I AM perched beachside on the island of Bali, ice-cold Bintang beer to my right, snatching deep, soul-satisfying breaths. I detect the salty smell of the ocean, a fragrant curry being cooked somewhere behind me and the heady scent of clove cigarettes wafting in my direction. I am an avid anti-smoker (I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life) but there’s something about those clove sticks which remind me of apple pie and exotic Asian holidays. I spend an entire hour sitting behind the smoker, passively inhaling the start of my break, which affords me the rare luxury to slow down, and in the end, become blissfully bored.
The next day I’ll board a boat to Nusa Lembongan, an island 30 minutes off of Bali, and battle the cloying humidity and general chaos. But none of this bothers me. I have my bag, a book and time. Two weeks in fact, to not be troubled by the constraints of the clock, or others. I quickly learn the phrase for no worries, sing engken, and will use it often in the next fortnight. I have absolutely no worries in the world. Travelling alone, I take the time to learn a few more useful Indonesian phrases. I want to connect with the world around me, not just hurtle like a hurricane through it. I become adept at the usual greetings, and then move on to the weather. I spend long, lazy days discussing the fact it’s hot panas and there has been no rain ada ida hujan. I become proficient at asking for a table for one satu and in my wildest fantasies, which I have plenty of time to indulge, I imagine I am quite the conversationalist.
On my first week, I have established myself in a traditional thatched roof hut on the quiet side of the island. I float down the steep timber staircase each morning to banana pancakes and pungent, muddy Balinese kopi for breakfast. It’s a small, family-run resort of just eight huts and slowly, I learn to know these Indonesians who delight in my curiosity. I cuddle new baby Made and swim with her cheeky brother Gede, who is five and mischievous. I tease Grandma who scales the coconut tree with a machete. “You’re a wild woman,” I say in English. She may not understand every word, but she gets the intonation and laughs and waves at me. The hard-working Wayan takes the time to teach me even more words. I punctuate reading chapters of my book with dips in the pool in the mornings. By lunchtime, I walk two minutes down a goat track beside the beach to a café on a cliff which captures the best breezes. I eat satay sticks and sip a cold brew while watching a sassy storm grumble on the horizon. The storms will knock out the electricity most days for an hour, during which I’ll sit on the stairs of my hut and watch big, fat raindrops fall on the frangipani leaves. By late afternoon, I amble through the village to a yoga sala I’ve discovered where we’ll stretch and meditate to the sound of a mooing cow in the paddock next door.
By early evening, I’ll shower in my outdoor bathroom before I’m back at my cliffside café, in time for cocktail hour. It’s all margheritas and merriment as I watch the last rays concede the day. I’ll clamber down from my perch when it’s finally cool enough, to one of the restaurants by the beach before I pluck my way in the dark back along the beachside track to my hut. I scale the staircase and climb into my bed, tuck the mosquito net around me, and redolent of childhood holidays, read by torchlight. I sleep solidly, for nine glorious hours every night, to the sound of the ocean smashing against the cliff, only to be awoken by the crow of a rooster. On days when it’s cooler, I’ll wander down potholed roads not caring where they’ll lead. I follow swirls of incense into temples. Cuddle more plump Balinese babies.
On my second week, I move to the more active part of the island and into another traditional Indonesian hut. I have a discussion with a young German tourist who is grappling with the notion of being blissfully bored. “We have no word for surrender in the German language,” she says, without irony. I advise her to go with the flow. That at first, I too found it difficult. But necessary. I rifle through pre-loved books at my resort, looking for a new tome to read into the night. There’s so few English books here, and I resort to reading trash I’d never consider at home. It’s delightfully decadent. I’m so blissfully bored, I even have time to indulge being sick when I am struck down by the inevitable Bali Belly. For once, with no meetings, no pressing deadlines, no travel, I can acquiesce to the illness and lay in bed all day. When I’m well enough again, I snorkel with strangers in the warm waters which produce similar corals and tropical fish to those at home. I fight strong currents to avoid being smashed against the rocks, chat with foreigners. I walk for miles and hire a kayak to paddle the mangrove forest. I learn the salacious saying for just walking, Jalan Jalan, and use it often when I’m approached for transport. It’s indulgent to use my legs for once. I stop and smell frangipani flowers. Observe the neapolitan swirls of clouds at sunset.
At dinner, I become the ardent observer. The German family on their phones, not connecting. The Swedish couple with their two little kids, sipping Rose wine, the sexy wife displaying not only her entire leg but her underwear as well. I giggle to myself. Sink my feet into the sand and truly ground myself. I sweat profusely, toxins exploding from every pore and better than any expensive facial I would receive back home. A young boy who sells jewellery at the beach every day grows accustomed to my presence. Shares a joke with me by pointing at my flip flops, and then his. We are both wearing the same gold-embossed havianas. We look at our shoes, and then into each other’s eyes, and burst out laughing. A rare, shared moment between two divergent cultures. I am blissfully bored. And I adore it all.
