An unusual birthday gift

Sandy – an elegant vision at her 60th

Cliff in reflective mood (or possibly taking a quick nap!) at Sandy’s Arabian Nights-themed 60th birthday bash

Being a member of the Bella a Capella singing group is not just about the music – it’s about love and friendship – and having a damned good time even in the face of adversity.

A couple of years ago I wrote on this blog about my friend Sandy’s Big Birthday, at which her partner Cliff gave her a moving accolade.

This week Sandy had another birthday but, sadly, Cliff is no longer here to celebrate it with her because some weeks ago he died, after a long illness, leaving Sandy to cope with a large house and garden alone.  She has decided to make the most of her assets by converting part of the house to a B and B.  It’s a big challenge but Sandy is full of grit so she’ll undoubtedly make a success of it.  To help her get off to a good start, her friends in Bella a Capella decided to give her the best birthday present they could – a working bee.  First priority was to restore the vegetable garden and ornamental border adjacent to what will become the guest quarters, which had become neglected during the long period of Cliff’s illness – and that’s what we did yesterday afternoon.

Eight of the Bellas* turned up for the occasion, in our scruffiest clothes and armed with gardening tools (and food and wine!). At first sight the job seemed overwhelming for a bunch of not-so-young women but despite occasional showers we got stuck in and after 2 ½ hours this section of the garden was transformed – cleared, weeded, tidied, raked, swept, rubbish bagged up, beds fertilised and mulched.  All ready for Sandy to plant out with a selection of organically-grown foodstuff.

The thing about being a Bella is that we always have fun and just love being together.  It’s a very varied group of women that includes health professionals, writers, artists, scientists, teachers, social workers and corporate executives – among others.  Most of us are good gardeners and cooks, too (okay Bernice K, that excludes you but then you do have other talents!).  So taking on a gardening task gave us a chance to share our knowledge and reminisce about vegetables we have grown, herbs we have harvested, fruit we have turned into jams and pickles.

Mind you, all this knowledge didn’t stop some of us pulling out Sandy’s chives, thinking they were nut grass!  And there was some disagreement as to whether the asparagus foliage should be cut back or not!

After the work was done and we’d straightened our backs and washed our grubby hands and swapped our muddy boots for other footwear we gathered on Sandy’ big verandah from which you can see nothing but trees (the B and B will prove very popular with birdwatchers) to consume our wine and nibblies.  Dianne, the El Supremo of cake-making, had of course made a gorgeous birthday cake for Sandy and we toasted her and each other (and Bernice for organising it all) and then did what the Bellas do best – sang!

We all had such a good time I think we shall have to do it again!

*(Bernice, Brenda, Louise, Sue, Julie, Linda, Dianne, Renee)

Before we start, Linda checks her s ecateurs and Dianne check s her phones.  Meanwhile I am checking out Sandy’s wine cabinet!

At first sight this once-flourishing vegetable garden looks overwhelming in terms of work to be done – weeds everywhere

I’m certainly raring to go, with my mattock and weed basket

A very weedy corner

Brenda, Sue and Di get stuck into the central bed ….

Until Di comes to grips with a particularly tough Siratro root – and the weed wins. Though not for long. This was just one of many hilarious moments during our weed-busting afternoon!

Even the rain doesn’t stop our LindyLou – she’s come prepared with a shower-proof jacket

Not everyone likes to garden. Louise and Bernice opt to do some painting instead – here they inspect a piece of furniture which Bernice has first had to clean off the mould before trying to restore it to its former glory.

Gradually we create order out of chaos – Di has almost cleared this bed of weeds while Sue cleans up in the background.

The end is in sight! Renee drags a final barrow-load to the bagging area

Hurray! It’s just about done!

Brenda and I dance for joy – and hope nobody mistakes us for a pair of scarecrows!

Food for the weary workers – and wine. Those are my potato and cheese scones in the foreground.

The birthday cake, made by Dianne. Beautifully decorated but with a mysterious indent in the chocolate icing. Many wild theories were put forward as to how this got there – Sany’s cat? Linda’s nose? Somebody else’s thumb? We never did find out but ate the cake with great relish. Lucky for us Di’s talents include cake making as well as singing and directing.

At the end of a very happy afternoon and evening, Sandy tells us ithe working bee was the best possible birthday present we could have given her.

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Delicious and easy left over pork recipe

The finished dish. The basil is just for garnish!

I love inventing new food ideas instead of just slavishly following recipes.  Once you’ve spent years doing the hard yards in learning the basics of how to bake and make and blend flavours skilfully you are free to do just as you like.  And in the age of fusion cuisine there is endless potential to create rather than conform.

Today I came up with a way of using up cooked pork which was so good I thought I’d share it.  And the basic idea can be adapted to other meat, vegies and ingredients.

