Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Hut with Memories

Days of my childhood: Pepperina tree with a dairy in the background.
To the casual observer this would appear to be an old hut, but others might recognize it for what it is – a typical old dairy. Dairy in a special sense. This was the building on a dairy farm which housed the separator (the machine which separated cream from the milk), the cream awaiting collection, and the milking tins and buckets – as well as other unrelated items which ended up there.

The cows here were milked by hand in the cow-bails which were situated off the photograph to the left. I remember clearly sitting on a block with a bucket clasped firmly between my legs, head resting on the cow's flanks (how comforting was the cow's warmth on a cold winter's morning!) and milking the cow dry. At times, as a break from the monotonous chush, chush of milk going into the bucket, I would send a squirt of milk hither and thither – into the cat's eye, for she would love to be around at milking time; or at the dog's nose. He was not allowed in the bails for fear of frightening the cows but would poke his nose around the corner, probably just waiting for a fat stream of fresh warm milk to come his way. Or at my sister walking past to empty her bucket into the four gallon (20litre) tins which would then be carried to the dairy to be separated. (She didn't appreciate being hit with a stream of milk.) When separated the cream would be sold to the local butter factory and the milk fed to the pigs.

The small herd of cows (c. 20 head) and the pigs were two aspects of this mixed farm operated by my father, with the help of his family. Other aspects involved growing cash crops (table vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, onions and cabbage) and fodder.

The cows have gone, but the dairy with its memories remains. The pepperina tree of my childhood also remains. It was an old tree then, even older now. This was a tree in which a young boy could learn the art of tree-climbing. This was a tree in which sparrows loved to nest; and there were many of them. This meant that it was easy to add to my birds' egg collection. Then there was usually a peewee with its mud nest, and as was usually the case, a willy-wagtail's nest would be found on a nearby branch. They seemed to like one another's company, the peewee and the willy-wagtail. There was also room for the turtle doves and topknot pigeons. Yes, this was a tree alive with experiences....and birds and bees and berries

The tree is still thriving, having helped to create childhood memories for two generations following mine. It has altered little in the last half century, but lost most of its inhabitants. The dairy is patiently awaiting a new lease of life. Once central to the farm's activities, it is now unused (a little like the tree). The lawns in front of it have gone. The water tank attached to it is no longer required. The tennis court once situated between it and the cow bails is now a horse paddock. But this old hut (dairy) still remembers me turning the separator handle morning and evening, and carting milk to and fro. It has vivid memories of me washing the tins, buckets and separator parts, of giving the dog its tin of milk, and the cat hers. It was the beginning and ending of each of my primary school days. It was part of an education which few in our land experience today. Which is probably a pity.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Meals and Memories

Like my left cheek and my Box Brownie, my appetite is something which automatically accompanies me whenever I travel. It always needs the appropriate attention. I am not one to demand that my trip be an international culinary experience of the highest order. Neither would I be seen too often – if at all - under the golden arches. Why even at home I tend to avoid Macdonalds, and KFC and Hungry Jacks and....... But the inner man must be fed.

Now I could mention a few dining experiences like eating Hungarian Goulash in Sopron (Hungary), Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna, Sauerbraten and Bratkartoffeln in Bavaria or savouring coffee and cake on the footpath of an expensive cafe in St Moritz (Photo); but I won't. Instead I want to mention a few gimmicky things.

Let's go to where the hills are alive with the sound of music and the confectionery shops are full of Mozartkugeln. If you love chocolate and are in Salzburg you will certainly try a selection of Mozartkugeln (Mozart balls) – a round chocolate delicacy full of tantalizing tastes. They are definitively morish. The original Kugeln were first produced by a confectioner back in 1890. He called them Mozartkugeln after the famous musician who was born in the city. Perhaps one could imagine a sweet in the shape of a piano key (white and dark chocolate) more suitable to bear Wolfgang Amadeus' name. Perhaps we could call them Mozartfinger and sell them to the tune of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik! I suspect that Herr Fürst, who first made the Kugeln was a shrewd businessman. He realized that 1891 was the 100th anniversary of Mozart's death, and I am sure that would have boosted sales. The Fürst company is still operating in Salzburg making the Kugeln by hand according to the original recipe. But he did not copyright the name.