The Global Goddess funded her own holiday to Bali and loved every minute, Bali Belly and all. She stayed at Lotus Garden Huts at Mushroom Bay Beach, and Sukanusa Luxury Huts at Jungut Batu
NUMEROUS numerologists will tell you 2019 is an “ending year”. In my spiritual circles of yogis and meditators, they’ll tell you it’s the year you’ll wrap up your “soul agreements” with people, places or circumstances which no longer serve your higher good. For me, 2019 was a year of reflecting after a demanding decade which saw me flee to Singapore in 2010 after the sudden end of my marriage, and ultimately return home to Australia to rebuild my life.
For me, 2019 began with a bang more than a whimper. By early February I was in the Whitsundays, braving a rugged monsoonal trough of wild winds, stinging rains and savage seas, while trying to write a newspaper cover feature on the region’s recovery from Cyclone Debbie which had ravaged it two years earlier. Drenched, I groaned and giggled at the irony of my situation, the less-than-glamorous side of travel writing, and embraced the cheeky campaign adopted by tourism operators, who laughed at their soggy circumstances by renaming it a WetSunday Week. I learned a lot that week about going with the flow.
Two weeks later, on a sassy Southampton evening, I was on board the world’s newest cruise liner, the MSC Bellisima, sailing from France to England. All the while, stalking acclaimed Italian actress Sophia Loren, the ship’s godmother, who was onboard briefly. Because I am such a klutz, I even managed on that ship, stacked with glamorous European media, to lock myself out of my cabin while wearing nothing but my QANTAS pyjamas. Which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not had to stroll through the centre of a posh cocktail party to reception in my jim jams, bra-less and barefoot, to retrieve another key to my cabin.
March found me Noosa, just enough time to catch my breath before I flew to Kenya where I’d go on safari through the Masai Mara and sit in the shadow of mighty Mount Kilimanjaro. But it was meeting Mother Africa’s daughters, at the Ubuntu Café, which really caused me to pause and think. Here were a bunch of women who been made outcast by their communities for giving birth to disabled children. But they had clawed their way back from poverty and isolation, started a café, learned to sew, and were now stitching together a better life for themselves, their children and other women in their situation. It was the soul and spirit of these women that I took with me when I snatched a brief break to celebrate Easter in April, alone and ensconced in a surf shack at Agnes Water on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
By May I was in Fiji, surrounded by the scent of frangipani flowers and the fat smiles of skinny kids, as I cycled through fields of sugar cane and snorkelled balmy oceans. We talked of conservation, and real-life castaways over on Castaway Island. I adore Australia’s South Pacific cousins, who always teach me so much about gratitude. Some days life is as simple as sitting under a coconut tree and counting your blessings. Three days later, back in Australia, I was driving through swirling willy willys enroute to Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland’s Capricorn region, wandering this remote and rugged country, discovering ancient First Nation’s art galleries and choppering over this gorgeous gorge. By the end of that month, I was back in the Whitsundays, sleeping out on the reef in a swag under the stars.
But it was in June when I became a bit lost. Overwhelmed by an already hectic year, and with another six months of travel ahead of me, I spent two days falling apart. I howled along with the wild westerly winds which buffeted Brisbane, drowning in the loneliness of my life and clasping for connection. A year of reflecting? I did plenty over those two days. Eventually I did the only thing I knew how. I wrote myself out of that hole and published a blog about the issue. Little did I know at the time it would go viral, resonating with friends, colleagues and strangers all over the world. I became acutely aware that loneliness had become one of the big issues of our time and that, strangely, I was not alone in my loneliness. I had launched a conversation that I wished to continue. Later that month I flew to Lombok, to interview villagers who had risen from the rubble of the earthquake a year earlier. As with the Fijians, the less people had, the more filled with gratitude they were for the small things. It made me rethink the excesses of my life.
Bali, Mauritius and Croatia beckoned in July and August as I criss-crossed the globe three times, in a manic marathon of work. In Croatia, I sat with people my own age, who had lived through the war of their homeland 25 years ago, and who wore harsh exteriors cloaking hearts of gold. I have never endured a war, and hope I never do, and again, there was so much reason to pause and think. Back in Australia in August, I was on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, urging tourism operators to do just that. Think about their stories and the story of the reef. In September, it was back to the Whitsundays for my third trip there this year, telling more stories of the reef.
I had the great fortune of visiting northern New South Wales in September before promptly jumping on a plane to Thailand in search of the rare pink dolphins. So elusive are these marine mammals, I didn’t encounter any on this trip, and it reminded me of the fragility of Mother Nature. It was something I would think more about in October when I travelled to Queensland’s wine country to write bushfire recovery stories in a town which had more wine than water. My last trip of the year took me to the Maldives, where again, the issue of Climate Change became impossible to ignore.
