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This Writing Life: An Outback Queensland Adventure

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Welcome to this delayed edition of This Writing Life: A. Outback Queensland Adventure. I’ve been trying to organise this post for a while but the first round of edits for THE COUNTRY GIRL landed while I was away and that meant it was straight down to business on my arrival home, with no time to spare for travelogues. Or house cleaning for that matter, but any excuse to get out of that.

Anyway, better late than never!

For those of you who missed my adventures on social media, in mid March Jim and I had to fly up to Townsville for some appointments. Because Murphy’s Law dictated that nothing matched up (actually, it was probably more our disorganisation that caused this but Murphy is so much easier to blame), we ended up with a few days to spare. This also coincided with my globe-trotting parents-in-law leaving their four-wheel-drive parked in Townsville.

Four-wheel-drive…

Queensland outback practically on the doorstep…

At a loose end…

Never look a gift horse and all that I say. So we pinched the car and hit the road.

If you ever get the chance to go driving around outback Queensland, I highly recommend you take it. As you’ll see from the following photos, we had a BALL!

To put things in perspective, this map shows where we headed to: Townsville, through Charters Towers and then out to WInton and surrounds.

Outback Queensland Map

From Townsville we headed out past Charters Towers and then down to Winton, approximately 600kms.

The drive out was fun. The humour in outback Australia can be as dry as the landscape, as demonstrated by this laugh outside of Charters Towers.

Grounded! The writing on the boat reads: Lake Wanted, Boat Grumpy. Cracks me up.

Grounded! The writing on the boat reads: Lake Wanted, Boat Grumpy. I’ve seen this a few times now and it never fails to crack me up.

There’s a tiny little town called Corfield, population 10, on the Winton to Hughenden road, which has nothing much more than a pub come shop, a couple of other buildings, and a bit of a camping ground. But each year they hold the “real” Corfield Cup, a play on Melbourne’s famous Caulfield Cup horse race, and the population swells to more than 1000.

Sounds right up my alley. One for the bucket list!

Corfield, Queensland. Home of the "real" Corfield Cup. I'd love to go to this event. One for the bucket list.

Corfield, Queensland. Home of the “real” Corfield Cup.

There’s a lot of flat country out there…

Heading to Winton. It's flat and a bit empty.

The seemingly endless mitchell grass downs that dominate the road to Winton.

Another tiny town was Prairie, population 50, and once a main horse change for Cobb and Co. coaches. The pub is a blast and a must-stop.

The Prairie Hotel, complete with horse on the roof.

The Prairie Hotel, complete with horse on the roof, saddlery draping the front rails and very friendly locals.

Inside the Prairie Hotel. A treasure trove!

Inside the Prairie Hotel. A treasure trove! There was even an old barber’s chair.

Deciding to make Winton our base and travel outwards from there, we booked a room at the North Gregory Hotel. First opening it doors in 1879, the hotel has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. This is the 4th North Gregory Hotel which opened in 1955 (and was owned by the local council!) and it’s a fantastic building.

There’s so much history in this hotel alone. It was the location of the first public performance of iconic song Waltzing Matilda in 1895. Lyndon Johnson, who would go on to become the 36th President of the United States, stayed here as a Navy Lt Commander after his plane crash landed at Carisbrooke Station in 1942. It was also where locals held secret meetings as they formed the airline Qantas.

North Gregory Hotel

Such a great looking hotel, and a gorgeous morning for adventuring.

This made me smile each time I passed. Near the location of the first public performance of Waltzing Matilda.

This made me smile each time I passed. Near the location of the first public performance of Waltzing Matilda.

Artist Daphne Mayo (1895-1982) created these etched glass panels for the dining room at the North Gregory Hotel. These are a tribute to Waltzing Matilda. Another set was to Qantas.

Artist Daphne Mayo (1895-1982) created these etched glass panels for the dining room at the North Gregory Hotel. These are a tribute to Waltzing Matilda. Another set was to Qantas.

This cute little fellow was in the beer garden of the North Gregory Hotel.

