Thursday, 21 November 2013

The unauthorised history of Australia

Girt  by snarky David Hunt has re-written Australian history from Megafauna to Macquarie in masterly antithesis sort of way.

It is caustic, satirical and mocking of the "royalty" who first surveyed, plundered and settled our "wide brown land" just over two hundred years ago. Even if you are offended by his "take" on the country's history he won't mind as he is very capable of having a good old belly-laugh on his own. In fact he has done just that by writing another volume.

The book is dedicated "For those who come acrosss the seas" and I surmise this is not only a nod to the people he lampoons in Girt, and to all of us who have a bit of "fookin eejits" in us, but it also meant for future Australians. Although one wonders what these new Australians will think of the "history" they have inherited?

David Hunt begins at the beginning. The first two chapters set the tone for the book with his explanation of Foreigners and Aborigines. With that out of the way he says he can now start with the real stuff, 

"jolly convicts, villainous governors, rum, squatting with sheep, rum, gold diggers, token women, rum, geographically-challenged explorers, plucky Irish outlaws and rum".p49

But I am getting ahead of myself. First, Hunt tells us about the advantages of being "girt by sea" and how this "phenomenal girtage" kept Australia incognito for tens of millenia. It was this "girtuosity" that allowed Aborigines their nomadic way of life for 60,000 years where "not much happened besides some finger painting" and who are the original, "un-original non-inhabitants" who did not exist until Mabo and the High Court of Australia said they did in 1992.

"Black people had been hiding in our backyard for 
60,000 without paying rent." p31

While Captain Cook is credited with discovering our "Great South Land" first, which by the way, was proposed by Aristotle; the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch East India spice traders, French, Chinese, Indonesians had all dipped their big toes in to Australia's blue waters and lost many sailors to the scourge of scurvy and disease. They decided, like Abel Tasman who discovered Tasmania, not to embark due to the "lack of facilities."

Due to Australia's isolation Hunt refers to us as "giant petri dish ...that was able to grow a unique culture".

"In time, a new and distinct people emerged from Britain's colonial kitchen...a people who bathed regularly." p3

While previous explorers had dismissed Australia for its isolation, Britain embraced it. It needed a place to stash its upsurge in undesirables due to the Industrial Revolution and America's petty refusal to pay tax on tea or take any more convict imports. 

"Britain fervently hoped that the tyranny of distance and the despotism of lots of water would prevent its undesirables from walking back to London." p2

The mad romp through recent history now turns to Captain Cook who "drove the boat" for his plant buddy Joseph Banks. We have Arthur Philip who believed in the sharing of scarce resources when he discovered that Australia was not the "land of milk and honey" and Banks, who had recommended it was a "lying bastard."

Unfortunately, Arthur Philip's socialist policy was quickly undermined by the entrepeneurial Macarthur.

"An early investor in the (rum) corps racketeering, but his real money came from privatising NSW." p144

Rum was both the drink of choice and the currency of the fledgling colony. It even built the colony's first hospital which is now the NSW Parliament in Macquarie St, Sydney.

"The convicts gratefully received their wages by the bottle and bundy on as soon as they bundied off." p153

This riotous behaviour continued until 1794 when England, weary from war with Napoleon, turned its attention back to the colonies and a crackdown on licentiousness, profiteering, hypocrisy and rivalry amongst its governors and citizens and the rest, as they say is... er, history.

No scurvy Orange Cake

2 medium oranges
2 cups self raising flour 
(or 2 cups of almond meal and 1 teaspoon of 
baking powder if you prefer)
1 teaspoon organic vanilla essence
4 eggs beaten
1/2 cup of sugar 
(or one cup of sultanas for sweetness)


Boil two whole oranges for 45 minutes. Remove the oranges from the pot and allow to cool. Once cool blend whole oranges to a pulp. To the orange pulp add 2 cups of self-raising flour, half a cup of sugar and 4 beaten eggs. Pour in to a prepared loaf pan and bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Alternatively, replace the flour with the almond meal and a teaspoon of baking powde; and the sugar with sultanas. I have done it both ways and it always turns out. Tastes great with a spread of butter (or not) and a shot of spiced rum (or not) and a cuppa.