Earlier in the week I’d roasted a shoulder of pork (from IGA at only $3.99 a kilo!) and though we’d had two meals from it and a lot of sandwiches there was still heaps left over. And what else do you have left over after roast pork?  Why, apple sauce of course!   So I needed to use that up too.

RECIPE (feeds 2 – 4 depending on what you serve with it)

Olive oil (about 4 tablespoons – I rarely measure!)

1 onion

1 carrot

4 baby eggplant (brinjal, aubergine) or one large one

Quantity of cooked pork (I used about 250 – 300 grams)

Chopped lettuce (or cabbage; I happened to have the last of a week-old lettuce to use up)

1 dessertspoon (approx.) mustard seeds. Optional.

1  dessertspoon of garlic (fresh or minced)

1 large glass of white wine

Water as required, about a small glass full

Salt and pepper

4 large tomatoes

Apple sauce

Sage, thyme and fennel

Heat the oil in a heavy pan (with thick base and lid) and lightly fry mustard seeds, then add onions.  When lightly browned add eggplant and carrot, then meat.  Turn it over with a wooden spoon so it is all coated with oil and lightly fried.  Add lettuce, garbage, garlic, the leaves from a sprig of thyme, and just a tiny bit of fennel.  Toss around a bit with the spoon, then add wine, salt and black pepper.

While this is gently cooking, cut out the tomato stem scars and make a bit of a hole in the top, scooping out some pulp and adding to the pot.  Fill the hollows with apple sauce, sprinkle with salt, black pepper and fresh sage and place carefully on top of the meat and veg in the pot.  Add a thickener to the mixture in the pot – either flour, cornflour (mixed first to smoothness with cold water) or a packet or mushroom soup (which is what I used) – using just enough water, about a small glass, to make a sauce that is not too thick and not too runny. Put the lid or other tight covering on the pot and simmer for 15 minutes, making sure it doesn’t stick and burn.  You could also cook for half an hour in a pre-heated medium oven.  Slow-cooking would be okay but the tomatoes would wrinkle and not present so well.  Serve with rice, pasta or potatoes – mine today will be served with potatoes that have been boiled and then lightly browned in oil.

The good thing with this dish is that the astringency of the tomatoes and sweetness of the apple sauce (lightly flavoured with sage) cuts down  the rich and slightly fatty taste of pork.  It’s a delightful contrast.

Any left over vegies could also be added to this dish, or a few frozen peas, or fresh pumpkin, or sweet potato – anything you fancy.

You can make this dish early in the day, or the day before, and reheat gently when required.




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Norbert’s last message

The green banks of Cainbabel Creek


Recently I had an inquiry on this website about an article I’d written some time ago, about the O’Reilly family of Green Mountains, an hour from where I live.  Terence Egan wanted to know more about Norbert O’Reilly’s poem Cainbabel Creek.

The poem appears in Bernard O’Reilly’s Over the Hills; in Bernard’s own words: “The lines below were sent by my brother Norbert to the Kerry* girl he had hoped to marry.  They were written in France and arrived in Australia weeks after the news of Norb’s death had come by cable”.

Like his brother Bernard, Norbert was a fine bushman and a man accustomed to tough challenges yet he possessed a poetic soul.  How terrible it must have been to find himself amidst the mud and blood and pointless misery of trench warfare, so far from the green hills and valleys of Home. How poignant that he knew, as he wrote the following lines in August 1917, that he would never see that home again.

Today I often wander the banks of Cainbabel Creek and I never fail to think of Norbert.

(*The Kerry valley, between Beaudesert and the mountains where Cainbabel Creek rises)


Thoughts come to me as I wander

With a loose and dropping rein,

Thoughts of days gone by and ended

Flash into my mind again


When I rode in blissful silence

With a heart to full to speak

There was one who rode beside me,

By your banks, Cainbabel Creek.


Crooning streamlet full of beauty,

Banks of  darkest emerald treen,

Tiny waterfalls that ripple

Over rocks with silken sheen


Fig-tree branches softly clustering,

Blending green of every shade

With a harmony more perfect

Than e’er human heart has made


And there rushes swiftly o’er me

Memory that is almost pain,

As there comes the fresh, damp perfume

Of those fig-tree boughs again.


Cainbabel, you’re watching dearest

Haunts me daily like a spell,

Calls me back again in spirit

To the spot I love so well.


Brings me back when I am weary

The peace of soul I vainly seek,

Though I never more shall see you

Peaceful, cool Cainbabel Creek.


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Barry’s 60th E-BASH

I love this picture of Barry even though it's so dark and out of focus - it nonetheless conveys a sense of the lovely man that he is - here giving a

I love this picture of Barry Chatel even though it’s so dark and out of focus – it nonetheless conveys a sense of the lovely man that he is – here giving a “thank you” speech to all those who attended his 60th birthday bash last night.

