Bank Street 1950 – Port Fairy

•August 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Dublin House 1950 – Port Fairy

Dublin House was up the Highway end of Bank Street. Perfection for me, got me to any place I wanted to go in minutes. Funny that memory always has me living in a time when it was always sunny. Is this memory lane then, is this the walk that touches everything that has made me the way I am.

The Street beckoned, it always did. There was magic in the street, things to do and places to go. There were people in the street, and things, lots and lots of things. Dreams are made of things, dreams are what you do when you are young. Things are what you want, things are the dreams of youth. As you get older, you dream less, want less. Magic is still there, but filtered, put through a lens, not spontaneous, not as immediate.

Dublin House was the centre of my magic world. Not self contained but the glue that held it all together. I knew it all so well, I could feel the house and the house could feel me. I knew every nook and cranny, nothing hidden, nothing not seen. It was my sanctuary from any fear or uncertainty. And then I gradually absorbed the whole town and it became my place, my town, my home. I got old, I don’t go back there now, not much anyway. Others have changed it, taken it away from me, made it theirs. Maybe that how it has to be. But there were times that I found it hard to take, how could new people know what I knew, feel what I felt, love the way I did.

Could anyone know the cordial factory like I did, always getting into trouble from Mr Gibson, sometimes even a bit afraid to go in through the front door. The front door opened straight onto the street and then straight into the factory. The smell was sweet sugar and steam. Big tanks filled with sugary water waiting to be flavoured and then filled with air bubbles. For its time the cordial factory was way ahead and by far the most industrially advanced business in town. My all time favourite section was the filling area with its bottles running along a kind of pulley system. The bottles were the old fashioned glass types, some even had glass marbles in the necks and all were closed with screw in black cap. My stays were always short, I suspect that Mr Gibson was worried I would disrupt the flows and make his men not work as hard or, that I would somehow get caught up in the whole mechanised affair and become hurt. The colours, the labels, the bottles, the bottle washing, all magic, the drums of flavours, the small chemical section where Mr Gibson concocted the brews, pure magic. The cordial factory had its own delivery truck and it would sit in the yard next door, it not only delivered the cordials, but collected the empties.

Across the road was the austere and cold Presbyterian Church, austere in the way that was expected of that Christian group, honed back to the bare necessities, nothing slightly popish about them, pure bible. The large cold pine trees that fronted the church and lined the drive leading to a front facade that owed its beginnings in ancient Greece or Rome, opened into a wood filled warm interior that for me, was hard to recognise. Not much magic here, a reminder that the kirk was a place of bible study and that the small foot pumped organ, played each week with much gusto by Little Tommy Digby and the choir led by Lilly his sister was all the theatre you were getting here, this place was serious. Poppy had left instruction that he was to be buried from that church, why I will never know, since I am certain that in his whole life he never set foot there once. Not much for a kid to do there, climb a tree, watch a wedding, try and sneak a hit of tennis without the caretaker catching you. Not a lot.

Heading home, but Mum wanted bread, so the nearest and one of my favourite bread baking establishments was Emms Bakery, down the other end of William Street from the Church and Cordial Factory. Emms Bakery had a ancient wood fired oven that had been baking bread for more years than anyone could remember. You could smell the bakery long before you got there and by the time that I did get there, food magic had begun to work and I was completely beguiled and seduced by the whole bread thing over again. Every day I was sent to get bread and every day I got into trouble, I broke apart the double high tin loaf with its blackened top crust and helped myself to a large and choice piece of what we called the kiss crust, the bread at the joining of the two loaves. It was unspeakably soft, tender and utterly delicious. Mum roared every day and every day I was told I would never be allowed to get the bread again, but in the end Mum knew that food for me was a special thing and that bread was some how born in me and I was forgiven. Emms made only two types of bread that I can recall, one was the high tin white and the other a high tin brown that I suspect had very little to do with the 100% wholemeal loaves we now find, but a lot more to do with finely milled wholegrain flour, some caramel colouring and a great wodge of white flour. While I suspect that the magic of sour dough bread was not spoken of as a riser, it did play its part in the bread kitchen since the yeast spores would have inhabited the place for many years. I grew to love the taste of yeasty rich bread and to this very day, the magic of great bread can weave its spell on me and I will be seduced back to the days of crusty high tin and kiss crust.

I had to get back to bank street and that meant dawdling while I ate the kiss crust and then picking up some of the great long bracts of leaves from the Norfolk Island pines that lined the streets and seeing if I could make a sword from them. Then came McLarrens hardware and wood yard. That place had a special smell, first the delicious smell of sawn wood and a long gaze through the fence at the shelves and shelves of timber that would eventually go into every house that was built in Port Fairy, including in the end, the one that Dad and Mum built down on the river. Then the hardware shop with its big red framed rounded top windows and the pair of swing doors that opened into the shop proper. This was a complete Victorian shop and the smell of its was that hardware shop smell that seems to have changed little over the years, maybe with the exception of the large drums of kerosene and methylated spirit that seemed to be used a lot in that time. McLarrens was a long shop with many different kinds of product, although I was not a practical person and certainly not one given to outbursts of work involving hardware and tools, it fascinated me and I could spend a happy hour wandering the aisles sniffing the smells and getting glares from old Mr McLarren who knew well I was not going to buy something, but who he felt had to be answered.

On the off chance that Mrs Caulfield and Mrs Miller were chatting across the road, it was better to go past their house and shop quietly. Heading towards Dublin house, there was always the blacksmith to call into and see what wonders were going on. The blacksmith’s forge and workshop were in the side street that led up to Tiemans Dairy, the air was always hot from the forge right out onto the street, you knew that you were about to go into a place, hellish in the sphere of magic. Jim the blacksmith always looked the same, thick black leather apron over a pair of dark blue pants and a blue singlet, huge thick soled boots. He glowed along with his fires. The welcome was always out for me as I carefully put the bread down where it was not going to be damaged and took over the giant bellows that pumped the fire up to enormous heat and allowed him to melt and bend steel. Jim had been at this game for over forty years and was deeply respected in town and country for all the work he did. Shoeing horses, repairing farm equipment, keeping ancient carts on the road when they long since should have passed into history. Jim was great at mending garden tools, pots and pans or anything else that needed a spot of welding. Dad was fond of Jim and would amble across the road to spend a cigarette or two’s time with him. I loved the magic Jim created and the need that he fulfilled for the community, I was scared to death of the glowing metal and the sparks that would fly when he was bending the metal to his will on the anvil. Jim had a way with horses, many were very skittish at having to be shod, from the first time that I saw this, I was not surprised, the sight of a large square nail being driven into the horses horny feet, I thought it looked like it was going to hurt a lot, Jim always said they felt no pain and they were skittish because of the pressure and having to lift their feet. Jims wife packed him about six big thick white bread sandwiches to get him through the morning and if I timed my arrivals, he would share some with me, she made a mean meat paste and pickled onion sandwich. But Jim always went home for a hot lunch, his wife insisted.

Out of the blacksmiths and a quick look into the old shop that was now occupied by Dalgetty, not that much to see or do there, the old shop was a double fronted ancient wooden building with a large workshop at the back. The shop had three large desks covered in papers and a telephone that seemed to ring constantly. In those days the telephone exchange was manual and if you wanted to speak to someone on the phone, you turned the handle like mad and the exchange would then answer. Half the time if you asked them to connect you with this or that person or place, they would, no need to remember the number, the exchange ladies knew all and everyone along with all the gossip. The ladies that worked for the Telephone Exchange were a sweet bunch, always courteous, we didn’t have a phone at Dublin House, but the butcher shop did, so that if the phone at the shop starting ringing in the middle of the night, we all knew it was a bit of bad news. I dreaded that sound. I have a collection of the very chairs that the ladies occupied, made to twist and turn in every direction and no sides so they could accommodate the ladies commodious skirts. A quick hello to the girls working in the office and a run down to the General Store, owned by some people who had moved to the town from up country.