We now travel to the home of the Rothenburg snowballs. These are something you can nibble on while visiting the popular town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber on Germany's Romantic Road. This snowball is a round pastry delicacy the size of a large apple, dusted in sugar powder to give it the appearance of a snowball. Then there are others covered in chocolate or caramel and various other concoctions – certainly not your pristine snowballs. Nice to nibble on it's true, but I wouldn't go to Rothenburg just for the Schneebälle. They do, however, add to my Rothenburg memories.

More generally, there are foods which take you back to specific occasions which you cannot forget. Still in Europe, but years ago, I ordered a “butcher's plate” in Erbach in the Odenwald area of Germany. This was a selection of fresh sausages with accompanying vegetables; well, potatoes and sauerkraut. All was going well until I cut into the blood sausage and warm blood ran over my whole plate. Memorable also was being at boarding school and having flybog and peanut paste on bread. This was in the days before fly-screens and the school was adjacent to cattle sale yards. And golden syrup is very sticky! Or that Sunday lunch at my second boarding school when the cook must have put too much gelatine in the jelly. Which is hard to grasp for we had jelly and custard EVERY Sunday. The inedible jelly prompted certain undisciplined boys to bounce jelly cubes off the dining room walls. Such memories could be multiplied.

Meals and memories. Which reminds me of a drawing hanging in our dining room (Photo).It is our daughter's representation of the last supper when she was in grade two many years ago. OOPs! Some years ago. This Jewish festival of Passover and its Christian “equivalent” of Mass, Holy Communion, The Lord's Commerative Meal, epitomizes all those advantages (Dare I say blessings?) of eating together – memories, thanks, bonding, security and love. Babies first experience it at their mother's breast, or indeed in the arms of their father who is feeding them. Children feel it eating as a family at the dining table and this feeling of unity is heightened when the meal itself has been prepared in the family home by family members. The take-away fast food industry has a lot to answer for apart from its contribution to the present nutrition crisis in Western Societies.

The other two photos:
1.A medieval depiction of the Last Supper set in an outer wall of the Gothic church of St George in the small town of Dinkelsbühl in Southern Germany.
2.The main panel of The Holy Blood Altar carved by the fifteenth century artist Tilman Riemenschneider located in the Jacob's Church in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Much more interesting than a snowball!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Lake of Reeds

I saw it from the plane flying into Vienna. Down there to the south was this large expanse of water. That must be that lake.
It was.

My knowledge of the geography of Eastern Austria and Hungary had been practically non-existent, but since we had planned to visit the area I had carried out a quick check. I now had a basic knowledge of the lay of the land. Hence I had read about “that lake” - Neusiedler See – and was keen to see it at eye level.

Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl) is an endorheic lake. (So is the Caspian Sea and Australia's Lake Eyre. The Black Sea is almost one!) It is the centre of an inland drainage system and has no outlet to the sea. Unlike Lake Eyre (-15metres) and The Dead Sea (-420metres) it does not lie below sea level. (Did you know that the shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest dry land on earth? - a fact which has little relevance to Lake Neusiedl.) Lake Neusiedl is dependant on the inflowing streams for its existence. Wet years and the water level rises, but a few very dry years can cause it to disappear. It is a very shallow lake (1.8 metres) and so walks a very tight rope. Scientists tell us that it has dried up about 100 times in its existence. The last time was in 1866.

By world standards it is quite a small lake (36Km long and up to 12 Km wide) but for Austria, which is a landlocked country, it is important. It is their seaside. Well, lakeside!

Sometimes facts can be dry too and a book isn't always sufficient preparation for the reality. Such was the case here. The Reeds! Sure Lonely Planet had mentioned that reeds were a nuisance in gaining access to the water. Other sources had noted that the reeds provided a great habitat for bird-life – local as well as migratory. But the reeds!

