A Vision Splendid

“And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him,
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars,” Banjo Paterson (Clancy of the Overflow)

WHEN we were little girls, my Irish Catholic grandfather would sit my three older sisters and me down, and randomly start reciting poetry from the Australian greats. He’d light up his pungent cigar, perch at the end of the long timber table in his old Ipswich Queenslander, and quote, verbatim, stanza after stanza the words of Paterson, Lawson and Mackellar. And it was pure magic. It evoked something deep inside of me, and a passion for the English language was born. Pop died 25 years ago, but I’ll always remember his blue, twinkling eyes and how he introduced me to Banjo Paterson through his story-telling.
Queenslanders particularly have a soft spot for Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson, for it was in our Outback, at the Combo Waterhole near Kynuna, where he found his inspiration for Waltzing Matilda. And it was in the North Gregory Hotel at Winton that Paterson first performed the song which went on to become Australia’s unofficial anthem and the favourite song of Aussie troops fighting in Gallipoli. So revered was Paterson, that a highlight of a trip to the Outback has always been a visit to the Waltzing Matilda Centre at Winton. But almost two weeks ago, the centre burned down, and irreplaceable items were lost. But not the Outback spirit.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. Not only did the fire happen at the start of peak tourist season in the Outback, but this week is also the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival in Winton. While the town was initially devastated by the fire, they were down but not out. That’s not how it works out in these parts for people who, in the words of that other great Aussie poet Dorothea Mackellar, have seen droughts and flooding rains in their sunburnt country. Within hours they had a plan, and as I write this, the show is going on.
I have been incredibly fortunate to spend a lot of time in Queensland’s Outback, writing stories and meeting characters from the south-west corner of Charleville, out to the remote Birdsville pub, to the central west of Longreach and Winton, and the north-east of Cloncurry and Mount Isa. I’ve bet on frilly necks at the Eulo lizard races, sat under the stars at Nardoo Station in a hot artesian bath, dug for dinosaur bones outside Winton, watched the camels race at Boulia, and swam with the fresh water crocs at Adel’s Grove. And I’ve loved every minute. There’s no room for ego out here where the people are huge of heart and have no tolerance for bullshit. So if you’re looking for a vision splendid this winter, look no further than Winton, as there’s still plenty to see and do. Go on a dinosaur dig and unearth bones which are 100 million years old; head out to Lark Quarry and see the fossilised remains of a dinosaur stampede; have a cold beer at the North Gregory Hotel; and see a movie in the open-air theatre.
Speaking of visions splendid, and before I sign off from this week’s blog, I wanted to mention the outpouring of support on Facebook over the weekend when the US Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage become legal in all 50 states. On a day when we awoke to the news that terrorists had killed a number of people in three separate countries, we chose instead to focus on love. Some of us, including myself, changed our profile pictures into rainbows. What stunned me was the comments of one of my (now former) Facebook friends, a white, heterosexual, Australian male, who criticised this move “in the fair dinkum department” to use his words. I should mention that this man is getting married to his female partner this year, no questions asked, but gay people in Australia are still not allowed that basic right. Yes, talk about fair dinkum. Another white, heterosexual, married Australian male, surprisingly described our rainbows as “cheap tokenism”.
For me, the signs of a civilised society are one in which those with privileges, fight for the rights of those who do not. As a white, heterosexual woman, I am one of those privileged people. So, on that note, I sign off with the words of another great poet. He may not be Australian, but I think Kermit the Frog nailed it when he sang: “Some day we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”
To find out what to do in the Outback go to http://www.outbackqueensland.com.au; and for more on the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival go to
http://visionsplendidfilmfest.com (Photos courtesy of Tourism Queensland)

