Shakespeare in the Rain

Carrick Hill, Adelaide, South Australia

On a prime position, in the southern foothills above the Adelaide plains, sits a beautiful house that looks more like it belongs in the lush green English countryside than in the hot, dry southern hemisphere. Built in the late 1930s, it belonged to a well-to-do Adelaide couple, Sir Edward and Lady Ursula Hayward. The couple travelled to Europe for their honeymoon, and returned with a wooden staircase, fireplaces, doors and oak panelling from a stately home in Staffordshire that was being dismantled and demolished. Local architect, James Irwin, then designed a house to match its Jacobean plumage, using a creamy stone from Basket Range that was reminiscent of that honey gold Cotswold stone. When the Haywards died, not having had any children, they left their home to the people of South Australia. Almost seventy five years later, the property, in the care of the Carrick Hill Trust, is one of the few period homes in Australia to survive with its original contents almost intact and its grounds unabridged.

Edward (Bill) Hayward’s father owned the Adelaide department store, John Martin’s. At his father’s request, Bill joined John Martin’s in 1931 and soon became a director. In 1933, during the Depression, he initiated the store’s annual Christmas pageant, to lift the spirits of Adelaide’s children. The floats and costumes, and the ‘magic cave’ in the store, where the children could visit Father Christmas, were designed and produced by John Martin’s, and the ‘Johnnie’s’ Christmas Pageant continued to be an annual event in the city until the government took it over in the 1990s when John Martin’s was sold.

Ursula Barr Smith, Bill’s wife, was the daughter of a wealthy South Australian pastoralist. She and Bill were married in 1935 and her father presented the couple with one hundred acres of land at Springfield as a wedding present.

While it was made to look as if it has stood on the hillside for centuries, Carrick Hill also boasted the latest 1930’s technology: heated towel rails, ensuite bathrooms and electric bells to summon servants. Ursula designed a gorgeous garden around the house, in the style of an English manor house, and the views from the terrace across the city to the sea are spectacular.

As the Haywards prepared to move into their new home, war broke out in Europe, and Bill was soon on his way to serve with the Australian Imperial Force in the Middle East, where he became one of the famous ‘Rats of Tobruk.’ Later, he transferred back to Australia and his duties as a Lieutenant Colonel took him all over the Pacific.

After the war, the Haywards began collecting art and antiques that reflected their personal tastes and broad interests: from Georgian and Victorian furniture inherited from Ursula’s family to the Jacobean oak furniture they bought in England to match the fittings at Carrick Hill; from souvenirs of their travels to the paintings of close friends such as William Dobell and Russell Drysdale, Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora, Ivor Hele and Jeffery Smart.

I went up to Carrick Hill recently for a tour of the art works there and instantly fell in love with this bright and elegant house that combines history and modern luxury so beautifully. Entry to the house is $17 for adults and includes a guided tour of the house at 11.30am or 2.30pm Wednesday to Sunday. The gardens are open to the public from 10 am to 4.30 pm on those days, and there is a Literature Trail for children, where scenes from 20th century children’s books have been created for the kids to discover.

Through the 1950s and 60s, Carrick Hill was a focal point for the Adelaide Establishment, artists, musicians and actors, the house constantly filled with sophisticated guests, music and dancing, fine wine and food. Visitors included such famous names as Sir Robert Helpmann, Katharine Hepburn, Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and Barry Humphries.

This week, continuing past traditions, the guests at Carrick Hill were a troop of multi-talented Shakespearean actors from England, Australia and Africa, performing Twelfth Night in the natural amphitheatre behind the house. At twilight, the audience set up their picnics and deck-chairs on the lawn and crossed their fingers that the wet weather would pass quickly and quietly. It didn’t. It continued to drizzle until the actors sang their last song and danced up the steps to dry off in the house. But no one seemed to mind. The audience was responsive and enthralled throughout, and the actors’ spirits were unquenched despite the damp, monotonous drizzle, somehow maintaining a high level of energy and joie de vivre from start to finish.

Cast of Twelfth Night

Shakespeare South Australia have had a sell-out run at both the Botanic Gardens and Carrick Hill this summer.   The show features original music – a delightful blend of modern and mediaeval –  by Michaela Burger on the dulcimer, who also plays the Fool, Feste, with exuberant brilliance, in colourful pantaloons and a quilted jacket I long to own.

Artistic Director, Alys Daroy, also plays Olivia, the reluctant focus of Orsino’s besotted courtship, who then falls violently in love with Cesario. Alys is a recent ‘boomerang,’ a term to describe one born in Australia, who has travelled overseas and returned home years later. She found herself back in Adelaide in 2019 for a short visit and ended up staying. Last year, she founded Shakespeare South Australia which opened at the Botanic Gardens in October and has just completed ‘an encore’ at Carrick Hill, most fittingly on the Christian twelfth night. Originally a Catholic holiday, the twelfth night after Christmas was an excuse for pantomime and revelry, when servants often dressed up as their masters, men as women, and women as men, a ‘traditional atmosphere of licensed disorder.’ Already a play about the cross-dressing Viola, other gender-swapping included the Fool and Antonio, who were both played by women. Although we only saw ‘Antonia’ briefly, Britt Plummer plays the very bolshy and articulate pirate queen with aplomb.

Other great performances came from Paul Westbrook as the irrepressible drunkard, Sir Toby Belch, and Michael Baldwin as the pompous, over-bearing Malvolio in yellow stockings and cross garters, cut down to size by the cruel but clever antics of Sir Toby and Mariah, (local actress Kate Van der Horst). And David Daradan put in a dazzling, quick change act when he doubles as Sebastian and Sir Andrew Ague Cheek battling behind a bush.

After surviving a grizzly childhood in war-torn Liberia, and grim years as a refugee, Shedrick Yarpai has found a new home in Adelaide, and does a superb job as Orsino – although in my humble opinion, we didn’t see nearly enough of him! (Apparently, his life story has been told by American playright Charles Smith, in his play Objects in the Mirror.) And of course the Anne Hathaway look-alike, Melanie Munt, did a great job of the Viola/Cesario role, sent to woo the lady Olivia on Orsino’s behalf.