This cute little fellow was in the beer garden of the North Gregory Hotel.

We were up the next morning early for a stroll around town. First stop was Arno’s Wall, a work of art and architecture by local identity and opal miner Arno Grotjahn. It has all sorts of things embedded in it, including a kitchen sink.

Sunrise hitting some motorbikes embedded in Arno's Wall.

Sunrise hitting some motorbikes embedded in Arno’s Wall.

It was so quiet in Winton that morning, there were brolgas wandering the street.

Brolgas in Winton

Brolgas in Winton

Winton town centre features lovely whimsical artwork, wonderful sculptures and commemorative statues. They even have cool dinosaur themed bin covers. Such a nice place to wander around, full of humour and history.

Cute sculpture in Winton main street.

One of the cute pieces of art in Winton’s main street.

dinosaur foot wheelie bin covers.

Love these dinosaur foot wheelie bin covers.

Banjo Paterson sculpture

Banjo Parterson and Waltzing Matilda commemorative statue.

Winton Wagon

This horse drawn wagon carried the last load of wool to the Winton rail head in 1936. The wagon could carry a load of 9 tonnes when yoked with 19 horses.

Corfield and Fitzmaurice building

The historic Corfield and Fitzmaurice building in Winton’s main street. There’s a museum inside and a shop selling local hand-made crafts. I bought a gorgeous bracelet from there.

Swagman statue

This lovely statue is a tribute to Banjo Paterson and to the many swagmen who lie in unmarked graves throughout the country.

There’s nothing so dry as outback Aussie humour and the Tattersalls Hotel outdid itself with these quotes they’d hung on the outside walls.

Tattersalls Hotel

Tattersalls Hotel

From Winton we took a drive 110kms south to Lark Quarry and the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, which was seriously cool. There’s something about seeing 95 million-year-old dinosaur tracks that brings out the excited kid in me.

I love how science has determined that, all that time ago, hundreds of small dinosaurs were wandering near the edge of a lake when a large, meat-eating theropod attacked. Blocked by the lake, the little dinosaurs had nowhere to go, and in a mad panic were forced to run like crazy past the predator to safety. Even more exciting, the event was preserved in the mud and then turned to stone for us to see today.

Though occasionally rough, the drive to Lark Quarry was enjoyable too. Fantastic landscape and just look at that sky!

Emergency airstrip

This section of road in the middle of nowhere is designated no stopping so emergency aircraft like the Flying Doctor can land.

Arriving at Lark Quarry

Arriving at Lark Quarry

The scenery around Lark Quarry was stunning.

The scenery around Lark Quarry was stunning. The colours are incredible. So vivid they almost look created instead of natural.

Below you can see some of the footprints, preserved under cover (a necessity, not just to protect them from the elements but from people who have damaged and/or tried to nick them over the years). The largest of the theropod prints is 64cm, which extrapolates into a predator approximately 2.5 metres tall at the hips. The other dinosaurs ranged from chicken sized to half the size of an emu. Just enough for a nice snack.

inosaur footprints

Dinosaur footprints! And the only known preserved dinosaur stampede in the world. Fantastic.

From Lark Quarry I made Jim take a detour to Old Cork Station. The road deteriorated so badly we thought we’d taken a wrong turn, it wasn’t on the GPS and don’t even think about internet access. Earlier there’d been another track heading off in a different direction, so we u-turned back to try that, only for it to dead end at a gypsum quarry. So around we went again… with much swearing and muttering from the driver about people who get excited and soppy about things that are nothing but lines in a forgotten song. But we found it in the end and I ticked Old Cork Station off my bucket list. Jim, however, was completely underwhelmed and still hasn’t let me forget it.

For those of you who have never heard of Old Cork Station, take a listen to Australian folk band Redgum’s “Diamantina Drover“.

I defy you not to feel romantic about it!

Old Cork Station

The sandstone ruins of Old Cork Station near the Diamantina River, one of the shire’s original properties. Old Cork was first settled in the 1860s and the homestead built in 1880-85.

