One Hearty Party

Photo by Dylan Evans

Photo by Dylan Evans

I REALLY should be cranky with Brisbane, yet I’m not. On the one weekend when I’m out wandering my hometown, foraging through her secret nooks and crannies in preparation for the Brisbane Festival, my sassy city decides to rain. Not just little kittens and puppies, but big cats and dogs with a bit of a windy whip in their tail, just for good measure. But being angry with Brisbane when it rains is like losing your cool at your well-behaved child when they act out of character. You know, the one who almost always is lovely, but every now and then Satan makes a surprise appearance. And so it is with Brisbane on this weekend, our thirsty city hasn’t seen a drop of rain in months, so it would be churlish of me to punish her for that.
And what that rain means is that when the Brisbane Festival bursts into bloom for three weeks from September 6, this pretty city is going to be so green, it will make every other Aussie capital emerald with envy. My wanderings begin at Fortitude Valley’s Alpha Mosaic Hotel, the latest entrant in Brisbane’s vertical community. Urban chic meets retro here with splashes of orange chairs and purple walls and, a rarity for Brisbane, a stone fireplace in the lobby. But the real treat here is on the rooftop of this hotel/apartment complex which not only has its own herb garden for residents, but 360 degree views of the city, an ideal vantage point for the culmination of the Brisbane Festival with Riverfire’s fireworks.
Photo by Atmosphere Photography

Photo by Atmosphere Photography

On towards New Farm and Jan Power’s Farmer’s Markets I tumble, where the weather may be wet, but the stallholders’ wits are dry and the produce crisp. The Powerhouse will host some of the Brisbane Festival’s key performances including The Shadow King, an Indigenous slant on Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Monkey…Journey to the West, a take on the 1970s cult classic Monkey Magic.
While surprise events and pop-up performances will be detonating all over the city, the leading lady of the Brisbane Festival will be South Bank in what is Australia’s only custom-designed cultural precinct. Among the many restaurants and bars poised to embrace the festival, Champ Kitchen & Bar will be one of the heroes, with specially-designed cocktails such as The Green Martini made from absinthe and Bacardi (a major festival sponsor) and served with green apple jam; as well as The Royal Bellini, built on strawberries, wine and Grand Marnier to tie in with the burlesque theme of the nearby Spiegeltent.
Champ's Green Martini

Champ’s Green Martini

Brisbane Festival Artistic Director Noel Staunton says around 82 performances will be staged around the city during those three weeks in September, with many of them free. The cheapest ticketed performance starts at $15 with the most expensive at $180, making the festival accessible to everyone. And half of the festival tickets have already been sold.
“Once the festival starts there is the impetus to go and see shows. For me it is about creating debate. It is not about a show being good or bad. It is about seeing things that people normally wouldn’t see for the rest of the year,” Noel says.
“We employ hundreds of local artists and have a policy where we involve every arts organisation in the city. It’s about a party. It’s about having a go and having a good time. Not every show is about high-end culture.
“For me, it’s about a city having a different feel for a three-week period that is nice and easy and just fun. I very much like to see this city up late because this city goes to bed so early.”
One of the most ambitious festival highlights will be when 100 light horsemen ride across the city’s iconic Story Bridge, a cultural clip clop to the Black Diggers performance at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, which pays homage to the Indigenous Australian soldiers who fought in World War One. At the Courier-Mail Piazza at South Bank, Soap will be a contemporary circus, comedy and cabaret and will involve seven bathtubs, while at the Queensland Conservatorium, an opera will explore the city’s 2011 deluge with Floods.
SOAP Poster Photo light
It’s the last festival for Noel, who has been at the helm for the past five years, and cites a performance in 2010 in which festival-goers were invited to attend a giant sauna theatre performance – buck naked – as his most audacious event. Perhaps that’s the year that Brisbane really learnt to let its hair down, so to speak. Who knows? But on this wet weekend, when Noel sits in a noughts and crosses collared shirt and talks about the entertainment game, one thing is perfectly clear. You can’t guarantee the weather, but Brisbane is in for a blast.
STAY: Alpha Mosaic Hotel Brisbane –
SEE: Brisbane Festival (September 6 – 27) –
EAT & DRINK: Champ Kitchen & Bar –; Newstead Brewing Co –; Green Beacon Brewing Co –; Tipplers Tap –; Gerard’s Bistro –
DO: Brisbane Greeters offer free guided tours of Brisbane’s precincts –
The Global Goddess was a guest of Brisbane Marketing. For a comprehensive calendar of events and things to see and do in Brisbane go to

