Damn Damper

Home Isolation means that I’m cooking and eating way too much. Mostly good healthy tucker using fresh vegetables from the garden, but it’s the need for “comfort food” like Damper that is getting me in trouble.

Damper is an iconic Australian bread historically prepared by stockmen, drovers and swagmen as flour and salt could easily be carried. Just add water – literally. Damper could be cooked over the coals of a campfire or in a camp oven, and was eaten with salted beef or lashings of Golden Syrup ( also known as Cocky’s Delight or Cocky’s Joy).

According to the Australian Dictionary Centre the name was derived from “damping” the fire, covering it with ashes. This preserved the red coals, ready to re-kindle the fire the following morning. The damper was buried in the ashes to bake. 

Damper has seen a revitalisation and gentrification of sorts. Each Australia Day, the 26th of January, the traditional Damper recipe is tweaked by thousands across the nation and is served alongside prawns, barbecued lamb chops, and lamingtons or pavlova. Ingredients can include goats cheese, chives, dried tomatoes, olives and spinach leaves. Even pistachio nuts. These days the bread base can include baking soda, powdered milk, or beer. No longer is the humble Damper something simply to warm the belly and enjoy with a Billy Tea, but rather a culinary experience. 

I prefer individual Dampers which are cooked and served on a stick. This method was popular as they were just the right size to soak up the meat juices, baked beans or fried eggs when travelling the outback. Yes, my weakness – soaking up the meat juices very a la Henry VIII. No apologies whatsoever to vegetarians. They were hung off a string that went from one side of the fire to the other and cooked over the heat of the fire. That’s the Dampers, not the vegetarians.

They’ve always been a success when I’ve cooked them. And who said we have to wait till next January?

Recipe

2 cups of Self raising flour

1 cup of water

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of butter

Mix. Divide into eight oblongs. Stick a skewer through the middle. Cook on bbq 15 minutes.

                                                   Or

Place in cake tin, wrap in alfoil, and surround with embers. Cook for 45 to 55 minutes.

Rabbit Proof Fence

Indigenous Author Doris Pilkington was born Nugi Garimara under a Wintamarra tree in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. At four years of age Doris, her mother Molly, and her baby sister were taken against their will to the Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia. This is where many children of mixed race families were interred in the early 20th Century to be trained as domestic staff and which we now know as the Stolen Generation.

It wasn’t long before Molly escaped the Settlement with her baby, though Doris remained incarcerated until she was twelve years of age at which time she  was transferred to a nearby mission. Conditions at the mission were worse though she was given the opportunity to train as a nursing assistant in Perth. 

It took 21 years before Doris was reunited with her mother and some time after her Aunt Daisy shared the story of how her mother Molly had previously been a captive of the Settlement as a child and had escaped with her half sister, Daisy, and cousin Grace. These three little aboriginal girls trekked over 1600 klms following the rabit proof fence, a massive pest-exclusion fence which crossed WA from north to south, in order to return home.

Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence, released in 1996, is the true story of Doris’ mother and her Aunties. Three little girls pulled from their families, desperate to return to the only world they knew, walking across rugged outback terrain, often eating off the land and chased down by black trackers. The book includes copies of Government documentation and newspaper clippings from the 1930’s which confirm the story of these three brave children. It’s a confronting, shameful story and one which should be shared.

The film, Rabbit Proof Fence, directed by Hollywood-based Australian, Philip Noyce, was released in 2002 and is based on the book. Both the book and movie are worth while visiting – just ensure there is a box of Kleenex handy.

Interestingly, after having raised her family, Pilkington completed secondary education, going on to complete a Degree in Journalism. She was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for her services to the arts in the area of Indigenous literature, particularly through the genre of life-storytelling to raise awareness of Indigenous history, culture and social conditions.

TRIVIA:

Rabbits were an introduced species and were both devastating and destructive. The Australian Government decided to build a barrier fence from a point on the south coast through to a location on the north coast which became known as the No.1 Rabbit-Proof Fence. Completed in 1907, the Rabbit-Proof Fence was the longest unbroken line of fence in the world. Today, long sections of the original fence are still maintained as a barrier against wild animals, particularly the Emu.

Screenwriter Christine Olsen felt that the fence was very symbolic in that “the fence is always such an amazing symbol for the Europeans’ attempt to tame the land: to draw a line in it to keep out rabbits, the pests they had introduced. It is such a magnificent symbol for a lot of what’s happened to Australia.”

