays to remember to unclip your shoes before you actually want to stop (stopping whilst still attached to the pedals is not fun nor good for one’s dignity).