It was a splendid night of fun and high jinks, despite the poor weather, and I wish the company continued success in presenting us with choice Shakespeare productions in such glorious outdoor settings.

*The photo of the SSA is borrowed with thanks from their programme.

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What Price to Pay?

What on earth did we all talk about before Covid? Every conversation these days starts with the latest update. In every newspaper or TV report there is high drama about the latest figures and the latest advice on crossing borders. It’s the new political weapon and everything is a tragedy and a disaster, as we, the general public, are being broken down by superlatives that have created monumental levels of stress and anxiety.

Personally, and I am well aware I am not the only one, it has got to the point that I no longer listen to the news, as it’s become overwhelming. Friends on Facebook will alert me to any important details just as fast, anyway. I have to admit that the Australian government has done a phenomenal job of containing the spread of Covid, compared with other countries. But at what cost? As state politicians squabble over current border controls and the media compete for the highest number of Covid cases, the crisis lines are running hot. Lifeline has had a record number of calls this year – and please note, this is not a good thing. This is not a competition anyone wants to win.

This current Covid plague – not the first in human history by any stretch of the imagination – has been relatively controlled compared with past plagues and lethal diseases. And one bonus everyone tends to overlook is that it doesn’t come within a million miles of affecting our youth as severely as previous illnesses. In Australia, there is no longer – or very rarely – a single case of polio or diphtheria, meningitis, leprosy or rabies, smallpox or malaria, and little is heard of pneumonia that kills more than one child every minute around the globe. Does anyone ever think about all those diseases that used to wipe our children away without a backward glance? And who has even heard of the bubonic plague that once razed whole cities to the ground? (My spell check didn’t even recognize it!) This new plague is like a nastier form of influenza – a virus that largely affects the old and the physically vulnerable; a Darwinian virus that culls the human race as Nature intended it to. And doesn’t it sometimes feel as if the world has forgotten there may be other diseases and disasters in the world? When did we become so sanitized to death and disease that we appear to dread even the common cold?

OK, before you all jump down my throat, I am not for a minute suggesting that the effects of Covid bear any resemblance to the common cold – although for the lucky ones, it actually isn’t much different. And I certainly don’t mean to detract from the grief of those who have had to watch loved ones die. But those of us in the first world are inclined to forget that we have eliminated a plethora of lethal diseases, or at least blocked them from general circulation, with those wondrous, miraculous vaccines that were largely discovered in the 20th century, along with a modern awareness of hygiene.

So, I come back to those who are vulnerable, not to The Virus itself perhaps, but to isolation and despair; to those who had (or who have developed in recent months) mental health issues. To those who cannot find anyone to whom to reach out because, in the outside world, everyone is in too much of a frenzy about Covid to pay any attention.

Yes, of course, many have got very sick, and many have died from Covid. But what are we doing for the living? For those who have suffered because we have chosen to shut down our world into minuscule boxes, where even the healthiest of us are struggling with anxiety and depression from lack of employment, lack of human contact, or just the simple joy of unlimited fresh air.

I know plenty who have revelled – or at least benefitted – from a less frenetic lifestyle; that this enforced slowing down of society, while it may limit our personal freedoms, has given many of us a chance to breath and recalibrate. But just as many, if not more, seem to be finding the isolation increasingly hard to bear.

All lives should be valued, and the Hippocratic oath, still used today in some shape or form, makes doctors promise to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to heal, or at the very least, not to harm the patient. (There is nothing to suggest keeping patients alive at all costs, which is how it is often portrayed.) And yet what of those who are falling through the cracks? As always, it is those least able to advocate for themselves who are struggling: those with mental health issues that require consistent support and empathy from the rest of us, who have become more and more marginalized from society in this ever-shrinking world. It is devastating to know that crisis lines report that they are receiving record numbers of calls, when we pause to consider that one of Lifeline’s mantras is: ‘We will continue to advocate, educate and work to keep people safe until we achieve our vision of an Australia free of suicide.’ The data (prior to Covid?) suggests that ‘nine Australians die every day by suicide. That’s more than double the road toll.’

It would be wonderful to believe in a plan to reduce the number of suicides in Australia. But in the meantime, the number of people on the brink seems to be rising through the roof, which simply highlights the number of lonely and distressed people out there who are seriously struggling to survive this new normal. So what is to be done? Where do we go from here?

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Octopus Dreams

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’

Thank you, Daphne du Maurier, for that exquisitely poignant, nostalgic and melancholic opening line. It’s an iconic and instantly gripping beginning that every wannabe writer must envy. I went not to Manderley last night, however, but to Thessaloniki, without having to dream or board a plane.

We had been to a fascinating art documentary at the Prospect Cinema and were in stomach-grumbling need of feeding. A hop and a skip down the road, and we were gathered into the welcoming embrace of Meze Mazi. A restaurant that is filled to the gunnels with eager eaters is a great paean to the excellence of the cuisine within. And Meze Mazi did not disappoint.

We were ushered to a corner table near the window and left to contemplate the menus, wine and food both. A rosé sounded tempting, and by pure fluke, there is a relatively new winery in McLaren Vale that has called itself Mazi Wines and produces a super grenache rosé. Meaning ‘together’ in Greek, Mazi Wines is a collaboration between two friends who make wine fashioned on the crisp, dry wines of southern France. Meze is the Greek word for lots of little dishes, like pica pica in the Philippines or tapas in Spain, which is just how so many Mediterranean cuisines should be enjoyed.

So, with a bottle of Mazi’s crisp rosé at our fingertips, we set to work on the menu, quickly choosing a selection of sharing plates. Well, if we are going to eat comme les grecs, it’s all about togetherness, although there are plenty of options for full-sized main courses if you are not a sharing kind of person. Or you’re just really hungry.

Our waiter announced the specials. The One & Only usually takes his time to choose, but this time he pounced before our waiter had finished his sentence. ‘Yes’ to grilled yellow peppers with feta and ‘yes’ to grilled octopus and chick peas. ‘Please.’ And ‘thanks very much, we’ll order more later.’

