Thursday, November 29, 2012

Discovering the Backroads Trail

This Sunday from 10am until 5pm Australia’s newest tourism region and gourmet food trail, the Backroads Trail is inviting locals and visitors to the inaugural open day. Officially launched in early October, the Backroads Trail is now open for business.

Stretching from Echuca-Moama, up through Mathoura and along the north side of the Murray River to Barham-Koondrook and everywhere in between including Womboota, Bunnaloo and Caldwell, the Backroads Trail has been five years in the making.

Don and Jo Hearn from the award winning Restdown Winery were the driving forces behind the establishment of the trail.

This weekend people have the opportunity to visit some or all of the fifteen or more small businesses along the trail that are opening their doors on Sunday. Near Moama, people can visit Pacdon Park and sample their gourmet British Smallgoods; Sevilo Grove for farm tours and olive oil; Bright on the Murray Bed and Breakfast, a 120 year old homestead on the bank of the Murray River.

Heading west along the Perricoota Road is the impressive Perricoota Station available for accommodation and functions. Further towards Barham and Caldwell on Jungle Lane is Restdown Wines with their underground cellar door and picturesque 1.4km wetlands walking trail.

The Old School Winery and Meadery (honey wines) near Womboota offers cellar door sales, a mead-mulling demonstration as well as pottery and art studios.
Around Bunnaloo you can purchase cold-extracted high quality honey from the Bassett Family Apiaries and enjoy a farm tour at Graythorn Poll Dorsets.

Mathoura on the eastern edge of the Backroads Trail is home to the delicious seedless Imperial mandarins and other seasonal local produce at Mathoura Mandarins.

Local Barham small businesses included on the Trail are; the Kurrnung Citrus Honesty Box filled with a variety of seasonal oranges and grapefruit in Lilford Lane; Norm and Jan Thomas’ Hill House Farmstay; Bundarra Berkshires Free Range Pork on East Barham Road; Border Packers just over the bridge in Koondrook for locally grown citrus; Ash and Linda Williams’ Barham River Cruises aboard “The Matilda” and the Myers Family Barham Avocados at Horseshoe Bend out on the Gonn Road.

Along the way you are encouraged to stop and read any of the nineteen interpretive panels at twelve different sign-posted sites as they explain the history of the region from the geological formation of the natural landscape through to the modern day sustainable farming practices.

Rural art and history is well represented on the Backroads Trail with the Farmgate Sculptures made from recycled farm machinery (and a creative sense of humour) at the entrance of a number of properties along the trail.
The redgum chainsaw sculpture trail along the banks of the Murray River at Barham and Koondrook provides a short history of the area’s pioneers and local wildlife.

Local museum the Border Flywheelers in Jamieson Avenue has an extensive collection of tractors, machinery and other artefacts used by the farming communities of the Murray Darling Basin. Art galleries include Grant’s in Mellool Street, Barham; an open artist studio displaying Grant Walker’s fine pen and ink rural landscapes as well as work by other local artists.

If you’re heading out along the Backroads Trail for a Sunday drive this weekend (or any other day) brochures and maps can be picked up from the Wakool Shire Office in Murray Street Barham, local visitor information centres in the region or downloaded straight from the website:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Camping in the Grampians

Last week the House of Barr expanded to include Grandma and Pampa Barr for their annual grandparent visit. This year’s trip was at short notice so I hadn’t pre-planned an excellent adventure to anywhere and already had work booked in. Not to be deterred, I quickly did some reorganising and then pondered where to go for a shortish week or longish weekend of “me” time.

As usual numerous ideas popped into my head… I phoned Tasmania to see if there was any chance of joining the four-day Bay of Fires Walk at short notice (alas, no); I googled airfares to Exmouth in Western Australia to see Ningaloo Reef (more planning needed); I checked out the likelihood of sighting a great white shark off Port Lincoln in a shark cage in November (January seemed better); I contemplated road trips (in no particular order) to, Byron Bay, Batemans Bay or the Flinders Ranges and then crossed them off as too far in too short a time and really, road trips are a lot more fun with a travel buddy.