Days Like This

“When it’s not always raining, there’ll be days like this. When there’s no one complaining, there’ll be days like this,” Van Morrison, Days Like This
PERFECT weather, a public holiday and a close girlfriend. Three elements conspired to create one of those rare days bursting with bliss last week, where stuff simply flows and you are gently swept along by the breeze, rather than being forced to face the winter westerly’s of our lives. It was a free day in Brisbane to mark People’s Day at the Royal Queensland Show or the Ekka in the local vernacular. But I chose to escape the city, jump in the car, grab a girlfriend and head north to the Sunshine Coast and the Eumundi Markets.
On a weekend, the road would be packed with people heading to Noosa, but not on this mid-week escapade, our two-hour drive instead punctuated by catching up on our lives. We’ve just one hour each to examine, dissect and debate the latest before arriving in the tiny township of Eumundi and her normally bustling marketplace. Even the markets today are sedate, a slower place which suits us just fine, as we saunter through the stalls, pausing to snatch a mid-morning Turkish gozleme stuffed with spinach and feta.
We stroll and laugh. Steal languid pauses to smell the roses, or in this case, the pungent soap on sale. Chat to a stallholder about his carnivorous plants. Try on eclectic outfits. Resist the seduction of sparkly jewellery. Wander through aisles of books. Observe the colourful characters. Pat a camel.
We stumble across a “Willy Washer” and spend some time discussing its purpose. There’s a male fairy guarding some jewellery that resembles the young man selling the silver, fashioned from old knives, forks and spoons. An ancient typewriter has been dismantled, somewhat to our dismay, and crafted into trinkets. Colourful hand-woven handbags remind us of our travels around the globe.
We discover Noosa Reds – plump, juicy tomatoes bursting with the distinct flavours of this fertile region – deliciously packed in crunchy brown paper bags. A giant gecko mural hugs a pole. There’s glass-blowing and some beaut ukes. And all the while, we keep winding through the marketplace, unravelling our lives.
Unpacking your world is hearty work and so we head east towards Noosa for a sneaky glass of wine by the ocean. It’s winter and it’s empty and it’s gorgeous because of this. There’s no pressure to swim, even though we’ve bought our togs “just in case”. Instead we simply sit, delight at the dolphins, gossip about the awkward couple at the adjacent table quite obviously on a first date. Don’t worry, we’ve both been there many times, and agree he’s overdone it by ordering a gigantic platter of oysters. The double entendre surely not missed on his target.
Our suspicions are confirmed about an hour later, while we’re sitting along Noosa’s main street, facing the sidewalk in our rattan chairs reminiscent of Paris, sipping lattes like a local. The couple emerge from the restaurant, embrace awkwardly, and nefarious Neptune is left to wander down the street alone, his Little Mermaid heading in the other direction. We wonder if he’ll regret the gregarious gesture. That maybe he tried a little too hard? Or perhaps they simply had nothing in common? Not so for my mate and me. We glide easily down the street, admiring artwork, trying on hats for the upcoming summer, daydreaming of wearing summer frocks and sandals again soon. The sun sets and we reluctantly head home, salty skinned, tousled hair and nourished spirits. Sometimes, when it’s not always raining, and there’s no one complaining, there’ll be days like this.

Life Cycles

“Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?” Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Landslide

THIS was meant to be a blog about bikes. You see, in the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to stay motivated and energised in that last month of winter – my most dreaded season – when all I really want to do is hibernate. And so, I’ve been searching for beauty in situations close to home in Brisbane, places where I may not have noticed joy before. And all of a sudden, I discovered this city was full of beautiful bicycles and I started to photograph them for this blog.
But in the past few days, while swirling this idea around my head in the same manner one might an expensive brandy around their palate, savouring every nuance, it occurred to me this was no longer a blog about bikes, but the seasons of our lives. That there really is a time to reap and a time to sow. There’s a time to get out there and embrace the world, and a time to allow yourself to fall fallow. And, after a huge year of travel which has taken me around the world and back a few times, that’s what I’ve been doing. Greasing and adjusting the old chain.
A couple of years ago when I lived in Singapore, I had a deep conversation with my then Kiwi flat mate. We were bemoaning yet another humid day which comes from living 100 kilometres from the Equator, and the fact that the sun rises at the same time every day, and sets at the same time every day, regardless of season. You can set your watch by the afternoon torrential downpours and, while dissecting this monotonous predictability, we decided that we needed seasons to define our years and our lives.
At this point, some of my readers will scoff at a girl who lives in sub-tropical Brisbane discussing the concept of seasons. Isn’t it hot there all the time, they’ll argue. And, relatively speaking if you are comparing Brisbane to Tasmania, for instance, you are probably right. But even here, where the sun shines for perhaps too many drought-riddled days of the year, we have seasons. (Last month, we shivered through the coldest winter day in 100 years when the temperature plunged to 2.6 degrees). The frangipani tree off the back deck loses its pungent flowers and lush green foliage and closes up like a hermit. My creaky Queenslander cottage moans like an old man with crook knees. And every draft that blows across the continent seems to squirm uneasily between the nooks and crannies of the tin and timber, finding nowhere to settle among the high ceilings designed for long summer days.
When the crisp mornings eventually concede to warm days, and when my schedule allows, I’ve been sitting on my back deck and basking in the winter sunshine, secretly willing the frangipani to come to life. Allowing myself time to reflect and regroup. To think about painting the proverbial bike a different colour. Or maybe trading it in for something completely new. That’s what we should do in winter. Dream. Polish the handlebars. Stare at our reflection.
Riding a bike for many of us remains one of our first memories of mastery. Sure, we all learned to walk and talk a long time before we ever surrendered our feet to three wheels, and eventually two, but it’s one of those defining life moments. That point in time where you whizz down a hill, carefree and reckless and hope the brakes work when you get to the bottom. I don’t know too many Aussies from a certain era who don’t have a scar on one or both knees from when they’ve had the inevitable gutser. God, I can’t even remember when last time I wrapped my mouth around that fantastic word. Nor, come to think of it, the last time I rode a bike.
But soon enough we learn that life is full of gutsers and dodgy brakes and greasy chains. There’s potholes and pitfalls galore, as is there supreme pleasure. So, in this last month of winter, be kind, be gentle, be compassionate to yourself and others. And, if like me, you are preparing to get back on that bike and cruise into spring, may the wind always be on your back and the soft sun on your face, as you ride through the inevitable seasons of your life.