It turned out to be an excellent spur-of-the-moment decision. The small yellow peppers reminded us of the blistered padrón peppers we had eaten by the bucketful in Porto, only larger. Sweet and salty explosions of flavour, we were glad the noisy chatter at the neighbouring table drowned out our euphoric groans.

After watching ‘My Octopus Teacher’ last year, I had sworn never to eat these affectionate eight armed creatures again, and to all my octopus friends out there, I am deeply sorry, but last night I succumbed. And I would like to say you died in a good cause. The chef had cooked that cephalopod mollusk to melt-in-the-mouth perfection, and we savoured every bite. We ordered some soft, grilled pita bread to clean the bowl of the juices, pickled pink onion and chickpea mash, and even this simple bread was mouth-watering. It made me want to eat my fingers still covered in olive oil and crumbs. It was like dessert.

As they say on their website: we’re all about authenticity. Our food is derived from old family recipes and our native Greek chefs craft each dish with the same love and passion that they do for their own families. And  it’s true. This is no designer cuisine, but honest home cooking, love and flavour in every morsel.

I know now that we had probably eaten enough, but could we resist and finish our dinner after an elegant sufficiency? Hell no! Bring out the zucchini fritters and the İmam bayıldı – that delectable Ottoman dish of eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes, and simmered in olive oil,  sensibly adopted by the Greeks eons ago. You may remember we learned to make both these dishes in Istanbul, back in 2015. These fritters were shaped more like small Aussie footballs than blinis – perhaps large quenelles is a more elegant comparison – but the shape did not adversely affect their flavour and we licked the platter clean. And the Imam bayildi was so amazingly rich, we needed more wine and more pita bread to wash it down. Need? Perhaps not. Desire? Definitely. Waddle home? Without a doubt!

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

At last, the sun has finally decided to herald in the spring and the streets of Adelaide are carpeted in deep violet jacaranda flowers. I am suddenly, and belatedly, aware that it is already December, and Christmas is but a whisper away. A summer Christmas, this year, in the southern hemisphere, with myriad relations at our fingertips and the possibility of a swim in the sea in the evening.

In contrast, I am reminded of a Christmas many years ago, when we spent the holiday with a bunch of Aussie mates in Scotland, a very long way from home and the need for suntan cream. While I have now experienced any number of European Christmases, this would be the first I had organized myself, booking a house for half a dozen of us on the Isle of Skye. It was as far north as we could get in a week, and we had all our toes and fingers crossed for snow. Skye is part of the Inner Hebrides, the largest and most northern of them, and the second biggest island in Scotland, after Lewis. We were 600 miles north of London. How could we not get snow? Well, apparently quite easily! Thanks to the Gulf Stream, snow rarely settles on Skye and frosts are few and far between. Ah well. It was cold enough for a fire or two.

It turned out to be an incredibly long drive from Slough to Skye from Slough, although it was almost the same distance as Sydney to Melbourne. Sadly, we forgot to take into account the M6 ‘car park’ during the Christmas holidays, and the narrow, winding roads once we were off the motorway. We took two cars: the women in one, the men in the other. But we lost the boys somewhere up the M6 and – in the Time Before Mobile Phones – we had no way of knowing whether they were ahead of us, or straggling miles behind. Eventually we gave up waiting to see if they would turn up, and headed onwards. But it was almost midnight by the time we finally arrived on the island. Struggling to read the map in the dark, we almost spent the night upside down in a ditch on a narrow, one-track lane. Luckily, we escaped disaster by the skin of our teeth, and eventually found the house – and the boys – and all was well.

By night, Skye had seemed eerily bleak. By daylight, Skye was magnificent. Our house was unexpectedly isolated, several miles of winding roads from Portree, the nearest town. Our closest neighbours were a faulty telephone box and our landlord in a house just up the hill. With a good fire, central heating and a handful of decorations (including some very tasteful Tom & Jerry stockings), we set up camp and spent a relaxing day or three preparing ourselves for a cold, white Christmas.  

On Christmas morning we drove into Portree to sing a carol or two and call our families in Australia. It really was surreal to find ourselves squeezing into a tiny telephone box on the village square, well wrapped in layers of woolly clothing, listening to our parents complain of the heat and wonder why they had, yet again, succumbed to cooking a turkey in 30’C. When we got back to the house, we celebrated in style, with a vast turkey and all the trimmings, the Christmas pudding alight with blue-flamed brandy and smothered in brandy butter, cream and custard, a large pile of logs beside the fire. After the much anticipated bout of over-eating, we collapsed around the telly for all our favourite seasonal films and a tumbler of tawny port or whiskey.

Boxing Day involved a gentle walk in wellies, and an evening at the pub with our neighbours, cheating at silly board games, flinging darts and playing pool.

 Sky is a starkly beautiful island. As we rambled about, through the brief and chilly daylight hours, we saw it clothed in a variety of colours and lights in that one short week.  Sometimes, huge black clouds would blot out the sun. Occasionally a flock of downy white clouds would flit across a sky washed in denim blue. Then, for a moment, the sun would dance out from behind the hills, reflecting off icy roads and gleefully dazzling us. The countryside, like a chameleon, subtly changed its skin time and again, showing off a palette of varying shades of mulberry, copper, blue and grey splashed over bracken and heather, deep lochs and craggy hills. The sea changed by the minute, and we did get a sprinkling of snow, but we never experienced that stormy moment from ‘Speed Bonnie Boat’

Loud the wind howls, loud the waves roar
Thunderclaps rend the air
Baffled our foes, stand on the shore
Follow, they will not dare.

(I grew up with the Corries version of this Celtic classic, and you may well have heard the tune used as the theme song from Outlander, but have you heard Emma Roberts singing it? It’s eerily magical.)

We drove along the east coast above Portree, stopping for snowball fights along the way. There was barely another human being in sight. Presumably all the locals were gathered snugly around their sitting room fires, while those mad Australians danced in the snow. The mountains dominated the landscape, sharp black edges cutting through a thin layer of icing sugar snow. We spent one exhausting afternoon clambering up the side of Glen Brittle, past a waterfall where the rocks were tinged in jade and the crystal clear water swept exuberantly over the edge of a chasm into a deep pool of glacier mint green far below.