It’s only about 18 months since Barry Chatel was rocking and rolling at my 70th birthday party – and last night I returned the compliment by dancing (part of!) the night away as we celebrated his 60th.

And what a great night it was.  74  guests packed into the Tamborine Mountain Bowls Club to shove Baz into his seventh decade with Enthusiasm, Exuberance and Energy!  The letter “E” being the chosen theme for the night, taxing our ingenuity to its uttermost.  Some went for the easy option so there were a few “Elegant” women in the room and an elf or two.  Egyptians were scattered here and there, very beautifully got-up (Linda!  Janice!).  Others really put their imaginations to work and I was particularly taken with the “EpiPen” and the “Excuses”.

This all had a funny side because during the past couple of days various party guests could be seen haunting North Tamborine’s three op-shops and the Bargains ‘R Us over at Eagle Heights, all frantically searching for costume ideas and props.  We kept – literally – bumping into each other and trying not to reveal the secrets of our fancy dress.  All the more fun, then, when last night All Was Revealed!

I reflected, while sipping my wine and eating my roast beef, that one of the many pleasures of life in a small town is that there are so few degrees of separation.  I didn’t know everyone at the party and I don’t suppose anybody else did either except the hosts, but I knew most of them and our lives are intertwined in many different ways, yet all linked to Barry and Linda.  Thus apart from our “hard core” of singers and musicians there were people from Tamborine Mountain Little Theatre, Bird Group and Landcare; service clubs, the Bowls Club, social workers, librarians, writers, photographers, car enthusiasts, legal types, IT nerds, health professionals and altogether an amazingly cross-section of population – many of us belonging to several of these groupings.

I think this is what makes our mountain celebrations so warm and vibrant…we are connected and comfortable with one another in our many shared interests and enthusiasms.

Bob, who never goes to parties on the advice of his doctor, went to this one because he thinks so highly of Barry.  He even seemed to enjoy himself and stayed until after 10 pm (the cake cutting) before pottering home on his mobility scooter, lights flashing cheerily.  I stayed on a bit later and then headed homeward with Renee, both of us tired from so much dancing and talking but chattering happily about what a great party it had been and what fun we can still have in our youthful seventies and how good it is to live in such a place where we can walk home safely late at night under a splendidly starry sky.

Here are a few pics  – once the dancing started I was up there on the floor a-rockin’ an’ a rollin’ an’ a twistin’ with no more time for photography.  But the cameras were clicking everywhere so I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other pics up there on Facebook!

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Glampout at Cherrabah

Bush and birds equates to bliss for the Tamborine Mountain Bird Group and so it was with great enthusiasm that we headed west of the Great Dividing Range for our annual campout – now renamed the “glampout” because most of us don’t actually camp.

This year our destination was Cherrabah Resort, between Warwick and Killarney.  “Resort” is a bit of a misnomer because it’s a former riding ranch sort of converted to a place to stay for those wanting an Aussie bush experience.  I say “sort of” because it’s been let to ramble along a bit, with a few faded signs here pointing to natural attractions – and to better days.

For our group it was just perfect.  Friendly country-style hospitality, simple but delicious and abundant food (none of your “gourmet” truffle oil-infused dishes here), 6000 acres of forest and creek and hills with rocky outcrops.  And our group of 21 had it all to ourselves!  Apart from a few horses – and birds.  The rooms are basic but clean, there’s a bar and a dining room and a lovely flagged terrace with sunrise/sunset views.  Miimal but very pleasant staff.  What more could you want?

We had two nights there and it wasn’t enough…but then it’s less than three hours drive from home so at least we can go back.  In the meantime, here’s how the trip went, in pictures:



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EHJune16 086


I’ve become one of those boring people who go to the same place for holidays every year.  I never thought I would but that’s what age does to you!

When Bob and I were young we always wanted novelty – somewhere different and exciting. Now, we find more comfort and pleasure in familiarity.  The challenges – for Bob at least – of foreign travel now far outweigh the discomforts and inconveniences. And let’s face it, we’ve been most places and done it all in our day. So four times a year or so we get into our car and make the brief morning’s journey to our favourite beach place, Evans Head. It’s not so much a holiday, in fact, but a second home where we can change from the mountains to the sea.

And we have made an important discovery.  Though the location is the same, the experience is always different!  No two visits are alike, not just because of changing seasons and weather but because it doesn’t matter where you go, nothing is ever quite the same from one day to the next. Let alone one year to the next.  Familiarity, we’ve found, doesn’t breed contempt – it breeds love and the ability to look beyond the known and obvious to delights not appreciated before.

Thus we seek out new places to walk, birds not seen there before, plants to recognise and photograph that were previously unnoticed.  New eating places too – because the one downside about Evans Head is that it offers very few good places to dine out and these have become fewer over the years.  It’s why I try to pick times when the small (only a couple of boats actually) trawlers are going out – I could live on fresh prawns!