In the end I decided to catch up with Victorian friends at Terang and Hamilton and then spend a few days camping with my Tarptent, swag and a good book at Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park, a mere three and a bit hours from Barham.

After reading numerous travel reviews, I chose the Lakeside Tourist Park a few kilometres south of town and pitched my tent on soft green grass in amongst some shady trees that looked out to an open grassy area filled with kangaroos, emus and deer.
That first evening I sat out on my deckchair with a glass of wine and a packet of kettle chips to share with about twenty very friendly sulphur-crested cockatoos.

As they said in The Castle, I could feel the serenity.

When it comes to relaxing, a few days camping in the Australian bush is hard to beat… especially when the weather is in the mid twenties and flushing toilets and hot showers are a short walk away at the immaculate Lakeside Tourist Park amenities block.

The Grampians are a series of imposing ancient sandstone mountain ranges formed some 380 million years ago. While the Grampians have been attracting bushwalkers since the 1890s, human habitation in the area dates from about 17,000 BC. The first Europeans to the area were Scottish born explorer, Thomas Mitchell and his exploration party in 1836; he named the Grampians after the Scottish mountain range of the same name.

Tempting though it was to spend my days relaxing on my swag reading Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel “The Help” about African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s… the weather was too perfect not to get out and enjoy some of the walks readily accessible in the area.

Driving out to the Wonderland car park, I walked through Victoria’s version of the Grand Canyon and then along the Stony Creek to Turret Falls, where I admired the wildflowers and filled up my drink bottle.

The next day I headed back to the Wonderland car park and again walked through the Grand Canyon before continuing further up over rocks and the well-maintained track through areas of relatively thick bush to The Pinnacle (about an hour’s walk from the carpark). Looking out from The Pinnacle I was rewarded with a magnificent view across the Fyans Valley with Halls Gap at the bottom and further out to the various lakes on the eastern side of the Grampians.

Driving further along the road from the Wonderland car park heading towards Horsham, I came to the MacKenzie Falls. Situated on the MacKenzie River they are Victoria’s largest waterfalls and located about half an hour’s drive from Halls Gap. I opted for the relatively easy Bluff Walk, which gave me a spectacular view of the MacKenzie River Gorge and waterfalls.

Back in Halls Gap I discovered some excellent coffee at the Livefast Café and an even more excellent chocolate, macadamia nut and coconut slice. The perfect place to sit and write this week’s column…

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at mathematics

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at mathematics.

There’s nothing like the prospect of an enormous lotto win to draw out our inner gambler. Like this week’s solar eclipse at Cairns, it felt as though the planets had aligned last week for the gods of gambling. Not only was it the first Tuesday in November; Melbourne Cup Day… it was coinciding with the drawing of Australia’s biggest ever lottery.

Like (I suspect), many other Australians last Tuesday, I rolled out of bed feeling lucky. I had a one in twenty four chance of randomly picking the winning horse in the Melbourne Cup and even more appealing in my mind was the thought that I might buy the winning ticket in the $112 Million Oz Lotto that night. I was not the least deterred that my lotto chances were in excess of one in 45,379,000. Mathematics is not one of my strong points.

Fortunately for me, I do have friends who are good at mathematics and they have at least convinced me now, that buying more than a single ticket is statistically speaking, a waste of good money. You just have to be in it to win it.

Imagining what I would do with a multimillion dollar lotto win is a happy little daydream I like to indulge in every now and then. Even more infrequently I buy a ticket… usually when the jackpot has become so huge every man and his dog has also bought a ticket and by comparison, making my odds of being eaten by a shark a frightening possibility.

Still, my optimism knows no bounds, life is filled with serendipitous moments and amazing coincidences so surely it wasn’t too much to expect a windfall last Tuesday?

I called into the Barham Newsagency early Tuesday morning and bought the morning paper, a single Oz Lotto quick pick ticket for $4.80 and two entries in Tish’s Melbourne Cup sweep (nothing like really stacking the odds in my favour). After breakfast the boys and I had a rushed window of opportunity to study the form guide and pick our horses for the Melbourne Cup before school.