They did not seem to quite understand this boy that lived over the road and dropped in to say hello a bit and often bought nothing. There was always a sort of reserve from them, but that was maybe a hangover from the area they had come from. After they had been in town and Mrs Tolliday had contributed a swag of her recipes to the CWA ladies and the small recipe book they produced each year, she was in and the business started to prosper. The shop had several sections, on the left hand side was the fruit and vegetables, these were mostly in the front window, much of what was sold in the shop was locally grown and even grown at the back of the shop. Many of the towns folk contributed. The lolly counter was also to be found on the same side and consisted of a large glass display case with a lift up lid in which stood rows and rows of boxes of sweets with small hand made signs telling how many you could get for a penny. Mum was not much into the kids being allowed to eat too many sweets, so we were not given money to spend. The ice cream section was on the right of the entrance and was a long much cleaned and scrubbed refrigerator of shiny metal that had enough room for at least four ice cream types, as I remember, white or plain, chocolate, strawberry and one other, I think it varied, pineapple and so on. The last remaining two lidded round drum shaped containers were for milk. In those days the milk was delivered every morning by the milk man and you had to leave out your billy to be filled along with money. The billy would be filled in accordance with what you left. The milk was from Tiemans dairy and had full cream, so in our house, Mum would put the milk on to boil and the cream would be skimmed. If you ran out of milk, then a dash to the general store was the only way and for that you also took a billy.

Soft drink, from the Port Fairy cordial factory filled the shelves down beyond the ice creams, the benches behind the ice cream fridge were where the milk shake mixer and the ice cream cones were kept, the doors below the counter on the fridge was were the take home ice cream was kept. That was a whole other story, and a very recent invention. You had been able to buy ice cream wafers (we called it a cream between) for some time, slices of ice cream wrapped in a grease proof paper and a separate couple of wafers given to you to make your own. Mum was quite fond of this and I would be sent over to the shop to get one each for the family, since we didn’t have a refrigerator at that time I was sent across the road between courses. Mum would have the fruit cut and sugared ready to go. Not long after that the ice cream bricks started to come in and these were blocks of white, chocolate or strawberry and a new invention, claimed by the Americans, but in fact created by Italians, a brick called Neapolitan and it was a combo of white, pink and brown ice cream. At the time of their introduction we did not have the means to keep them cold, so they were not much in vogue in our house, my Auntie Mavis did have a fridge and would often give us slices of rockmelon (called Cantaloupe) with a  sprinkling of sugar and a scoop of ice cream, such a treat. The General Store had at one time been a cafe and still sported some tables and chairs but the days of serving a meal there were long over and the most you could get would be a sandwich. The vacant tables and chairs had a kind of lonely look to them, parked down the back in an empty open space where the light didn’t quite make it. No magic there, a sense of loss. Back in the times when the cafe was fully functioning, the dining section was filled with laughter and people eating. Every cafe in town had the same sort of floor plan, the front of the shop nearest the street was where the ice creams, lollies, milk was sold, the cafe section was down the back. Of the three cafes that once over flowed with eaters, only one now remained in operation.

Time to get home with the bread or I would be in trouble, Dad would be on his way home for lunch and none would be there for him. My favourite was cold corned beef sandwiches. Corned beef was an institution, it was one of those meats that was loved by all both hot and cold and seldom a week went by without Mum getting out the large boiling pot, a huge heavy great iron thing that when filled with water and meat was impossible for one person to lift, Mum would put it on the stove, lower the meat into it, a few bay leaves, some cloves, some peppercorns, and a whole onion or two and then pour enough water into the pot to cover the meat, then on with the gas and slow cook for three or four hours. The onion would be rescued and then mashed into the white sauce along with some parsley, a great mound of creamy mashed potato and a large plate of buttered cabbage. Dad liked his with hot English mustard and Mum would mix a bit of mustard powder with some hot water, salt and sugar. Mum was the sugar queen, there was barely anything that she said didn’t benefit by a splidge or a great heap of sugar. Her magic. Cold corned beef sandwiches made from white high tin crusty bread, good country butter, thick slices of meltingly tender corned beef and a good slather of mustard were hard to beat, with the possible exception of those sandwiches that had all the above, but also contained a slice or two of tomato and some of mums home made mustard pickles.

Lunch was never a big affair during the week and before long I was off again to resume to wandering about town. The Drill Hall and the Fairy Palace had a special fascination for me, they were part and parcel of the same complex, the Fairy Palace was the picture theatre which for dances and balls was stripped back of all its seats and the floor swept and dusted with talc to make the movements of the dancers smooth. The band was assembled to the right of the picture screen and usually consisted of piano, drums, saxophone and guitar. In those days there was no sound system as such and the depth of sound depended on the ability of the band to play and sing with gusto. The Drill Hall became the supper room and was entered from the opposite side of the theatre and this was always laid with long trestle tables loaded with food. The town’s ups and downs were celebrated in this venue, the triumphs of returning from war, the deep despair at going. The farmers celebrating a successful year and the council asserting authority, all was part and parcel of this place and every week, Friday and Saturday nights would see the screening of two popular movies under the watchful eye of Mr Riordan who had arranged that the movies be sent down on the local train from Melbourne, had put up the movie posters in the glass cases out the front and then who sold the tickets in the little ticket office just inside the front door and when it neared time to start, sprinted up stairs to the projectionist booth which was already occupied by Mr Riordans projectionist Noggie Dalton and he would supervise the showing of the movie. Occasionally the movie film would break and this would cause the screen to be lit up with flashes and a general large murmur from the audience as they accepted the idea that the repair of the film would take a while. I vividly recall on one occasion one of the local women got bored and started to sing, she was soon joined by others and before long she had risen to conduct the spontaneous music. Mr Riordan for some reason took a dim view of all that and ran down the stairs to silence his paying customers and assure them of his hasty repair. The magic of theatre!


A Port Fairy 1960’s Xmas

•November 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Someone said that Xmas is just weeks away… that is so unfair. No time, nothing done, nothing planned and not even an inkling about what to do. I swore last year that I would not do it all again, I think maybe I might even stick to that.

What is this awful thing that seems to happen to our collective psyche at this time of the year? We become obsessed with strange things, buying presents, decorating houses, cooking festive food. I am no different, I succumb each year to the madness. Its almost like some switch is activated in my brain and a release of chemicals sets me off on some mad merry chase for reviving that which is past. This is a list of various countries traditions surrounding Xmas

The strange thing is that I can only remember flashes of the festive seasons of my youth, the times in Port Fairy when we, as less affluent members of the clan, did not get to go to the hotel for dinner, but feasted instead on some ancient fowl that mum was endeavouring, with all her might to give flavour to and make as tender as possible. Mind you the chook was so bloody big that the four of us could eat slices of white (or brown meat; that was taken from the legs and thighs) for days to come and they were slices, I can never remember my mother carving the chook up chunk like as we do today. Even stranger I think is that I associate Xmas with just one of the four or five houses we lived in over the years, Bank Street for me remains the central focus of my memory of Xmas and it is the standard around which all else revolves.

I suspect that what we remember may well define our own passions, because as much as I have little remembrance of the setting I remember Xmas as a time of fun, food and family, food being the most predominate, Mum spent many weeks in the preparations for Xmas and the festive season, the tins had  to be filled with cakes and biscuits, the pudding made (on the day, but at least the makings had to be in stock). The all important Xmas cake had to be made and in my mothers case, iced. Never with Almond Paste, always with a butter icing, Mum said it tasted better and although not as long lasting as Royal icing, it did taste better (I remember one year Mum made this new fangled icing called ‘snow’ .. I rebelled and refused to eat it and to make matters worse, owing to the high egg white content, the icing turned to cement, needless to say it was never made again) and this mattered a lot since many of the women friends would spend a lot of time ‘popping in’ to say hello with the purpose of getting to taste and judge the cake, a lot rode on that cake. Dad of course had to have purchased the chook or decided to kill one of our own and I again, cannot remember that happening. I remember dad riding down Bank Street with a potato sack over one shoulder and a squawking chook destined for the oven inside. This usually occurred on Xmas eve and Dad would have made sure the axe was sharp and a log of wood in place to do the deed. The chook once dead would then be plunged into hot water that Mum had boiled up in the copper in the laundry and poured into the tin bath which was oval shaped and had a handle at each end. We would all be expected to lend a hand to remove the feathers. Mum was very fussy about the feather removal and would go over the bird with a pair of tweezers to remove feather stubble. As kids we were very anxious to get this job out of the way, after all was done we would all walk down to Sackville Street to see the Xmas procession at 7.30pm and watch for Santa Claus riding in the local fire truck.