             ©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved
                    GIRT by David Hunt 2013 ISBN 9781863956116

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Pedestrian in Paris

What could be better on a rainy Sunday than a 
good book and the smell of cooking?

The most beautiful walk in the world
by John Baxter

When you have lived in Paris for twenty years and walked in the footsteps of the famous and not so famous, what would your most beautiful walk in the world be?

John Baxter is the son of an Australian pastry chef, who married a French woman Marie-Do and settled in Paris to bring up their daughter, Louise. He is both an author of several books and a bloke who does walking tours with a focus on the haunts of literary artists and good cafes.

He lives on the rue de l'Odeon - a pedigree street where Sylvia Beach ran Shakespeare and Company, the bookshop that published James Joyce's Ulysses. Also out and about were notables Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and Ernest Hemingway.

Between 1918 and 1935 Parisians shared their footpaths with Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Magritte, Matisse, Toulouse Le Trec, Andre Breton, Djuna Barnes, William Faulkner, e.e.cummings, William Carlos Williams, and scores more attracted to the bohemian lifestyle, Montemartre and the Left bank.

John says that when he steps out of his building, tour groups on the opposite side of his street, who are being lectured in any of a dozen languages, view him with curiosity.

"I feel like a fraud," he says, "instead of thinking lofty thoughts, I'm compiling my shopping list...onions, eggs, a baguette..." p2.

Paris is a walking city. Parisians walk everywhere because, as John explains, Parisians regard their city as an "extension of their homes". It is their habitat - their quartier. Paris belongs to the pietons - the pedestrians. Even during the French Revolution angry mobs walked the ten miles to the Palace of Versailles to rattle the gates.

Everyone who comes to Paris, he says, will soon discover their own "most beautiful walk and their own favourite cafes, shops and parks and the routes that link them".

According to John, the average parisian "walks briskly and erect despite their breakfasts of croissants, foie gras, fried potatoes, steak, red wine and cheese" and he compares this to the physical state of Anglo-Saxon expats who are "pale, slouching, sagging." Also in the author's sights are other notable wrecks of the past such as "obese Gertrude Stein, the permanently sloshed Fitzgerald's and Henry Miller and the shuffling James Joyce. 

But one wonders, how did this Paris come about?

John explains, look no further than Napoleon. He is the one who ordered Paris to be re-built and styled by George Haussmann, who tore down festering alleyways, displaced citizens and replaced all with boulevards that formed the pattern of a star with the Arc de' Triomph at its heart. A city where no building was permitted to be built higher than the width of the boulevard, thus ensuring a city of human scale, tree lined and sunny.

"Wide clean streets encourage walking and a cafe culture on the pavements 
and the parks for strolling couples, baby carriages and picnics".

The only folly is tower block of Tour Montpanasse built in 1960 by President Pompidou. The locals have a joke about this tower block. From the top of its 60th floor, one can see all of Paris - except this building. See below.

John who caters to the curiosity of cultural tourists describes tourists in general as:

"Hundred of couples who pass me by every week, dressed in their burberrys, sensible shoes, 
distracted expressions and a much folded map."

The least offensive, he informs us are those (tourist guides) represented by an umbrella or flag raised, 

"Whom I saw every day leading bedraggled crocodiles of visitors up and down."

John tells us the best way to know Paris is through our senses, where France serves its very essence 
on a plate and the country's food speaks an international language.

"Seduction often begins with taste." p162

In Summer, we are told, "the cafes of Paris fold back their glass walls, so that one sits on the sidewalk with pedestrians brushing your tiny table, sometimes rattling your eau de menthe or jangling the coffee cups".

"...and few pleasures are more satisfying than strolling through a French market on a sunny day." p224

He urges us to "eat like the French do."

"A true French cafe breakfast remains one of the great pleasures of life in Paris - fresh coffee, croissants, brioche, baguettes still warm from the oven." p289.

Joi de vivre - arty, seedy, literary, revolutionary; scarred by war and rioters and invaded by tourists, what is the author's most beautiful walk in the world? Towards the end of the book, you will see it. A picture of John walking hand-in-hand with his baby daughter.