It’s Brisbane’s hottest December day in 20 years as I sit down to pen this blog, reflecting on the year that was. Bushfires have been raging in Australia for weeks, our water supplies are critical, and our air quality is appalling. And yet our governments do nothing. In a week or so I will pack my bags and board my final flight for the year, to a small island in Indonesia off of Bali, where I’ll perch in a beach shack, snorkel with the manta rays, take a surf class or two, stand up paddle board, kayak the mangroves, drink too much beer, indulge in massages and curl up with some travel tomes. And I reckon there will be some more reflecting in there too.
The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the PR people, tourism operators, colleagues, friends, family and random, kind strangers who came with me on this journey of 2019. May 2020 bring joy, love and peace for you and our planet.
IT’S a scorching summer Saturday and I am feasting on freshly-shucked Coffin Bay oysters adorned with a blue quandong jelly and flavoured with non-alcoholic lemon aspen beer. The scene is sizzling and so is the chef. It’s my first foray to Brisbane’s bustling Wandering Cooks precinct for emerging food enterprises. I’ve finished my travel for the year and today it’s my taste buds which are embarking on a journey, ambling way back into ancient Australian culture, but with a modern twist. I am here as a guest of inspiring Indigenous chef Chris Jordan, who is launching Three Little Birds.
Chris, 30, named his enterprise after the favourite song of his father, who died when this creative chef was just two. He remembers little of his dad, and is still learning about his culture, but it’s through native food that he’s diving deep, searching for his mob, his heritage, his home. This is a passionate young man on a mission. He’s already clocked up 15 years as a chef, working with fine dining restaurants and hotels throughout Australia and the UK. But since learning about his Indigenous ancestry, he has focused his work on native Australian ingredients and also studies Indigenous Philosophy at the University of South Australia. Eat that, critics.
Working with elder and celebrated chef Aunty Dale Chapman, Chris has designed a menu which focuses on the four elements of Indigenous culture including air (fermentation), fire (coals), water (seafood), and earth (foraged and native ingredients). His cooking style is based on the traditional Kup Murri: cooking over or in hot coals, and your mouth will revel in the flavours of ancient Australia here. Dishes are designed to be shared, black fella way, and on this delicious day my dining companion and I tuck into this tucker which includes Saltbaked Sweet Potato with native spiced vegan mayo and macadamia; and Native Sustainable Market Fish with lemon myrtle, yoghurt, seaweed and saltbush. There’s also a surprise dish of Scallops with black squid ink. You can practically taste the campfire. If only the ancients could see us now.
Even better, each course is paired with a non-alcoholic beer, brewed by Sobah, Australia’s first Indigenous non-alcoholic beer flavoured with bush tucker ingredients. We work our way through the menu of breezy brews: Lemon Aspen Pilsner; Finger Lime Cerveza; Pepperberry IPA; Davidson Plum Gluten Free Ale; and Boab & Wild Ginger Lager – which turns out to be my favourite for its freshness and fragrance. We finish this feast with a Wattle Seed & Mountain Pepper Brownie with coconut yoghurt and native jam. It’s a five-star feast adorned with First Nations’ flair.
“I strive to use the most local produce,” Chris says.
“By incorporating native and foraged ingredients into the menu, you’ll see how imperative the local Indigenous community is, as I utilise Indigenous seeds and grains sourced from Aunty Dale, who I have worked with for a number of years.
“I’m continuing to learn about my Indigenous heritage which encourages the creativity and style you’ll see among my menu.”
You’ll find mainly plant-based, native Australian food here and meat that has little to no impact on the environment. Seafood is sustainably sourced from a local fishery. Everything harks back to the eco-friendly way in which the first Australians treated the planet and her gifts. With reverence and respect.
“Indigenous knowledge has been like with many young First Nation People, lost in my family due to social and political issues,” Chris says.
“As I reconnect with my ancestry through education and experiences, I want to share that through food and create something that showcases Indigenous knowledge and native food personally.”
I sit here on this stifling Saturday and observe this chef at work. Beads of perspiration are blending with his passion. In a country where conservatives too often want to believe the worst of its oldest surviving culture, here is a young Indigenous man, standing in the cauldron, cooking up a different story. This is a time for dreaming and a new Dreamtime is dawning for ingenious Indigenous men such as Chris, and the mob at Sobah. And like Three Little Birds themselves, this chef is going to fly.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Three Little Birds. To experience this authentic cuisine and culture, head to Wandering Cooks https://wanderingcooks.com.au
Also check out the Three Little Birds website for other pop ups and catering https://3littlebirdsevents.com
For some great non-alcoholic beer with an Indigenous twist, check out Sobah https://sobah.com.au
Three Little Birds is also hosting a major food event at the Woodford Folk Festival on December 30 https://woodfordfolkfestival.com
I AM sitting in Chicago, the musical not the city, back in my hometown of Brisbane after one of my busiest years of travel yet. Accompanying me on this joyous journey is my best friend from Grade One. For more than 40 years this gorgeous girl and I have been playing dress ups and today is no different. We are revelling in the rare rain which is doing the hot shoe shuffle on the rooftop of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre outside, while inside, we are toe tapping to this marvellous musical. In my seat, I secretly applaud the happiness of having long-term friends and the bliss of being home.