On New Year’s Eve, we headed south, and as we left the island behind us, we drove through a magical milk white landscape. Near Glenelg, a huge red stag stood on a snowy ridge, still as stone, his beautiful antlers raised to the sky, looking as if he had been painted onto the scenery. We waved, but he didin’t condescend to notice us.

We finally arrived in Oban just in time for dinner at a Chinese restaurant across the road from our hotel. Having stuffed ourselves with a banquet of all they had to offer, we headed to the nearest pub to join the céilidh. By the time the clock struck midnight, we were outside the pub, in a huge ring that straddled the road, crossing arms with the entire town and raucously bellowing out Auld Lang Syne, as the ferries in the harbour madly blew their foghorns and the church bells rang discordantly. We eventually staggered back to the hotel for Scotch broth and more martinis before collapsing into bed at some ungodly hour with no plans to rise until lunchtime.

I suspect the Christmas season will be more sedate on the Fleurieu than it was in Bonnie Scotland all those years ago. It will certainly be warmer. And while we won’t be seeing any stags on the sand dunes, maybe we’ll spot a kangaroo or two…

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An Abundance of Wine & Song

We drove across the Fleurieu recently, to meet our daughter in McLaren Vale. Unfortunately, it was unseasonably chilly, so my plan for lunch on the lawn at Chalk Hill was scuppered by a general consensus that it was far too windy and far too cold for a mid-winter picnic. So, we drove down into town, to find somewhere warmer to eat. Pausing at the intersection, my eye was caught by flags flapping outside the church opposite, pronouncing Pasta Pizza & Platters. Perfect. We found a park nearby and strolled in. A table on the patio near the front door was dressed in a red and white gingham cloth. Apparently, we learned later, this is to indicate when Sabella’s is open for business. A man with a magnificent moustache was waiting near the entrance to welcome his guests.

Sabella’s Cellar Door, McLaren Vale

The McLaren Vale Congregational Church on the Main Road in McLaren Vale was opened in 1862 and closed in 1974. For many years it was a concert venue and a marketplace. In March 2019, it was finally auctioned off. This small, sandstone gem was bought by local winemakers, Joe Petrucci and his son, Michael of Sabella Wines, their vine only five minutes out of town, just the other side of Wirra Wirra.

Joe has been growing vines for over forty years and making his own wine since 1999. But Sabella’s had been a ‘homeless’ winery (without a cellar door), until the Petruccis bought the church – just as Covid struck and shut down the state. They used the opportunity to renovate the church and transform it into a dining area with both an indoor and an outdoor bar, and a courtyard for entertainment. Covid may have slowed down the opening, but last weekend, the place was alive and buzzing.

Giuseppe (Joe) Petrucci was born in Italy, north-east of Naples, where his family were farmers. His family migrated to Melbourne in the 1960s. In 1976, Joe and his wife Rosa moved to McLaren Vale, with their kids, Michael and Maria, where they had bought their first vineyard in McMurtrie Road. Since then, they have increased their acreage considerably: from 25 to 110 acres. At the beginning, Joe sold the grapes to various neighbourhood wineries. Then, in 1999, he decided to keep some back for release under their own label, and Sabella’s was born. Joe’s son Michael took on the role of winemaker while Joe continued to look after the grapes. While still fairly new to the game, they were delighted to win the George Mackey Award in 2009 for the best wine exported from Australia, for their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. They are now exporting to Singapore, Malaysia Japan, Hong Kong, China and New Zealand. But there is no need to travel so far – you can try these lovely wines right here.

Despite a couple of covid-related hiccups, Sabella’s cellar door is now happily ensconced in the freshly renovated church. And it’s truly a family business. While Joe and Michael look after the drinking side of the equation, Joe’s daughter Maria manages the cellar door, ably supported by her kids, nieces and nephews. And in the kitchen, you’ll find Nonna Rosa cooking up a storm: pasta and pizza and a couple of desserts that change as the mood takes her. As Maria says, they want to keep it sweet and simple. It’s about the wine first and foremost, with food on the side. Nonetheless, the food is great, and the setting is gorgeous.

You can sit inside or out – we’ve done both – but the live music is generally on a small stage at the back of the garden, near the outdoor bar. Inside, there is still the calm of a church, even when it is chock-a-block with people munching and chatting. Stained glass windows filter the light like a prism and the wooden floor is highly polished. A high bar has been built where once there stood an altar that also served bread and wine. The kitchen may be small, but it’s effective.

On our next visit, I wander in at noon, with the One & Only, only to find them still setting up. Stupidly, I hadn’t checked the website and Sabella’s don’t open till 1pm. Oh well, time to stroll along the Shiraz trail to the edge of town and back, and build up an appetite. For future reference, Sabella’s is open Fridays and Saturdays from 5-10 pm, and on Sundays from 1-7 pm, with live music till 5 o’clock.

This weekend LizBiz is singing enthusiastically as we sip our drinks and munch into a pizza, the base thin and crispy, generously smothered in prosciutto and mozzarella and scattered with chilli and olives. We also share a tasty bowl of penne with a pork mince sauce. We add the chilli this time. My toes tap to the music, But I resist the temptation to join in the singing – at least while my mouth is full of pasta.

Later, I find Maria has a few minutes to spare and we sit down for a chat in the courtyard, while LizBiz takes a well earned break. Maria recently gave up a teaching job in the eastern suburbs to join her parents business in McLaren Vale. She now works as many hours at the cellar door as she did in school, she says, but work at the cellar door takes up her weekends instead of her whole week. And at least here she can have her family around her at the same time.

For some years, Maria tells me, the garden beside the church was known as the Groove Garden, where local bands would gather, and Joe would sell his wines at the bar. So, nothing has changed there: the bands still come to sing on Sundays, and Sabella’s wines are still lined up on the bar. Maria has retained many of the town’s favourite performers but has sourced a few newbies as well.

