A place to Mungindi for (apologies for the terrible pun!)

IMG_3382270px-Mungindi

In April I was able briefly to swell the population of Mungindi (NSW and QLD) from 1,110 to 1,111. It happened when the gals from the local book group wanted to discuss my book (Treading Water – shameless plug), and invited me to join their next meeting. ‘What’s that?’ I exclaimed to my friends George and Jane, who issued the invite. ‘They want to read my book, and they only live 500 kilometres away? I’m there!’

Fresh from hob-nobbing with the Clapham trendies in London, I knew it would be different, and it is. It’s hotter and drier and less crowded than London, but Mungindi can give Clapham a run for its uber-trendy money. And where better to start than in that that barometer of cool – the coffee shop? Does that pass muster? (note rural metaphor) Let’s see, does it have:

  • A clever pun for a name? Yup
  • Authentic industrial chic? Definitely
  • Great coffee? absolutely
  • Welcoming/familiar /home from home/ stay as long as you like? (You know, like in the Friends’ coffee shop Central Perk) Oh yes!
  • Fashionable clientele? Well, we did bump into a well-known local artist and cotton farmer, who was wearing a pair of shoes I considered mugging her for. But if ‘active wear’ is all the go in the coffee shops around Clapham, they might find themselves out-chic-ed by that tall willowy gal looking amazing in jeans and white shirt. Her fashion choice has to accommodate running her house with four kids and a nanny, managing her and hubby’s large business enterprise, and maybe taking the helicopter to Wollongong later! I suppose that might just qualify as active wear.

daily grind

So yes, The coffee shop gets a big tick.

What about accommodation? Well, if you’re as lucky as I you’ll be welcomed into the pages of Vogue Living, all due to the design flair and enterprise of Anna, Jane’s multi-talented daughter.

Jane:Annabrekkie MungAnd since they are both foodies from way back, the cuisine got lots of stars from me (to be honest, I lost count after the third -or was it fourth – G&T). As for the guest wing (attached to the vast machinery shed) it’s so gorgeous, I wanted to live there foreverguest room

So all this augured very well for the Book Group. I’m a bit of a BG veteran…six at last count, and still active in three of them, but this one was a bit special. For starters you just couldn’t live in this community if you were daunted by distance, and I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of miles driven by everyone in order to be at the meeting. But once welcomed into Sally’s spacious and gracious home, they were there to laugh, talk, share experiences and party! It’s an all day frock up, morning tea, lunch, afternoon drinks affair. And they were so appreciative that I had come all that way to talk about the book. They have to be joking! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything…it was quite wonderful, as you can see. And can you spot the one who had to leave the lunch a little early to drive 80 kms to supervise the sheep mustering? She’s the one in the active wear!

book group

Some time in the afternoon a crowd of children wandered in for after-school snacks and a swim in the pool. Someone had picked them up from the bus and delivered them all safely – just part of this far-flung village raising its children together. Earlier in the day I had met many of them all in their all age classroom at the local school. I was immediately reminded of another small place a mere 13,000 ks away and about 20 degrees cooler, which happens to have the best education system in the world!

*William Doyle, Fulbright scholar and a lecturer on media and education at the University of Eastern Finland was advised by his Harvard professor to “learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools…” Following his recommendation, he enrolled his seven-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu. Finland, “which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union.” What he discovered is also there for all to see at St Josephs Primary – which is about as far west as you can go in one day in Queensland! Let’s see…

  • “Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest.” Yup
  • “Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.” Definitely
  • “Children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality ‘personalised learning device’ ever created – flesh-and-blood teachers.” Absolutely!
  • “In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: ‘Let children be children,’ ‘The work of a child is to play,’ and ‘Children learn best through play.’ Oh yes!
  • “The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive in a classroom atmosphere of safety, collaboration, warmth and respect for children as cherished individuals.” Right on!
  • “As a visiting Chinese student observed: ‘here, you feel like you’re part of a really nice family.’” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Most of the kids will go to boarding school in the city, but what resilience and sense of themselves and their place in their community they take with them. I used to work in a school that had a boarding strand. So a simple question like what did you do on the holidays? Opened up a whole new world for us all. The town mice, who thought wandering round the shopping centre looking for the right nail polish and the hot boys, was good fun, had to concede that their country cousins had something pretty special going on. Amid the cotton chipping, lamb rearing, mustering, harvesting etc etc which these gals did routinely, their stories told of community, hard work, wonderful family times (that includes their horses, dogs, and all manner of four legged and feathered creatures), more hard work, resilience, yet more hard work and a long treasured sense of belonging to the country they love.

Internet service in Mungindi might be dodgy at times but communication is fantastic, not to mention all age learning, talking to each other, being accountable and important in your group, active community work through all sectors of the town, and mutual support. These are the offers made by the country. Ooh…where have I heard that before…is it Finland?

 

*http://www.smh.com.au/national/this-is-why-finland-has-the-best-schools-20160324-gnqv9l.html#ixzz455UH1Uco

 

Advertisements

Bring a Plate… and they did!