And there’s no better way to celebrate this delicious destination than the razzle dazzle of Chicago, the longest-running American musical in Broadway and West End history, now perched on the banks of the Brisbane River in the Lyric Theatre. The opening act is sleek and sultry and doesn’t disappoint with its trademark All That Jazz. If you know nothing else of this sassy story, you’ll recognise this tune which transports you back to the 1920s and tells the story of some ballsy broads. You’ll adore the humour and one-liners such as “In this town murder is a form of entertainment”; admire the sheer athleticism of the cast; and marvel at the magic they perform on such a tiny sliver of stage.
There’s no fancy costume changes, everyone wears black, allowing space for the brilliant voices to really shine. Another awesome addition to this show is the stadium-style band set up, smack bang centre stage, and with which the cast, and audience, are invited to interact throughout the performance. The cast is delightful, and Australian audiences will recognise a few favourites here such as Tom Burlinson, who plays Billy Flynn the lawyer and at one stage is flanked by fabulous feathers; and Natalie Bassingthwaighte who is charming, cheeky, cute and convincing as Roxie Hart. The lesser-known Alinta Chidzey is equally brilliant as Velma Kelly. But it’s Casey Donovan as Matron “Mama” Morton who steals the show with her voluptuous voice and commanding presence. The audience went ballistic for the bold, brave and beautiful Donovan and so will you.
Delightfully, the band plays the audience out of the theatre to another rendition of All That Jazz where outside we discover a sunny Saturday afternoon. We dissect the show, and life itself, as we amble along South Bank, under the silver metal archways draped in purple bougainvillea, which reminds me of the colour palette of the new suite we are sharing at Rydges South Bank. Late afternoon and we pause at Rydges Soleil Pool Bar for a cheeky cocktail. It’s an Aperol Spritz afternoon and we lounge on couches as comfortable as our friendship.
By early evening we are perched at Rydges Bacchus bar, sipping a sparkly, and admiring the upmarket retro vibe. From our white leather bar stools overlooking several booths, it’s a little bit Get Smart replete with an impressive shelf of liquor and a bar manager who takes the time to chat. But another juicy journey awaits and we repair to the Bacchus dining room where, perched in a commanding chair redolent of Alice in Wonderland I sit while we embark on another adventure – the Spring Degustation. We start with a salacious selection of oysters before eating in earnest – there’s bread and a selection of amuse bouche; a Celeriac with sesame, lemongrass and roast potato broth; and Sashimi boasting apple, cucumber and celery, with Japanese hongarebushi. Each course is paired with wine which we discuss with gusto with the passionate and professional sommelier.
We continue with a Fish Pillow of gnocchi, cannellini, vongole and cuttlefish, before experiencing our most delicious dish of the degustation – Darling Downs Wagyu, with spinalis, smoked eggplant and camel cheese. The meal inches towards the end with a cheeky Cheese with house made chutney and raisin bread with pumpkin and five spice; a brilliant Blueberry unlike any other served with cake and zabaione; Coconut on the Beach with lime and butterscotch; and Petit Fours to finish. This degustation is like our friendship itself, long, surprising, delicious and delightful.
Sated, we repair to our room, this refurbished corner suite part of more than $30 million Rydges South Bank has invested into redesigning all of its rooms. There’s a desk and kitchenette for business travellers, plus a large l-shaped couch in the lounge room replete with huge television. The bedroom boasts a king-sized bed, another large television, and ensuite with shower and elegant egg-shaped bath. Rydges South Bank is the most perfect perch anywhere in Brisbane should you wish to catch a show. Its understated elegance works well for the laidback Queensland capital and for which this heavenly hotel has recently earned its position in the latest Queensland Hotels Association Awards Hall of Fame for Best Superior Accommodation. Rydges South Bank also received the Workplace Health & Safety Award and Guest Experience Supervisor Kait Einam was named Guest Services Employee of the Year. Not surprisingly, Bacchus was awarded Best Prestige Restaurant for the second year in a row.
It’s late at night and I stand on the breezy balcony of my ninth floor suite, from which I can see South Bank from one side, and Mt Coot-tha on the other. The Wheel of Brisbane is lit up like the full moon and the city lights across the river blink back at me, reminding me to savour salacious days such as these. Those rare moments in time when you have time to catch a show, snatch a slow wander, dive into deep chats, feast on a luscious dinner, and indulge in the luxury of retreating to a hotel suite to sleep. And to celebrate a city and friendship, which has stood the test of time…and all that jazz.