Maria says there’s still a lot she would like to do here, but for now they are all happy with the way things are going. And so are we. It was a lucky find, the day the wind blew us off Chalk Hill. (And in a whispered aside, I was even more delighted to realize that this was the church my great grandmother attended when she was at boarding school in the village in the late 19th century.)

Unfortunately, Joe is not in situ this weekend. Apparently, he’s recovering from a recent operation. So please get better soon, Joe, as next time I visit, I’d love a chance to talk to you about your wines. I have only tried the delicious, deep red rosé made from Aglianico grapes (pr. Ah-LYAH-nee-koh) which are popular in the Campania and Basilicata regions of Italy. (I I looked them up on Google maps. If you didn’t know either, Campania is on the calf, or the south-west coast, its capital Naples; Basilicata is a region of forests and mountains in the instep of the boot.) I now have a bottle in my fridge which will be perfect for summer… when it finally gets here!

Sabella’s boasts not just one but two interesting labels. The traditional label looks like the sister of New York’s Statue of Liberty. It is in fact an image of the statue of Abundance, a 17th century tribute to Joanna (Giovanna) Archduchess of Austria and Grand Duchess of Tuscany, wife of Francesco de Medici, whose daughter, Marie de’ Medici, married King Henry IV of France. Carved by a series of three sculptors, she is made of white marble and clutches a bronze bouquet of wheat.

Maria explains how Joe came across this beauty in the gardens of Boboli, at the Pitti Palace in Florence, and instantly fell in love. So, what could be a better tribute to a favourite lady than to put her on a wine label?

The second label is in a completely different style and depicts an old fashioned butcher shop window, complete with porcine carcasses. I am fascinated. Why a butcher’s shop on a wine label? Maria has no idea. She thinks her dad just liked the art work. Well, it’s definitely different and certainly eye-catching, and Joe uses to represent Sabella’s premium wines.

One last point. Why did they call the winery Sabella’s? Why not Petrucchi’s? Apparently, it is a pseudonym for the Petrucchi family, derived generations ago from Joe’s great great grandmother ‘Isabella,’ a name that would still be recognised in the town of his birth today. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? Now, where did I put my glass…?

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Colonel Light’s Vision: an old chestnut or a model for the future?

Through this exceptionally long, wet winter, I have spent a lot of time immersed in the history of South Australia, researching families and individuals who played a significant part in founding our state.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, for example, was a key figure in the creation of South Australia. His plan, known as the Wakefield scheme, was to populate the new province of South Australia with a combination of labourers, tradespeople, artisans and capital. The scheme was to be financed by the sale of land to wealthy capitalists, whose payments would fund the migration of skilled workmen and labourers. The migration plan worked brilliantly thanks to early and exceptionally clever marketing along the lines of ‘money for jam.’ And it earned him a street in the new city and a port at the head of Gulf St Vincent, among other nomenclature in his honour.

As eager migrants poured into the new province, the celebrated vision of South Australia’s first Surveyor-General, Colonel William Light and his sidekick George Kingston saw South Australia’s capital city Adelaide rise from the swamps of Holdfast Bay into one of the most beautifully laid out cities in the world.

The first place in Australia to be planned and developed by free settlers, Adelaide was founded on the ideals of religious freedom, diversity and inclusion. As such, it was quickly labelled the City of Churches, not so much for its pious inhabitants – although there were plenty of those too – but due to the many and various religious groups that built spires pointing to the exceptionally blue heavens all over the city. And Colonel Light’s city is the only one in the world encircled by green space. His master plan is now internationally recognised as one of the most important influences on the Garden City Planning movement.

I have always loved our Park Lands. Each area has a different vibe, but as a land moat between city and suburban sprawl, it is a joy to walk or cycle through these broad tracts of open space. There are great picnic spots and the bird life is prolific. Since the inception of its proclamation, town planners, councillors and politicians have nibbled away at its edges to widen roads or build casinos or generally infringe on its glory. Yet still the outline of the original plan is visible, with its six squares (counting Wellington Square in North Adelaide) and its encircling belt of green. Along North Terrace, we have given up much of the original riverbank for public buildings such as the universities of Adelaide and South Australia, the hospitals, new and old, the Festival Centre and the State Library/Museum/Art Gallery cultural precinct. All good, I suppose, when such buildings are open to the public. The Conference Centre and the two – or is it three? – mammoth hotels above the Festival Theatre have less excuse for invading the public space, but according to our current politicians, this is still Park Lands, despite the array of outrageously large and modern constructions.

The Adelaide Park Lands are shaped like a figure eight, encircling the City of Adelaide and North Adelaide and meeting on the broad Adelaide Bridge across the Torrens Lake. Originally, the Park Lands consisted of 2,300 acres, excluding 32 acres for the public cemetery on West Terrace. Soon after the declaration in 1837, 370 acres more were lost to Government Reserves. In 1902, The Herald newspaper noted that 489 acres had been taken from the Park Lands, and by 2018, the loss is about 568 acres. That’s a quarter of the original public land chewed away in less than two hundred years.

In 2008, the Federal Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, announced that the Adelaide Park Lands had been put on the Australian National Heritage List as ‘an enduring treasure for the people of South Australia and the nation as a whole.’ In fact, large areas were excluded from the listing. Now, according to its website, the government want to grab an area the size of 32 tennis courts for a multi-storey car park. Not to mention a little cheeky re-zoning.

Last weekend, we sat with a small gathering of concerned citizens, as the National Trust presented a forum on ‘planning beyond tomorrow.’ The takeaway message? That no one in our current government has any vision for the future beyond the next election, through the age-old adage immortalized by ‘The Grinch’ of biggering and biggering. Building that is, not green spaces. Like Premier Steven Marshall’s threatened re-zoning and his proposed new riverbank stadium to be built on top of the Helen Mayo Park on the southern bank of the Torrens.

Speeches were many and varied. The first, presented by Professor Norman Etherington AM, historian and former National Trust President, was about a 50 year vision he has devised, with reference to Light’s original plan and a stronger focus (read ‘where the government has little interest at all’) on preserving the city’s heritage and keeping our treasures – Ayers House, Martindale Hall, the Park Lands – for the people. Stephanie Johnston, urban and regional planner, spoke about how a World Heritage Listing can be a future-making tool, designed to highlight our historic and environmental advantages. And the President of the Park Lands Association, Shane Shody, spoke vehemently about saving and/or restoring what remains of our precious Park Lands, a blessing to our city living that very few cities can boast.