Dressed by my personal stylist (thank you Jenny Cox), I swanned off to join friends at the Barham Hotel at midday for a delicious Melbourne Cup buffet lunch, placed our bets at the TAB and entered yet another sweep.

As it turned out, it was lucky I did enter that final sweep because I had absolutely no luck in my or the boys’ TAB horse choices or my other sweep entries. I pulled out the Irish bred horse and eventual winner, Green Moon, winning myself $60 for the afternoon and making up for the previous $47 worth of totally useless betting and sweep outlays for the day.

By Wednesday morning my fantasy of winning the big one in Oz Lotto had burst (for another week), Australia’s newest multi-millionaires had been found and I wasn’t one of them. Perhaps lotto is just a tax on the poor mathematicians of the world but it’s wrapped up in hope and optimism and that happy little daydream of one day winning and becoming financially carefree for the rest of your life… I love daydreams.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Parenting and underage drinking

Fact: One young Australian aged between 14 and 17 years old dies every weekend due to alcohol.

Underage drinking is an issue that has been in my “Column Ideas” folder for quite some time but I felt at a loss on how to discuss the subject. It can be a prickly topic for both parents and teenagers and one that I find hard to negotiate because as an adult, I like to and do, drink alcohol in social situations.

Drinking is part of our Australian culture and possibly more so in rural areas where the local pub or football club may be one of the few options for socialising. As a parent and community member, I want to encourage our children to delay drinking alcohol, to do their developing brains a favour and to build confidence in themselves without using alcohol.

My parents encouraged responsible drinking but as a teenager at home, I wasn’t above surreptitiously swigging a few mouthfuls of rosé straight from the cask in the cool-room or sampling the various liqueurs out of the cupboard in the dining room. In my teenage years I was desperate to join the adult world, get on with my own life and not have to answer to anyone. On illegal outings from boarding school when I was sixteen, I would buy alcohol in an ill thought out attempt to prove I was ready to leave my childhood behind.

My concern today is the level of drinking amongst some of our teenagers. It’s not having a laugh and a couple of beers with your mates; it’s drinking straight spirits like vodka until you vomit and/or pass out.

What is driving this behaviour? How can we help our children to develop self-confidence, communication skills and strength of character so they don’t resort to abusing alcohol, cigarettes or drugs?

The teenage years are a minefield; surging hormones contribute to extreme emotional highs and lows. One minute you’re high on life, and then the next a pimple or a flippant remark from a friend signals the end of the world. It sounds trivial but it’s not. It is a time when we really struggle to work out our place in the world and how to cross that precarious bridge from childhood to adulthood.

Up until the age of twenty-five, our brains are still developing. Research in the last ten years shows a strong, clear link between alcohol and its effect on young minds. For teenagers and in particular young teenagers, misusing alcohol will stunt both their intellectual and emotional growth and increase their likelihood of drug and alcohol dependence later on.

Recently one of my sons was seen drinking excessively and smoking at a local eighteenth birthday party, my son is fourteen. I was under the mistaken belief he was having a sleepover at a friend’s house so it was quite a shock to be taken aside by one of our local police officers five days later and told the truth.

I felt a range of emotions including parental guilt for not knowing what my son was up to.  I felt angry that my son was allowed to attend the party and that other adults had seen or knew he was there and hadn’t told me.

Eighteenth birthday parties are a time of celebration for young people entering the adult world and it is also the time they are legally able to buy and consume alcohol. An eighteenth birthday party logically would have a few seventeen year olds in attendance (immediate friends who have yet to turn eighteen) but is it the place for younger teenagers or children if responsible adult supervision is minimal or nonexistent?

Our small community means age groups tend to mix and get along well. This is usually great for a community except where parties with alcohol are concerned.

Yes, I was extremely disappointed in my son’s behaviour, my son who I’m immensely proud of 99% of the time. I find him so grown up; mature and capable in so many ways but here he was smoking and drinking to the point of being very drunk at fourteen years of age. The fact that he had lied to me and broken my trust in him (giving me a good insight to how my parents must have felt all those years ago) hurt me more than anything. Rebuilding that trust will take time and a concerted effort from both of us.