 

retro-housewife1

This is by way of a massive thank you to all the folk who answered the call to Bring a plate to the launch of my book Treading Water, because as far as I’m concernedthey are the three most terrifying words in the English language. Scary words like Make my Day! Mind the Gap! or, ‘Yes, you’re Pregnant! pale into insignificance compared with the dreaded words, ‘Bring a Plate’.

It’s a wonderful Australian tradition, and epitomises the combination of hospitality, sharing the workload, neighbourliness, and sheer competence that is found among my friends. But in a person of my culinary ineptitude it strikes terror. Because no one ever eats anything I bring! (At least I know to bring something, unlike my English pal, who took it as a plea for crockery and just brought the plate…but it was a nice one)

‘You’re being paranoid’, said hubby after my fifth failed attempt to wow them at Nursing Mothers, and I returned with my tragically still-laden plates. He had an ulterior motive though, because it meant he could happily tuck into the returned goodies: leaden scones, soggy tea-cakes, Anzac biscuits you could sole your boots with and on one auspicious occasion, a pizza that was so dry and hardened we hung it on the wall and told everyone it was a Mexican wall plate (this is true!) It stayed there for six months…even the ants wouldn’t touch it.

mexican   Why would he eat it? Suffice to say the competitive element of the bring a plate thing generated an improvement on the normal offerings. It’s not that I don’t try, I do! And I can turn out a dreary litany of spag bol, roast chicken, and lasagne that kept the family from starvation. If ever I happened upon a new recipe that worked, I’d be so thrilled I’d serve it up ad nauseam (literally), until they were all screaming for that marvelous spag bol again. Not all bad though. We’ve turned out a pair of kids that will eat anything and can cook most things rather well.

Can’t you read a recipe? I hear you ask. Yes I can, and if I make a massive effort, it will be edible, but not a patch on the people who just have a sense of it, who know what goes together, who know that exotic herb, (and can probably grow it in their window box), and their love of it, and casual audacity about what will go with what, infuses the food with flavour. It does! A plate of cheeses and grapes…my latest safe offering just doesn’t cut it._windowbox_xlg

And it’s a skill my friends pass off with such casual competence. After a massive year of house building and moving, one lot found time to leave a wonderful dish of beef cheeks with chermoula in our fridge to welcome us home from a trip. (What’s chermoula? Dunno, but it’s delicious). When asked about some delectable but elusive taste, another friend will say, ‘Oh, I had this at a restaurant…they’d added blah blah, so I experimented with it.’ And in between marking piles of books, cleaning the house, looking after kids, hubbies, parents and most of the neighbourhood, will turn out a spectacular feast…every night.

And, these accomplishments were displayed even more spectacularly at my recent book launch.

Out now on Amazon

Out now on Amazon

me maybe best

(Shameless plug…you knew it was coming!) The booze was the easy part, and just required boxes and boxes of wine to be delivered to our door every day. The fact that the postman thinks we’re raving drunks was a small price to pay for the conviviality it generated. But, given my own ‘issues’, the plea to bring a plate was made with some trepidation. I shouldn’t have worried. The food was absolutely fantastic and there was so much of it. And it’s not just the quiches and the dumplings, the meatballs and the roulade. It’s the idea that those three words invoked a response of such extraordinary generosity, kindness and people’s desire to bring along their friendship in tangible (and edible) form that was so special.

crowd nice 2

Renowned political journo Annabel Crabb has nailed it in her TV series ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ during which she routinely disarms the most hard-arsed politicians with food. They are prepared to risk becoming lard-arsed (sorry…couldn’t resist) in order to appear more human. Hard to hate a person in a frilly apron, no matter how draconian their policies.frilly apron It’s a notion explored her new book, Special Delivery. Needless to say, she is wonderful with food, but also wise enough to know there is more to it, as she explains in a recent interview:

Annabel“Food is the internationally recognised culinary code for ‘I come in peace’. It is a language that says so much more than ‘Please let me in, Madam Speaker’. To friends and family, food can say everything from ‘I’m sorry you had a bad day’ to ‘Congratulations, you clever thing’. And it means still more when brought to the door.”

So maybe it doesn’t matter if the gingers won’t snap or the torte is a bit tart, it’s the thought that counts. OK, I’m thinking, profiteroles would be nice, or maybe some of those chilli lime shrimp cups. And naturally, I’m hoping like hell that someone else brings them!

profiterole

Join a Choir – It’s a Gift

Music score

What did you get for Christmas? It’s a question I dread because always feel I have to make stuff up. And I have been known to fudge the evidence of how much my hubby loves and cherishes me/ has a clue what I might like (anything, really…fudge would be a start) /and remembers what date it is. Fortunately he has no objection to me buying whatever I want, wrapping it up and acting all surprised on Christmas morning.* But this year I absolutely outdid myself with my DIY gift. And it really is one that keeps on giving. I now have a head-full of music, courtesy of the wonderful Noosa Chorale.