This has a little to do with the foods of Xmas, but in fact I love this site, it is so CWA and so damn good.

Our Xmas day was always the same, we would get out of bed and head straight for the lounge room where we would find our presents gathered and wrapped beside the fire place, Mum was ever practical, she had been raised in a family with seven children and very little spare money, our gifts were mostly of clothing essentials and in my case, because I loved the beach, each year I would get something to do with swimming. My mother was never keen on the idea of Father Xmas and this was discouraged at an early age. I still recall the sense of confused disappointment when I watched Father Xmas drive through the town on the local fire truck having just been told that it was all just a story and that Father Xmas was just a local bloke dressed in the costume. Such revelations can have a profound effect on a small child and may well account for my recalcitrant nature now. Possibly!

I was not consulted much on what gifts I would like, except on one occasion when I had tried to orchestrate the gifts and ended up in a small ball of misery as I contemplated the air rifle I had insisted on my mother buying me and now, in abject agony, was counting the cost of my appallingly bad choices. Finally after unwinding myself, I marched down to the local sports store, woke Alex Hill up from his slumbers and begged and pleaded till he agreed to swap over the gun for fishing equipment and I left a much more satisfied puppy.

Mum liked to go to church on Xmas morning and my sister and I would join her. The church was overwhelming in its size, smell and services, I was glad when it was over and we could leave, having fulfilled our Christian duty as well as having been seen to do so. Dad would have waited at home in Bank Street for us to arrive, Dad was a nominal Christian at very best and looked completely dazed and confused in any church. We would then walk around to Uncle Syd’s house, where the whole family would be gathered, including the fearsome grandfather for Xmas drinks. This was the first time that I knew I was not cut out to be a conforming social being, but rather was always going to be left of centre. The swamp that divided our house from Uncle Syd’s was my place of refuge and so after half and hour or so I would sidle up to Mum and just say swamp, she would nod and I was off.

Why didn’t I turn out to be some sort of ologist? (comes from ancient Greek and means ‘study’) It wasn’t the biology or geology or any other ology the swamp had to offer, it was all about life, the swamp was teaming with life, the wind would move the water, the birds would protect their nests, the tadpoles turn into frogs and here was I able to sit in the middle of it all, not have to pass confused small talk nor justify my differences with anyone and yet, be part of it all… a very satisfactory way to spend Xmas day. (I think I have painted myself here as some sort of nerdish type who liked to be at one with nature and was a keen observer, in fact the contrary is the case, I certainly liked to escape the social niceties of which I was not even slightly fond or good,  the swamp offered a way out, but I am quite sure that I would have done some damming of small trickling water ways, captured a few hundred tadpoles and lay on my back staring up at the sky dreaming of ways to amuse myself or planning my next foray into town or to the beach.)

Sooner or later, my time in the swamp was brought to a halt with my Father bellowing my name and walking with Mum and my sister back to Dublin House and no doubt the over cooked chook that Mum would have left in the oven, I didn’t hurry, there was no need, Mum would have prepared the vegetables before she left for church, but they needed to be cooked, so I had a full hour before I had to be at the table. Mum had also read this recipe, Woman’s Weekly I suspect, for a mock ham that was made from a leg of sheep, rubbed with salt and left for a few days and then encased in flour and water and baked. Mum had to use one of Dad’s butchering cleavers to crack the now extremely hard casing and reveal the pink ham like meat that to me, simply tasted of sheep. But she was happy. I was always happiest with the pickled pork that was cured in brine at the butcher shop and then cooked slowly in water with a bay leaf and some spices, allowed to cool in the water, it was served barely warm with the chicken.

Mum was not into the cook ahead pudding, she made the pudding on the morning of Xmas to a recipe that had been handed down in her family for generations. It was made with suet and it was cooked for a good five or six hours in its cloth, when the time came to eat it, Mum would lift it from the pot and allow it to stand for a while to get all the water from the cloth, then peel the cloth away which in the beginning she had generously buttered and floured to reveal a creamy white skinned pudding under which was a deep dark rich brown deliciousness that only required the silver coins that she had boiled up, to be inserted, a good brandy custard for her and dad and a plain custard for my sister and I and all was in readiness. I must say that the suet did make a spectacular pudding, adding a depth and another layer of deliciousness.

Serving Xmas dinner was special, Mum would get out the best crockery and cutlery and we would eat, not at the kitchen table like every other day, but at the dining room table which would be set up with a little holly, a beer for dad and a brown crinkly glass decanter of Woodley’s Est for Mum. It was rare that we would have any visitors for Xmas, but on a few occasions, some of Mum’s family would make the trip to Port Fairy and help her to not feel so alone. It was much more likely that Auntie Mon, Auntie Dick and Auntie Nell would come for New Year and the house would become very lively, filled with the zest for life that these three strong women all had. Mum had two brothers, Uncle Lon who had a mystery and who came to Port Fairy often, he was a sort of Bing Crosby type, all tweed jackets, smoked a pipe, wore a sort of trilby hat and drove a small black car. His story is for another time, Uncle Charle was the black sheep of the family in every possible way, he was gay, a heavy drinker, in the navy and could not give even a slight damn who knew or who approved or disapproved.

Nanna Watson was a proper, god fearing woman who spent a great deal of her life being outraged and affronted by the behaviour of her now slightly unwieldy family who often pushed the boundaries that she had established for herself and her family, when Uncle Charle arrived home complete with boy friend for the Xmas festivities and paraded him around town and generally behaved in an outrageous way, she went to ground and refused to leave home or be seen and even missed the Xmas church service in shame. Uncle Charle left a day or so later, complete with boyfriend, much to the chagrin of his sisters who had been thoroughly enjoying the change of pace, the madness and general gaiety of he and his boyfriend. Uncle Charle was never seen by the family again, he was I suspect, shamed into feeling that his life choices were not only anti social, but against nature and proceeded to drink himself to death, dying in the arms of the nuns in Sydney who found him wandering along a railway line.  But his story is also for another time. My Grandmother also was horrified when one of her grandchildren up and married a catholic boy, she refused to go to the wedding and would not meet that branch of the family ever again.

Interestingly enough my mother was stepping out with the local Church of England vicar, in the end, nothing came of it, however his connection to Uncle Charle and Uncle Lon were somewhat ‘curious’ and years later when I met him and he was an unwed Bishop, he was clearly not straight. So many stories, so much to say and so few people left to even contradict me!

I don’t want to be thought of as a gringe, so maybe I will do Xmas again… after all.

The Dunny Cart (truck)

•September 1, 2011 • 1 Comment


Old Treg knew it was the dunny cart as he leant against the front window of his hairdressing salon and watched as it made it’s way up Sackville Street. How can you call it anything else but the dunny cart, that’s what it was, the truck that was used by the council to collect the toilet cans from those houses in the town not rich enough to be able to afford a new septic and the grand flush toilets that had sent the water usage for certain areas in the town sky high.
Old Treg had lit his pipe and was enjoying the warm morning sun and the tobacco smoke as it curled into the air blue and rich. For some reason that he couldn’t work out, he always enjoyed the spectacle of men shouldering the dropped burdens of others, hefting them onto the back of the truck, lidded and sealed to prevent the unsavoury aromas from creating too much havoc. Not that they had too much to do in Sackville Street, after all, it was the main shopping street of the town though most of the shops had toilets in the back yard and these were emptied from either Coffin Alley on the one side or up some of the lanes that ran off Barclay Street on the other. For those few shops that didn’t have rear access, they were subjected once a week to having the can from the toilet carried through their premises.