After Old Cork (yes, there’s still a Cork Station, if you’re wondering – we drove past the ‘new’ homestead on the way) we journeyed back to Winton, where Jim got chatting to a local who’d called into the tourist office for a natter. Apparently the local had been up to Combo Waterhole the day before and it was running, something he’d never seen before.

Naturally, being his father’s son, Jim decided to take a drive cos, you know, we clearly hadn’t done enough already that day. *rolls eyes*

Combo Waterhole is iconic in Australian bush culture. It lies 132km north-west of Winton off the Landsborough Highway and is believed to be the setting of, or at least the inspiration for, AB (Banjo) Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda which he wrote while visiting Dagworth Station (which Combo Waterhole was once a part of) in 1895.

You know how it goes…

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Combo is, so the story goes, the billabong in question. It’s also of importance to Jim’s family because across the other side of the waterhole is a Cobb and Co staging post where Jim’s great grandfather worked and where his great-uncle Les was born.

Sign indicating the turn-off to Combo Waterhole

Sign indicating the turn-off to Combo Waterhole. The waterhole is on the horizon somewhere.

Combo Waterhole

Standing at Combo Waterhole, which is actually a series of waterholes. As you can see it was flowing quite quickly so we didn’t try to cross to visit the Cobb and Co post.

The local also told us that if we could catch sunset at the 4-mile windmill (four miles from Winton, funnily enough) it’d make for some spectacular photos. We did and they were!

Windmill sunset

The peace of watching this sunset was quite incredible.

The following day we headed 24 kms out of Winton to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, which was also excellent. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of unique Australian dinosaur fossils.

Age of dinosaurs - Banjo statue

Perfectly normal thing to do, stick your head in a dinsosaur’s mouth. This is “Banjo”.

Age of dinosaurs lab.

Volunteers working to clean a dinosaur bone in the lab.

Age of dinosaurs

Love what’s written on the outside of this preserved pack of bones: “One BIG Dinosaur!!!”

Close to Winton is the Bladensburg National Park, which was once Bladensburg Station but was designated a National Park in 1994. There’s a half day drive you can do around it called the Route of the River Gum. We had a four-wheel-drive so we did it, and had a great time.

Bladensburg National Park - kangaroos

Kangaroos sheltering from the heat in one of the claypans at Bladensburg. The claypans allow water to run off so freely that it only takes half an inch of rain to fill the waterholes. Drovers used to follow the storms, knowing that even a small one would produce enough runoff to provide water for themselves and their livestock.

Richard Cragg's lonely grave in Bladensburg

Richard Cragg’s lonely grave in Bladensburg. Cragg was a mail contractor who died in December 1888 aged 46, apparently from “poison.”

The 1894 shearer's strike memorial

The 1894 shearer’s strike memorial. It was here that 500 shearers camped during the strike of 1891 and 1894, when Winton was under martial law. It’s also of historical political significance as these events played a role in the founding of the Australian Labour Party.

Engine Hole, a waterhole in the park.

Engine Hole, a waterhole in the park. Even a simple ham, cheese and tomato sandwich tastes like gourmet food when you eat it somewhere like this.

Bladensburg Homestead and shearing shed is open for visitors. This shed was built in the 1960s after the original shearing burnt down, and has only 6 stands, reflecting stocking rates of the time. Sheep numbers on Bladnesburg ranged from 30,000 in 1915, to 600,000 (!!) in the 1920s, declining to 14,000 in the 1950s.

The change in numbers is amazing. In 1965 in Queensland’s Flinders Shire alone there were nearly 1.3 million sheep. By 2006 there were only 156,000. Cattle are now the primary stock that’s run.

Bladenburg's old shearing shed.

Bladenburg’s old shearing shed.

Before we left Winton, I had to play on its musical fence. It made me laugh, even if Jim thought I was a twit.

musical fence

Can’t say my efforts on the musical fence were very tuneful.

Musical Fence - drums

I did feel, however, that I played the drums quite marvellously.