We approached the lake through the town of Rust, where a kilometre-long causeway had been constructed through the reeds to the open water. Early summer and there was little activity at the end of the causeway. A hand in the water suggested why. That “warm” water of the lake which attracts thousands of visitors hadn't arrived yet either. The awaiting facilities gave notice as to what might be. Most intriguing for us was the holiday accommodation – lines of thatched huts disappearing off into the reeds. Intriguing indeed, but then one is reminded of the remains of lake settlements in Europe which date back to the Bronze Age. Are these “houses” simply carrying on a tradition which began millennia ago? Holidaying in one of them may not be a Bronze Age experience, but would certainly give you an insight into the life of a migratory bird.
But the reeds!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


From Kris at Garden Variety
There are two of us writing this blog and we have answered together.
The rules:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player tags 5 people and posts their name, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

What was I doing 10 years ago?
Jill was a teacher-librarian at an outer suburban high school. Still basically enjoying it but the cracks were beginning to appear. Glen was running an antiques shop in a country town near Brisbane.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world (and in this world as well):
Chocolate eclairs, cheese on plain cracker biscuits, Schulte's Mettwurst and liverwurst, cashew nuts, berry fruits.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:
See above.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Travel the trans-Siberian railway first-class, look after my family, find an ordinary nearby family to sponsor anonymously, tithe, sponsor organic farming, invest in cheap accommodation to benefit the needy.

Five jobs that I have had:
Teacher, teacher-librarian, antiques dealer, author, lecturer, housewife.

Three of my habits:
Can never push a drawer completely closed, pull out a particular noxious creeper in other people's gardens and public places, wash feet before going to bed.

Five places I have lived:
Upper Tent Hill, Brisbane, Gympie, Goondiwindi, Toowoomba, Hamilton

Five things to do today:
Sort, pack, read, entertain and put the grandchildren to bed.

Five people I want to get to know more about:
The Peak Oil man who is going to live in the Czech Republic to prepare for the oil crunch. He believes they will cope better there. Does he know the language and how will cope as an outsider in such a different culure?

Is Mrs Kneale, the butcher's wife, still alive?

None of my friends, because I know as much as they have wanted to tell me.

My (Jill's) grandmother, Agnes, as a child and young woman. She was very good at editing her life story. My (Glen's) grandfather who migrated from the remote north-eastern corner of the German Empire in the late 19th century. Good thing he did, too, or he could have met with the same fate as most of the inhabitants of this area at the end of WWII. What prompted him to migrate to Australia?

My great-grandmother, Isabella Jane, who lived on the gold fields in Victoria and NSW.

We don't have any blog friends so can't really pass it on.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


There is a story about a man who needed time out from his extremely busy life to seek spiritual comfort. He entered a monastery for a few days and, as one of the monks showed him into his rather spartan cell, the monk said, 'If you need anything, let us know and we'll teach you how to live without it'.
This is probably my favourite quote of the week and comes from Philip Yancey's book Prayer.

What is it with us that we need all this stuff? We are positively suffocated by it and it seems to be winning the space war. Some interesting from The Australia Institute's website (www.tai.org.au) are below. Of course, they all refer specificially to Australia.

88% of all homes have at least 1 cluttered room
the average is 3+ cluttered rooms
the spare room is the most cluttered
Victoria has the most cluttered homes
houses are worse than units
4/10 Australians are anxious, guilty or depressed about their clutter
1/3 are embarrased by it
older people have the most clutter but care the least about
many buy stuff to deal with their stuff and add on extra rooms to fit it in
1/8 have moved house to accommodate the extra stuff they do not need

In 2004 the average Australian household wasted $1226 on purchases they never used. This equates to $10.5 billion across Australia – more than the Australian government expenditure on universities and roads at the time. Cutting this would protect mortgagees against against a .75% rise in interest rates.
Why do we do it to ourselves? No doubt there many individual reasons but I wonder if one reason is that we are not very balanced people. It is as if we have a gap at the centre of our beings which we are constantly trying to fill.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Huts are my favourite. Whenever I travel I am always on the lookout for photogenic huts. They can be great reminders of places visited and often they have their own story to tell.
I invite you now to come with me and visit a few of my huts.