chorale_orig

It’s the only thing I’ve actually joined since we moved to our little seaside town…talk about beginner’s luck! For a start they let you just rock up and sit amid 70-odd people who’ve left families unminded, dinner uneaten, and whatever’s on the telly on a Tuesday night, because they all love the music. I look around to see if anyone has realised that I don’t know a dotted crotchet from a minim and it soon becomes evident that I’ll need to pay attention. Most of the others sight read and know what they’re doing, nevertheless they’re extremely helpful to this newbie. And the audition process is simple. The choir director demands glorious music to be sung at a very high standard and if you can’t keep up, don’t bother coming. It doesn’t take me long to twig if I’m to have a hope of joining in Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols in four, and sometimes six parts I’ll have to tape the music and sing along with it a few thousand times, no matter how many funny looks I get in Aldi.

But the rewards! There are moments when we altos are ooh-ing and crooning in our particular range that while deeply satisfying, isn’t going to get us on Australian Idol, then suddenly the sopranos soar over us, lifting us to a perfect spot between them and the soulful bases. If you haven’t done it you should. It puts you in a place that makes the day you’ve had, the draughty hall, even the fact that your too tight jeans are extremely uncomfortable, fall right away. And afterwards we all walk out into the night smiling and humming and slowly connecting back with the mundaneness of Tuesday.

And as if that wasn’t lovely enough, there’s more!

  • All those mindless chores? Done. Because I have to spend so many hours listening, the house is spotless (well, nearly) and I’ve even done the ironing.
  • Walking in the National Park with an earful of splendid music is nothing short of sublime.
  • I helped make 1100 mince pies! OK I was demoted from flour measuring, after the first attempt at figuring out what 200 grams looks like, but hey, they also serve who only stand with their arms in a sink of soapsuds.

MincePies-4842ffd0-50c0-46df-9f32-cacef29a7732-0-472x310

  • I helped fold napkins and place programmes on tables with rigorous exactitude. Hubby was there too and much better at it…all that geometry.
  • I’ve been forced to join in all this community stuff! We sang carols in Hastings Street (upstaged somewhat by some screechy kids, and maybe Santa’s helpers in their tiny red fur-trimmed skirts drew the focus a little, but we were troupers!) Then we sang for the newly minted citizens on Australia Day, and will be singing and walking on Noosa Beach at 4am on Anzac Day.

hastings carols

  • Belonging! Find a black dress, pin on the scarf thingy and join the line and you become part of something…you look the part, and all you have to do is not muck it up.
  • Lovely, lovely music, and so much to learn…some of it in French! My aged brain is really getting a workout.

Choir 4 crop

Everyone is really friendly and helpful and the shared love of music takes us a very long way, but P’s and Q’s still need to be minded. Here are some tips:

  • Scent or aftershave is forbidden so we need to be smell-free zones. But if, heaven forfend, some fragrance lingers, let it be Chanel or Dior.
  • Do your homework, especially if – like me- you’re trying to fake it till you make it.
  • Don’t upset the director if he/she is fantastic, in case they leave. Ours is wonderful – a remarkable musician and musicologist whose calm admonishments are softened by a Lincolnshire burr, and a droll turn of phrase. But make no mistake, we will do it over and over and over until it approximates some very high bar he has in mind. Needless to say, we are all in love with him and want to have his babies but to his undoubted relief, lots of us are post-menopausal, so it’s not really an issue.

The spin-offs from simply joining in have been legion, not least of which is my current head-full. If you haven’t heard Karl Jenkins’ Mass for Peace entitled, The Armed Man, do yourself a favour and Google it. It’s quite wonderful, and together with Songs from the Trenches and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, a la Andrews Sisters, will be performed at the Noosa J on 17th and 18th April (shameless plug, but they do sell out apparently).

Anzac Centenary-advance notice

And lastly I could not possibly leave this topic without paying tribute to Mrs Celia Thomas, legendary music teacher at St Aloysius Convent in Euston circa 1963. I was a miserable disappointment to her, because having taught my Auntie Doreen, whose lovely soprano has graced many a church choir, she was hoping that her niece would do a bit better than skulk at the back of the class rolling her eyes and making smart arsed comments. So to Mrs Thomas, who is almost certainly no longer with us (she seemed as old as God’s grandmother to my arrogant teenage self, but even so she would have to be a centenarian, and then some). Thank you, thank you, for not giving up and chucking me out of the class, as I deserved. Finally I get why you banged on about the tonic sol fa and made us sing Mozart and Handel. You, and all the other teachers out there who feel on a daily basis that your pearls are being cast before swine (and what a little swine I was!), take heart. Those pearls are seeds that – when the recipient finally grows up – are ready to sprout like that cress we used to grow on the windowsill with a jam jar and some blotting paper.

Or for those who prefer the swelling strings finale …the seed, that with the sun’s love, in the spring, becomes the rose!

* I do get lovely gifts from our kids and friends and family, but why let the facts get in the way of a good ol’ rant?