We called into Hughenden on the trip back and had a terrific time visiting the museum and checking out the sculptures.

Mutt the Muttaburrasaurus

Mutt the Muttaburrasaurus, a fibreglass replica. These dinosaurs grew up to 7 metres in length and were 2.2 metres at the hip. Behind, the gorgeous old Grand Hotel, sadly closed.

Windmill sculpture, Hughenden

This windmill sculpture/rotunda in Hughenden’s main street was erected in 2001 to celebrate the centenary of Federation and features two 20 foot blade windmills. It’s practical as well as interesting and, thanks to interpretive panels inside, educational. Danny from Santa and the Saddler would have loved it!

dinosaur metalwork sculpture

One of the dinosaur metalwork sculptures that dot the centre of town.

dinosaur metalwork sculpture

Another metalwork sculpture in Hughenden. Clever!

Hughie, the 7 metre tall muttaburrasaurus

Hughie, the 7 metre tall muttaburrasaurus in the Flinders Discovery Centre.

Danny, windmill engineer and hero of my rural romance Santa and the Saddler, would have gone nuts over this gigantic Comet windmill in Hughenden.

The Comet windmill Hughenden

The Wirilla Station windmill, now in Hughenden, stands on the banks of the Flinders River and is one of only fifteen 35 foot mills ever manufactured. This one is number 11 and it could pump a million litres of water a day with an average wind. Danny would have wet his pants!

From there we drove back to Charters Towers, a famed gold rush town, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch at Centenary Park and this commemorative sculpture.

Gold Discovery Monument

The Gold Discovery Monument by Queensland artist Hugh Anderson

I was sad to leave the area. We’d had such a great adventure, experiencing outback Queensland and visiting locations so iconic and significant in Australia’s history.

Next time we’re up in Townsville with time to spare, I’m hoping to take a (longish) drive north-west to the Undara Volcanic National Park to check out the lava tubes. My parents-in-law tell me they’re spectacular.

Hope you enjoyed this post from This Writing Life. Don’t expect too many other adventures for a while. No time for fun in the Hein house, it’s book writing time and I have an idea for a beeeoooooty!

 

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This Writing Life: Christmas-New Year Australian Adventures 2017

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There’s nothing like a mammoth road trip to wear you out, and we did a beauty over the Christmas-New Year break. Well over 4,000 kilometres (2485+ miles) in total by the time we made it back home.

Not that this is unusual for us. With my family in south-east South Australia and Jim’s in north Queensland, long journeys are unavoidable. Anyway, it’s fun to cruise this vast country of ours. There’s always something wonderful to see or experience, from our natural beauty and fascinating history to our famously dangerous wildlife, and much more in between.

And when you spend so much time in front of a computer like me, sometimes it’s just a blast to tool around in the Aussie outdoors.

Here’s a selection of photos from our time away. Enjoy!

 

We called in to Moree on the trip up and had a lovely dinner with author Nicole Alexander. Unfortunately, neither of us thought to take a pic for you. We were too busy talking!

From Moree it was a cruisy drive to Rockhampton, a place I’ve had a soft spot for from first visit. And here’s a useless fact for you: Central Queensland University, which has its main campus here, is where I gained my post-graduate in business management.

As always, when in Rocky, we wandered down to the Criterion Hotel’s Bush Inn steakhouse for a big meaty feed. Isn’t the hotel beautiful? It was built in 1889 and is ‘cousin’ to Brisbane’s famous Breakfast Creek Hotel, although the Criterion has an extra floor. It also has a ghost, believed to be a chambermaid who died in the late 1800s, although no one seems to be sure.

Criterion Hotel, Rockhampton

Criterion Hotel, Rockhampton

Read more about the history of the hotel on its website.

Ah, I do so love a good equestrian statue! This – so the plaque informed me – is of Charles Archer and his horse Sleipner, who, on 1st September 1855, made rendezvous with his brother Colin Archer in the ketch Elida on the banks of the Fitzroy River, and thus the site of Rockhampton was determined.