At this point, feeling overwhelmed and helpless by the accusations that our current government is attempting to destroy our beautiful city through its over-riding greed, I left. The One & Only stayed on to hear how climate change and Covid 19 might dramatically alter the current trajectory for the development of the city, and how best to balance the present drive for urban consolidation, while safe-guarding our heritage buildings.

And yet, there are some positive notes to balance the negativity. The East Park Lands have already had a wonderful makeover, and at the southern end of the old Victoria Park racecourse, they are in the process of being transformed into wetlands. Nearby, the creek that runs through the Southern Park Lands between Hutt Road and Unley Road has been beautifully landscaped. And the horses still frolic in the south-east corner of North Adelaide. And whether or not you admire the new, spaceship shaped Adelaide Oval, it definitely makes an impression on the landscape – and has not blocked the view of St Peters Cathedral to the north.

A further positive for those living at the southern rim of the Adelaide metropolitan area – who may understandably have little interest in the Park Lands but might be quailing before the major new housing developments around the Southern Expressway – is the newly created Glenthorne National Park. Incorporating an old CSIRO site at O’Halloran Hill, the O’Halloran Hill Recreation Park, the Marino Conservation Park, the Hallett Cove Conservation Park, the Happy Valley Reservoir and areas of the Field River Valley, it gallops around those southern suburbs and along the cliffs at Hallett Cove, covering an area of almost 1500 hectares, which is about twice the size of the Belair National Park in the Adelaide Hills. It was officially proclaimed last year by then Governor, His Excellency the Honorable Hieu Van Le AC. Last Friday, the Honorable David Speirs, our Minister for Water & the Environment, opened the park and unveiled a plaque to ‘a thriving environmental and recreational park in our southern suburbs’ – only the day before the National Trust Forum bemoaning our evil government.

So, is it good versus evil, or simply a gargantuan task of checks and balances, compromise and negotiation, from which we must take the best on offer? And do we, the people, have any opportunity to vote against current legislation, and be heard? Signatories to various petitions would suggest we have some power. Current legislation would suggest otherwise.

World issues – which include war and genocide, economic volatility and climatic disasters – may somewhat diminish the importance of such localized, first world issues, but nonetheless I am off to fight for our local beach side café and restaurant, which is under threat from the Powers of the Grinch to dramatically ‘enhance’ the foreshore with a dazzling and completely inappropriate structure. In my humble opinion, anyway.

*With thanks to Google for the pictures above.

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Masks begone!

The irony of my blog’s name struck me anew this morning. No borders, only horizons? Uh huh. Not much truth in that, these days. Not that I’m complaining. South Australia has been spectacularly well protected from the horrors of a virus that have hit the rest of the globe so hard. And my biggest gripe is having to wear a mask everywhere, despite two covid jabs. How annoying to have to blinker my vision and steam up my glasses every time I leave the house! And what’s with that terrible whiff of baby pooh when you’ve been wearing a surgical mask for more than two minutes? Is my breath really that bad? If I’m honest, I haven’t really minded sitting still for a while, I am only antsy because – it turns out – I’m not very good at having others tell me how to live my life.

And we are exceptionally lucky down here on the Fleurieu, with the sea so close and at least a daily glimpse of the horizon. Keep counting your blessings Madame, and life is looking pretty good compared with stories I’ve been hearing from interstate, not to mention the rest of the planet. My own niggling frustrations seem ridiculous in the face of far more serious consequences. But as I see so many other countries accepting the new normal and stepping back into action, so many overseas friends travelling internationally as the wider world re-opens the stable doors, I am glad to read that moves are afoot for Australia to come out of quarantine soon. Much as I have thoroughly enjoyed re-establishing myself in Australia after so many years abroad, I am certainly looking forward to dusting off my passport and queuing to board a plane.

We are the lucky country in more ways than one, I know that, and the way we have kept Covid and an excessive death toll at bay is fabulous. It’s certainly been good for the environment, as plane travel has been at a virtual standstill, and cars remain in their garages, while everyone that can, works from home. And yet, I suspect there will be a huge price to pay for putting our lives on hold for so long. One that may take decades to calculate.

While some families may have enjoyed the simplicity of a life in lockdown with their nearest and dearest, for others, it’s been their worst nightmare. In Australia, those graduating from high school and tertiary education over the past two years have missed out on all those coming-of-age celebrations. Friends in the Philippines have been home schooling their children for 18 months – and that must be particularly tough on ‘only’ children, who miss out on all the socializing that goes hand in hand with education. And this, even though we understand that the junior portion of society is the least vulnerable to Covid. (When is the last time you saw a kid in a mask?) So why have we put their lives on hold? Not to mention the poor teachers, who have worked their fingers to the bone trying to re-write school syllabi to operate on Zoom?

Crisis lines have been running hot, particularly from those cities where endless lockdowns have left the lonely and isolated even lonelier and more isolated. Mental health issues have spread as virulently as Covid 19 and will take longer to repair. Small businesses are suffering too, particularly in areas such as hospitality, and how long will the economy take to recover from that? And what happens when the next Pandemic sweeps through? Can we afford another global shutdown? I’m not talking simple economics, as I’ve always bemoaned the modern mindset of constantly ‘biggering and biggering’ as selfish and self-destructive, never mind the cost to our beautiful, beleaguered planet. But I do worry about the fabric of society; of a basically needy and sociable human race being constantly shoved into isolation. Even the introverts among us must have found such enforced seclusion hard to bear.

I spoke to friends in America only this morning – easy enough with Zoom, Skype, Facebook messenger et al, I know. Yet somehow, we have all found the mindset of lockdown blinkering us to the possibility of being able to communicate by phone with family and friends, wherever they are. So, I am looking forward to that northerly wind to blow away the cobwebs in my head, and a resurgence of hope and happiness. We may have escaped lightly in South Australia, but I am still aware of a general tone of negativity, a glass half full attitude to a world that many say has changed forever, that nothing will ever be the same again. And I think we all need to stop thinking like that.