Rydges South Bank has launched a CHICAGO package which is available for stays from today, November 5, through to December 1 this year. The package, which starts from $550 includes:
Overnight accommodation in a luxurious guest room
Two A Reserve Tickets (evening performance) on arrival night
Valet car parking for one vehicle
Buffet Breakfast for two in Bacchus Restaurant
An official CHICAGO Show program
A CHICAGO themed gift on arrival
The Global Goddess was a guest of QPAC and Rydges South Bank – www. https://www.rydges.com/accommodation/brisbane-qld/brisbane-south-bank/
Photos courtesy of Rydges South Bank and QPAC.
Keep your eye out for upcoming shows and packages including Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS which opens in Brisbnae on January 10. And if you eat nowhere else in this lifetime, dine at Bacchus. One of my most memorable meals anywhere in the world.
HE looked like Santa Claus and he had a heart as huge as Christmas itself. Despite the hardships of the Australian land, there was a twinkle in his eye, humour in his bushranger’s beard, honest dust in his boots. Pyramids Road Winery owner Warren Smith epitomises the tourism operators on the Granite Belt. Rugged. Resilient. Rich in spirit. Last week, I was in Queensland’s premier wine country, meeting these hard-working souls who have endured devastating drought and bushfire. People who are fighting back against everything our harsh climate throws at them. Here’s 10 ways in which you can help this region rise again.
1.Visit and Stay overnight
Quaint B&B’s, converted farm houses, motels, cottages on vineyards, there’s a plethora of pretty places to stay in the Granite Belt. I stayed at Grovely House Bed and Breakfast, in the Venezia Suite, which is usually reserved for honeymooners. (Yes, wherever she goes, people like to put the perpetually-single Global Goddess in the Honeymoon Suite…) Home to a mob of 35 grey kangaroos, you’ll adore this elegant accommodation run by Faith Simon who doesn’t live on the property, but arrives every morning to cook you a beautiful breakfast.
You don’t have to ask The Global Goddess twice! In the past few years this region has been diversifying into alternative varieties or Strangebirds which are better suited to the Queensland climate. If you can’t make it out to the Granite Belt right now, you can still purchase some excellent drops online. Believe me, I indulged in a two-day tasting (the suffering I do for my art) and came away with some delicious drops.
There’s more wine than water on the Granite Belt right now. The best way you can help is to buy water and donate it to tourism operators and wineries. While there, be water wise. Take two minute showers. Save washing your hair until you’re back home in Brisbane. (If your hair looks less glamorous than usual, drink more wine). Use half-flush on the toilet. These small steps do make a big difference.
4.Buy Local Produce and Gifts
There’s plenty of amazing experiences to be had for those who don’t drink wine. I’m talking local produce such as cheese, home-made jam, fruit and vegetables, apple juice and gifts such as the beautiful balsamic vinegar I bought which is infused with lemongrass. Beer drinkers will be delighted to learn there’s also the Granite Belt Brewery (The Global Goddess also loves a frothy drop) and even the Granite Belt Cider Company.
You’ll love the food on the Granite Belt, fruit plucked straight from the tree, vegetables grown in the soil with love, and there’s plenty of restaurants and cafes at which you can sample this home-grown produce.
6.Donate to the Rural Fire Service
If you can’t get to the Granite Belt right now, you can still help. Donate to organisations such as the Rural Fire Service which has been working under extreme conditions to contain bushfires and save townships.
7.Speak to local tourism operators, listen to their stories and offer moral support
At every single winery, every single time, every single operator walked out of the cellar door to shake my hand and that of my colleagues on this trip. These people are desperate to tell their stories, they don’t want your pity, but they do need your support. Take the time to listen to them. Ask them what they need. You will fall in love with these people.
8.Take a Tour
You don’t even need to drive yourself from Brisbane to the Granite Belt. There’s a range of tour operators out on the Granite Belt who will do the hard driving for you. Which means you can eat, drink and be merry to your heart’s content. The Global Goddess travelled with Filippo’s Tours.
9.Enrol in a course at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism
The better educated we all become about wine, the better Queensland, and Australia’s, wine industry will be placed on the world stage in the future. There’s a wide range of courses in which you can partake through the Queensland College of Wine Tourism. In fact, The Global Goddess is considering enrolling in a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) course which offers globally-recognised accreditations to becoming a sommelier.
10.Share the love on Social Media
It’s time for keyboard warriors to unite for good instead of evil. There are so many great stories to tell about this region. See a photo your like on Instagram? Share it. Like a story about the Granite Belt? Tell your mates. Like and share the Facebook pages of wineries and tourism operators who really need some love right now.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Queensland Wine Industry Association https://queenslandwine.com.au
and Granite Belt Wine and Tourism https://granitebeltwinecountry.com.au
This post was created in partnership with Southern Queensland Country https://www.southernqueenslandcountry.com.au
“There’s more wine than water on the Granite Belt right now,” Rob Fenwick, Heritage Estate Wines
HANDEL’S Water Music is dancing around the room, ducking under a solid steel beam, which was used to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It weaves around the ancient timber table at which I am perched, before one final twirl and the German composer’s notes strike my wine glass. I am at Heritage Estate Wines on the Granite Belt, seated around the same solid rosewood and leather table at which the Queensland Government was formed in 1859. But I am not here to participate in a political discussion, rather, I am clutching a French-oaked wild fermented chardonnay, chatting about wine and bushfire and drought. It’s an unprecedented situation: how to turn wine into water. And the irony of those watery, wistful musical notes waltzing around the room are not lost on me.