Genius in a Bottle

MONDAY, bloody Monday and I am in the sort of mood other people normally reserve for dentists and funerals. I despise Monday so much, that if there was an Olympic sport for this kind of thing, I would be the reigning gold champion. With such contempt do I hold the first day of the working week, that I am utterly convinced no one else on this planet could hate it as much as me. Except for my good friend Matthew, who is the silver medallist in this sport. Our email conversations on Monday run along the lines of “Only 51 more weeks until holidays”. But not this Monday. You see yesterday we hatched a plan to escape to Japan, if only for a few hours. Yesterday, we went to Sake Restaurant Brisbane.
For those who have been hiding under a rock, and clearly I am one of these people (in my defence, it’s not like I ever go on a date), Sake opened in November 2010. In true Brisbane style, this riverside establishment not only survived the 2011 floods at its Eagle Street pier location, but has thrived during the past five years, winning a coveted Queensland Good Food Guide Chef’s Hat every year since it opened. And it’s easy to see why.
Apart from the fact Matthew likes to match my Monday complaining (I am the Edamame to his Sapporo), he is also a Japanese aficionado, known to enjoy the food as much as the skiing there and hence, he makes the perfect lunch companion on this occasion. A creative way to experience the menu here is to indulge in the “omokase” which, loosely translated, means “we create the menu for you.” In fact, around half of this restaurant’s guests choose this option, leaving it in the hands of head chef Daisuke Sakai and his team to make magic.
Drawing inspiration from the new winter menu, we were treated to a number of dishes, starting with a scallop tiradito with yuzu lemon and rocotto chili; and spicy tuna rice, tuna sashimi with crispy rice blocks.
A wagyu gyoza with ginger, chives and butter ponzu followed; as did tonkatsu pocket buns with panko crumbed pork belly, spicy miso sauced on a steamed white bun.
Our last two savory courses consisted of grainfed wagyu teriyaki cooked medium rare with sautéed shiitake, buckwheat and yakiniku sauce; and Osaka sushi roll with prawn, sweet ginger, egg sheet wrap with okonomiyaki barbecue sauce, and dancing bonito flakes.
The outstanding flavours and texture of the spicy tuna rice made this dish a clear winner for both of us due to the clever crunchy base. For my money, the salty wagyu teriyaki was a close second, while Matthew enjoyed the tonkatsu pocket buns, describing them as upmarket sliders. The Osaka sushi roll prawn promised much, but fell short due to its overpowering ginger, and had the chef possibly deconstructed this dish, as I ended up doing, the beautifully distinct taste of the egg wrap became evident, as did its other individual elements.
A really nice touch is the wine list, with an Austrian white from near the Austrian/Hungarian border and which tastes somewhere between a Riesling and Chablis, a perfect pairing to this menu. The restaurant has also sourced a rare Japanese white wine – Gris de Koshu – which comes from a Japanese grape, and is also a great drop for this kind of food. As the name suggests, Sake is home to numerous drops of the potent Japanese rice wine with 30 varieties of sake on the list. While Monday is pretty dire in my opinion, I did resist reaching for the sake bottle, instead, admiring the sake barrels on the wall, which I am told are used for traditional opening ceremonies.
Matthew had to rush off for a meeting before dessert arrived, but not before he ranked the experience a 9/10. As someone who hosts business lunches of his own, he found the private space in which we were seated, the varied menu, and the use of local produce such as Hervey Bay scallops, impressive. I was all set to give the restaurant an 8/10 (we both agreed the thumping lounge club music in the background was a distraction), until dessert arrived. Even the name of this dish, on this melancholy Monday, made me smile. And the “nihon nemesis” – a delicate chocolate cake with raspberry, matcha raspberry sorbet and honeycomb, was enough to brighten even the darkest day. With stunning service, fabulous food and such creative cuisine, this restaurant is worthy of a 9/10 and a repeat visit. Just like Monday, I’ll be back.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Sake Restaurant – http://www.sakerestaurant.com.au

Birds of a Feather

Photo by Natalie Grono

Photo by Natalie Grono

“It’s not every day you see a woman in her 70s in a bikini pose like that. It is not what people would expect to see,” Natalie Grono
IT’S Friday morning and Feather has just come back from her morning walk around Byron Bay. Normally she’d also be swimming but rather than a case of it being too cold on this June day, Feather, 79, is worried about her hair.
“If I go for a swim and wet it, I have to come home and do it all again. And I wouldn’t wear a bathing cap for quids,” Feather says.
I’m speaking with Feather about her role in Natalie Grono’s award-winning photo: Feather and the Goddess Pool. Natalie has just received the People’s Choice award for this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize. And it’s well deserved. You see, Feather is an icon around Byron Bay where this photo was shot, and she even christened the Goddess Pool, just around the corner from Watego’s Beach, where she swims daily. Yes, Feather in a bikini is not a set-up shot, it’s a daily, natural occurrence. Capturing women in their natural state, in all their wrinkly, crinkly, curvy, straight, boobs, bums and bold beauty is a passion of Natalie’s, and also part of her latest project.
Photo by Natalie Grono