Charles Archer statue, Rockhampton

Christmas was spent in Collinsville, which now advertises itself as the Pit Pony Capital of Australia, thanks to the historic use of ponies in the coal mine. Although they weren’t ponies, they were Clydesdales. Collinsville was the last mine in Australia to use pit ponies, with Wharrier and Mr Ed only being retired in 1990, which is kind of gobsmacking.

Timing meant I didn’t get to visit The Pit Pony Experience this trip but I will next time I’m up so I can learn more about the ponies and community.

A handsome statue has been installed in town to honour the lives of these animals. Naturally, being a horsey sculpture, I took lots of snaps. He was decorated for Christmas and looking very jaunty.

Pit pony statue, Collinsville

My father-in-law has the best big boy’s toys. This is just a small example. Next trip I’m going to have a go at the loader myself. And the digger. Wouldn’t mind a play with a big truck either but knowing me I’d probably break it. After all, I managed to mangle a header at agricultural college during harvest which did NOT go down well. Oops.

Big boys toys

The barbeque had a hanger on. These hornet nests are quite extraordinary, heavy and densely structured, but look how delicate the entrance funnel is. It’s almost a work of art in itself.

Hornets nest

We snuck into Bowen on Christmas Eve to raid the fish co-op and enjoy a tasty lunch at the yacht club. Did you know Bowen was where they filmed the Darwin scenes for the movie Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman? The town is very proud of the fact and even has BOWENWOOD painted in big letters on the water tower. Such an Australian thing to do. I really wanted to get a snap of that but the best vantage point was the highway and I didn’t think getting skittled on Christmas Eve was a good idea.

One of the signs near the tourist office celebrating Bowen's role in the making of the movie Australia.

One of the signs near the tourist office celebrating Bowen’s role in the making of the movie Australia.

The original big mango (which once made headlines for being “kidnapped” overnight) is on the Bruce Highway but there’s a smaller one, known as mini-mango, in town. I thought I’d show it Wayward Heart. Perfectly normal thing to do.

Tooling around in Bowen.

Tooling around in Bowen.

Post-Christmas we headed north to Townsville. The Strand was looking gorgeous, with plenty of people making use of the water park and patrolled beaches. I adore the fig trees; some of them are fantastical in shape and look more suited to a Lord of the Rings type movie set than a tropical promenade.

Strand water park

Strand beach

Fig tree

Townsville has some wonderful architecture, including the former Queens Hotel and Customs House.

The former Queens Hotel

The former Queens Hotel

Customs house

Customs house

The Strand is also home to several sculptures. This one is new since our last visit. It’s called Bazza and Shazza and was created by James Cook University alumni Jan Hynes. Isn’t it cool?

Bazza and Shazza Sculpture, The Strand, Townsville

Bazza and Shazza with Magnetic Island in the background.

At the top end of The Strand lies Jezzine Barracks. This redeveloped 15-hectare site celebrates the aboriginal and military history of the Kissing Point headland. The original fort was established in 1870, and the site was in continuous military use from 1885 until 2006. The views over the rockpool and bay are lovely and worth the climb, even in the heat.

View from Jezzine Barracks

View from Jezzine Barracks

This might be hard to read but this is a section of plaque in one of the barracks’ memorials that tells of the bravery of Private Jim Gordon VC. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous gallantry while saving his unit by capturing a pill box near Jezzine, northern Syria. As if that wasn’t enough, he was offered a SECOND Victoria Cross for his actions on the Kokoda Track, but turned it down unless the rest of his section were also similarly recognised. What an incredible man.

Private Jim Gordon VC

Private Jim Gordon VC

Here are some of the other memorials in the barracks.

A Jezzine Barracks memorial

A Jezzine Barracks memorial

Naturally, we played golf. Usually we’d play all three local courses but a 3.5 metre saltwater crocodile had moved into The Willows and I was buggered if I was going to play there. With everything else biting me I was bound to be snapped at.

Apparently they’ve since managed to capture one croc but it was only 2.3 metres long which means the 3.5 metre could be still out there… waiting.