This journey has taken me from Brisbane into Southern Queensland Country, past Aratula before snaking over Cunningham’s Gap, through Warwick and into Stanthorpe. The dams are all but bone dry. The soil is so parched it cackles like a witch underfoot. Recent bushfires have painted patches of country charcoal black. Forget Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar’s sunburnt country, this land is blistering. These ragged, jagged edges are enough to make you weep if you allow it, but save your salty tears. For amid the ashes and the dust which lodges in your throat there is resilience and hope in spades.
Heritage Estate’s Rob and Therese Fenwick are fighting back in the only way they know how. With wine. The creamy Chardonnay I am drinking, which is about a divisive as climate change itself, won Winestate Magazine Wine of the Year in 2009. I sample my first ever Fiano, made from an ancient Mediterranean variety, and part of the Strangebird wine varieties you’ll find all around the Granite Belt. There’s a buttery Marsanne and a crisp Verdelho on the Strangebird list here too, along with a Tempranillo, Shiraz Viognier, and Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache. While not a Strangebird, I pause to admire the name of the Rabbit Fence Red. Every winery has at least one of these Strangebird or alternative varieties and it’s the secret to this region’s ongoing success.
“People love the experience of small wineries with real owners and people who have skin in the game,” Rob says.
“The 2020 vintage will be small but it should be fabulous. When you’ve had less water on the vine you get a better taste of grape.
“People should come back to the Granite Belt because while we have more wine than water right now, the biggest fear is unemployment.”
I sashay down to Savina Lane Wines, the newest cellar door on the Granite Belt, but with vines that were planted 65 years ago by an Italian family after World War Two. Despite the drought, the first bud bursts are blooming at this winery which is so popular, it only opens to the public for 10 weeks a year. For the rest of the year, wine is sold to an exclusive membership of just 600. The names Fiano, Graciano, Montepulciano, Petit Manseng, Tempranillo and Viognier swirl around my tongue. Brad Hutchings, who owns this winery with his wife Cheryl, indicates towards the 30,000 bottle cellar before saying “The most expensive thing here is the water. It’s a 2018 vintage because that’s the last time it rained.”
But despite the drought, Cheryl is excited about next year’s vintage.
“It should be extraordinary. Because the vines have had a very hard year they’ve struggled and will work much harder to produce moisture and nutrition,” she says.
“The old 65-year-old girls are thriving.”
The sun has plunged below the horizon by the time I arrive at Jester Hill Wines owned by Mick and Anne Bourke, a couple of motorcyclists who went for a ride one day and ended up buying a winery.
I sip on a Strangebird Sparkling Roussanne, one of only three in the world, while a bubbly Ann reflects on the drought.
She’s been back working full time as a nurse to simply cover the vineyard’s $2500 a week water bill.
“We’ve just had to look at the drought in every positive way and make it work for us. At the end of the day we are here for the long haul,” she says.
“It’s not even about covering our vintage for next year, it’s about looking after the vines and creating an environment that people want to come for.
“For us, our story is always a positive story. What brings people here are positive experiences.”
And positive they are. Dine here on local produce such as Mallow Organic Lamb, feast on the region’s cheese, eat fruit plucked straight from the orchard, and try the Two Fools Trinculo or the Triboulet.
Girraween National Park Ranger Sue Smith, who owns Pyramids Road Wine with her husband Warren, leans like a laconic Queenslander, her heavy walking boots firmly planted on the original timber floor of her cellar door, and talks about the “emotional connection” she has with her winery.
“We are striving for quality. Nothing goes into that bottle unless we believe it is going to sell. Grapes will grow themselves but good grapes, you need to look after,” she says.
“This year is going to be very challenging. We are hoping all the work we’ve done in the vineyard is going to help them survive. We’ve also done a lot of composting and mulching.
“We need tourism badly. The small amount of water you are going to use here is nothing.”
Old-style chardonnay lovers with adore the 2018 Barrel Ferment Chardonnay here.
At Ballandean Estate Wines, the region’s oldest and most renowned wineries, Leanne Puglisi is straight-shooting about the year they’ve endured.
“We started in 1928 and this is probably the toughest year we’ve experienced as a family. It is quite scary the decisions we are having to make with the drought,” she says.
“Our region can do lots of things well. For so long the Granite Belt was left to do what it wanted to do and we love to do what we want to do.
“The general public just assumes that Queensland is all beaches, but we have the highest wine altitude in Australia.”
A heavenly highlight of a visit here, apart from the award-winning wine (try the “Messing About” Fiano) is dining on traditional Italian fare in the Barrel Room Restaurant among 150-year-old port barrels.