Photo by Natalie Grono

“I live near Byron Bay and I’m a photographer and I’m working on a project to do with women…strong women who are role models and it’s about challenging the idea of how women are normally presented,” Natalie says.
“The day we went to the Goddess Pool it was quite rough and rugged and we had to climb over the rocks which kind of made it even more special. I captured Feather’s light, beauty and wisdom. I wanted to show her beauty and confidence at that age.”
“I’m drawn to strong and intelligent women who have something to say and are a little bit different.”
Photo by Natalie Grono

Photo by Natalie Grono

If Natalie wanted strong, intelligent and different, she didn’t have to cast the net far to find Feather, who is all this and more. Feather’s husband died 16 years ago, and she still dates, but describes men as “strange creatures.”
“I do look after myself, it doesn’t just happen. I walk every day for two hours and I ride a bike. I live alone. As for men in my life, they come and go. The one who I’m seeing at the moment seems to have something wrong with his car on a regular basis, so I won’t be seeing him again. I don’t understand them,” she says.
“I’ve got TMB – Too Many Birthdays. Men who are 80 and 81 look at me and say I’m too old for them. They can’t do anything and they are ratshit and I’m not really interested in being a cougar.”
Feather has come to grips with growing older, in fact she loves it, describing her wrinkles as “only skin to keep your insides in”. For the photo, she says Natalie was lucky to find her that day wearing a bra, as she normally goes topless. And if anyone dares to stare, she gives them the finger and tells them to “bugger off”.
“I get my nails done in the salon and the girls look after that finger. I used to poke my tongue out but giving the finger is much more fun. And I don’t really tell them to bugger off, I use much stronger language,” Feather says.
“It’s much ado about nothing. Just get out there, life is not a rehearsal, it’s the real deal. It doesn’t matter.
“I’m enjoying myself, I’ve lived my life, now I’m loving it.”
Photo by Natalie Grono

Photo by Natalie Grono

National Portrait Gallery Senior Curator Christopher Chapman says the portrait of Feather was a popular favourite with exhibition visitors.
“It conveys a strong sense of her bold character and her connection to the natural environment of Byron Bay. The photograph uses black-and-white tones to create a dynamic layering of surfaces: ruffled water, crinkled rocks, and the texture of Feather’s own skin.”
And there were, of course, other fantastic portraits in the category. Here’s a selection of my favourites below.
Who's That Lady? Photo by Ferne Millen

Who’s That Lady? Photo by Rohan Thomson

Tom and Pepper, Photo by Michael Kennedy

Tom and Pepper, Photo by Michael Kennedy

The Morticians, Photo by Rohan Thomson

The Morticians, Photo by Rohan Thomson

Natalie’s project on strong women will be featured on a blog she is establishing called The Moon and The Muse. Her current work can be found on http://www.nataliegrono.com The National Photographic Portrait Prize 2015 exhibition will begin its North Queensland tour, beginning at Artspace Mackay from July 10 to August 30. For more details and tour dates go to: http://www.portrait.gov.au
The Dame, Photo by Brock Elbank

