An opal that has been declared to be the most precious ever discovered will be going on display in South Australia next month. Named the Virgin Opal, it was discovered in Cooper Pedy (which I visited on my first trip to Australia — detailed in my book and posted about here.) I saw some pretty astonishing opals while traveling in Australia (for example, these), but am pleased to learn that Australia still has some surprises hidden away.
In this video, the text is simply read by a computer, but it does give a great view of this remarkable gemstone.
It was fairly early in my first visit to Australia that I encountered the iconic confections called Lamingtons. These traditional sweets consist of rectangles of sponge cake dipped in melted chocolate and rolled in shredded coconut. Hard to beat that combination. I found them from one end of Australia to the other. Here’s a video that takes you through the whole process of making them — though one can simply buy sponge cake, rather than making it from scratch.
For Americans, be advised that caster sugar is what we call super fine sugar. If you don’t have super fine, just put regular granulated sugar in a blender for a few seconds. Icing sugar is what we call powders sugar. Corn flour is corn starch. And 180 decrees Celsius is about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I think everything else will be familiar. Hope you enjoy this Aussie classic.
Another of my personal favorites from Slim Dusty is “Australia’s on the Wallaby.”
“The Wallaby” in the title is short for the Wallaby Track–which really is no track at all, but refers to the roads and wilderness walked by itinerant works and dispossessed families in search of work. The term dates to the 1800s, and was even the title of a poignant painting –On the wallaby track — created in 1896 by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin. The painting shows a young family alone in the bush, with the wife holding an infant and her husband boiling the billy can over a small fire. So the term predates the Great Depression — but during the Great Depression, people again took to the Wallaby Track, though in greater numbers than ever before.
During the Great Depression, 1 in 3 Australians became jobless, and so a stunningly large percentage of the population was wandering in search of any kind of work that paid. Australia was, indeed, on the Wallaby. A book titled On the wallaby: a true story about the Great Depression in Australia in the 1930s, by William Kidman, reinforces the identification of the term with this period.
The “cooee” in the song is a cry used in the Australian bush to connect with other wanderers, to attract attention, or to indicate one’s location.
This particular video is not in particularly good shape, but you can hear the song clearly. I hope you enjoy it as much as I always have. The song is, like most Australians, cheerful despite difficulties being faced.
I thought I’d interrupt my string of Slim Dusty songs with a break for food.
In Australia, there are few foods more iconic than meat pie. This is not just something you make at home. This is sold in shops, off food carts, in train stations, and at sporting events. It is as Australian as the hot dog is American. I became completely addicted to these during my first trip to Australia, and while I haven’t gotten around to making them back here at home, I always manage to tuck into a few on return trips.
The dish seems quite simple, but the fact that it uses two types of pastry — short crust on bottom, puff pastry on top — makes it a bit more labor intensive than one might expect of a food so ubiquitous. That said, I got the pie tins on my first trip, so I’m prepared.
This video notes that it is served with sauce, which is simply ketchup — so you don’t have to look for an additional recipe to finish this off. Just looking at it makes me think it’s time to dig out those tins and finally make myself a meat pie.
Continuing the Slim-a-thon, here’s another Slim Dusty Classic. My dad was still alive when I first went to Australia, and this was one of his favorite songs, once I introduced him to Slim Dusty.
“Blue” is an Australian nickname for guys with red hair. The word can also refer to anything from being glum to a fight to a type of Australian cattle dog, but if you use “Blue” as a man’s name, it means he’s a redhead. (Because calling him “Red” would be too obvious.) If you’ve read my book, Waltzing Australia, you’ll know that I encountered a couple of Blues on my travels, which probably also contributed to my enjoying this song.
In this song, Slim sings of the virtues of a man named Blue, saying he’s never on the bite and never a skite. On the bite means looking for loans, and a skite is a braggart. So, lacking these vices, Blue is a good bloke to have as a mate.
Hope all my Aussie friends are enjoying a wonderful Australia Day. And for my non-Aussie friends, here is a bit of Australiana that is worth knowing, at least if you hope to travel Down Under.
I’m celebrating Australia Day up here in the frozen north by listening to Slim Dusty songs (and I may have a bit of Vegemite later — still have a jar from my last trip). It’s hard to pick a favorite Slim Dusty song to share, as there are so many I came to love during my travels in Australia — so maybe I’ll just have to post a few more songs this week.
With more than 100 albums released over a 6-decade career, Slim Dusty’s music has been called “the soundtrack of Australia.” His songs celebrate the most notable elements of Australia’s history, culture, and present. Dusty did a lot of songs about cowboys (known as ringers, drovers, or stockmen in Australia), and at least as many about truck drivers. He also sang of country pubs, old friends, family, food, traveling, life in the Outback, and how life was changing. He passed away in 2003, but his music lives on.
One of his earliest hits — a song that has itself become part of the Australian culture — was his recording of a humorous lament by Gordon Parsons titled “The Pub With No Beer.” I believe this may be almost as widely known in Australia as “Waltzing Matilda.”
Time to go. I depart Australia this time with a different sadness but the same refrain: “Next time. Next time.” I am rejoicing at the beauty, the privilege of this return trip. Still, I am in pain.
Leaving is made easier, however, by the belief that, since I made it back once, I’ll make it back again. The future must hold another visit to Australia.
Thanks to the International Dateline, after more than 9 hours in flight, I landed in Hawaii a few hours earlier than I left Sydney. Almost like time travel. I was greeted by a lovely, steamy dawn in Honolulu. Customs at this hour was nearly empty and we passed through easily.
Having left, my mind speeds homeward ahead of me. Fortunately, I have a life worth returning to–a life I created after my first trip to Australia. I begin to focus on that, with thoughts of what the future holds, both at home and on the road. Still, it will take time to shake off Australia–but then I don’t have to, really, not completely anyway. I can simply start planning the next trip. It won’t take so long next time.