The dunny truck was now parked opposite his hairdressing shop and he watched as the two men hoisted a couple of empty cans from the rear of the truck and headed into Browns Pharmacy and the boot and shoe repair shop next door. The mornings were always quiet in the men’s hairdressing business, after all, those men who wanted a hair cut and didn’t work, never bothered to get up too early and those who worked could only have it done in their lunch hour or after work. The exception was Friday and that was country day. On Friday he employed a retired hairdresser to help him out with the rush that started about eleven and didn’t let up until five thirty. The usual chores he did when he opened, sweeping the shop, emptying the hair from the tin sunk into the floor that had a lid he lifted by pulling a string and into which he could easily sweep all the cut hair. Serving the men or women on their way to work, calling in for their days supply of tobacco, had all been done. As Treg watched, the men came out of the respective shops carrying the now lidded cans filled with the weeks contributions, he noticed that Harry Sawyer was up to his usual stunt and was carrying the can on the top of his bald head on which he had jammed a woollen hat. Harry had been told many times by the works foreman that this was a dangerous practice and one which, some day, could well see him in trouble, John Sands, the worksforeman had explained that the centre of some of the older cans had some rust problems and that the only safe way to carry a can was to take the weight on the side rim which was reinforced with a steel band. Treg smiled to himself as he remembered the many jokes and jibes poked at Harry in Hearns Pub when his mates told him that one day he would indeed be inturd. Just at that very moment, Larry Baulch came around the corner in his truck having been across to WarnambooI and collected the goods from the railway station from the evening train, Harry Sawyer turned his head to take a look at how much freight Larry had collected, as he did, the extra movement of his head against the already week bottom of the can made it give way and Harry’s head vanished into the contents of the can.

Later, when Treg had closed the shop and was having his usual pint or two at Hearns! the talk was that if Jim Smiley had not acted swiftly, dropping his own can and ripped the lid off the can that Harry’s head had vanished into, he would have drowned in the evil vat. As it was, the commotion of having the entire contents of two whole cans dumped into the middle of the main street in mid morning had seen practically every shop keeper slam his door shut as the aroma began to waft down the street. Treg had done the same, closed his front door and put the sausage in place that he used mid winter to stop the drafts and watched through the parted curtains of his front window.
Luckily a quick thinking shop keeper, and no one admitted to this later, called the fire brigade and just said Sackville Street where upon the fire bell began to ring and all the firemen from whatever job they were doing immediately converged on the fire station and the truck, with firemen dressed in all manner of clothing; but each one wearing his brass helmet, with bell ringing loudly, roared up the middle of the street.

As the fire truck driver frantically searched for some tell tale sign of the fire and found none, they arrived at the now solitary dunny truck since anyone with a car had hastily removed it and driven it round the corner into Bank Street or Cox Street, depending on which end of Sackville Street you were in, leaving the main street resembling a war zone. As the fire truck approached the dunny truck, those firemen clinging to the rear of the fire truck, resplendent in shiny brass helmets, began to get the first whiffs of the pungent aroma of the spilled contents, onto which and adding to the already potent smell, Jim Smiley had poured a whole bottle of phenyl which they carried in the truck in the event of a really smelly can.

Harry had upon extricating himself from the can and mess! trotted straight around the corner into Bank Street and was heading for Gipps Street and the little bridge that crossed the Moyne River. As one or two of the fishermen watched in complete amazement! Harry did a sharp turn at the beginning of the bridge and used the track that the kids used to take the shortcut onto the wharf. He trotted onto the wharf ran along about twenty yards, until there was a spare spot where no fishing boat was parked and performed a perfect swallow dive into the river, clothes and all. They were even more amazed as Harry struck out down the middle of the river and headed for the wharf up near to the Harbour masters yard, discarding his clothing as he swam, by the time Harry reached the jetty, he was clad only in his long underpants. He climbed from the water, still holding his nose.
Jim Smiley had climbed into the cabin of the truck with the driver and wound up the windows wondering just what would happen next. Both Jim and the driver were aware that they were supposed to carry a full sack of sand and a small shovel in the event that this could happen and both also knew that this was not on board. Their choices were limited to either sitting and waiting while the news of the accident filtered down to the foreman in Cox Street or driving off to the works yard and collecting the bucket of sand and leaving the unsightly mess, As it happened, the decision was taken front them as the fire truck, driven by Tony Buzzard, the fire chief careered wildly down the street
Guessing that the accident with the cans may have been the reason they were called out and not wanting to miss the opportunity for some training, Toney Buzzard decided to take matters into his own hands and brought the truck to a complete halt fifty or sixty feet on from the site of the mishap. He leapt from the truck and in his usual brisk manner, ordered his men off and began pulling the hose out to connect it to the nearest fire hydrant which turned out to be on the footpath up near the dentist. The men, not sure if this was a serious decision on his, part and not even sure what to do, had all gathered at the back of the truck as the fire hose began to feed off the spinning red spindle.
Tony barked his orders as he connected the end of the hose to the hydrant and with the special tool, turned the water pressure full on. George Dusting, the one nearest the nozzle end of the hose realised that unless he pulled the nozzle out and dragged it away from the truck, the pressure of water would cause the hose to swell on the spindle and burst. Grabbing the shiny brass nozzle he ran, as he had been trained to do in the direction of the dunny cart and just as he reached the point where the hose was fully extended, the water pressure came in full and he was left struggling with the squirming hose.
Toney Buzzard, having completed his part in the job was now running hell for leather down to the nozzle shouting and pointing at the overturned cans and the spilled contents that surrounded them. George realised that Tony’s intention was to clean up the mess using the strong jet of water from the fire hose. Like many towns built in the previous century, Port Fairy was blessed with deep gutters that carried even the run off from the heaviest rain safely away and deposited it into the river through some of the outlets connected to the drainage system. Tony grabbed the fire hose and with a twist of the control, directed a blast of water at the offending mess, as he did so, it caught into the open can into which Harry had plunged and sent it into tile air and clattering along the centre of the street, spilling what contents had not already been spilled.
The librarian, who had closed the library door and was watching the proceeding from one of the windows in the two front rooms, burst from the door waving her arms, Miss Ireland was a nature lover and conservationist when such was not a popular thing to be and immediately had become aware of what Tony Buzzard was intending, knowing that the whole mess would make it’s way into the gutter system and by natural fall, then into the river, and because she had been fighting the council for some time trying to stop them emptying the towns waste water into. the river, she began waving and shouting for him to stop as she ran from the Library’s front door. Tony lifted his head from the water spray for a moment as he heard the shouting, as he did so, raised the water spray just enough to lift it and the load it was carrying up from its path to the gutter and gave Miss Ireland a thorough drenching and splattering with the can contents,
At this moment, several of the shop keepers and their customers who had been witnessing the scene from the relative pure air of the closed shops, decided that this matter required their personal intervention and joined the scene. Miss Ireland, completely incensed by the drenching and now doubly determined to make sure that Tony Buzzard would not succeed in his efforts was continuing in a menacing way to stalk toward him and his hose. As she reached the hose, she gave Tony Buzzard a push that sent him backwards and once again, Miss Ireland was given a thorough drenching. By this time, the water had succeeded in sluicing most of the cans contents into the gutter and it was now beginning its slow and stately amble down the full length of the main street, to take a left hand turn into Cox Street and thence to the river.