The Dame, Photo by Brock Elbank

The Art of Travel

“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room, Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
IT’S almost mid-June and my itchy traveller’s feet are already becoming tetchy, niggling to get back on that road, so soon after I’ve just stepped off the beaten track. After a big six months of travel, I’m taking a brief pause to recalibrate, but it’s not a simple task for me. My body says stop, but my mind roars like those four Rolls Royce engines upon take-off, constantly conjuring up all the possibilities out there in the big, wide world awaiting me. But it’s important to stop, however briefly, if nothing else but to breathe. To indulge in that most sinful of sins, sleeping in one’s own bed.
I started the year with a few domestic trips, out west to Ipswich where I rode in a helicopter to a winery and took my first hot air balloon flight – both of which were pretty big deals for this travel writer who hates to fly. I explored Brisbane’s southside and discovered a Buddhist temple and a whole new side of my pretty city I never knew existed. As Alain de Botton argues in his book The Art of Travel you don’t even need to leave your own home to travel. Much of it is a state of mind.
Things became a little crazy in March with a big trip up to Papua New Guinea but what a delightful visit to this South Pacific frontier it was. I came home with armloads of stories and some beautiful new friends. I was home for three days, enough time to wash, dry and repack my clothes, before I headed off to Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, all in the space of a week. I was sick as a dog on that trip, but sometimes you don’t get a choice to slow down, and it’s amazing what you can do when you really need to.
A long weekend in Noosa, part work, part pleasure followed and I started to dream of the following weekend when I’d be back on the Sunshine Coast for Easter with my sister. But fate had other plans and torrential rain forced the cancellation of our Easter holiday on the Sunshine Coast, but determined to get away, we fled to Fiji instead, where one of our best Easters unfurled among coconut cocktails and South Pacific church services.
Shortly after that, I was in Cairns and Port Douglas, exploring the beautiful tropical north of my state. I hired a car for this trip, switched the radio to some superb 80s tunes, and sang my way along the Captain Cook Highway north. There was a moment of truth when, all alone on a remote beach eating my lunch I though “I’m all alone” with a tinge of fear and sadness. But that was rapidly replaced by jubilation: “I’m ALL alone,” and I skipped back to my rainforest cottage with pure glee.
As fate would have it, I returned to Port Douglas a week or so later for another story. Funny how you don’t go somewhere for 15 years, and then you return to that very destination within a short time frame. I wonder what Alain de Botton would make of that? It was a completely different trip which evoked vastly different feelings, proving it’s the journey, not the destination, which makes the place. As de Botton would say: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.”
I was on the Sunshine Coast a week later, at Rainbow Beach, a place I’d never been, scratching my head as to how I’d missed such a Queensland gem. I spent the night camping at Inskip Point right on the beach while the wind howled outside, and trying to imagine that a week later I’d be in Austria, covering Eurovision. I arrived in Vienna, a city I last visited 20 years before as a backpacker, and hardly recognised the place. It made me realise that while I was fitter two decades ago, I was also very young and, according to de Botton: “A danger of travel is that we see things at the wrong time, before we have had a chance to build up the necessary receptivity and when new information is therefore as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.” And so it was on my previous trip to the Austrian capital, but not so on this journey. I returned to Salzburg where seven years previously I had gone in search of the Sound of Music magic. I found it again on this trip, and more.
On the long journey home from Europe to Australia, I paused for 10 hours in Bangkok, one of my all-time favourite destinations. Due to the length of my layover I had just enough time to leave the airport, find a hotel, have a Thai massage and sit by the pool in the early evening humidity to eat a Thai curry washed down with a cold Singha. And even then, I found it alluring, tempting myself to stay on, trying to find a loophole to avoid getting on that midnight flight to Brisbane.
I’ve been home two weeks tomorrow and if I’m really honest, it took me about four days till I was climbing the walls. But it’s a necessary climbing journey. I need to write, reset, catch up with friends, go to yoga, attend meditation and, if I’m lucky, go on a date or two. It’s winter Down Under and it’s time to pause and reflect, if just for a little bit. Oh, the trips are already mounting in the coming months, there’s Noosa, the Whitsundays and Mount Isa, followed by Uluru and Canada. I hope to get to Sri Lanka. And that’s just what I know now. And so I sit, write and regroup, but it’s not without its challenges. As de Botton wrote: “And I wondered, with mounting anxiety, What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to think?”

I had a gay old time at Eurovision

IT’S a Friday morning in Vienna and I am standing in an inner urban garden watching a man pleasure a snail. Yes, somehow I have stumbled across a mollusc masturbator in Europe. Allow me to explain. I am in the Austrian capital as one of 1700 global journalists covering Eurovision, but before we receive our tickets, Vienna Tourism has sent us on a Race Around The World style treasure hunt of this pretty city. My team consists of myself, a fellow Aussie journalist, an enthusiastic Londoner called Sophie and a mysterious Russian named Vera, who appears not to speak a word of English.