We may all be cautious for some time to come. But every small freedom returned to our daily lives must surely have a positive effect? If only that we to have come appreciate the little things more; to see the ‘normal’ freedoms as the luxury they most certainly are, rather than that previous sense of entitlement, of human right. So, here’s to a renaissance of positivity with a liberal dose of appreciation for the gifts we have – and the opportunity to hug all our neighbours again!

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Namaste & G’day!

Last week I caught an Uber back to the Cubby Hole. For once, my taxi driver knew the street – ‘it’s just around the corner from my uncle’s restaurant,’ he assured me. Hoping I didn’t sound too un-p.c. I said cautiously, ‘not the Namaste?’ Yes! He cried, ‘That’s it! Do you know it?’ After five minutes of ‘compare and contrast,’ I was extended an invitation to pop in with him to see if we could share some left overs.

‘Namaste’ was the first word I learned when I landed in Kathmandu thirty-something years ago. Derived from a Sanskrit word it is a respectful greeting, used at any time of the day, in much the same way Italians use “ciao” or Aussies say “G’day.”

The Namaste restaurant was one of the first Nepali restaurants in Adelaide, established in 2003 by husband and wife team, Somnath & Sashi. You’ll find it in a pretty 19th century cottage on George Street, Parkside. We have been driving past for years, on every home leave back to South Australia, and have been forever mumbling that we really must drop in one day. This year, we made it through the front door at last. And already we have clocked up multiple visits.

As Namaste is a popular greeting across South Asia, so this restaurant features dishes – often fusion creations – from India, Tibet, Nepal and China, combined with a few more local ingredients like lamb, tomatoes and peas.
Takeaway from Namaste is perfectly acceptable, if you want to eat in your dressing gown and Ug boots, but then you’ll miss out on the homely, welcoming atmosphere in each of the various dining areas. Depending on where you sit, the space may be conducive to a romantic date night or an intimate family group. On a wet and windy winter’s night, it was lovely to sit in the warmth, with sunny yellow walls and a cosy fire. The banquet seemed the easiest thing to do when there were six of us talking hammer & tongs. Well, it saved interrupting the flow of trying to catch up on all the family news in one evening!

We got off to a flying start with a selection of delectable starters: momos (Nepalese dumplings) sekewa (classic Nepalese chicken skewers), mammoth-sized samosas and phulaurah: black lentil patties with traditional Nepalese spices (my favourite, dipped in the green sauce). We even stopped talking for a few moments to fully savour each mouthful. The main courses weren’t quite as distracting, but probably because we’d already taken the edge off our appetites.

Since then, we have nipped around for takeaway a couple of times, and recently we took the whole brood for a birthday dinner. They have long been faithful adherents to Indian cuisine – I think the youngest was barely three when we introduced them to butter chicken with spectacular results – but they came away from Namaste quite smitten with the joys of curries in a lighter format. Butter chicken and saag paneer still topped their list, but they were just as delighted with some new tastes and textures. We introduced them to momos, and a light Jhaneko Daal of yellow and black lentils cooked with Nepalese herbs and spices. I’m still not sure how those spices differ from traditional Indian ones, but there was definitely a difference – somehow more subtle than the heavy, sensual attack of Indian curries that generally leave you feeling bloated and a bit queasy. Or maybe that’s just for the gluttonous among us! We shared a hefty lamb shank (which could have been cooked a little longer, but the flavour was excellent), and an even better lamb dish. And of course, there were the ubiquitous baskets of papadums and roti.

Despite the annoyance of face masks, the staff remains friendly and cheery – showing greater patience than Yours Truly, who is getting increasingly crabby about the need for them in Covid Free South Australia – and treats everyone like family. Sadly, after over-indulging on the savoury dishes, no one had room for dessert, not even for the sake of somewhere to stand a candle. But that’s OK. We all know our way back! And despite the volume of food we had all devoured, there were no complaining stomachs.

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A Capricious Spring

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks! ~ Shakespeare’s King Lear

We were back on the road this week, but without poor Barney, who is currently in therapy, awaiting a new engine. Our last foray north found us nursing Barney beside the Prince’s Highway, just shy of Crystal Brook, as he hemorrhaged oil and black smoke in equal measure. Luckily, we can get him a transplant, and hope to have him back on the road next month, but in the meantime, I am ‘camping’ at Stone Hut (a whistle stop on the Horrocks Highway) in a corrugated iron cabin. In the paddock next door is a petting zoo containing two alpacas, a pair of goats, two kangaroos and a couple of emus for the amusement of the kids – and me!

There’s also an aviary filled with a variety of parrots. A sulphur-crested cockatoo known as Trevor (who can apparently swear like a trooper) is trying to tunnel out. A bossy lorikeet pushes aside the larger birds for a chance to lick my hand with a surprisingly long tongue. A young galah with fierce pink eyes sits on my shoulder and attempts to nibble a chip off my earlobe.

Our cabin backs onto the Stone Hut Bakery, a well-known pit stop for motorists, who crave a break and a taste of the odd but delicious selection of homemade pies and classic cakes. I have bought a kangaroo and red wine pie for dinner, but I could have chosen croc and coriander, chicken satay pie or simple chunky beef. And there is a piece of passionfruit cheesecake and a banoffee pie in the fridge for later.

The One & Only is back on the Heysen Trail, filling in a few kilometres between Wirrabara and Melrose before the heat and the flies take over, and trekking is no longer a joy. The first day, we drive through Wirrabara Conservation Park past the Ippinitchie Campgrounds and out to The Bluff. This is a brand new lookout point on the edge of the ridge – officially opened only the day before! And suddenly this road less travelled is bumper to bumper with cars, dodging and weaving through heavy clouds of dust. It’s worth a little unexpected traffic. A small car park, and a short walk, and we come upon a new steel platform facing west. We gaze out upon the cobalt blue waters of the Spenser Gulf and the ports of Pirie, Germein and Bonython. Behind us, to the east, steep hills and gullies are cloaked in gum trees before the landscape flattens out and farmland takes over. It’s a breath-taking view I could look at for hours – if the wind wasn’t so unpleasant. Yes, I hear you, I should know better, but I came inadequately prepared for chilly winds. I head back down the steep, single-lane, switchback road as the One & Only dons his backpack and heads off into the bush to clock up the miles on foot.

