THERE were frogs in the pond, pigs in a blanket, a gaggle of geese and a gargle of girlfriends. White cockatoos sat at arm’s length over the back fence and Joe the dog slouched under the table, barely able to conceal his bemusement.
We arrived in the one-horse, one-pub Queensland country town in the height of the noon-day sun. The girl we like to call Jodi (who has insisted her friends stop naming her in blogs, so for the sake of this story let’s call her Clarky) had packed ice blocks for the 45 minute drive west of Brisbane. Things were going swimmingly, until I drove the wrong way into the town’s drive thru bottle-o. Clarky swore she heard a banjo play somewhere in the distance and I thought I saw a tumbleweed blow past, until I realised it was just Corina stumbling out of the bottle-o with some lemonade. We kept the engine running…just in case.
It was Retro Sunday lunch at Dame Alison’s where a mob of top sheilas, six of us in all aged between 39 and 72, gathered on the verandah for a good old chinwag and some fine food. Except this year the food wasn’t so much fine but funky. We harked back to the 70s, clutching at the recipes of our mothers and grandmothers. I pulled out old faithful: my spinach cob loaf and some sausage rolls. Mr Lee brought cheer and cheerios. Clarky baked some chooks, Heaney tossed a salad, and Alison, a Shepherd’s pie which mysteriously contained no lamb.
But the piece-de-resistance was Corina’s nana’s jelly salad. Imagine, if you possibly can, yellow jelly, carrot shreds and, wait for it… mustard, and you’ve got the salad. Unfortunately for me, who’d spent the week suffering from a gastro virus, it too closely resembled what I’d been trying to keep down and from the looks of the others, they were about to join me as fellow passengers on the proverbial porcelain bus. Nana would have be turning in her grave if she could have heard our comments, that is, if she wasn’t so preserved from all the mustard she used to consume.
But it wasn’t so much about the food, as friendship. Feisty femme fatales dining on the deck to swap stories and secrets, swatting flies and egos. There’s no bullshit with Brisbane women – they’ll slap you down if you get too big for your boots, but are the first to pick you up when you break a heel. That’s what I love.
As the perfect Pimms afternoon wore on, we braved the gamut of conversations. Should Vegemite be kept in the fridge? Would you look after your cheating ex-husband if he was dying of a terminal illness? We spoke of death and dating (sometimes, for me, in the same sentence). Three of us had boyfriends, three of us didn’t. Those of you who remember the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era will enjoy the irony of a group of journalists and PRs standing, side-by-side in the back yard, feeding the chooks. We collected fresh eggs from the chook pen to take home.
We spoke of sex, travel and work. That’s another thing I love. In a town like Brisbane where you have to compete furiously for the work, our foes are our friends. There’s no room in this river city for small-minded competitiveness. What goes around, comes around. And so it is with these girls.
They keep me honest, they rough me up, but they are the first to be there when I need it. A group of us were recently up in Lombok for our annual travel writer’s conference. Someone from Sydney paid us one of the nicest compliments we’d ever heard. “You Brisbane girls are just so friendly and fun. You’re down-to-earth. You’re earthy.”
And she hadn’t even seen Nana’s jelly salad.