The garden where the "incident" took place

The garden where the “incident” took place

We complete our first task with pleasure and ease…drinking wine and learning to yodel with a bloke called Butter. Butter is dressed in a purple dinner suit and sparks my first suspicion that the entire Austrian capital may be gay. But more on that later. Our second stop is at the inner urban garden where we are met by a gregarious gardener who asks us each to select a snail, places them in a circle to race, and explains that one of the losers will be required to rub the snail slime on themselves. My fellow Aussie wins the race with her snail called Guy, but mine, whom I’ve dubbed Conchita, just turns around in circles occasionally bumping into the snails of Sophie and Vera, and thus one of us has to be slimed. I watch, with a mix of horror and fascination, as the gardener “tickles” the underbelly of the snail and empties its trail into a glass and then before anyone can say anything, I push the Russian towards the mollusc masturbator to be slimed. I figure she can’t understand English anyway, and probably thinks it’s a quaint Austrian ritual.
A bloke called Butter

A bloke called Butter

We stumble around this charming cobbled city for hours, pausing to delight in its street art and café culture, while I yet again daydream of moving to Europe, falling in love with a well-dressed European man who may or may not be gay, and imagine a life where I spend half my year in Europe and the other in suburban Brisbane. Because I am a woman for all seasons. My daydreaming is interrupted when we arrive at our next challenge, where I have to sit in a barber’s chair, hold a balloon painted with Conchita’s beard, and the Russian has to shave Conchita with a sharp blade. At first I was afraid, yes, I was petrified, until I realised that Vera was scarily nifty with the knife, and we completed the challenge in record time. I made a mental note to say sorry for the snail slime incident.
The barbershop where the Russian was nifty with the knife

The barbershop where the Russian was nifty with the knife

Despite our best efforts, we didn’t win the challenge (in fact I think we may have lost) but we had a gay old time. Which is essentially the theme for my week in Europe. In typical Goddess style I jumped into this assignment feet first, thinking I may find several stories and a husband, but what I didn’t consider was that it was Eurovision, making Vienna possibly the gayest place on the planet last week. I lusted after Lars from Stockholm for several days before I finally realised he was gay, but he was kind enough to let me snatch a snap of his banana.
The lovely Lars and his banana

The lovely Lars and his banana

On several occasions Australia’s entry into Eurovision, Guy Sebastian, stalked me at a number of events which may or may not actually have been in his honour. I did fantasise about making Guy my Guy, but apart from the fact he has a lovely wife, I do not think I can ever hear his song Tonight Again, again, after last week. Yes, he was brilliant, and also a nice guy, and the Aussies were thrilled when he came in fifth, but there’s only so much of a good thing you can have. I did sneak into the Eurovision dressing room before the show and considered nicking Russia’s costume (below) and wearing it as my outfit, and had I known how dangerously close little miss fake cry baby was going to come to winning, I may have done just that. But thankfully Mans from Sweden brought it home. And yes, I am a hero of my time, and I am dancing with the demons in my mind.
Russia's Eurovision outfit in the dressing room before the finale

Russia’s Eurovision outfit in the dressing room before the finale

Full of song, and resigned to the fact that I’d now turned Europe gay, I pushed on to Salzburg to celebrate 50 years since the Sound of Music was filmed. It was here, I hoped, I would meet my Captain von Trapp. Given the blokes of Brisbane still think it’s perfectly all right to wolf whistle at me from construction sites, I figure living with the Captain and his whistle would be a cinch. I even got to sleep in the real von Trapp family home, Villa Trapp, where I sunk into delicious dreams about the Captain and me climbing every mountain. Yes, Captain, my hills were alive. There’s even a love lock bridge in Salzburg and for a brief moment I considered setting up my own bridge, for sad singles, where you hang a lock with your phone number. Yes, call me.
The love lock bridge in Salzburg

The love lock bridge in Salzburg

But there was no time to be lonely on this trip, my straight woman’s gay tour of Europe, and I gobbled with gusto these two cities. It was a schnitzel, schnapps and sausage fest and while I left Austria as single as when I arrived, in the words of the lovely Conchita, I am going to Rise Like a Phoenix, and continue on with my search for love.
The incredible Conchita Wurst

The incredible Conchita Wurst

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Austria Tourism http://www.austria.info/au