“It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home,” Tom Jones
BROODY, moody clouds are slung low in the sky, plump and heavy, these ripe cows’ udders daring to burst. There’s potholes of puddles and messy mud where dust once danced with tear drops. A storm bird singing somewhere in the distance. Creeks which gurgle with glee and dams brimming with optimism. I am on a road-to-recovery media tour of Queensland’s Granite Belt Wine Country but outside, it’s more Scotland than Southern Downs on this gorillas-in-the-mist morning where Mount Edwards wears a cloak of fog.
We punch through the clouds, south-west from Brisbane through fields of gold. There’s carrots and sweet corn in one patch of paddock, potatoes and onions buried in the next, this bounty all waiting to be exhumed and sent to markets around Australia.
Granite Highlands Maxi Tours owner and driver Allan Foster scales Cunningham’s Gap, where bushfires licked the bitumen six months earlier. I spy green shoots of hope bursting amid the blackened bush.
“Just a few months ago this country was burnt brown. We’ve had some good rain and it’s certainly greened up,” he says.
“The outer bush has come right back so well. The good old Australian bush is pretty tough.
“It is lovely and green out there right now but we are still in a drought. Our dams are empty. They’re still trucking water in.”
We pause at Sutton’s Juice Factory for fat, juicy pies stuffed with 25 apples and served with sweet apple cider ice-cream.
Manager Deb Gavin plants her feet in the humidity on this 4ha orchard and speaks of hardship. Of two years of drought, bushfires six months ago and even hail.
“The rain we’ve been getting is not enough, we would need 100mm a month for God knows how long,” she says.
Over at The Queensland College of Wine Tourism, CEO Peter O’Reilly says the region is in the middle of a “green drought”.
“In the last two years it’s been pretty ugly out in the vineyard with droughts and that sort of palaver but we are still battling on,” he says.
“It’s been horrific in terms of tourist numbers. January was the worst month in six years. December was horrendous as well.
“Key wineries won’t pick their fruit this year. If it’s not one thing, that gets you, it’s another.”
But there is hope. For ten days from February 28 to March 8, the Granite Belt will celebrate its survival, and the recent rain, with its 54th Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival which is expected to attract 100,000 people.
Want to know how it feels to stomp grapes till they squash through your toes? Or learn how to peel the longest apple peel? Feast on fresh fruit and award-winning wine? This is the event for you.
Strawberries as rosy as a child’s cheeks punctuate fields of emerald at Ashbern Farms where owner Brendan Hoyle discusses the drought on his 10ha property. Oh, and that delicious rain.
“We’ve been struggling with this dry and farming day-by-day. The toll that this droughts takes…you are trying to keep the wheels turning and there is no back up,” he says.
“Once you get the rain you breathe a sigh of relief.”
On this cool, cloudy afternoon we walk through the pretty patch, plucking warm, sweet strawberries straight from the bush, the sweet fruit exploding in our mouths.
We head to Jamworks Gourmet Foods & Larder where 95 per cent of its pretty products are local. There’s more than 100 gourmet jams, relishes, chutneys, sauces and pastes in this cavern of condiments. Next door, Anna’s Candles sells scented candles, intoxicating infusers and sublime soaps. Anna sells hope.
There’s time for a 2018 Blanc de Blanc sparkling chardonnay at Ridgemill Estate, whose elegant cabins are perched overlooking this vineyard, before heading to the Granite Belt Brewery, where I’ll spend the night in a log cabin crouched among Australian bush. Owner Geoff Davenport tells of how he was out fighting the bushfires and expected to come home to find his timber brewery swallowed by flames. Miraculously, the inferno stopped at the fence line.
Geoff’s wife Dee, who co-owns the business, says the 20-cabin property, which is home to koalas, echidnas and wallabies, is resilient.
“A week after the bushfires, a botanist came and he looked at the charred bush and said ‘you just wait, I can see good things are coming’,” Dee says.
Want more good things? Try their $15 Beer & Bratwurst lunch – of which 20 percent of sales is donated to Rural Men’s Health – and sample their eight beers on offer at the moment.
Before I succumb to slumber on this cool evening, I’ll dine on the likes of pork schnitzel at the intimate German/Austrian style Essen Restaurant, which opened last year.
A goat bleats a warm welcome on the next misty morning at Washpool Skin Wellness where former secondary school teacher Melissa Thomas specialises in handmade natural soaps and sensual soap-making classes.
On this soaking Saturday I pause to consider the irony of soap-making in a region that has had more wine than water in recent years. The rebellious child in me yearns to run out into that rare rain and slather myself with the soap we are discussing.
Melissa says her business is almost all online at the moment, while the drought reigns.
“Depression can be a really big issue, not only for people in primary production,” she says.
“The Buy From The Bush campaign was huge. We had hundreds of orders.”
Take a six-hour class with Melissa amid these sublime surrounds and learn the difference between supermarket soap and that made from natural ingredients such as virgin organic coconut, macadamia, oil and avocado oils, and organic shea and cacao butters.
The heavens are howling by the time we arrive at St Jude’s Cellar Door & Bistro, the Granite Belt’s newest café and cellar door experience. We feast on Eukey Road mushrooms, with a Mt Stirling olive tapenade and goat’s cheese, plus local figs and honey, while we digest the devastating drought.
“We’ve been through a pretty tough time on the Granite Belt. There wasn’t a blade of green grass,” owner and chef Robert Davidson says.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare. Most of the locals have been out fighting fires. The area has taken its toll. Until the rain three weeks ago there were so many people hanging their heads.