The story starts off with John, who is in charge of Christmas dinner being locked out of his house. This is not a good thing since the only time Paris is not a walking city is when it is blanketed by snow and all of Paris is quiet. Many leave Paris at this time. But all is well. The lock gets fixed and Christmas dinner of turkey, perfect roast potatoes, carrot and turkey gratin, foie gras, cranberry sauce and confiture d'oignons is served. 

French Onion Marmalade
Confiture d'oignons. 

Makes 300ml.

1 kg onions (red or white)
100ml olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
150gm soft brown sugar
75ml white wine
75 ml red wine vinegar


Soften the chopped onions in olive oil.
Add the seasoning and the herbs.
Add the sugar, wine and vinegars.
Stir and simmer 20-30 minutes until sticky. Stir so as not to burn. 
Pour in to sterilised jar and refrigerate for 2 weeks to allow flavours to mature. 
But it tastes pretty good from the start. 
Serve with a cheese plate or meat of your choice. 

©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved
The most beautiful walk in the world by John Baxter ISBN978-0-06-199854-6.

Friday, 29 March 2013

To The Field of Stars by Kevin Codd

In 2003 a fifty-year-old, American Catholic priest - Kevin Codd - left the modern world and pitted his body against the possibilities of heat stroke, frostbite, blisters, tendonitis, wolves, thieves, gastroenteritis and exhaustion to become a traditional pilgrim.

To undergo the historical pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is to enter the Christian tradition of piety and relics and the belief in prayer and miracles. The quest to revere the bones of St James (the Greater) believed to be buried in Santiago de Compostela has been undertaken by millions of pilgrims who have suffered (and some have died) since the ninth century.

Kevin began his journey from the French village high in the Pyrenees and one of the jumping off points of the camino - Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port. Here he received the traditional symbol of the pilgrim - the conch shell - and his comino passport - the credencial - a folded white card numbered 3444 which is officially stamped (sello) at each refugio (hostel) in which he stays.

Kevin's recount is a mix of Catholic piety, in some parts an explanation of Catholic doctrine, but mostly it is his own spiritual journey where many of his biases, negative thoughts and bad habits are questioned by him, corrected and candidly confessed to the reader.

His first intrepid hike of the camino is to Roncevalles which is 25 kilometres away and one that he needs to make in eight hours to be eligible for a bed at the next refugio. He sets out in the rain with tender feet, a heavy rucksack, an untried back and an untested will. 

Unknown to him at this point, he will be chastened by the road. He will experience hardship and joy, aloneness and companionship, personal reflection and a deeper commitment to his calling. 

He will join a steady stream of other pilgrims over the next 780 kilometres (500miles) and learn that they too are motivated to take stock of their lives, plead a cause, or simply experience the medieval tradition of stepping out their door and travelling on foot to a place of reverence and worship.

With the prospect of walking between 25-40 kilometres per day in all weathers, Kevin follows the flechas (yellow arrows) from Roncenvalles to Pamplona, Puente la Reine, Logrono, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Carrion de los Condes, Sabagun, Mansilla de las Mulas, Leon, Astorga, Ponferrada, Villafranca del Bierzo, O Cebreiro, Ligonde, Melide and finally Santiago de Compostela.

The Spanish word for road or way is camino which quickly becomes "my camino". The pilgrim's simple greeting to one another on the road is "Buen camino" which means "Good way to you" as they share the rituals of resting, washing, eating, sleeping, foot care, communication and the plotting of the next day's hike.

"Every body is in it together, yet everyone is really doing it alone." p49

Along the way, Kevin meets the selfish, the arrogant, the carefree,  the fit and the sick; he meets young and old, the lovers, the true believers and the imposters. 

He has a particular dislike for pseudo-pilgrims who "squawk and yak". He calls them "big mouths and lazy butts".  He complains that they lack the manners of the true pilgrim, and that they are cossetted by a car that follows the track and carries their equipment and food which they, in their ignorance, fail to share with other travellers.