The contents of the cans had the added attraction of torn up newspaper since most of the shop keepers were too mean to supply toilet tissue and this, like the more solid contents was decorating the whole mess as it made it’s way towards the post office corner, Miss Ireland, galvanised into action now and in a fury, took off in hot pursuit of the travelling night soil (the current polite name) and was pursuing it, in full voice and shouting at anyone and everyone who would listen.
As she passed the State Saving Bank, which had remained open during tile whole episode since the manager had read the regulation that absolutely forbid the banks closure other than when a criminal event or activity was perpetrated or thought to be possible. She was watched by the whole staff who had at first climbed onto the rung of the ledger desk to get a better view out the window and then, unable to see properly, gone into the street. Mr Badger, the bank manager, unsure of just what was happening, had carefully collected the banks revolver and was carrying it in his right hand, brandishing it in a way he hoped would dissuade ,any would be robber from attempting a heist. Miss Ireland approached the bank, yelling at full volume and wet from head to toe with her hair hanging in forlorn ringlets from the carefully rolled up and pinned hair do she usually effected.
Mr Badger, certain that a robbery had taken place or was about to take place, raised the pistol into the air and let of a volley of four shots. The teller Mr Dade, an Englishman who had joined the bank when he and his family migrated to Australia under the ten pound scheme and who had requested ‘a posting in a ‘smalland quiet country town, crumpled to his knees certain that he had been shot. Mary Nightingale, the daughter of the local shoe shop owner and ledger keeper at the bank, let out a piercing scream that frightened even herself and fled .indoors. Mr Badger, ‘having caught sight of Mary fleeing into the bank was again unsure of what was happening.and thinking that the robber may well now be inside the bank, fired the pistol’s last two shots, one of which ricocheted off a nearby awning and went straight into the window of his own office smashing it to a million slivers of glass in a resounding crash.
Mr Dade,’now recovered’ turned on his heels and headed into the bank just in time to collide with Mrs Badger who, having previously been in tile kitchen at the rear preparing ‘the staffs morning cup of tea and heard the commotion was coming out toinvestigate. Finding the-bank deserted, ‘she ‘had ‘climbed ‘over the tellers cage window and was now going out the door when she was fallen upon by Mr Dade. Thinking it was the robber, Mr Dade, to his own amazement, quickly wrestled the wife of the bank manager to the ground and managed to grasp her hands behind her back, he only discovered his mistake when Mr Badger rushed through the doors with the intention of reloading the now empty gun and saw his wife being wrestled to the ground by Mr Dade.
In the meanwhile, the contents of the can, now with a number of the towns more important residents in hot pursuit was making its way along past the Craig Lea cafe, where eleven members from a tourist bus that included Port Fairy on its tours and had a special arrangement for an early Iunch with the cafe, had been sitting down to a mixed grill. Daryl Thomas, the owner of the Craig Lea and a council member of the Port Fairy Shire ‘Council, hearing the gunshots had suggested to his clients fhat they move down to the next section of the dining room while he investigated the commotion. At the same time, he told his wife Shirley,wilo did the cooking that maybe she had better give them a free ice cream and canned peach, (she called it a Peach Melba when she had added a splosh of raspberry syrup on top!) or they may Iose the trade in future.
As he stepped from the front door of the Craig Lea Cafe, he was greeted by the sight of an apparently completely insane Miss Ireland, totally dish-evelled and by now. moderately distraught, gesturing wildly towards something in the gutter and shouting things which he could not understand. As the smell of the phenyl and the contents of the gutter, now passing the Craig Lea on a wave of water like-surfers on surf boards, Daryl realised that some awful accident had occured. He unwiseiy reached into the shop, slipped the snib on the lock and slammed the door shut in case any of his guests from the tour bus were tempted to leave the premises.
Miss Ireland, ‘recovering sufficiently to recognise that she had cornered Daryl Thornas, a shire councillor, promptly headed towards him and grabbed his arm, propelling him along with her as she followed the surfing night soil. Daryl! Not a person overly endowed with bravery and who was under the thumb of his wife, having only stood for council because “she said it would be good for business, did not know what to do and was allowing himself to be towed along by the now indignant and very angry Miss Ireland.
As the parade approached Alec Hill’s Sports Store, Alec, also a member of ‘the local ‘shire council, was silly enough to walk out onto the footpath, just in time to be grabbed by the free left arm of Miss Ireland since her right hand was clutching Daryl Thomas in a death like grip and was immediately swept into the fray.

David Brown, the second of the towns chemists was contemplating a morning after the night before and was looking forward to one o’clock when he could shut the shop and head for Marty Hearns pub to have a couple of beers to stop the trembling. The sight of a completely wet Miss Ireland, David Brown noted that her figure had passed its prime, although she was still very presentable. Clutching two of the town councillors and one of them, ‘one of his drinking partners was too much.. he closed the shop, put a notice up that said he would be back in ten minutes, went into the street and straight up to Marty Hearns for a drink. It was only Iater, when he telephoned his wife Dulcie, who had been across at Nightingales Electrical store looking at a new toaster, did he learn of the full event.
As the post office came into sight and the whole wave began to take a left hand turn, one of the posties on his bicycle was about to cycle up with a telegram to Mrs Guyett informing her that her mother was ill, rode straight into the three fleeing locals and his bike with him on it, crashed straight into the gutter and into the mess that was heading for the river. On smelling the mess, the postie not completely sure about just whal it was leapt up and returned to the post office via the rear door. As he entered the portals of the office which only before had ever smelled of cigarettes and ink, the smell of his now dripping clothing changed the entire ambience of the place and even the post master in his corner office which was usually closed off with solid wooden doors because he was the one who had to send the telegrams in morse code and needed to concentrate, looked up and sniffed the air. As the smell grew stronger, warmed by the warm air in the post office and the posties body, the full impact began to be felt and the two officials on counter duty vaulted the counter and, followed by the post master, left the premises. The couple of people still sorting the morning mail, took one look at the dripping postle and fled.
By this time, the councillors and Miss Ireland were being followed by a good crowd who were remaining at a safe distance from the main body of the water as it carried its load and were hugging the fence as they ran. The post master, who considered it his sacred duty to be well informed about the activities of the town and who, because of his unique position as sender and receiver of telegrams, had a good idea about the successes and failures of the whole town, joined the ‘parade and by asking questions of some of those who were struggling to keep up near to the back of the parade, ascertained that a major spillage of some offensive and very dangerous chemical had occcurred and it was heading for the ‘river where it ‘was anticipated that unless it was stopped the whole fish population of the river was in jeopardy.
Just at that ‘morrterrt, the fire truck, after Tony Buzzard and his men had re rolled the hoses and turned off and resealed the hydrant came around the corner, again with its bell clanging and all the men, by this time, in high spirits, still with their helmets on, hanging on to the sides and rear of the truck. The fire chief, who took his work seriously had decided that it was his duty to pour water on the offending material and also his resposibility to see it through to a succesful conclusion.

They sped past the crowd and stopped just at Coffin Alley outside the Shire Chambers where another hydrant was set into the footpath. Acting quickly and this time well preparedl the firemen had unwound the hose and were in the process of turning on the water just as the wave reached them. With the advantage of being in front of the approaching water Tony Buzzard felt sure that he would be in a better position to disburse the offending material and bring the whole matter toa safe and satisfactory conclusion.
Drawn by the madness of the activity ‘outside, the Shire President, accompanied by the engineer were just ‘stepping out of the door to investigate the hubbub when Tony Buzzard ordered the water turned on and directed the jet at the approaching wave. The resulting clash of waters raised both solid matter and liquid matter along with sheets of torn newspaper into free air in a complete and not unattractive fan shape into which the ‘Shire President and engineer walked and emerged from the other side like some showgirls stepping from a waterfall.
The Shire President, who always wore a hat, that day had it decorated with an object that, not even in his wildest dreams, could he have imagined using, The result was that Tony’Buzzard, concerned that he had offended the Shire President, and seeing the offending decoration on his hat, turned the full force of the hose onto him in order to wash away the unwanted decoration.
The wave, interrupted and widened now with the extra new water, surged forward and headed even further down Cox Street preparing to cross Gipps Street and head for the river. By this time, Miss Ireland had gathered one or two supporters along with those willing and unwilling participants some twerrty people were accompanying the offending material on its journey to the river.
There was very little that anyone could do as the wave reached the Intersection. At this point it plunged beneath the road in a free fall that carried it even faster to the river. The band of followers, realising that there was little they could do since the material was underground, grabbed the shire engineer and asked himwhere the ‘outlet was that would allow the offending material into the river. The shire engineer not at all sure just what this material was, but having heard that it was both an offensive and dangerous chemical, pointed towards the ice works and indicated that the drain came out just below.
The band of followers headed in the direction lndicated, some through the ice works, others onto the wharf, aIl heading along toward the drain. Miss Ireland, with her two’ prisoners still gripped firmly and with not the slightest intention of letting go had opted for the over land route with the intention of placing one or both of the bodies of the two councillors in front of the drain to block the final exit of the offending material into the river. As she spotted the drain, she dragged the councillors down the river bank just in time to see the surge of water beginning to pollute the river.