“It’s given some real hope. We’ve got water going into the dams, we can start planning for 2021.”
There’s time for a cheeky Chopin Chardonnay at our last stop, Paola’s The Winemaker Kitchen at Robert Channon Wines. I sit in the cool, dark barrel room lit by candles and sip the oaky, earthy grapes, contemplating rain and relief. Three months earlier when I’d visited the region in its dusty drought, bushfires on the border painting the sunset red, my eyes were full of tears. This time I leave this rich region, my belly full of flirty food, award-winning wine and bold brews. And a heart full of hope.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Granite Belt Wine Country https://granitebeltwinecountry.com.au and Tourism and Events Queensland https://www.queensland.com
She stayed at the Granite Belt Brewery https://www.granitebeltbrewery.com.au whose charming cabin accommodation starts from $430 for two people for two nights over the weekend (less during the week) and includes a breakfast basket one morning, and a cooked breakfast on Sundays
To find out more about the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival go to http://www.appleandgrape.org
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
IT’S one week before summer officially strikes in Australia and I am sitting in my air-conditioned office, ruminating on the impending warmer weather and the sticky issue of camping. Apparently, people like to camp (and if you look at any Brisbane dating site, they not only like to camp, but 4WD, fish and go piggin’ as well). Me, not so much, but given the right circumstances, I’ll give it a red, hot shot. (The camping, not the piggin’). And by right circumstances, I mean a glamping tent with air-conditioning, bar fridge and, easy access to a toilet (preferably an ensuite). All of which I enjoyed a few weeks ago when I previewed Australia’s newest glamping product Hideaway at Cabarita Beach in northern New South Wales. Ensconced in my gorgeous, generous bell tent under a plump, crisp, linen doona, it felt like I was born for this camping caper. Until I remembered I am not.
It’s tricky to pick my worst camping adventure. There’s been quite a few. So let’s narrow it done to the coldest and the hottest. A few years back I was invited to cover the Mount Isa Rodeo, where, among other things, I interviewed the female boxer Beaver whose reputation for beating up blokes in the ring was legendary. Despite her size and status, Beaver turned out to be a gentle giant and she even made me a cup of tea. As much as I like to suffer for my art, I declined the offer to fight her later that night in the ring, as I value keeping my ribs intact. Had I actually fought Beaver, I may have spent the night in the cosy comfort of the Mount Isa Hospital, as opposed to the glamping in which I was staying.
Mount Isa in winter, like much of the Queensland Outback, is a curious beast. It’s hot during the day, and then plummets to freezing once the sun sets. But I came prepared, packing my hot water bottle Kevin 07 (who I named after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2007 campaign). Or so I thought. The glamping was set up within a mining camp, those hot, horny miners happily tucked away in heated dongas. My tent, was, inexplicably, down by the creek, where the temperature dropped to one degree. I’d come home from my rodeo reporting, covered in dust, hand Kevin 07 to the camp’s toothless security guard with instructions to boil a kettle to fill Kevin’s guts, while I limped to the showers. The fact the showers had no doors, and the hot, horny miners were in the cubicle next to me, should not be lost on this story. And had I known just how cold it was going to get at night in my tent, I would have worked that fact a little harder. But alas, I rubbed and scrubbed only myself and then returned to collect Kevin.
It was so cold in that tent, that the cheap polyester blankets they’d given me would shoot off green sparks in the dark. But worse was when I realised that all of the water I had drunk throughout the hot day to stay hydrated, decided it was time to work its way through my kidneys at night. Years later, while travelling through Morocco with an Australian doctor, I learned that while our other organs slow down significantly at night to rest and repair, it’s when we go to sleep that our kidneys go into overdrive. Hence the reason you may need to pee during the night. Who knew?
It was way too cold, and too far, to drag myself to the toilet block, so I decided to improvise. With a tiny Tupperware container in which I had been carrying some sultanas for snacks. There I was, congratulating myself on my genital genius until I felt something wet and cold, on the only socks I had to keep me warm. I looked down in horror and realised I had peed on my foot. I tossed my warm urine and my wet sock outside the tent, and went to bed miserable. By this time Kevin was cold, I was cranky and even worse, I knew I had to repeat this camping caper all over again the next night.
My hottest camping episode, and I mean this in several senses of the word, was a few years back, when I went to the summer Woodford Festival on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. This time I was in Tent City, in a media tent, which was just like every other tent, and again, there was no ensuite. On this occasion it was as hot as hell. And I did what any journalist covering this event would do, and drank as much beer as possible to keep all jolly and hydrated. I was even congratulating myself on how well I had done not going to the bathroom all day when again, I lay down later that night to go to sleep, when my kidneys went into overdrive.
Luckily, I remembered I had again packed a small Tupperware container with sultanas in the car, which I promptly emptied and carried back to my tent as my makeshift toilet. Which I proceeded to use over and over and over again as my kidneys decided to process the equivalent of a carton of beer on this hot evening. Again, I missed as I pissed, but there were no socks involved this time, it was too warm. So warm, in fact, I slept with the tent flaps open. Which would have been fine, had I not awoken the next morning to a tent which reeked of stale pee and a curious line of festival goers walking past my tent, gaping as they went. I looked down, only to discover that during my wild night, my left breast had escaped my singlet and there I was, arms akimbo, my bosom on display for the entire festival to see.
I packed up rapidly that morning. Headed back to Brisbane and vowed I needed a new tactic should I ever tackle camping again. And should you ever feel the need to go camping with me, if I ever offer you a sultana in a Tupperware container, you’ve been sufficiently warned.
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