Newspaper article about the Willows crocodile

Speaking of bities, here’s a green ant nest I spotted at Rowes Bay Golf Club.

green ant nest

Not something I’d like to bump into.

Castle Hill viewed from Rowes Bay Golf Club

Castle Hill viewed from Rowes Bay Golf Club

And another bitey, although in this case it’s a fake one draping the street in front of the Museum of Tropical Queensland. I bet that’s given more than a few intoxicated revellers leaving the Flinders Street nightclub strip a fright or ten.

Flinders Street spider

We called back into Collinsville on the way back because the local cattle needed to be shown Wayward Heart too. And don’t they look fascinated.

Wayward Heart with cows

Which reminds me, we struck a nasty storm near Guthalungra. Horrible to drive through but dramatic to look at.

Storm - near Guthalungra

It can be ridiculously expensive to buy healthy food when you’re travelling so we pack picnics and make use of roadside stops. It’s great. Mostly. At one stop on the upward journey we set up at a table only to discover halfway through eating our sandwiches that there was a paper wasp nest beneath. Poor Jim copped a few stings, which made for a deal of unhappiness.

Ever wondered why Banana in central Queensland (and not a banana tree in sight) was called Banana? I have, plenty of times, and now, thanks to this sign, I know the answer and so do you.

Why Banana is called Banana

In case you can’t read it, the piece about Banana on the sign’s left reads:

In bygone days of bullock drays Banana led the team, an enormous yellow bullock who died beside a stream. The years have passed “Banana’s creek” tells of the bullock’s fame, for a town grew up beside it and BANANA is its name.

There’s even a statue and memorial to good ol’ Banana. What fun!

Banana the bullock

I’ve forgotten how many times we’ve passed through Condamine, on the western Darling Downs, over the years and wished we could stop at its wonderful old pub, but we could never seem to fit it in our schedule. This trip we did, and so, after a long day on our bums, we enjoyed a refreshing leg-stretching walk around town followed by a cold beer and great counter meal. Bewdiful.

Condamine Bell Hotel

Condamine Bell Hotel

Enjoying a beer at Condamine pub

Flood marker - Condamine

The flood marker at Condamine. Look how high the 2011 flood is!

Condamine is tiny, with a population of 400 or so. What it’s most famous for is the Condamine Bell, invented by blacksmith Samuel Williams Jones. He was the first to manufacture stock bells out of sheet metal from crosscut saws.

I remember memorising a wonderfully romantic-sounding poem about this in year 10 in school, which I then had to recite to the class. It was called Condamine Bells by Jack Sorensen and I’m still able to recite lines by heart. You can read the poem in full here. As you can imagine, I was rather chuffed to visit the memorial bell.

The Condamine Bell

The Condamine Bell

A few days after returning home we zoomed off to Canberra to visit the excellent A History of the World in 100 Objects exhibition at the National Museum and take a bazillion more photos. I’d include those but I think this post is long enough as it is. If you’re interested, highlights can be found on my Instagram and Facebook pages.

I hope you had fun with this peek at our latest Australian adventures. We certainly had fun living it!

Did you have any adventures over the break?

FRIDAY FEAST with Cathryn Hein

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Greetings Feasty lovelies, and welcome to another tasty edition of Friday Feast, coming to you again from the mighty metropolis of Melbourne where I’ve been for the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference. What a ball we had. I promise to post lots of photos for you when I get home. In the meantime you can enjoy this Friday Feast from me, where I wax lyrical about one of my favourite food destinations.

Cathryn Hein playing golfBut first, news from Us Heins Weren’t Meant To Play Golf. Not a lot of golf to talk about thanks to the conference but I did sneak down the Mornington Peninsula for a hit during the week. It was not pretty. The course was playing mean, it was bloody freezing, and I lost to His Majesty after being four shots up. Gah! But while the golf might have been ordinary, the views were good and the miserable day gave us the excuse to snuggle up in an Irish pub afterward with pints of Guinness and some hot, hearty food. There’s always a silver lining!