Across the road, Golden Grove Estate’s Raymond Costanzo, who is also 2019 Queensland Winemaker of the Year, says their story is all about alternative varieties such as the Tempranillo, Nero d’Avola, Malbec and Durif.
“The last five years has been about having fun, breaking out and playing around with tastes and food,” he says.
It’s a similar story of ingenuity at Twisted Gum Wines where Tim and Michelle Coelli produce single-vineyard, non-irrigated wines.
“I feel that we are in a slightly better position than vines that have been irrigated a lot,” Michelle says.
“Our vines have a deep root system. They are very in tune with seasonality. They are very resilient and opportunistic.”
Sit in this tin and timber Queenslander and sip on the likes of Verdelho/Semillon and Shiraz Rose.
At the adjacent Hidden Creek Winery and Café, ducks are paddling in the remnants of the dam but the 2018 Queensland Winery of the Year powers on, diversifying from old-style wines into more hardy grapes such as Tempranillo and Viognier. This huge-hearted winery also donates $2 from every glass of wine and $5 from every bottle they sell to the Rural Fire Brigade.
Hot winds are fanning another bushfire south of the border at Tenterfield by the time I arrive at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism (QCWT). But amid the acrid smoke in the air, there’s optimism galore. Nearby, a kookaburra laughs outrageously, as if he knows everything is going to be OK.
QCWT CEO Peter O’Reilly says there is already so much growth out of the fire scar in the area.
“Once we see a couple of storms go through, this place will leap out of the ground,” he says.
“There are a lot of really great pictures and encouraging signs in that regard.”
So passionate is QCWT about Queensland as a wine producing region, it is home to the “vineyard of the future” in which 70 different varieties of grapes are being trialled to determine which will perform better in extreme climate conditions.
It’s a sentiment being echoed back in Brisbane at Sirromet Wines, whose 105ha of vines are grown out at Ballandean, and which is poised to plant 15 new varieties to meet climate change challenges.
“I have a strong belief that Queensland wine will dominate not only in Australia but across the world,” says wine maker Mike Hayes.
“We are acting on the Granite Belt crusade. The good thing about the Granite Belt is that it is relatively new.
“Queensland has got the ability to showcase the varieties to the world. We are not tied up in tradition. We’ve shown the world it can be done.”
The Global Goddess stayed at Grovely House Bed and Breakfast https://grovelyhouse.com.au
And travelled as a guest of the Queensland Wine Industry Association https://queenslandwine.com.au
and Granite Belt Wine and Tourism https://granitebeltwinecountry.com.au
This post was created in partnership with Southern Queensland Country https://www.southernqueenslandcountry.com.au
Between 1991 and 1995, while the Serbian-Croatian war raged, I was a young journalist, cutting my teeth in newsrooms on the Gold Coast, Hong Kong and London. Watching the nightly news of bombings in Dubrovnik and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, it was a conflict in a place far away, somewhere with which I could not connect and would never likely visit. Next year marks 25 years since the war in former Yugoslavia ended. Last week, on a trip to Croatia, I fell in love with this country and its people, many the same age of me, who have endured so much.
I AM flying from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, soaring above the dazzling Croatian coastline, whose aqua waters don’t even wear a wrinkle on this diamond day. It’s high summer when I land in Europe and my driver weaves around the Adriatic Sea, past cosy coves and quaint villas with their red-tiled roofs, rebuilt after Serbia bombed Croatia. I drag my plump suitcase into Dubrovnik’s Old Town, along polished sandstone streets, pushing past the throngs of tourists in their floaty summer frocks that they will wear to a fashionably late European dinner. There’s no rush in summer in Croatia, where the sun rises around 5am and plunges into the ocean about 8pm.
From my third-floor loft apartment in a 600-year-old building smack bang in the Old Town, I slip straight into summer in Europe with its long, lazy evenings. By early evening I sit on a shady terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea while I feast on a salty seafood risotto and clutch a crisp, local beer. The outside air temperature is 32 degrees, the water temperature is 26 degrees and the ice-cream is melting along with the tourists. Later, as I drift off to sleep, I’ll hear laughter bouncing around the walls of this seventh century city.
I rise, glide down the steep, timber stairs of my attic apartment with its sloping ceilings. It smells of fresh pine and reminds me of my family in Germany and this is the Europe I adore. I climb a set of steep, cobbled stairs for breakfast, dining on a Dalmatia, or omelette with pungent Gardana cheese and parma ham. I wash down a buttery croissant with a strong coffee. Locals mistake me, a woman on her own who has slipped so effortlessly into this magical morning, as a Croatian and speak to me in the local dialect. I simply smile, nod my head and say “da, da”. Sated, I wander the old, stone walkways which sing to my soul.
It’s been more than a decade since I’ve visited Dubrovnik, another woman in another life, and one magical moment remains etched in my memory, a story my spirit has souvenired for years. Way back then I was walking the Old Town when a sudden summer storm struck. At that point, the store owner threw up her hands, snatched a bottle of grappa from the shelf and insisted I sip and sit out the fury. On that day, so many moons, travels and personal lifetimes ago, I bought a hand-painted egg and it has hung on my bathroom door since.
