Sixteen indigenous hospitality students from WA’s Kimberley, Pilbara and South West regions travelled to this year’s Margaret River Gourmet Escape (Festival) to join a series of Master classes. Working alongside the Australian indigenous cooking stars; Mark Olive (the Black Olive), Josh Whiteland and a range of other industry professionals, their ‘classroom’ was the Kambarang South West Aboriginal Gourmet Experience – a ‘Long Table Lunch’ for 100 guests – which I was fortunate to join!
The Kambarang gourmet experience showcases a fusion of contemporary and native bush flavours, with locally ‘foraged’ ingredients. Foraging expeditions are part of the students’ on country training activities during the lead up to the cooking tutorials. Josh Whiteland, who has inspired many professional chefs with his knowledge of native foods, said “we collected grains, sea celery, saltbush and dune spinach and identified native medicine and food plants”.
lemon myrtle beer battered reef fish served with grilled king prawn and quandong sea celery mayo dips
The ‘cutting edge’ of the week-long coaching is when the students – aged between 15 and 17 – are fast tracked into a real life restaurant situation where they prepare, plate and serve the five course gourmet menu. This exercise reflects the main aim of Kambarang which, alongside the staging of a uniquely different long table lunch, is to give indigenous students from remote communities an opportunity to gain first hand insights into what the hospitality industry is all about and to boost their confidence and self-esteem to do the job.
Kambarang is one of the six seasons on the (south west) Aboriginal calendar – marking the transition between the flowering plants and the end of the rain, it is a bountiful time for local seafood such as crab and abalone. The lush menu of fresh culinary creations was served with some ‘shy’ smiles, a pride and passion for country and a portion of heart-melting cuteness.
Local Aboriginal art, artefacts and music decked the venue with ‘glitter and glam’ and the Merindas, whose music is influenced by Motown and the Sapphires, set the ‘soul train’ rolling.
The Kambarang Aboriginal Gourmet Experience provides a unique opportunity for Hospitality High School students from remote communities to gain hands-on experience preparing European style gourmet cuisine, and flavouring the menu with their own special touch.
home made passion fruit marsh mallow
There are so many Australian people who have never seen snow – just imagine – the vision of gliding through ‘Disneyland’ frozen white landscapes, twinkling with thousands of stars, or smashing your best friend’s face with a snowball must rank extremely highly on their bucket list.
Not surprising then – that when the weather man reported snow at Bluff Knoll (in the Stirling Range National Park – about 5 hours drive from Perth) many people were prepared to devote their whole Sunday night to a 10 hour round trip – like pilgrims, in awe of the magical white flakes.
This light ‘sugar coating’ was still enough to make a snowman. Australian people are world champions at making fun of any situation – they rarely acknowledge disappointment.
Winding my way from Darwin to Arnhemland – the annual ‘stage’ for Garma – an event, a concept, a forum for meditating a joint future and throwing some light on the key issues that thread the debate between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in this country.
Staged by the Yothu Yindi Foundation – who strive to create economic opportunities and cultural development for the (Arnhemland) Yolngu people, Garma has been running for 16 years and, meanwhile, grown to a sizeable and prominent forum, attracting high profile political, media and VIP visitors.
Due to its size (approx. 1500 people) and wildly remote location – the event crew employ a team of 60 voluntary helpers – the job: ‘bump in’ early to help with the set up – then assist with the running of 4 days of a brilliant mixture of performances, presentations, camping together, eating together, discussion forums, campfire gatherings – and ‘bump out’ a couple of days after the last guests have departed – to help with the pack up.
‘Bump in’ – is a great way of describing how it feels if – like me – you don’t have enough time to drive there from Darwin – to cruise the country, gathering some visual impressions about where you are. From Gove airport we were picked up and ‘dropped’ into the bush – the campground is nested in a forest of stringy bark trees – very important material for the bark painting art and artefacts that are so typical of this region.
There is just one look out point from the campground – the Escarpment – where we can see how close we are to the ocean.
This is where we are – very close to Yirrkala, Far East Arnhemland
The set up team I was assigned to kitted out around 1000 tents with comfy mattresses and sleeping bags – all part of the ‘package’ for the guests and visitors. Hands-on action, heat, dust and excitement in the air.
