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Showing posts from February, 2009

Summer draws to a close.

Early summer evening after a hot day last week. I looked out the kitchen window at a parched lawn and beyond that, the old green shed that leans and the rose climbing over it and behind that a line of heat-singed twelve-foot lilly pillies along the back fence. In the middle of the the lawn was a garden table and around the table were William and Thomas and their much older sister and their sister's friend and Tracy. On the table was a setting for dinner, several glasses of wine, a large salad bowl, an assortment of childrens' books and two plastic wind-up steam engines called Percy and Gordon. I had an old Essteele pan on the left front burner of the stove. I always used to buy Essteele until the lid handle surrounds started cracking and falling off after they moved production off-shore and the company's new advertising line became Proudly designed in Italy . But made somewhere else. In the pan was olive oil, six or seven very finely chopped garlic cloves and a coupl

Lunch on Swan.

It was lunchtime. I sat in the window of a Swan Street cafe with a chicken and salad sandwich on Schwob's multigrain and looked out at the grime. Of Richmond's three main east-west streets, Swan Street has changed least in twenty-five years. There are new shops and too-expensive cafes in which to waste your money, of course. In fact, only two retail tenants remain from twenty-five years ago when I first frequented this street; and they are next to each other - Bertie the butcher and the Commonwealth Bank, except the bank was the State Bank in those days. But Swan Street has the same down-at-heel atmosphere it had when I used to stroll up here from Church Street for lunch in 1983. That's not to say it has no charm. The Dimmey's building is still interesting, even though it looks like it hasn't been cleaned since Richmond football club last won a premiership. In the early 1980s there was another department store - Ball's - at the other end of the street, on the

One Wednesday night.

It was twenty-six years ago yesterday: February 16, 1983. Ash Wednesday. I was at home in the evening with my children - William and Thomas’s much older brother and sister - at the small Carlton terrace house in which we lived from 1979 to 1985. Much older brother was six; sister had turned three three days earlier. They were in bed, asleep. Their mother was at a concert at Hamer Hall or the State Theatre or whatever it was called in 1983. I sat in my favourite chair with its polished timber arms and green brocade and wondered how to spend my evening. A cold beer sat, just opened, on the arm of the chair. The beer was Abbott’s Lager. Why do I remember that? Because they had just changed the can design from its traditional white to yellow and I didn’t like it. Why change a beer can design? You can't drink the design. The things you remember. I gazed out the small high window of the tiny lounge room towards the south-west at an angry sky. The day had been hot, well into the fo

The red eye.

And so, back to Richmond again after a break of almost three years. William was not a year old then but it feels like yesterday. This morning I got off the train at East Richmond and crossed under the tracks via a dirty, graffitied subway to a narrow street of tiny, terraced Victorian cottages. Once, factory workers lived in them but now they have paper blinds in the windows, yuccas in the front gardens and silver BMWs out the front. Down the street, the houses give way to small industry. A growling roar came out of an auto repair shop where an engine was being wound up on a test bed. Farther along, a circular saw in a cabinetmaker’s warehouse screamed as it bit wood. Across the road a refrigerated van reversed, beeping, into a seafood wholesaler's. Towering over all of this like a fortress is the old Bryant and May match works. Factories like this once spewed smoke day and night over the suburb, known then by some as Struggletown. There was haze over Richmond again today

Animals, etc.