This week I’m going to feature my debut novel, Promises, which hit shelves almost four years ago to the day, on the 29th August 2011. Such an exciting time!

PROMISES

Promises by Cathryn HeinA father with something to hide, a jockey with a taste for blackmail, a man with an agonising secret. . . and a young woman in love, defying them all.

Sophie Dixon is determined to leave her tragic past behind and forge a bright future on her beloved farm. While looking to buy a new horse, she is drawn into her neighbour Aaron’s Laidlaw’s orbit, despite the bad blood between their families.

As the racing season unfolds, Sophie and Aaron’s feelings for each other deepen. But Aaron is torn, haunted by a dark secret he fears can never be forgiven – especially by Sophie.

Sophie believes herself strong, but the truth behind her mother’s death will test her strength, and her love, to the limit. She’s been broken once. No one wants to see her broken again. Least of all the man who has grown to love her.

This is such a wonderful book, with feuding families, deep secrets, loads of romance and a whole lot of good feeling. I’m horribly biased of course, but this story is completely sigh-worthy. If you missed Teaser Tuesday this week, there’s a little snippet for your reading pleasure there, plus a another extract on the Promises book page. Or why not just buy the whole book? You know you want to… Try Booktopia, Bookworld, Angus & Robertson, Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, JB Hi-Fi or your favourite book store or e-tailer.

All set? Good. Now come enjoy some happy foodie snaps from Mighty Melbournetown!

To Market, To Market!

I’ve never been shy about how much I adore Melbourne. It’s my favourite Australian capital. Melbourne has a great vibe, one of action and excitement, of fantastic food and culture, of interesting architecture and art, and it’s the spiritual home of that most excellent and pervable of sports, Australian Rules Football.

Pasta at Queen Victoria Market

Seafood at Queen Victoria Market

In many ways, it’s the city I grew up with. Mount Gambier, my home town, is almost equidistant between Adelaide and Melbourne. Being South Australian, you’d think we’d gravitate to our own capital for big city experiences but it was Melbourne that we frequented most. I guess simply because it was so much bigger. Or it could be that the road was easier. Driving to Adelaide via the Coorong was, admittedly, scenic but back then the road was pretty ordinary, and the alternative route through the upper south-east not much better, whereas Victoria’s Glenelg Highway and Princes Highway weren’t too bad. But that could be my faulty childhood memory. The older I get the more I find discover how many tricks that can play.

Olives at Queen Victoria Market

Cheese at Queen Victoria Market

I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Melbourne twice. The first time was post-university when I was employed by a pasture seed company that had a depot in Melbourne. The second time was in 2012 when Jim scored a brief posting here. Boy-oh-boy, did we make the most of that year. I think we spent every weekend doing something, whether it was going to the footy, taking a ferry up the Yarra, visiting a museum or gallery, shopping up a storm, or lunching at one of Melbourne’s many great restaurants.

Chicken nibbles at Queen Victoria Market

Offal at Queen Victoria Market

One of my absolute favourite things to do in Melbourne is visit the markets. The South Melbourne Markets were our regular haunt in 2012 but before then it was either Prahran Market or Queen Victoria Market.

Octopus and Cuttlefish at Queen Victoria Market

Chillies at Queen Victoria Market

Visiting Queen Vic late on a Saturday morning back in the 90s was a blast, especially the meat and seafood areas. The butchers and fishmongers would be in a mad scramble to shift stock before closing and if you timed it right you could snag some real bargains. Our favourite was 3 rolled beef seasoned roasts for $10 and trays of crumbed schnitzel for ridiculous prices. It was noisy, crowded and great theatre, and I revelled in it.

Gurnard at Queen Victoria Market

Fruit and Veg at Queen Victoria Market

Fishmonger at Queen Victoria Market

Female pork cuts at Queen Victoria Market

Naturally, being in Melbourne this past week for the RWA conference, I couldn’t miss another trip back to the market. We needed cheese and salumi to munch on and I wanted new ugg boots, and I just like the colour, atmosphere and interesting produce.