This year’s forum was themed ‘Responsibility, Reform and Recognition’ – here is an extract from Galarrwuy Yunupingu Am (the Chairman’s) welcome:
Garma is an idea that speaks of the place where the salt-water and the fresh-water meets and produces an event of such richness that all things are drawn to it and thrive. You learn from the moment and draw strength and inspiration from it . . . I have spent a lifetime seeking to find the balance between the Yolngu world and modernity. It is a task that has often worn me down as I have watched the Yolngu give and the outside world take. But I always take great strength from Garma where I see black and white engaged together in a time of genuine balance and harmony and it gives me great hope for the future – I continue to dream of the day when two waters will be one.
A short trip to Darwin – I was last here about 18 years ago and, as suspected, the once rustic, pioneer outpost character has now given way to a busy, modern town. With a population of 136,000, it is still the smallest of all the Australian capital cities – but it acts as the regional centre for the Top End and has been thriving on the mining boom in recent years.
Alongside the main harbour district, there are two yacht clubs – one is for the ‘yachters’ and the other, known by the locals as the ‘grotters’ club.
Also affectionately called the ‘bay of broken dreams’ – this club has become a popular docking ground for seafarers with wrecked vessels.
This is the bay, viewed from the cosy pub area, which houses the kind of ‘sea dog’ characters that could have been ‘drafted’ in from a popeye cartoon.
“Hey mate – how’s it going?”
“Yeah – Great – I’m sailing round the world”
“Wow – that’s fantastic – when and where did you set off from?”
“Six months ago – from Cairns”
“And how long have you been in Darwin?”
“Five months . . . . “
Personally – first hand experience has proven that I am quite good at wrecking or sinking boats – many moons ago, on a sailing trip with my father, I managed to capsize and turn us turtle with just a few easy manoeuvres on the jib sail. A skill that should surely qualify me for full membership at the ‘Grotters’ – my favourite sailing club on the globe.
A trip to the Pilbara – this vast outback terrain stretching over 400,000 km² houses some of the world’s most ancient natural landscapes, dating back two billion years – and nested in it’s heart, lies my favourite gorge country – Karijini National Park.
The Pilbara is also home to some of the mining giants such as BHP and Rio Tinto. Australia is the world’s largest iron ore exporter – the ore is mainly found in rocks that are more than 600 million years old.
Ninety-five percent of Australia’s iron ore deposits (64 billion tonnes) are in Western Australia, and almost eighty percent of this is here in the Pilbara’s Hamersley Province. The ores from the major mines here are hauled from working faces to crushing plants using trucks that can carry over 300 tonnes. They are then transported to port sites in trains consisting of up to three locomotives and over 250 wagons.
I shot this photo as I was flying in to Paraburdoo – see that train running parallel to the red dirt track – many of the trains here are over two kilometres long and carry loads in excess of 25,000 tonnes. Later, en route to Karijini National Park, I stood at a railway crossing, watching one of these ‘groaning beasts’ pass by for almost 15 minutes.
BHP Iron Ore broke the record for the heaviest train here – it weighed 99,734 tons, comprised of 682 wagons hauled by eight 6,000hp locomotives and was controlled by a single driver. The 7.3km long train was carrying 82,000 tons of iron ore.
But despite all of this, for me, the biggest treasure trove in this country is the Karijini National Park.
The gorge country here has a magic all of its own – there are Aboriginal legends which send you back in time to a mystical era when a mighty ‘Warlu’ (serpent) emerged from the sea and travelled through the pulsing red heart of this land, forming waterways as he moved.
The Karijini gorges reflect these ancient stories with their steep, narrow rock walls, crystal clear swimming holes fringed with gigantic ferns, and colourful, shelved caverns.
Many of the Aboriginal desert art paintings depict a bird’s eye view of the outback terrain – a bit like an aerial map
but how ‘on earth’ did they do that?
When you explore the country with an Aboriginal guide, you get an added bonus on the comparable, ‘standard’ sightseeing tours – you gain insights about how to ‘read’ the land and apply – to what at first appears to be a patch of barren bush land – some fundamental bush survival knowledge that has been handed down through the generations for many thousands of years.
This is just one example of a story told by Capes on my recent trip to Shark Bay (see Apr. 26. post)
There are 31 species of the native Australian ‘Kurrajong’ tree – this one, which grows in Gutharraguda (Shark Bay), is easy to spot because it is much greener than the other trees in the region. This particular species, the desert Kurrajong, has a bulb at the base where it stores a water supply. Its lush leaves deliver shade which make it a popular rest spot for Kangaroo and other fauna. The Emu like to feed on the seed pods and when the tree bursts into flower (just after the desert rains), the Aboriginal people know that the Emu chicks are hatching.
Last but not least, the leaves are shaped exactly like an Emu foot.