This downside has its upside.  The lack of fine dining, along with the general unsophistication of the place (wi fi access very limited, general dislike of credit cards, no serious effort at creating a tourist trade) means the only regular visitors to modest little Evans Head are people just like us, content with the simple gifts freely offered by Nature.

So, here we are back from another relaxing week at our favourite getaway place and once again the photos tell the story – the same subjects but with different moods and aspects.  And a focus on the splendid sunrises and sunsets of late autumn in the sub-tropics.

(By the way, if you click on the photos you get the captions)





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Nature’s art and the naked king

Yesterday we had a wonderful day out and I mean that quite literally because it was a day full of nature’s wonders – mountains, lakes, streams, rolling countryside, trees, flowers, birds, butterflies.  And also some rather horrible sculpture.

It was such a beautiful morning, with cooler weather and some late rain expected, that we packed a picnic and headed for the back country.  As we do whenever we have a rate free day.

Of course we packed our binoculars and cameras along with all the food and a couple of beers, and also my butterfly net (no, I don’t kill them, just catch them and photograph them and let them go!), plus maps showing all the little back-country roads and creeks.  Eternally seeking new good birding spots!

First we headed for Lake Wyaralong where we stopped for smoko (chocolate eclaires and iced coffee if you’re interested) at the delightful picnic spot there.  Delightful because there are several nice new little shelters with tables and benches, all with good views over the lake.  Decent loos, too!

We were also interested to see how the new sculpture park at the top of the hill there had settled down since we last visited nearly a year ago and saw the sculptures being made.  Though an intelligent attempt has been made to fit these appropriately into the landscape my view remains what it was – most of them are pretentious rubbish!  There is a view that anything is “art” if the artist declares it to be so but it’s not a view I share.  Surely there have to be some standards, some way of judging what is good art and what is not?  Given that taste is subjective, still we need to have some criteria of judgment where professional art is concerned.  Bearing in mind the artist expects to be paid for it!

I find these sculptures for the most part naive in vision and crudely executed.  Where is the art?  Does giving the piece a name that reflects the natural landscape or an indigenous concept automatically confer public acceptance of their worth?  Obviously some think so and thus standards become compromised and self-expression manifests itself as self-indulgence.  And who dares to say a word?  It’s like Hans Andersen’s King who wore no clothes and nobody dared to tell him he was naked!  At the Wyaralong Sculpture Park the King is most definitely in the altogether!

Yet all around Nature offers so much art for free!  Exquisitely sculpted mountains, rich blue lakes and graceful wild creatures.  If we’re going to paint or sculpt them we need to try and outdo Nature, not just imitate it.  Or what’s the point?

So I reflected as I drive west from Wyaralong and took a little track parallel to the Beaudesert-Boonah Road where there’s a lovely little creek and a small cleared section of bank on which to sit and watch birds and turtles and whatever else wanders by.

We then took a new road (to us) up to the higher country behind Boonah and south to eventually meet the Boonah-Rathdowney Road.  A narrow road that changes from bitumen to gravel and back again and offers some splendid views – though not a lot in the way of birds as this is farmland for the most part.

A steep and gravelly descent to the valley took us along another pretty creek (Cannon Creek) and having failed to find any new picnic spot of sufficient appeal we headed to the foot of brooding Mt Maroon where there’s one of our very favourite lunch spots – by a pretty and peaceful waterhole surrounded by birds.  Just the perfect spot to munch our cheeses and olives and rare roast beef and horseradish rolls and turkey and cucumber sandwiches and grapes.  Doesn’t get much better!…


And all along this road are views of the Great Dividing Range and the mountains south to the border – deep blue and brooding and with the rain clouds massing above them

Ranges1 Ranges3 Ranges4 Ranges4a Ranges5 Ranges6 Ranges7

A pretty little farm in the valley as we descend from the high country

A pretty little farm in the valley as we descend from the high country


Bob settles down for lunch by the waterhole at the foot of Mt Maroon

Bob settles down for lunch by the waterhole at the foot of Mt Maroon

A perfect picnic spot - no people, no noise except birdsong.

A perfect picnic spot – no people, no noise except birdsong.

I go for a bit of a walk after lunch and look back down towards the water hole.  This is the start of the Mt Maroon climb

I go for a bit of a walk after lunch and look back down towards the water hole. This is the start of the Mt Maroon climb

The brooding peaks of Mt Maroon from below.  I've climbed that right peak (it's a long, hard slog and rock clamber, not a real climb with ropes etc) but doubt I could do it today.

The brooding peaks of Mt Maroon from below. I’ve climbed that right peak (it’s a long, hard slog and rock clamber, not a real climb with ropes etc) but doubt I could do it today.

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