Duck eggs at Queen Victoria Market

Duck Breasts at Queen Victoria Market

Deli at Queen Victoria Market

Bread at Queen Victoria Market

What’s your favourite shopping experience? I’d love to hear recommendations, even if it’s not foodie.

While I adore Melbourne’s markets, I have to admit that my best shopping experiences have been overseas. Wandering through the ancient streets of Aix-en-Provence on market days is still one of the most vivid memories of our years in France. There was always something fascinating and the produce stalls were amazing.

What about you? Where can you recommend to shop?

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THIS WRITING LIFE: A Country Adventure

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A belated happy New Year to you!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. We spent ours in north Queensland with my parents-in-law and after over 4,500 kilometres on the road, travelling there and back and bits in between, we’re now home.

For a couple of reasons I thought it would be fun to share some of the photos from our country adventure. There are some lovely images of rural life that I thought you might appreciate, plus for me it’s nice to have these pictures in one place where I can look back on them for inspiration.

Enjoy!

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After driving 2,000 kms what does my other half decide to do the following day? Go for another drive, of course, out to Strathmore Station and the Bowen River pub. Great fun. Even a flat tyre didn’t put a dampener on it. But I can say that because it wasn’t me who took care of it!

Brahman cowYoung cattle in the shadeCattle traffic on the Bowen River bridgeCrocodile warning signBowen River HotelBowen River Hotel front barSign instructing trucks to dump their dust Sorting out the flat tyreMy parents-in-law own a livestock transport company. Here’s me tooling around with one of their cattle trucks. They have lots of these. This truck is only a B-double but they run up to triple road trains which are 53 metres long.

Me on a truckThese two pulled up in the drive on Christmas Eve. I was so excited. Thought I was being brought a horse for Christmas!

Horse in the front driveA family friend invited me join him while he dropped hay to his cattle. Naturally I said yes! These are Brahman-Droughtmaster crosses. Aren’t the little ones cute?

Hay for cattleCalves Little floppy eared calvesCow and calf contentedly eatingSpotted this little fellow on a garden tap.

Green frogPlayed a bit of golf while I was away. Things are a bit less formal out in the country…

A spot of country golfingI have a thing for curlews. Their call is wonderfully eerie and sometimes they stand stock-still and use their camouflage to do a Jedi mind trick. We are not the curlews you are looking for

A pair of curlewsSome country humour. The street sign is from the Australian hotel in Townsville. The Brandon Tavern’s “crashed” plane’s tail reads: Fly On In For A Coldie.

Aussie humourWe saw quite a lot of cattle being driven on the stock routes on the way up and back. Although none of my photos show it, there is a shocking drought in parts of Queensland and NSW right now with farmers in terrible straits. In places they haven’t seen rain for more than two years. Some have sent their breeders to graze the stock routes because they have zero feed. Please let it rain for these people soon. The devastation is heartbreaking. (Apologies for the poor quality photos. Our windscreen was a tad bug-splattered!)

Cattle near Rolleston, QueenslandDrover on horsebackWe had a lightning trip to Lightning Ridge on the way up. I wanted to buy myself a black opal. Champagne tastes on beer money, unfortunately… This is the big welcome sign on the Castlereagh Highway. You have to turn off and drive 5kms or so to reach the town. It’s worth doing. Everyone was very friendly and the opals are beautiful.

Me at the big Lightning Ridge signWe experienced a few Dorothea Mackellar moments on the drive home. Hit a dust storm between St George and Dirranbandi only to encounter flogging rain 5 kilometres later.

From one extreme to anotherI really adore it when a country town teams together to create something special. Gulargambone on the Castlereagh River in central NSW (population 500 but “flying ahead”) has played with their name to create a galah theme. There are murals and smile-inducing galah artwork in and outside town. Love it.

Some of the Gulargambone galah art

What did you do over the Christmas-New Year break? Travel or relax at home? Whatever you did, I hope it left you happy and ready for a rip-roaring  2015!