Last week, just when I’m about to surrender on ever finding this shop again, I stumble upon it by chance, as I’m about to depart the sanctuary of the city walls. I recognise the owner, more than a decade older, and remind her of this day. She smiles and say “Would you like a grappa now?” and we laugh, and sip a home-made rose water grappa. It’s 10am. She tells me this grappa is not for tourists, but for friends, and that I should not leave it another 10 years before I visit again.
I skip out of her store smiling like a fool. These are the reasons we travel. To connect with the world. For a brief moment, to remind ourselves what it is to be human. And the Croatians know what that means more than most. I join Cruise Croatia for my eight-day boat journey from Dubrovnik to Split and meet Nikoleta, my Cruise Manager. She tells me she’s 42. I do the mental maths. At just six years younger than me, she was a teenager when the Serbs invaded her homeland of Bosnia in 1992. I’m intrigued. How could a woman so like me, modern, passionate, direct and open, have survived so much?
“The war didn’t start straight away but you could feel something was going on. There was some weird energy,” she says as we sit on the back of the boat one sunny afternoon.
“My father came and collected us from school and said ‘I want you and your mother and sister to go away for 15 days to Vienna’.
“On the bus journey, a soldier got on the bus and asked if there were any Bosnian-Serbs on the bus and if there were, he would slit their throat. My mother was a Bosnian-Serb. I looked at my mother and a woman next to her said ‘no, there are no Bosnian Serbs on this bus’.
“Two hours after we left Bosnia, they started bombing. With a bag packed for 15 days we stayed away 5 years, leaving Vienna and coming to Croatia.
“My dad stayed in Bosnia to protect the property we had. He was a truck driver driving humanitarian aid from Croatia to Bosnia. It was very dangerous.”
Nikoleta says when they arrived in Croatia after Vienna “everything was different.”
“You always expect the worst things and you found them. There were many refugees from Bosnia,” she says.
“People had no money. You are getting humanitarian aid from all over the world and some are getting rich and some are getting poor. It was a very tense time.
“My mother, she was amazing, she would get canned food but she didn’t want her children to eat bad food. She would go to the local markets and trade the canned food for local products such as milk and cheese.
“Everyone was trying to survive. Everything was destroyed. We never entirely recovered.”
Nikoleta made a return visit to Bosnia but said she cried every day.
She applied to study economics in Austria and stayed for 12 years. Now, for the past 17 years, she has been a tour guide in Croatia, living on the beautiful island of Korcula.
“I lived my life to the fullest. I lived in Switzerland, married a Nigerian man but I got tired of moving around,” she says.
“I thought I should go back home but I went to the Croatian island of Korcula as Bosnia still didn’t recover.
“My husband came with me but his priority was money so we separated.”
Despite the huge changes in her life, she remains optimistic.
“Either you are satisfied with your soul or you are not. I decided to stay in Croatia because the quality of life is really good here,” she says.
“I often hear young people talking about the war and they have extreme ideas and I ask them ‘how old are you? Have you seen that?
“My life taught me there is never reason enough to fight a war.”
I am trying to wrap my mind around our different lives, despite our close ages. I tell Nikoleta that when I was a teenager, I was listening to Whitney Houston and trying on lipstick. That what happened to her was not fair.
“I was doing that too. But I was also worried about being hungry. And whether my father was alive in Bosnia,” she says.
“These days I take life as it comes. If I sit down and think I would have many reasons to cry. It definitely affected my life and destroyed it in some way.
“But I am never looking back and thinking.”
It’s time to wrap up the interview and we both look at each other, knowing that something has shifted in both of us. Two similar women from two separate worlds. More than a week later, as I sit back in Australia writing this, her words, her directness, still swirl around in my head as I try to make sense of it all. When Croatians speak, it’s a shouty jumble of consonants, like they are screaming at each other in rapid gun fire. And in many ways they are. But underneath this facade, they hide huge hearts. In their history, they’ve only ever known 45 years of peace and that was between World War Two and the Serbian-Croatian war. Next year marks 25 years since their last conflict. May these gentle, generous souls finally know peace.
The Global Goddess travelled with Cruise Croatia, Australia’s leading dedicated Croatia small ship cruising operator – http://www.cruise-croatia.com.au
Before the cruise, stay in Dubrovnik’s Old Town at Apartments More Dubrovnik. These charming apartments, smack bang in the ancient city, are 600 years old and are central to all of the key tourist spots.
After the cruise, fly directly from Zagreb, via Dubai, to Australia. Stay in the Croatian capital’s gorgeous Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, which dates back to 1925. https://www.esplanade.hr
The cruise ends in Split. Take a day tour with Portal Split to Croatia’s stunning lake’s district to Plitvice Lakes, ending in Zagreb https://split-excursions.com