Apple Island Wife by Fiona Stocker : Book Review

Published in 2018 I’ve had my eye on this book for the past couple of months having holidayed in Tasmania, our Island state at the southern end of the mainland, on numerous occasions. The Apple Isle, as she was affectionately known a generation ago when that fruit was its prime produce, was the destination for my honeymoon, and a couple of Wedding Anniversaries. (Yes, we know how well that ended, don’t we…..just don’t lump any blame onto Tassie).

Twenty years down the track I came upon a Tasmanian whose eccentricities matched my own and we’ve been making the annual pilgrimage to the farm on the East Coast of Tassie ever since. I share all this as I feel it to be relevant to my feelings about this memoir.


The author, Fiona Stocker, is Australian by birth but grew up in the UK where she met her partner and they later immigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, in search of a lifestyle with more “space”. Seven years in Brisvegas and the couple realise they’ve merely swapped one city for another, and partner, Oliver, has never adjusted to Qld’s summer humidity. Ollie, mate, you are not on your own – feeling your pain.

They sell up and buy a five acre bush block out of Launceston, northern Tasmania, moving into a house which requires renovations and with septic tank issues. With two toddlers they embark on a totally different way of life, attempting to become self sufficient of sorts, as hobby farmers do.

Fiona shares the trials encountered in their first years on their property : scorpions, snakes, wallabies eating the vegetable patch, chickens that won’t lay, guinea fowl, and neighbours who are three or fourth generation Taswegian farmers – their own special breed, let me tell you. There are mistakes to learn from and celebrations to share, such as mastering the art of lighting a wood fire, cooking wallaby patties, stocking a wood pile, the formation of lasting friendships, and playing midwife to an alpaca.

Fiona admits that her mindset slowly changed to that of a country woman, bartering and swapping produce, considering bush regeneration, growing and cooking the bulk of family meals, and attending stock and farm machinery clearance sales for pleasure.

There are a lot of gentle laughs in this book and I feel those readers unfamiliar with life in rural Tasmania would really enjoy and gain from Fiona’s stories. A Must Read for City Slickers to appreciate their country cousins…..

One of my Tasmanian sisters-in-law butchers her Alpacas when they become recalcitrant and swears by Alpaca chops. The brother-in-law does not serve Turkey at Christmas, but rather Roasted Peacock which are in abundance on his property.

My limited artistic efforts include this plate I painted for the alpaca butcher in the family. My attempt at sarcasm as I was appalled. The alpacas had names for God’s sake.

Ten years ago I would have jumped at the opportunity to hobby farm in beautiful Tassie. These days I need the reassurance that I can get a pizza delivered and it’s a cheap taxi ride to visit Uncle Dan, (as in Murphy, the wine cellar).

This book most certainly resonates and I envy the Stocker’s their move and the realignment of their dreams.

I look forward to Fiona’s next book in which she shares how they become Pig Farmers. Personally, I’de love the author to include some recipes as these country women seem to have mastered the art of creating a meal out of absolutely nothing and turning it into something magnificent. Wallaby Patties anyone?

Snakes, Cyclones and Errol

A summer of rolling heatwaves, lack of rain(in our wet season), and now Cyclone Oma hitting the coastline finds me more than a little wistful today. No damage though the local coffee shop on the coast where I caught up with girlfriends a few days ago had a foot of water running through it two days later.

So it’s windy, humid, and the grey clouds once again tease and my thoughts have wandered to where I could have been.

I downsized just over two years ago with a view to retirement. Three hours mowing the lawn each week to be frank, sucked, and the swimming pool was providing more pleasure for the Brown Snakes than for me. At one stage there were 11 Pythons living in my roof space, and when the bush rats ate through the wiring setting me back nearly $20k I put the house on the market.

Not a big decision really, though I did wrestle with subdividing or just offloading. I opted for the latter.

I found a nice little house only minutes away which meant I was still close to the water and very familiar with the locality. A small block with a house thirty years newer which was designed as an Airbnb should I want a passive income down the track.

So my house sold two days after being on the market at the inflated asking price. Contract crashed at the very last minute. Picked up two days later by a developer who paid an even higher price.( He later told me that when the house was demolished it was obvious the snakes had been breeding).

So I should have been really excited, right?

As fate would have it the very day my contract went through for my new house a property in which Errol Flynn had lived came onto the market in Hobart, the capital of our Island State of Tasmania. A lovely house with a view of the mountains. More importantly, so much cooler than Queensland. Did I howl like a banshee or what! Visions of holding monthly (black and white) movie nights and serving champagne cocktails instantly came to mind. We girls do like our champagne cocktails.

Pulling up my big girl panties I’ve been very happy in my new home. Only two snakes in two years, though they did eat my pet cockatiels, and it only takes ten minutes to mow both front and back lawns.

Retirement means I don’t have the same ties. I can relocate. I’m wondering if I should make an offer to the owners of the Hobart property, or is it simply Cabin Fever getting to me? If this summer is indicative of our new normal I don’t want to play here anymore.