Meanwhile, I’m off to do some exploring of my own. With wheels. This chauffeuring gig has taken me down some of the most beautiful back roads of South Australia, in search of the next drop off or pick up point for my Happy Hiker. Here, in the Southern Flinders, the hills are effervescent under acres of golden rapeseed flowers, in stark contrast to the dusty green gum trees. Kangaroo ears often peek curiously above the yellow blanket and there are infinite numbers of ostentatiously clothed parrots lining the roads, as if awaiting a Royal Procession. I bow my head and wave as I pass by.

So. What to do today? A quick stop to admire the art work on the silos in Wirrabara. Next? Shall I drive down to the coast for a coffee in Port Pirie, or perhaps revisit Blesing’s Winery? I found this little gem on an earlier trip north. Tucked away in a nook in the hills, just off road that runs through the glorious Germein Gorge, this family farm makes some rather nice little wines, and I wouldn’t mind a couple more bottles of the Nebbiolo to put in the cellar. Or maybe pause for a chat and a couple of scones, jam and cream with the lovely Margot. On second thoughts, as the rain races through again, furiously pounding the windscreen, I might just hang around our cabin and talk with the animals, like Dr. Dolittle. (I spend the day dodging the rain, but it seems the sun shone upon the Heysen Trail all afternoon. Hmph.)

At the end of the day, scrubbed clean from the dust and grime of the road, we head to the North Laura pub for ‘schnitty’ and chips and battered garfish. Hopefully there’ll still be room for sticky date pudding with home grown Golden North ice cream, too.

A warm, sunny day is followed by a day of intermittent showers and high winds. Who would guess it was spring? Changeable and unpredictable, this month has not made planning easy, and I decide to take cover in a coffee shop in Melrose and catch up on some emails.

Unfortunately, my idea of retreating into a quiet country café never quite happens. The coffee shop is awash with the chirrup and chatter of a thousand cyclists, and I eventually give up and leave, concluding I can probably work better in our peaceful little cabin. I consider a walk through town first, and maybe a visit to the museum or the swing bridge, but its blowing a gale and I am not warmly dressed. Again.

So, it’s back to Stone Hut. The internet may be a little unreliable, but I can get some writing done at least. And if I need a break, I can pop across to chat with Trevor & Charlie, and the two hand-reared galahs who only like women to scratch their heads and will cheerfully take a chunk out of any male who gets too close. There’s another young galah with a cheeky inclination to climb onto my shoulder, whip off my glasses with a flourish, and toss them in the pond. An elderly corella dances to the music in his head, twirling on the fence post and taking a dizzy bow. Indian ring necked parrots in blue, grey and yellow are curious but nervy and won’t let me get too close. And it’s raining again, anyway, so back under cover I go, until the One & Only calls to say he’s had enough for the day and its time for a beer and a hot shower. And Banoffee Pie!

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Falling for La Tombola

A favourite holiday puzzle, sadly mislaid…

It had been an exhausting day, rearranging furniture and/or heading down to the footy to be wildly supportive of the beloved football team. By 7 p.m. sustenance we were all craving sustenance, our stomachs grumbling petulantly. Unfortunately, the fridge was bare. And where could we get a table at the last minute on a Saturday night?

An unassuming restaurant at the northern end of Unley Road, La Tombola has been delivering traditional Italian meals for years. The menu is not long, but every dish is terrific. The staff are friendly and funny, and we had a super night there recently, delighted to find such a gem barely a stone’s throw from our new city bolt hole.

La Tombola is an Italian game, similar to bingo. It is derived from an Italian verb tombolare, to somersault or tumble. The Collins dictionary suggests it is the equivalent of upsy-daisy, should a small child fall over.

Well, nobody seemed unsteady on their feet that night, although Tony and his staff were flat out when we arrived. We waited rather anxiously on the sidelines for a table – the place was seething. But let’s face it, if the tables are stuffed with happy eaters, it’s probably worth the wait. And it wasn’t that long before we were greeted like old friends, and ushered to a table by the window.

A great thing about Italian dining is that traditionally, a meal is not an event to be rushed, and La Tombola is, without a doubt, authentically Italian. In this respect at least. So we were given plenty of breathing space between courses, with time to dwell on good wine and good conversation. (No one was keen to venture back out into the cold anyway!)

We had taken a bottle of wine with us, but La Tombola is certainly not short of wine – of the red variety anyway. And most of them are locally sourced. I ordered a lovely, fruity Barossa Grenache, while the gentlemen enjoyed their Cabernet Sauvignon.

The One & Only, with his Italian name – and despite a lack of fluency in the language – instantly drew attention and became a firm favourite with the staff. We never went short of wine or food – in fact when the kitchen got a tad overwhelmed, our waitress dashed by with a basket of bread, just in case we were in danger of starving.

We started off with an antipasta platter to share, topped up with an extra plate of coppa – a salami of salted, aged pork shoulder, rolled into a short, thick cylinder, made by Tony himself. Our antipasto platter included frittata and pickled vegetables, as well as the usual array of salamis and olives.

For my main course, I chose a rich and delicious fusilli di estate: a twisted noodle tossed with veal strips, smoked bacon, onion, roasted capsicum and mushrooms in a creamy sauce and finished with basil. The gentlemen went for a spicier option: penne con pancetta picante; the pancetta mixed with Italian sausage, chilli and roasted tomatoes. Of course we shared the spoils without spilling too much sauce on the pristine linen tablecloth.

Finally, a dish of Tira Mi Sú with three spoons to finish up. Well, it seemed best to share, or we may not have had the capacity to walk home. But I am already planning my next visit. It had been terribly difficult to toss up between the Fusilli and the Ravioli Ortolani Rosati, and the One & Only is keen to try the Spaghetti Marinara…

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