Shortly after the police spoke to me, a number of friends confided that they also knew about the incident but had been unsure how to tell me or they wanted to wait a bit until they thought it would be a better time to tell me. They also mentioned other underage teenagers who they have observed either drinking or being drunk locally on a number of occasions.

While I can understand my friends and their reluctance to broach an uncomfortable topic and I appreciate their intention was not to hurt me or add to my stress levels; not broaching it doesn’t help me as a parent and it sure as hell doesn’t help our kids.

Being part of a small community means people observe and talk about what happens, i.e. you can’t do anything without people finding out. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it’s misconstrued but in the case of underage drinking, it is a good thing. It enables us to look out for all children, not just our own.

I like and believe the African proverb - “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shyness and social anxiety

“Nerves and butterflies are fine - they're a physical sign that you're mentally ready and eager.  You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that's the trick.”  ~Steve Bull

Last Saturday morning I knew my body’s fight or flight response had headed into overdrive as I woke up feeling nauseous at 4am with a little too much adrenalin coursing through my bloodstream. The day of the Red Carpet Evening’s Dancing with the Stars had arrived.

Shyness or social anxiety is something I’ve struggled with since 1978; the year I started attending primary school. Growing up in splendid isolation at Red Hill Station 55km from Hay, the first two years of my schooling were completed at home via correspondence school. My mother taught me and my brothers and my sister to read and write and then in grade two and for the rest of our primary school years, we caught the school bus into town and attended the Hay Public School.

Suddenly confronted with a large group of strangers, I felt painfully shy and self-conscious. Did I look like them? Did I look okay? Would the other children talk to me? Would they want to include me in their games? Would I be any good at playing those games?

Everyone wants to feel that sense of belonging, to feel wanted and included but I found it hard to initiate conversations and mostly waited until someone spoke to me.

Social anxiety is the fear of evaluation or judgment in social or performance situations. In a one on one situation at work or around people I know well, I’m relaxed and can be quite extraverted but with a group of people I don’t know or don’t know well, I am usually quiet and aloof and I feel socially awkward and nervous.

Meanwhile back to last Saturday… there’s nothing like having your hair done for boosting a girl’s self-esteem so off to visit the lovely Natalie at Scissors Hair Salon I went. For the very first time in my life I had my hair curled and set, and to complete the look I had booked in to visit future makeup-artist-to-the-stars, Ruby Oster.

At nine years of age, young Ruby has a far better idea on how to put on makeup and does a far better job of it than me and not only that, Ruby has a far more extensive collection of makeup. My makeup routine consists of using a basic moisturiser/sunscreen, occasionally dying my eyebrows and lashes, lipstick and nothing else (much to my mother’s despair). Ruby’s collection included eye-shadow of every shade under the sun, foundation, concealer (I was hoping for a Harry Potter invisibility cloak but I digress… ), blusher, eye-liner, mascara, false eyelashes, powder and sparkily stuff.

Roll on to last Saturday night; by the time I was frocked up, with my hair and makeup done and covered in sparkily stuff, I was starting to feel like a true glamazon. Even so, the first thing I wanted to do upon arrival at the Golf Club was head straight to the bar for a glass of rum and coke (so I did). Bearing in mind that as an adult, I find a couple of alcoholic drinks calms my fear and helps me to relax… too many would have had the exact opposite effect and would certainly not have been conducive to my salsa routine.

Once Courtney had introduced us and the music started, I felt as though I had those butterflies flying in formation. It also helped that I was wearing professional high-heeled dancing shoes on loan to me from last year’s Dancing With the Stars, Dancing Queen, Vicky Lowry from Wakool.

The crowd seemed to fade into the background and rather miraculously Shane and I managed to (pretty much) remember our steps for the routine.

My fear of falling over and/or completely stuffing up our routine (and publicly humiliating myself) never eventuated, the dance was all over in a few short minutes and we had a lot of fun being participants in the competition. Once again the Barham and District Medical Centre put on an excellent and entertaining evening all round. Thanks to the donations of many people from both our local community and further afield, the Barham and District Medical Centre raised an impressive $14,000 to put towards replacing the heavy doors of the medical centre with automatic ones – Well Done!