Without so much as a by your leave or beg your pardon she thrust the now exhausted and very unhappy Alec Hill, who was the lighter of the two and by luck had been closest to the drain, with a hearty thwack to his middle regions towards the drain and as he doubled over, she pushed again and to her delight, his bottom fitted neatly into the drain hole and prevented the escape of the material she was determined to stop.
As the’ material continued its trip down to the river, the water from the additional washing outside the Shire Chambers, joined in. The pressure inside the’drain now blocked witIl the bottom of Alec Hill began to build up and he found himself being pushed out. Miss Ireland, attemlpting to win at all costs, was pushing him back into the drain, she was urging her followers to join the fight, but many realised that this was not a fight she could win and stood back to watch the outcome. Alec Hill by this time was in considerable pain and was very aware ofn the build up of matter now putting lots of pressure on his rear end, was howling in pain and protestation. As Alec Hill faught back againist Miss ireland, the water from the extra hosing arrived and Alec Hill popped from the rain hole like an enormous release of flatulence and was ejected into the river, accompanied by a now also wailing Miss ireland, they were soon joined by the enormous amount of efluent and an aroma not usually experienced in the calm waters of the Moyne River.
At the next meeting ‘of the Shire Council The Shire President, at the urging of the shire engineer and foreman of works had a motion passed calling for the replacement of all worn out Dunny Cans. They also dealt with several requests for the allocation of the old cans but that was refused on the basis of possible misuse. Marly Hearn from the pub had suggested that a can be mounted on the wall of the public bar in celebration and recognition of the internment and revival of one Harry Sawyer.
Harry Sawyer was the toast of the hotel as the only man who had been interred and known to survive, locally anyway. He was able to get free drinks far at least the next three weeks, The only problem he had was that his children who attended the local Catholic school had to put up with the taunts of both the kids from their own school, then face the taunts from the kids who attended the local State School who now chanted ‘Catholic dogs smell like bogs.’
Old Treg decided there and then as he watched the antics that he would mention to his wife the advantages of having their home in Gipps Street fitted with a septic toilet in order to avoid this ever happening near to her since she was too delicate to ever survive the experience.

Miss Ireland, at the next meeting of the towns conservation and nature group was urged to take a more active role and asked to stand for council elections due next month which she did and won a seat with a very handsome majority. The down side for Miss Ireland only came some weeks later when a long term and clandestine affair she had been conducting with the works foreman came to what she considered, a premature demis. With her new found interest in local politics and conservation she went on to become President of the annual Port Fairy show committee as well as convenor for the Gould Bird League of Bird Watchers.
David Brown, who had retired to Marty Hearns hotel during the event, never did make it back and spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel and was roundly and soundly abused by his wife when he arrived home in a very bad state tllat evening. The next day, he decided that it was time for him to dry out and he went on the wagon for a full week where upon he was urged by his wife and family to take up drinking again since he was too annoying when alI the time sober,
Tony Buzzard was called into the office of the Shire President and told that in the future he was only to attend actual fires and unless this was strictly and properly adhered to when his position as fire chief carne up for consideration he would be disregarded.
The manager of the State Saving bank was asked by the local police why he had fired off all six rounds of his gun and a report was submitted to his superiors who sent him off to the local gun club for retraining. His wife never spoke to Mr Dade again, but for reasons that remain between them and them alone, when in his presence, she always acted in a coquettish way.

Mary Nightingale resigned from the bank and went to work for her father in his electrical business, in the long run it was a good decision as she was due to marry Alan Sherman in three weeks and he was one of the fireman who had witnessed and heard the whole thing, In view of her doctors reports as to her nervous condition as a result of the-gun firing and crashing glass, she was offered a good compensation package which she would not have received had she, in the normal course of-events! resigned for her marriage since the bank did not employ married women.
Finally, and wisely, the foreman, in discussion with his men, decided that the rounds of the dunny cart would be rescheduled to a time in the day when less people were around and-when any accidents, less likely to be a problem..
All of this was duly reported in full in the Port Fairy Gazette.

Life is a Journey

•August 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A Train Journey Backwards in Time..

Sitting on the train that no longer finished it’s journey at Port Fairy like it had done when I lived there, it was time to ponder the journeys that life had offered and those I had accepted. The thought that the young don’t care about yesterday, only about tomorrow and the older, and I thought more wise, thought about the effects of yesterday on tomorrow. But did they look back with regret? Maybe, but then perhaps that was what was wrong about looking backwards, examining the past and seeing the impact it had been on your own life. Could it have been that the young have a very short yesterday and a much longer tomorrow, that could be the key.

As the train passed through Colac station, it was hard not to remember the times when as a family we would go to Melbourne to stay for a week or so with this relative or that and my father would look forward to this station because they had a good canteen and sold cups of tea, great meat pies and sandwiches and you could get off the train and stop the movement for a while, how he always played the same game and how I always fell for it. We all got off and headed for the canteen, Mum would order tea for us all, not in take away cups but in the thick creamy white railway cups on heavy saucers, then depending on how hungry we were, a pie for Dad, hot buttered toast for me and a sandwich for her which she never finished and always brought back into the train wrapped in a paper serviette. Dad was always the first finished and curiosity, one of his consuming passions would take over and he would leave Mum and I to wander on the station and disappear. As the panic of missing the train arose in me, I would be overcome with the desire to board the train and get seated again. Dad would be missing, the bell would ring signaling the imminent departure of the train and still no Dad. The train would pull out from the station, by which time I would be catatonic and Mum quite calm since she had seen it all before, a mile or so from the town, just after the train would enter the first of the longer tunnels, Dad would sneak back to his seat and be there as the train emerged into the light. It was the same trick every single time and every single time I fell for it. The canteen was closed now, no longer any cups of steaming sweet tea and no ham sandwiches or hot toast and the train barely paused, just long enough to drop off or collect a passenger or two.

Maybe the train was a way of looking at the past, it was clear that the train was held in very low esteem by today’s people, in the past it was one of the lifelines that had kept the country together as it snaked its way across the country side stopping at every small town and even some stations where no town even existed. In the time before ordinary people could afford a car, the train was the only method of getting about, that and a bus service that linked towns where no train existed. Now it was well gone, so many changes that it made the memories of train journeys taken as a child seem like something that had happened before the dawn of history. Did I regret that? Really, apart from memory it had little effect on me, I was on this train because I was returning to Port Fairy to write. In ordinary circumstances I would have driven like most of the population, on roads that often missed the towns that were part of both railway and highway in the past.

But then it somehow seems to be necessary to look at where I am now and what things mean to me. One thing stands out like some beacon… much of my life has been motivated by food, in fact major points in my life that stand out all swing around food, food in Australia and food in other countries. Food that was part all the big events in my life, births deaths, weddings, balls, debutant and others. The women in the country who made blow away sponges that blew me away. The roast meats in country hotels, the fish cooked by fishermen on the beaches of Vietnam, the women in the market in Hoi An who made pancakes out of rice flour and special well water, wrapped them around some tiny prawns and pieces of pork, tossed in some bean shoots and passed them over for you to dip into some of that delicious dipping sauce renowned in Vietnam. The cooking of the Sikhs in the hinterland of the Himalayas as I travelled from Dharamsala to DheraDun. The smell of the food cooking in the Mountain Kingdom of Nepal, a mix of wood smoke and the heady aromatics of herbs and spices. The amazing food of India, from the food vendors in the streets of Bombay (Mumbai), to the fish cooking of the Southern Indians, the vegetarian food of the humble Hindus. So much to recall, so much memory.

Italy was a short trip, three or four weeks in Tuscany, but the food. The first night in a restaurant called La Fattoria where the local choir was practising and in the practical no nonsense way of the Tuscans, was enjoying the cooks efforts, a fabulous Hare sauce with wide hand made pasta called papadelli. And the coffee in Italy, what a revelation. So many influences.