Everyone in the whole world has seen that koala picture so it was probably unnecessary to post a link to it yesterday. What everyone might not have seen was the CFA officer's report of how the koala not only drank three entire bottles of water as he held them to its mouth - they usually drink very little at all - but it also reached out with its front paw and grasped the CFA officer by the hand. The koala took the officer's hand. * More animal stories: A woman was being winched by a police helicopter to safety from the flames. She was holding her dog. She dropped the dog. She then jumped to the ground from the moving helicopter winch to retrieve her dog. A police ground patrol picked her up in a police car and the helicopter radioed the car to safety. A horse followed a man into a dam to escape the flames. Both survived. "He follows me everywhere," said the man, straightfaced. Tragic: an aged couple's car was found packed and ready to go with the keys in th
In one of the quickest decisions it has ever made, the State government has announced a royal commission into the fires; ahead of strident calls that were very obviously coming. The government will not want to look like it is dragging its heels. It will be looking for answers. Some it may not like. * Things are different now. There are vastly more people in what is virtual suburbia in the bush. Kinglake is almost an outer suburb; 3000 people living in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, already dry and subject to roaring north-westerlies that sweep the continent. It was vulnerable. And eucalypts don't burn slowly; they explode. As do gas bottles. It's like having grenades lining your driveway and a bomb in your house. * You need fire breaks and wide road verges. I've driven through parts of New South Wales where road verges are cleared to a length equivalent to or greater than the height of the roadside trees. Those trees that fell on roads on Saturday night and
The wind was always going to come and it came in the middle of the afternoon blowing fifty degrees of furnace in front of it and it headed towards the eucalypt-covered mountain and the mountain exploded. The news coming down from the mountain is dreadful. There are plenty of ways out of the mountain but only one - the road to Whittlesea - that gives you up to four lanes of firebreak and even that isn't enough. There are reports some fleeing were turned back - up the mountain - before it exploded, because the fire at that earlier stage may have been thought to be threatening an area further down. This is unconfirmed but chilling in its implication. The media are already calling this Black Saturday but to hell with the media and their glib labels. A politician muscled his way on-air mid-afternoon with a self-important message that was about as useful at that particular juncture as an ad for Frank Walker's National Tiles. The family of the partner of William and Thomas's mu

Muffin break.

I don't bake, Tracy bakes. Tracy doesn't measure when she bakes. She just throws everything into a bowl and tosses it around and throws it into a baking dish and a short while later you are eating perfect cake, shortbread, scones, you name it. On a cooler day this week, in between heatwave conditions, she turned out probably the best batch of muffins she has ever made, which is saying something because they are always good. But since Tracy doesn't measure, it was difficult to extract this recipe from her. - How much oil? - A small to medium amount. - What's a small to medium amount? Orange and chocolate marble muffins. Process a whole orange, skin and all. Combine with 2 cups self-raising flour, a quarter cup of vegetable oil, one egg, one-third cup of sugar, 10 prunes (make sure they are seedless) and enough milk to produce a batter that is ... - How wet should the batter be? - Not too wet. Just enough to ooze slowly. - Like what? Molten lava? - No, not

The Iceberg Cometh: a tribute to the lettuce.

When I was a child in the 1960s and it was summer, there was always an iceberg lettuce in a large bowl on the table at meal times. The bowl was a single piece of carved, highly polished blond wood with a convex side curving into a sharp upper rim, like an oversized wrist bangle. The lettuce was sometimes joined in the bowl by radishes grown by my father in the fenced-off vegetable patch at the end of the garden where the chicken coop used to be. At the table, we picked at the lettuce like rabbits; before, during or after dinner. Crunch, crunch. We must have eaten a million iceberg lettuces over the years. Iceberg lettuce is so ubiquitous it is the subject of some derision; but while cos, radicchio and the other varieties have their uses they cannot touch the iceberg for all-round hot weather brilliance. 25 things to do with iceberg lettuce. The iceberg lettuce in sandwiches. Cheese and lettuce. Egg and lettuce. Cold roast chicken and lettuce. BLT. Lettuce and rare roast beef w

The wind in the ti-tree.

Behind the strip of sand that leads down to the seashore is a stand of straggly ti-tree that arches over a sandy walkway parallel to the beach and edged with the kind of tough stringy grass that grows by the sea. I walked across an almost melting Point Nepean Road and crossed into the shade where an old couple sat on deckchairs behind the ti-tree, facing the water. The man turned to me as I passed. "It's better than air-conditioning!" he said, almost gleefully. He was right. The oven-blast northerly had cooled on its way across the bay; and even though the temperature was nudging forty degrees behind us where the sun smacked the white-brick shop walls, here in the shade of the ti-tree the breeze was cool. That was Friday morning. * We had attempted to escape town late on Wednesday night via a scorching freeway in the newest member of the Kitchen Hand Volvo fleet, a 15-year-old 940. It stopped dead at the Forster Road exit. I called the RACV. Half an hour later Tracy