Rachael Maza , drama coach, said the three central young Aboriginal (untrained) actresses had an innate understanding of the story. “That’s one thing I don’t have to teach them. I don’t think there’s an Aboriginal in this country who doesn’t understand this story, if not them personally, their parents or their very immediate family. It’s something we all share.” 

A Different ANZAC Day

Today’s ANZAC Day Dawn Service has been a very different one with self isolation the order of the day. No gatherings at local Cenotaphs, no Gunpowder breakfasts, no soldiers marching proudly along the high street with their service medals on their chest.

This morning we took to our driveways and balconies together listening to the service on our devices from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, together listening to the Ode, the bugles playing across the suburbs. Together we said Lest We Forget.

Despite the social distancing there have been aspects of this ANZAC Day that have made it special. Different though special.

Teddy Bears in windows were accompanied by red poppies crafted by Little People as part of homeschooling. There was evidence of poppies tied to letterboxes and one front garden was a sea of poppies made from red plastic plates. Not solemn perhaps but a simple lesson in how to pass on our history.

Last night I participated in an online clay poppy candle holder class and slept under the stars in the back yard as a fundraiser for Wounded Heroes who at a grassroots level assist our most marginalised exservice personnel and their families.

The local Museum has not only shared the history of our early pioneers who went to War, but also recipes that were favourites in days such as ANZAC Biscuits and Damper On A Stick which I’ll be having with barbeque.

Stories shared online have been numerous with so many causing a tear in the eye. The 100 year old Kokoda Track Digger who has never missed an Anzac Day being given a personal drive by in a WW2 jeep, the Changi Concert Band pianist who at 98 played alongside a professional brass band at his nursing home, and Captain Tom Murray. Captain Murray who not only raised millions to assist battling Brits, and who received a letter of thanks from 104 year old Vera Lynn. Pass me the tissues, will you please.

There seems to have been so much more this ANZAC Day – or maybe we’ve just had more time to listen. There have been concerts streamed, there has been poetry and artwork shared, there has been so much connectedness involved.

For those who have gone before us, and for those who follow : Lest We Forget.

A Scone, Anyone?

Is there anything better than a freshly cooked scone and a hot cup of tea? 

Don’t look at me: couldn’t cook a scone if my life depended on it. But if you happen to sample a scone cooked by one those magnificent cooks from the CWA with their secret recipes, the answer is No, No, and No!

The Country Women’s Association of Australia, or CWA, is the largest women’s organisation with 1855 branches across the country. Its aims are to improve the conditions for country women and children and to try to make life better for women and their families, especially those women living in rural and remote Australia. The organisation is self-funded, nonpartisan and nonsectarian.

One of their popular fundraises over the years has been to publish a book of recipes from within their ranks. Honestly, every female over fifty would have a well worn copy of a CWA Cookbook in the cupboards. No cause for shame – embrace it…..

First formed in 1922, the CWA during the Depression helped those in need with food and clothing parcels. During World War II, they provided meals for the troops in rural areas and made camouflage nets and knitted balaclavas and socks. More recently, they offer rural women a network, scholarships for education, as well as assisting with practical support during times of drought, fire and flood.

Date and Ginger Scones

A visit to the CWA tea room at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney has been a Must Do for more than 70 years. More important than the Grand Parade, the Farm Animals and the Show Bags, a Devonshire Tea was always the first port of call ( before the blokes headed off for a beer at the * Cattleman’s Bar, family commitments having been met).  In recent years the CWA would raise approx $150,000 from the sale of about 50,000 scones, tea, coffee and products made by members each year.

With this years Show cancelled the CWA have come up with a new initiative whereby you can purchase a virtual scone or a virtual Devonshire Tea. Go here :

Who said you couldn’t teach old dogs new tricks?

*Also renowned as a pick up spot after 6pm, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Note: Thank you Cat Balou for keeping me updated about the CWA scones. I haven’t forgotten that you shouted Devonshire Tea at the CWA Tea Rooms the last time we attended the EKKA ( Brisbane Show).

Australian Code Breakers by James Phelps

This true story takes us back to the days when WW1 had only just been declared.

Interestingly, the first shots of World War I were fired in Melbourne, Australia, on August 5, 1914. They were fired by a coastal artillery battery at Port Phillip Heads when the German merchant vessel SS Pfalz attempted to slip out of port before the declaration of war was made known.

On the outbreak of War Frederick Wheatley was seconded to Navy Office, Melbourne, to work with Captain WHC Thring and was placed in charge of intercepted enemy radio messages.