Ah! If these stones could but speak. What tales, intriguing and wonderful, might they tell. Which unfortunately would not be terribly comprehensible to me for they would be speaking Italian. This solid stone structure with its tiled roof would suggest some former importance – perhaps even present-time importance. But what it is remains hidden to me. What might be housed within its walls? Alas, I do not know. I only know that it is standing on a stony hillside in Umbria, Italy, hoarding its secrets behind the securely locked door. Nor do the infertile surroundings give any suggestion as to its purpose. This is the Umbrian Enigma.

Unlike this delightful log cabin in a fertile little valley (Kötschachtal) feeding into the Gastein valley in Austria. Its purpose is easily discovered. The cracks between the logs allow a peep inside to see the remains of last year's grass harvest. Could it be called a 'grass' hut? The wonder here is that such a plain hut, serving such a mundane purpose is sited in such a magnificent landscape. Long will I remember hiking up the valley, and resting, with a fine Austrian wine, at the foot of the snow in the background.

Whereas people might pass these first two huts without noticing them, my third hut draws people to it. This is St Govan's hut. This small stone hut is nestled in the cliffs of Pembrokeshire in Wales, on a coastline of rugged beauty. A hut? No, not really a hut today, but previously....

Govan was a monk from Ireland, born in the sixth century, whose work took him to Pembrokeshire. Legend (or history) has it that once when he was fleeing from pirates, a rock miraculously cracked asunder here on the cliffs and allowed him to hide from the pursuers. (The more pedestrian among us would suggest that he simply hid among the rocks on the cliff-face.) As a token of thanks, he remained here, living in a small stone hut and ministering to the local people. One can just stand in wonder and contemplate the inner forces which compelled a person to live in this stark isolation. Mind you, the view FROM the hut is quite spectacular! The present structure was built in the thirteenth century as a chapel and only small parts of the sixth century hut remain.
This is also King Arthur country. Another legend - and the countryside in Pembrokeshire abounds in legend – claims that Govan is a corruption of Gawain. Sir Gawain was a nephew of King Arthur and lived here as a hermit after King Arthur's death.
Whatever the history, and it is difficult to ascertain facts from the sixth century, what can't be disputed is that the chapel (hut) remains for all visitors to see, some 70 rough steps below the top of the cliffs and numerous rough boulders from the ocean below.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Father, Son and Holy Ghost

We're in the Sunday School room.
Little Tommy: Miss.
Miss SS Teacher: Yes, Tommy?
L.T.: We have God the Father. He created us.
Miss SS: Yes, Tommy.
L.T.: And then there is Jesus, the Son. He loves us.
Miss SS: That's right, Tommy.
L.T. : What do the holy goats do?

Which takes me back to Sopron and a church there with a most unusual name. The locals call it The Goats' Church. Yes, you heard me correctly. Not The Church of The Holy Ghost. The Goats' Church! I don't believe goatherds are particularly noticeable in the district. I didn't see any goat either. A curious name.

Legend has it that the original Franciscan church was built using a cache of buried treasure that a herd of goats had unearthed in the nearby forest. It seems that there were goats in the area at some time in the past.

More likely is the version of the origin of the name suggested by the coat of arms of an earlier benefactor of the church. In an act of penance Heinrich Gaissel bequeathed his legitimate fortune to the Franciscan monks who then used it in the construction of the church. Herr Gaissel's coat of arms contains the image of a goat.
Whatever the origin of the name, the main square in Sopron has been left with a remarkable landmark. The interior is something too, as suggested by the pulpit pictured below.

But back to the Sunday School room where Miss SS Teacher is relating the story of Lot and his wife leaving behind the wickedness in Sodom City.
“It got so bad,” she said, “that Lot had to take his wife and flee from the city. But his wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.”
“Oh dear!” exclaimed little Tommy, “and what happened to the flea?”