Breaking bread amongst pilgrims holds great significance. Food is seen to be a refreshment to the body, it is an act of sharing and camaraderie, in a religious sense it is communion amongst friends, and it is also an expression of charity and generosity.

The pilgrimage is, at its nucleus, a journey within a journey. Genuine pilgrims are reminded of the saying; "Turistas mandin, peregrinos agrandecin". Tourists demand and pilgrims thank. 

"We consider how good it is to have a place, any place at all, in which to bathe and sleep and sit at a table with friends." p145

Although the camino is the most physically demanding thing Kevin has ever undertaken he writes; 

"I am learning something here about the camino, the expressive generosity and spontaneous kindness has woven as to this that begins to touch all of us with more caring and trusting." p44

Kevin gives us in an insight in to the early start by pilgrims to the day's walk ahead of them.

"There is a rustle in the morning ritual, the soft patter of two hundred feet moving across stone floors, the slick sound of nylon sleeping bags, the soft whispers...rucksacks being they go out the door and in to the dark..." p21

Along the entire length of the camino, wave upon wave of pilgrims perform the same rituals in convents, farmhouses, rudimentary campsites, converted school dormitories, gothic churches and castles. They set out in the dark coolness of the morning to traverse wheat fields, and wind farms, industrial sites, isolated villages, bustling cities, steep mountain tracks and death defying highways.

 "I have become aware that each day of the camino is a pilgrimage in itself. A small pilgrimage from one place to another, with its own adventures, mysteries and lessons learned along the way." p91

A welcomed morning ritual for most pilgrims is to stop at a bar mid-morning for rest, refreshment and camaraderie.

"I try a slice of almond pie. The rest and the nourishment is extraordinarily delicious and laughter comes new friends." p32

Interwoven within Kevin's memoirs are reminders of the past and a land seeped in blood.  Pilgrims walk in the footsteps of the armies of Charlemagne, Charles V and Napoleon, the bloodshed of the Crusades between Christians and Muslims and the bloody 1930's Spanish Civil War.

On the camino, hospitality and charity is everything. At one refugio word went around that paella and wine were to be served free to pilgrims. The paella is supplied by a charitable group cafradia - dedicated to the ministering of pilgrims.

"The scene of conviviality founded in bread, wine and plenty of created by their good work, strikes me as one lifted out of the Gospels with Jesus in the middle of it." p76

And later,

"I take my morning coffee and a slice of tortilla...the caffeine, egg and potato cure has worked its magic once again." p151 

As the pilgrimage draws to a close  pilgrims, now friends stand atop the Mount of Joy, the last stop before Santiago;

"A hilltop overlooks the city and from which the pilgrims for ten centuries have had their first tearful view of the city they longed to see." p257

Kevin describes mixed feelings of joy tinged with sadness. He has arrived after a long and weary trek, several kilos lighter, unshaven and sunburnt, flanked by his camino family. 

He becomes aware of the gravitational pull of Santiago that cannot be resisted, and yet, as the group descends laughing and joyous, he becomes acutely aware that they must soon part ways and return to their real lives. 

Kevin becomes aware of a change of direction as if Santiago is now pushing them away.

"We gather a final time for dinner in Santiago de Compostela. We break bread, share food and wine, tell stories, and we, both sad and glad as we slowly let go of one another's hands." p267

Spanish Tortilla 
Egg and potato omelette. Serves 6.


500gm potatoes peeled and sliced finely
6 eggs
1/3 cup of milk
1 onion sliced finely
Garlic to taste
150gram capsicum sliced finely
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 cup parmesan cheese


In a pan gently fry garlic onions, capsicums until soft.
Peel potatoes and boil until softened.
Pour eggs, milk and parmesan cheese in to bowl and whisk.
Add the cooked onions, capsicum and garlic.
Drain potatoes and add to egg mixture.
Pour mixture in to hot pan prepared with oil and pat down.
Allow mixture to cook until firm.
Place the pan under the grill until top is golden.
Slice in to wedges and serve with a salad.


To the Field of Stars. A pilgrim's journey to Santiago de Compostela
by Kevin Codd 2008. ISBN: 978-0-8028-2592-6

                  Copyright All Rights Reserved Ann Etcell-Ly