With the aid of a captured code book from the German liner Hobart, captured by a naval party disguised as quarantine officials in Australian waters, Wheatley worked out the cypher key used to encrypt messages sent by Vice Admiral Graf von Spee’s Pacific Squadron.

Wheatley’s brilliant work, aided by a dozen female co-workers, earned him the thanks of the Admiralty.

It wasn’t until Wheatley’s retirement in the 1930’s that his role as a Code Breaker was really acknowledged, and only at his instigation, and this is because the British were embarrassed that they had ignored certain communications from the Australians which resulted in a loss of life and ships.

This is a fascinating tale though not particularly well written. With all the naval battles there were too many Bang Bangs! and Boom Booms! which made me feel like I was watching Batman and Robin from the 1960’s.

The photographic materials in the Appendix more than make up for this with copies of the code books, Wheatley’s explanation of the process, and secret naval documents.

Worth a read…..

Good News In A Week That The Media Are Determined Will Break us : Part 2

Yes, I know. Such a bizarre world we are living in right now, and yet I have more good news. Except that I read today that Dan Murphys has a shortage of rum across Brisbane. Just as well I only like rum on bananas en flambe, or poured over ice cream.

The Lockyer Valley is an area of rich farmland that sits between Toowoomba and Queensland’s capital city Brisbane. Farmers in the valley produce around 95% of winter vegetables that are supplied across Australia.

I was recently invited to travel across the Lockyer Valley in a tour hosted by celebrity chef Alastair McLeod, Ambassador for this area for some years. McLeod, some of you may know, is of Irish/ Torres Straight Island descent and has a passion for fresh produce. One evening he cooked for the group utilising the produce from local butchers and farmers where we had stopped along the way. One thing I took away from meeting McLeod, other than his sincerity in pushing fresh Australian produce, is that good meat doesn’t have to melt in your mouth. “It’s ok to masticate”, he said. And that he likes a red with his beef.

My travels across the Lockyer indicated lots of new growth with undulating hills covered in various shades of green and parklands fresh and full of new life. But looks can be deceiving. The Lockyer Valley is in “Green Drought” mode which essentially means that although the area has most certainly benefited from recent rainfall the moisture hasn’t soaked deep into the earth. Our farmers are still battling. When our farmers hurt, their communities hurt. And they need help.

Blogs covering my experiences in the Lockyer Valley will be published elsewhere in coming months 🙂

As a fellow blogger recently stated, thank you Karen J Schoff for the inspiration, “Sometimes we can be so keen to explore the rest of the world we can overlook the places and history that is just around the corner”.

Quintessential Heritage Listed Qld Pub in Forest Hill.

Ever so grateful for such a wonderful opportunity in retirement, on so many levels. Sending a rude gesture to the schmuck who berated anyone over 45 for wasting space. Don’t come anywhere near me if I’m holding a golf club ya dipstick.

New At The Australian War Memorial, The Dambusters and A Dog Named Judy.

The 24th of February was in recent years declared National Day for War Animals.

This is because animals have played vital roles in the support and protection of Australian soldiers during war and warlike operations.  Horses and camels provided transport, birds aided communication across enemy lines, dogs tracked enemies and protected soldiers from improvised explosive devices, and a range of animals served as companions or unit mascots across all conflicts. 

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra unveiled a new memorial dedicated to military working dogs and their handlers on the day.

Circling Into Sleep was created with help from an Explosive Detection Dog called Billie and her handler. Billie was trained to walk in a tight circle on a bed of soft clay to create the paw-print track which spirals into the memorial, representing the steps of a dog as it circles into sleep.

Circling Into Sleep

The ashes of Aussie, Military Working Dog 426, were interred within the memorial on 4 December 2019. As a military working dog, Aussie served in Australian domestic and international operations including the Solomon Islands in 2004 and four deployments to Afghanistan with the Explosive Detection Dog Team. Described as a tireless worker, Aussie began to slow down after retirement and died in 2017, aged 16.

For more of Aussie’s story go here:

https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/aussie-and-the-military-working-dog-scuplture-circling-into-sleep

I will confess that one of my favourite animated films is Valiant, a 2005 effort, that highlights the work undertaken by pigeons during war. Little Valiant flying across the English Channel to the tune of The Dambusters is a classic.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Judy by Damien Lewis. O.M.G what a tale !

Amazing stuff. Totally amazing.