The memories began weaving around me as I sat and remembered on that trip. I had become quite dogmatic in my attitudes now, fixed ideas, fixed concepts, angry that the young seemed not to understand in the way I did. Sad that what I saw as the best quality of food was missing in today’s world, the tomatoes tasting bland, the potatoes not rich and full, the beef lacking some flavour. Stories that I heard of growers injecting the soil with onion oil to raise the taste profile of onions. A world that had become obsessed with cleanliness and disease, a world where people had allowed themselves to become removed from their food source a place when people could eat meat, but not under any circumstances see the blood.

Was I too angry, too obsessed about the now world that I had my eyes closed and was not seeing properly. Maybe I had just looked back one too many times and had become convinced that what I saw in those times in my past, some how had grown in stature and importance, become blown out of proportion. Now was the time to look at that, take a hike down the highways and byways of my time and look freshly. That’s what this journey was, a train going backwards, but looking forward too with hope.

I came from a family that was almost diametrically opposite in styles, on Dads side it was the butchers and the stories that my Pop (Grandfather) told of his families struggles in settling into this country after they had come here from Ireland. Mind you it’s fair to say that a lot of Pop’s stories were somewhat lacking in true fact, even exaggerated but for all that, delicious. Poppy claimed that he had, with his father and mother made the long slow trip over land from Melbourne and had settled on a farm somewhere between Warrnambool and Hamilton, this was one thing we were able to establish as true. Most of the rest involving hazardous sea journeys, being preyed on by bands of thieves had been made up, even the walking from Melbourne was not true, they had a horse and cart and traveled on the Princess Highway (well it was later to become this highway, in those days it was just a track that joined the settlements). Pop always claimed to be a loyal Orangeman, this indicated he was from the North of Ireland and a Protestant. His family may well have come from that country, but as to be loyal to anything it was not Pops nature and as to being religious, he rather trusted his instinct.

Pop fathered seven children, four boys and three girls, Grandma died when my father was sixteen leaving a family to be taken care of by the three girls. The long and the short of it was that the family survived, Pop married again, a woman called Pearl White from Melbourne, but that is altogether another story. Of all the women in the household, she was the one that I adored, her influence with me was enormous. Thats not to under rate my father’s sisters, they were amazing women in their own rights, a set of twins, May and Gladys and a sister Alma. Of the three, Gladys and Alma had all the strengths while May was girlie and pretty and married for money. Mind you of all of them in the kitchen, pretty Auntie May was a way better cook.

Mum’s family were from Mount Gambier and a mix of snobbery and down right damn it all. Mums family were much more fun, full of life and love than Dad’s, they took life full frontal and bathed in the heady excesses that occasionally came their way. Mum had four sisters and two brothers. Her four sisters were constants in my life up until I was in my mid twenties, one brother was a very frequent visitor, his quiet demeanor and manner was always charming. Counter that with Mums sisters joyous approach to life and all that it had to offer and you will see why I think they had the most influence in my life.
Auntie Mon, Mona Mary, was my hero, she was a full busted woman who every single day of her life, strapped herself into a whalebone corset which had the effect of giving her a fullsome, but controlled waist line, unfortunately the upward thrust of the corset made her bust line that much more prominent and also caused her hips to spread, to say an hour glass figure was an understatement. She was married to a local baker called Brick, (sorry no explanation on that one) who was quite gifted and managed to turn out some of the towns finer offerings, I still recall with almost evil satisfaction, his sugar buns that rumour had it, were a recipe stolen from a visiting Swedish cook and then made his own by Uncle Brick.

Mum and Mona Mary outside her Mt Gambia house

Mona Mary and Brick lived in a Mount Gambier Stone house which backed onto the gasometer. The back garden was a sea of fruit trees and vegetables in the times when it wasn’t just the Italians and Greeks who grew home produce, in fact my Father was justly proud of his own back garden with its chooks, bantams, many fruit trees and neatly set out vegetable beds. I think Dad’s garden was designed for a balance between feeding the family and preserving, Mona Mary’s on the other hand was much more about preserves and provided a constant flow of produce to be made into jam, chutney, sauces and bottled for winter use. Her stove was an old upright wood stove which was kept going twenty four hours a day and never seemed to be without a pot of some kind cooking something.

And the journey of memory, taste and sense had begun, a train trip back in time, back maybe to meet myself, see what has happened since I left, see again what was happening when I was there. In the end, it becomes a deeply personal thing, a moment when I can evoke changes in me. And maybe, just maybe begin to understand my journey.

The journey through food has always been the most important, I cant even remember where I learned all this stuff, maybe Mrs Emms, maybe Mrs Miller, maybe Mum, maybe Auntie Pearl, maybe Auntie Nell… they all talked while they cooked and I just remember. I hope it helps.

*Serve two soups in the same bowl, they should be the same consistency and have tastes that will work together, simply pour each soup into opposite sides of the bowl at the same time.
*Use interesting garnishes for soups, croutons, thinly sliced fresh vegetables, edible flowers.
*Add more fresh herbs to a soup just before serving, herbs loose their flavour when they are cooking.
*Don’t compromise on quality of ingredients used in soup, the taste will tell.
*Sauté the vegetables in a little butter or oil before adding them to the stock, it will help release their flavours.
*If you have to thicken soup in a hurry, use rice flour, just pour some in and whisk, it won’t go into lumps.
*When serving cold soups, be careful of the seasoning, tastes change when cold, if adding salt to a cold soup allow a few seconds for the salt to dissolve.
*If you have put too much salt in your soup, cook it for a while with a potato that you have peeled and sliced in two, it will absorb a lot of the salt as it cooks.
*Soup can be made with water, but a stock is so much better.
*Don’t overcook a fish stock with bones, heads and shells, it can become bitter.
*With bread soups, the flavour should be strong.
*Soups can be enriched with egg yolks beaten in to them.
*Soup to be served cold should be thick, be aware that as soup cools it becomes thicker, more so if creamed or pureed.
*Soups can be made a day or so before they are wanted, they improve with age.
*Removing fat from a soup is simple, just refrigerate overnight and skim off with a spoon.
*Add a splash or two of wine to your soup, it will boost the flavour.
*Be stylish the way that you serve soup, look for great bowls that will show off how wonderful it is.
*Make a meal of a great bowl of rustic soup, some peasant bread and a splendid salad, wash it all down with a glass or two of good wine.

Just a few soup recipes… I love soup, I have even been known to open a can of Tomato Soup, make it up half water and half milk and sit there happily dipping away with some toast or fresh crusty bread.

Potato And Leek Soup
*one of the great taste sensations, truly adaptable and you don’t have to use a meat stock
*try adding a clove or two of garlic too, its a great combo
*serve it with plenty of great bread

4 large leeks that you have trimmed top and bottom then sliced thickly and put into a bowl of cold water to rid them of the dirt that clings
50 gr (1 1/2oz) butter
2 medium potatoes (not too small) peeled and diced
1 medium onion, chopped small
850mil (28floz) of chicken or vegetable stock
275 mil (9floz) milk
salt and pepper

Put the butter in a heavy based saucepan and melt, add the leeks and onions and cook over a ,moderate heat until they begin to become clear, they should not brown, add the potatoes and stir them around coating them with the butter. Put the lid on the pan and allow the whole lot to sweat over a low heat for about 15 minutes, give them a stir occasionally.

Add the stock and the milk and bring all to the boil, turn the heat down and put the lid back on, now simmer for a further 20 – 30 minutes until all the vegetables have become soft.

Use your hand held liquidiser and process the soup until it is thick and creamy, return to the heat and bring back to the boil, but don’t overcook, it will burn easily now.
Serve it with chives or put it in the fridge for the next day and call it vichyssoise, serve it cold with some sour cream swirled in. Very versatile.

Ham Soup With White Beans
One of those great winter soups that you can make a meal of and leave the table deeply satisfied.
155gr (5oz) dried white beans
6 – 8 stems from Italian flat leafed parsley (you should always keep these, they are so handy to use in a flavour base, just freeze them when you have cut the leaves off and get them out when you want them)
pinch of dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tblspn virgin olive oil
125gr (4oz) thickly sliced smoked bacon cut into a 50mm dice
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped finely
2 smoked ham hocks (available from most delicatessens)
4 tomatoes peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 1/2 cups Italian tinned tomatoes drained and chopped
6 cups good chicken stock (see above)
3 fresh mint stems, bruised with the back of your kitchen knife
salt and black pepper
5 tblspns chopped fresh mint

Cover the white beans with water and soak overnight. Next day, place them in a pot with the parsley. Thyme, bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans by 4 cm. Cook the beans on a simmer for 35 – 45 minutes.