We spotted these Emu tracks on the shoreline at Big Lagoon – but the Emu seemed to be everywhere in Shark Bay – even crossing the road in the town centre of Denham, slipping between the trees to dodge visitors’ cameras on the grassy foreshore – and bathing at the beach, stealing the limelight from the dolphins at Monkey Mia.
About an hour’s drive south of Perth – Fairbridge Village consists of farmland, timber cottages and a chapel dating back to the early 1900’s. Originally a combination of orphanage, school and social engineering project, Fairbridge Farm School was founded with the mission of taking deprived children from the orphanages and streets of Britain, giving them a new, healthy life, and ensuring that the Colonies continued to be populated with sound ‘Anglo-Saxon’ stock.
These children were part of a ‘Home Children’ migration scheme which saw over 100,000 British children sent to Commonwealth realms such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Some of their stories involve heartbreaking accounts of forced labour camps, abuse – and although the scheme continued until 1967, little was known about it.
In 1992, a TV documentary-series called the ‘Leaving of Liverpool’ was launched as a co-production between the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The series follows two children – Lily and Bert – who are transported to Australia, where they are placed in a labour camp, and later forced to work at a sheep station.
For Fairbridge, there are some heart breaking reports from the former inmate David Hill who, later, researched the history and wrote the book ‘The Forgotten Children’.
Today – the village has acquired a more positive profile as the ‘stage’ for a myriad of educational and entertaining programmes for young people – the historical site provides the artists’ accommodation and performance venues for the annual Fairbridge Festival.
Musicians of all ages line the streets
performing ballads, folk, celtic and some comical curiosities
The 15 stages are booked out with over 100 bands, with venues ranging from the historical Fairbridge Chapel to an open air field of plastic chairs.
The campgrounds are merged with the festival area and playgrounds, flavouring the 3 day Festival with a strong family flair – lots of workshops with musicians and performers – and for those who are not very musically inclined, there are art and craft sessions which inspire the ‘young folksters’ to decorate their parents.
The musical menu ranges from folk, roots, blues, acoustic, Celtic and world music – my favourite was a Danish roots band called Himmerland – five seasoned musicians comprising a melting pot of traditions, styles and cultures. They were performing for the first time in Australia and delighted to announce that they had savoured their very first glass of wine from Denmark (a little town in South West Australia).
850 km, 10 hours, 100 litres of diesel, one egg and bacon roll, 2 coffees and a can of red bull – an Easter drive from Perth to Shark Bay.
Shark Bay is Western Australia’s most western point – covering more than 2.2 million hectares, with a coastline more than 1,500 km long, featuring colourful land and seascapes, from red and white sands and turquoise lagoons to plunging cliffs and soaring dunes.
The local Aboriginal people call it ‘Gutharraguda’ – ‘two waters’
It is a popular tourist haven because of the wild dolphins who pay a daily visit to the beach at Monkey Mia, posing for the cameras and grabbing a fish or two from the rangers.
But the region has far more to offer than ‘just’ the wild dolphins of Monkey Mia – it is one of those rare Unesco World Heritage icons that fulfills all four of the criteria: Natural beauty, Biological Diversity, Ecological Processes, Earth’s History – e.g. the Stromatolites at Hamelin Bay – only about 3,000 years old, but they are similar to life forms found on Earth up to 3.5 billion years ago! They provide a unique insight into what the world was like at the dawn of time.
And then there’s Francoise Peron National Park – where the desert meets the ocean – a stunningly beautiful area of acacia cloaked red dunes and arid shrubland surrounded by turquoise water – only accessible with 4wd, along these slender, ochre red sandy tracks.
This area is home to a variety of unique and endangered flora and fauna – such as the bilby – a cute marsupial with large rabbit like ears which have made it Australia’s favourite Easter bunny.
In the midst of the park there is a big lagoon, aptly called “Big Lagoon” – perfect for fishing and snorkelling – I decided to explore it with Capes – a ‘Yamaji’ Aboriginal man who runs kayak, 4wd and didgeridoo dusk dreaming tours.
After just half a day of kayaking, we had encountered huge shoals of manta rays, loggerhead turtles, some small reef sharks and a 3 metre tiger shark – who browsed the coastline for a short while and then turned tail for deeper waters.
We stopped at a shallow, sandy spot for swimming and snorkelling while Capes demonstrated some impressive spear fishing skills
Black snapper – grilled that night on the camp fire, seasoned with the earthy sounds of the didgeridoo – sensational!