*Snakes are protected in Australia. The fine for killing a snake is almost the same as murdering a child. Also, they are territorial, so even when you pay the snake man $125 per snake to remove them, no further than 500 metres by law, the blighters mostly come back. (Sssssshhhhh. Secret. A girls best friend can be the garden hoe).

Kangaroos, Not Llamas

Whilst I was on house and dog sitting duties earlier in the year, I received a text from my gallivanting daughter and her partner. The photos showed Josie being chased by llamas and her text simply said, “Mo, we are having the time of our lives”.

Possibly one of the best things that a mother can ever hear from her child……

I successfully saved the lives of numerous plants too.

That morning we went on a drive north of Maitland along the Clarencetown Road, in an area densely populated by kangaroos lazing under the shade of towering Gums. My eyes glazed over after spotting a sign on the gate of a country property announcing Belgian Chocolates For Sale. Now honestly, I ask you, wouldn’t that pique your interest too?

Investigation required a drive up to the homestead where another sign welcomed us to Destiny Haven, which we were to learn was “a residential life skills training program for women to find freedom from controlling issues, such as addictions, self-harm, abuse and childhood trauma”.

Part of this process includes providing the tools to make these women employment ready by way of a social enterprise program in conjunction with the rehabilitation process.

The women living at Destiny Haven for up to 12 months receive counselling and other therapies, whilst learning the skills to make delicious chocolates, Christmas puddings, jams and honey from fruits grown on the property, as well as jewellery and tote bags.

How does learning how to make chocolates or marmalade make a person more job ready ?

By learning the skills to follow a process; of following instructions, of reading requirements, and being disciplined to finish the task. They also gain self esteem from the the successful completion of a project, organisational skills and seeing the results of commitment to the task. All good stuff.

We were shown around the Showroom with a full explanation of the services that these brave women facing their demons receive, and their enjoyment in producing such beautiful products for sale. We even sampled a selection of the Belgian Chocolates. Aggggghhhh – I was in Heaven.

Chocolates, puddings, candles. Truly girls – does it get better?

The Destiny Haven retail outlet, at 3931 Clarencetown Road, Brookfield, NSW, is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm. Sometimes, these products are also available at local markets, and at other times service organisations organise bus trips to this nurturing facility.

Destiny Haven is a Not For Profit organisation with no Government funding and all funds raised from products go back to assist women in need.

The chocolates were just delicious as was the Mawberry Jam, a mixture of mulberries and strawberries.

I was totally blown away by the behind-the-scenes activity at this beautiful rural property. And you know what? We may have only seen kangaroos, and not llamas, but I thought we too were having “the time of our lives”.

Seven Deadly Sins by Mikey Robins : Book Review

Retirement means that I’m doing much less reading thanks to not travelling two hours a day. Will less reading mean the crows feet around my eyes will fade?

I’ve just finished Mikey Robins’ Seven Deadly Sins And One Very Naughty Fruit. You may remember Mikey from the satirical Australian television program, Good News Week in the late 90’s. Most people admired Paul McDermott, the one with the beautiful singing voice. I was always a “Mikey” girl. These days he still has a media presence and is on the corporate speaking circuit. He is also an author and this book combines his love of food with his interest in history in a tour of some truly strange food related stories dating back to the Ancient Egyptians.

From Goodreads:

On the topic of GLUTTONY, Mikey exposes our obsession with outlandish overconsumption and the thrill of competitive eating. PRIDE reveals some of the most arrogant dinner hosts in history, and how the once humble chef has now achieved rock-god status. LUST sheds light on our aphrodisiac fixations and the most desired foods through time. SLOTH charts the curious evolution of the fork and the etiquette of flatulence. WRATH tells of sausage duels and poisonous spite, while GREED will make you blush at the indulgences of the rich and famous. And who hasn’t experienced ENVY when your dining companion’s plate sings while yours sputters?

There are some absolutely fascinating tidbits in this book, including some real eye openers, ( or maybe I’m just too genteel). Without getting too personal, are you a splosher? Someone who gets sexually aroused by either sitting, or watching someone else sitting, naked and grinding their “ bits “ into a Blackforest Cake or Pavlova. Baked Beans are apparently popular too…..

Who knew??? I’m never taking a humble pav to a Saturday night barbecue again.

Did you know that Cary Grant, actor, the epitome of urbane, witty gent about town, was so tight fisted with his money that he would use a pencil line to mark the milk level in the bottle so that he could ensure that none of his staff were using his dairy products?

The history of the fork is a fun read as is the origins of America’s National Donut Day, which celebrates two women who whipped up donuts for the troops in combat helmets during WW1.

I’m not going to retain any of the information that I’ve read, and that’s okay. Well, maybe I will remember the sploshing…

Library Lovers’ Day in Oz.

February 14th is renowned for being the day for lovers: Valentines Day.

Florists take enough money to keep the business afloat for the next six months, more chocolate and champagne is consumed than at Christmas, and you need to reserve a table at your favourite restaurant two weeks in advance if you don’t want to be resorting to takeaway fish and chips.

Valentines Day is not on my radar. You see, February 14th is also Library Lovers’ Day, an annual event organised by the Australian Library and Information Association. This years theme is “Library Love Stories”. The theme highlights all the love that can be found in the library and the ways your library can celebrate.