In another pot, add the olive oil and fry the onion and bacon until the onion is soft, add the garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes, add the ham hocks, tomatoes, chicken stock and mint stems, simmer for 1 hour.

Add the beans and continue to simmer for a further hour. Remove the parsley, mint stems and bay leaves. Take the ham hocks out, remove the skin and return the meat to the soup, do not ad the bones. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with the chopped fresh mint.

Serve with crusty bread and a salad to follow.

A Simple Tomato Soup
This is a simple soup made with quite large quantities of garlic. This should not concern you as the garlic looses its pungency in cooking and adds a gorgeous sweetness, don’t panic.
3 tblspns of extra virgin olive oil
2 whole knobs of garlic, each clove peeled and cut in half
1 small onion minced
750gr (24oz) tomatoes peeled seeded and chopped or 2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
3 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of water
60gr (2oz) of pasta (use one of the small pasta shapes such as stars)
2 tblspns mixed chopped herbs… parsley, thyme, savoury, chives, oregano, basil and marjoram.
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 tblspn red wine vinegar
1/4 cup of good red wine (whatever you are drinking is great)

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and add the garlic and onions, sauté over a very slow heat uncovered for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock and water, simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, add the pasta and herbs continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, red wine vinegar and red wine, simmer 2 minutes and serve with great loaves of crusty bread.

Onion Soup From Tuscany
4 large white onions
4 medium leeks well washed to get rid of all the grit and dirt
125gr (4oz) pancetta in one piece
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cups of good chicken stock
3 tblspns of balsamic vinegar
1 cup good red wine
salt and pepper
6 slices of good Tuscan style bread
2 cloves garlic peeled
parmesan cheese to taste
2 tblspns chopped fresh parsley

Peel the onions, cut into very thin slices, cut the leek into 50mm slices, after you have cleaned and dried them, use about 6cm of the green and all the white. The pancetta will be in a roll, unroll it and cut into 25mm slices.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot, add the pancetta and cook until some fat has been rendered, add the onions and leeks, cook for 15 minutes, add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes.

Just before serving, add the vinegar and red wine, salt and pepper. Rub the bread, one slice for each bowl, with the garlic, toast lightly and place in the bottom of each bowl, pour the soup into the bowl on top of the bread, garnish with the chopped parsley and shave some parmesan onto each bowl (use the potato peeler).

Scotch Broth
The one that our grandmothers used to make, try floating some bread and butter on top and stirring it in just before you eat it. don’t bother with a second course.
1kg (2lb) neck lamb cut into even sized pieces you can use lamb shanks if you would like, 4 good sized or 6 small ones would be about right for this recipe
1.75 litres of cold water
50gr (1 1/2oz) pearl barley
1 large carrot
1 medium turnip or parsnip
1 medium onion,
3 leeks
1/2 small white cabbage
salt and pepper

Place the meat in the cold water, bring to the boil and skim off any scum that rises to the surface, add the rinsed barley and simmer with the lid ajar (slightly off to one side so that the steam can escape) for an hour.

Prepare the vegetables by peeling and cutting them into a 5mm dice. Wash the leeks well and cut into disks 5mm thick. Shred the cabbage finely.

Add the vegetables to the brother and cook until they are tender 45 – 60 minutes.
Remove the meat bones from the soup and return any meat to the soup. Drain any fat from the top of the soup by tilting it to one side.

Sprinkle the top with parsley and serve.

Cream Of Celery Soup
This soup is very simple, but quite delicious.
350gr (11oz) trimmed celery stalks, leaves reserved
110gr(3 3/4oz) potatoes peeled and cit into chunks
white part only of two medium sized leeks, cut into rings and washed well.
25gr (1oz) butter
600mil (20floz) good chicken stock
1/4 tspn of celery seeds (from the herb section of most markets)
150mil (5floz) cream
150mil (5floz) milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a soup pot, melt the butter, add the chopped celery, leeks and potatoes to the pan and toss them well in the melted butter, place the lid on the pan and cook gently for 15 minutes to soften.

Add then stock with the celery seeds and some salt, bring to a simmering point and cook gently for 20 – 25 minutes until the vegetables are really tender.

Puree the soup with a hand held processor, return to the pan and add the milk and cream, add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve each bowl with a leaf or two of the celery floating on top for extra flavour.

Pea Soup
1 ham bone
1 carrot
1 onion
2 potatoes
1 cup split green peas
1 1/2 litres of boiling water
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the split peas overnight. Place all the ingredients in the water, bring to the boil and simmer slowly until the meat is cooked and very tender and the peas have begun to break up.

You have the option here of removing the meat and, using a hand held or food processor, blending the soup to a puree. This may be done with a potato masher.

Season with salt and pepper, add some finely chopped mint leaves. Serve with great crusty bread and give everyone some of the cooked ham.

Old Fashioned Potato Soup
1 litre of good chicken stock (use two stock cubes if you have too, cut right down on the salt to compensate)
6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
1 large onion, grated or cut into a fine dice
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 cup of milk
2 tblspns butter
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, gently fry the onions and the garlic until it is translucent, add the potatoes and toss in the butter until they begin to sweat, add the chicken stock and bring to the boil, lower to simmer and cook for 1 hour. Add the milk and crush the potatoes with a masher.

Options… There is a lot you can do with this soup, you can add some herbs of your choice such as thyme, rosemary, you can add other vegetables such as celery. You can decrease the stock and increase the milk.

Season well with salt and white pepper.

French Onion Soup
One of the favourites of the seventies, this soup can be added to in many ways. You can add garlic, extra onions, replace some of the stock for a good wine (vermouth was traditional), but don’t omit the bread and cheese, its what makes this soup so delicious.
500gr (1lb) of brown onions cut into slices
60gr (2oz) butter
1 tblspn of flour
1/4 tspns of sugar (it helps the onions brown)
1 litre of goof, well flavoured beef stock, use the cubes if you have to, watch the salt, a spoon or two of beef extracts in the stock will also enrich it.
1 fresh bread stick or loaf
parmesan or gruyere cheese

Melt the butter in the bottom of a good heavy saucepan, add the onions and the sugar, cook slowly to a good brown so that they are almost melting, add the flour and stir to distribute and cook the flour a little, add the stock and vermouth (if using) and cook at a simmer with the lid off, for 30 minutes.

Toast slices of the bread and top with a generous quantity of cheese, place these in the bottom of a soup bowl, top with the soup and place them quickly under the griller to melt and brown the cheese slightly.

A Soup Base For A Variety Of Cream Soups
750 mil (24floz) of good white stock (veal or chicken)
1 medium white onion cut into dice or 1 leek washed and cut into rings
30gr (1oz) of butter
25gr (3/4oz) of flour
salt and pepper to taste.
herb of your choice

The vegetable possibilities are…
*lettuce, use two medium heads chopped fine, add sorrel for extra flavour
*watercress, 2 large bunches of cress.
*spinach (English) 500gr (1lb) of spinach add some grated nutmeg and basil
*cucumber, 2 – 3 large, peeled and cut into a dice, seeds removed, flavour with mint.
*asparagus, 30 – 40 spears, cut into a 2cm dice,
*2 white onions, baked in foil in the oven, cooled and diced.
*carrot, wrap them in foil and cook in the oven for 1 hour, chop them finely.
*mushroom, 220 gr(7oz) of finely chopped mushroom of your choice, sweated in a closed pan until soft.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onion to sweat with the lid on, add the vegetable of choice to sweat in the butter, also with the lid on, stir in the flour until it is well amalgamated. Add the stock and bring back to the boil. Boil for about 30 minutes or until the vegetable of choice is cooked. Puree the mixture and return to the pan with the addition of 125mil (4floz) of cream, salt and pepper.

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•August 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

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