From Paddy to Plate

MID summer and Thailand’s mounting humidity is threatening to chuck a torrential tantrum any day now. And I’m traipsing around the country’s only organic resort in search of a salacious story, one which will take my taste buds from paddy to plate. Curious about the tropical property on which I find myself, I ask my guide whether there are any snakes here: “Of course,” he says with trademark Thai honesty. “Are they poisonous?” I tip toe my thonged feet tentatively through the cackling grass. “Of course,” he replies.
I recently travelled to Thailand’s Sampram District, 45 kilometres west of Bangkok, the kind of country where bare-chested men crack open coconuts plucked fresh from the tree with their huge hands. (OK, he may have had a big knife, and was actually wearing a shirt, but a girl can daydream). On this occasion, I’m exploring the organic farm of Arrut Navaraj. Like so many of the best ideas, this concept was born of one simple action. Fifty-two years ago, Arrut’s grandmother was travelling through this district, when she saw an old bullet tree which needed saving from falling into the river. She ended up buying the 0.4ha of land on which the tree still stands today, built a house and starting growing roses as a hobby. But the story doesn’t end there.
In fact, it’s only the start. Arrut’s grandmother went on to build an open-air restaurant where the menu was limited to just two items: Pad Thai and coconut ice-cream. But that was enough to lure Bangkok’s expat community to the property which they nick named Rose Garden. Arrut’s grandmother even taught her rose gardeners how to dance to perform for the tourists. And this is where the story takes a delicious twist. Arrut himself was a chemical engineer for Shell, working on the “dark side” if you will, before he decided to take over the family property, and transform it into Thailand’s only organic resort.
These days, it’s called Sampram Riverside Resort, a 160 room hotel with 6 traditional Thai houses, which employs 450 people and stands on 28ha which includes Botanic Gardens, a Thai Village and Rose Gardens. But the highlight is a green market on the weekends where only organic certified products are sold.
“Our concept is based around the traditional Thai way of life. We wanted to expand more into our local community and into organic agriculture,” Arrut says.
“Unfortunately farmers use a lot of chemicals in central Thailand and we want to reverse that trend. We’ve been doing that for the last four years. We are the only hotel in the country to receive funding to do this.
“We want to promote Sampram as a new destination and hub for organic producers and travel. It’s been going quite well.”
“Quite well” is a bit of an understatement for this concept which is about to expand with an “urban farm shop” in Bangkok and with Sampram in talks with a number of luxury hotel chains and top supermarkets to promote their products.
“We weren’t professional farmers. We started approaching them and found most of them used chemicals and there was no incentive for them to not use them,” Arrut says.
“They were only getting cheap prices so we thought we needed to start being a market ourselves to buy from them.
“The Thai Government doesn’t look at this as a way of life, as a supply chain. It’s been a long process between us and building trust with the farmers.”
Arrut says no one else is the country is offering anything similar and those hotels or resorts who claim to be organic are mostly paying lip service to the ideal. The next stage of the business is to work on “The Sampram Model” where stakeholders will form a Memorandum of Understanding on their various roles, rights and responsibilities within the supply chain.
“A lot of hotels have organic gardens but that is really for show. To sustain a whole hotel is a different story. We know the people who grow the fruit, the rice…we are in touch with about 200 farmers at the moment in our province,” he says.
“It is a leap of faith to do organic farming. I started eight years ago and I thought it was impossible. In the end I had to come back to myself and you learn from your practice and get better and better. You learn to get the best balance in your farm.
“My big dream is for the Sampram district to become chemical free. The market wants organic and the government has failed miserably by not paying the farmers and they are now switching to the organic. “
Arrut also wants to use the 0.8ha of roses grown on the property to produce the first Thai rose oil in the world. And he’s sure his grandmother, who is now 91 and living in Bangkok, would be proud of what he’s achieved.
“She’s happy with what I’m doing. She was a keen gardener. She believes we have to adjust with time. Everything we are doing is based on the traditional Thai way of life.
“Every Thai feels now, after the coup, is the time for change. I’ve never felt like this before in my life.
“It is karma. We went right to the bottom, the only way is up.”
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.