Libraries across Australia will be marking this event in many different ways, from presentations from local authors to displays of romance novels.

Do you know my favourite event that I’ve heard about to celebrate Library Lovers’ Day? Bribie Island Library, north of Brisbane and hugging the coast south of Caloundra on the southern tail of the Sunshine Coast, is presenting Date Night At The Library. 

Commencing at 5:30pm you can catch the classic romantic comedy, His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Originally released in 1940, and Directed by Howard Hawks, “when hard-charging New York newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) discovers that his ex-wife, investigative reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), has gotten engaged to milquetoast insurance agent Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), he unsuccessfully tries to lure her away from tame domestic life with a story about the impending execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams. But when Hildy discovers Williams may be innocent, her reporter instincts take over.” – Wikipeadia.

This is a FREE Event though Bookings are essential. The movie finishes at 7.30pm, and the Library will remain open till 8.00pm allowing you to find , da dah, the book of your dreams.

Now that’s a date!

PS Not too much grief please. I learnt a long time ago that “you’re a long time dead” so chocky and bubbles are always close at hand.

Note for fellow Aussies:

Some of you may be interested to learn that ALIA is running a 200 word flash fiction story competition you can enter.  It starts with the story prompt ‘there was love to be found in the library’.

For more details and other ideas visit the ALIA website, where there is information about hashtags, avatars and God knows what else.



Children’s Literature And Stamps

Growing up as a child in Australia in the sixties I have fond memories of play with my friends involving Cowboys and Indians, Malvern Scooters, Slippery Dips, Marble tournaments and Stamp collections. That’s correct. Stamp collections. When rain prevented outdoor play we gathered at a mate’s home to swap postage stamps before adding any new additions to our albums. We would exchange stamps with the same enthusiasm that we exchanged football cards or the plastic jewellrey found in breakfast cereal boxes.

Yes, okay, so I was a nerd.

My enthusiasm for stamps waned many, many years ago when I became more interested in glitter eyeshadow and collecting vinyl LP records. Waned, not stopped completely, as to this day I continue to collect the colourful postage stamps of the Cocos Keeling Islands.

Yes, I’m still a borderline nerd.

Each year Australia Post honours individuals who are leaders in their field of endeavour, having dedicated their adult lives to their chosen pursuit, shaping Australian society and culture in the process.

A longtime favourite.

This year’s recipients are celebrated and award-winning authors – talented creators of narrative books and picture books for young people, from the youngest readers through to adolescents.

The Legends of Children’s Literature stamp issue, released for Australia Day, honours Mem Fox AM, Morris Gleitzman, Leigh Hobbs, Alison Lester and Shaun Tan. 

The 2019 Australian Legends of Children’s Literature stamp issue comprises of five $1 stamps, a first day cover, stamp pack, maxicard set, five booklets of ten $1 stamps, and a booklet collection pack.

Just remember : “ The President of today is just the postage stamp of tomorrow”.

Mary Poppins and How I Mastered Vegetarian Lasagne

Confession

Not going to beat around the bush; simply putting it out there. Points for bravery, please.

I’m not into Dame Julie Andrews. Never have been. Sacrilege, I know.

The Sound of Music, released in 1965, marked my first ever visit to the cinema as a birthday treat with my cousins and I do remember being on the receiving end of a light slap for singing along with Maria…….as one does. Repeated numerous times on the television over the years I’ve never been able to stay awake till the end. That was until recently when my youngest daughter and I spent an evening with a couple of red wines under the belt and in the company of 4000 other folk at a showing of Sing-Along Sound of Music. Which, tragically, we did.

Mary Poppins was another Dame Julie effort and one I also battled to finish. All that dancing on the rooftops and all that soot made me feel nauseous, though I recently bought a carpetbag just like Mary’s. In hindsight, I don’t think Walt Disney meant that particular  portmanteau as a fashion statement.

I did enjoy the movie Saving Mr Banks, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, a couple of years ago. It was allegedly based on Walt Disney’s efforts to obtain the filming rights of Mary Poppins from the author , P J Travers, the nom de plume of Helen Goff.

Helen Goff, was born on 9 August 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. Her mother, Margaret, was Australian and the sister of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, Premier of Queensland in the late 1890’s. Her British father, Travers  Goff, was unsuccessful as a bank manager due to his alcoholism, and was eventually demoted to the position of bank clerk. The family lived in a large home with servants in Maryborough until Helen was five years old, when they relocated to Allora in 1905. Two years later, Travers Goff died at home at the age of 43.

Maryborough has many monuments  and walking trails to honour Travers amongst its rich history so during a country drive west of Brisbane a few years ago I went on the search for the Goff family home in Allora.

Except I neglected to pack any information, relying solely on memory from readings for directions. Big mistake. And no, not an age thing, but rather a Gemini thing. I ended up at Aratula in the Scenic Rim in the middle of their Annual Carrot Festival. Aratula sounds like Allora, right? Came home with a bag containing 20 kilos of carrots.

So when I was asked if I was interested in seeing the newly released Mary Poppins Returns, the answer was  a resounding “no”.