Saturday, 30 June 2012

Spirit House Cooking Class

 My son and I attended a cooking class at The Spirit House in the small country town of Yandina, 100 km north of Brisbane last night. We were instructed by the head chef of this renowned Thai Restaurant. We helped prepare and then cook these fantastic dishes.
 Thai Fish Cakes with Spicy Cumcumber Relish.
 Seafood & Green Pawpaw Salad with Hot and Sour Dressing

Penang Chicken Curry with Caramelised Pumpkin.
We also made Stir Fry Pork with Thai Basil and Chillies.
 And then we ate them.
Many hands make light work of  Thai food - old Thai saying.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Murwillumbah delight

In the small town of Murwillumbah, surrounded by canefields and banana plantations, sits the Youth Hostel time forgot. Tassie, real name Neville, 'you can understand why I changed my name', runs an establishment from the 70s. Tassie arrived here then, from Tasmania, as a young hippie in his twenties and never left.

Below the rear deck of this ageing relic the Tweed River sparkles and the sky darkens on this first day after the winter solstice. The light is struggling to hold for a few extra seconds to reassure me that summer is again on the way.

In the Vietnamese restaurant in town which serves mainly Thai food, the young girl who waits on our table epitomises what I always hope for in small towns. She is bubbly, cheeky and smart. I ask if the macadamia nuts which the prawn entree is to come coated in are local. 'I don't reckon' she tells me. 'It's all bananas and cane around here.' 'Yes' I say, 'but there are macadamia nut farms between here and Byron Bay' 'Oh' she sparkles, 'anywhere further than walking distance from here is "way off land." That's not local'. She is happy to play with the macadamia nut joke most of the evening until I use the reference one too many times and her blank face tells me the game is over.

By 9pm my mate and I are back in the Hostel dorm. We have the place to ourselves. There's no sign of other overnighters, though Tassie tells us there is another traveller, a woman in another room. As advertised Tassie appears at our door at 9.05 asking us if we'd like some complimentary ice cream. He's wearing an  elaborate multi-coloured jester's hat, all floppy points and pom poms. In his arms is a large stuffed teddy bear. It's Tassie's nightly ritual. It his "point of difference", though this hostel is already remarkably different from any I've stayed in before. Tassie has had thirty years to refine his system. We decline the ice cream. He seems disappointed. We feel guilty. But we sleep well.

We awake to a beautiful day with the sun pouring its charms over the Tweed Valley and into the hostel. My mate goes for a swim at the heated pool over the road and I decide I'll read my book and have a cup of tea. We've only come for an overnight stay so I have brought neither tea nor milk. I have just assumed I'll find a tea bag somewhere in the kitchen and pinch a dash of someone else's milk. Tassie springs me as I examine the fridge, takes pity on me and offers me a half a cup of milk from his own supply. He assumes that, in boy scout style, I will at least have brought my own tea. I then scour the kitchen searching for a tea bag and turn up nothing. At this point I am reconciled to having a half a cup of cold milk for my early morning drink when in walks Elke, the invisible guest whom Tassie has mentioned.

'I don't suppose I could have a second go of your tea bag after you've finished?' I shyly ask. As I say it I can hear how pathetic it sounds, but Elke is not one to judge, it turns out, and graciously produces a brand new one for my use.

On the deck, where the evening before the light had slid warmly behind the majestic Mt Warning we share our tea. The river below is loving the morning sun and winks back at us. 'I'm pretty much semi-permanent' Elke replies to my traveller's question. It turns out she's up here from Tasmania escaping the cold and considering her options. She talks about her background and it transpires that she is not unfamiliar with the area. She arrived in Brisbane around 1969 from Germany, married and stayed, completing her high school locally in her late twentiies and then heading for Uni . I don't get the middle period of her life except to understand that she is, as she says in her honest Germanic way, "multi-talented". She has lost her purpose. We both agree that a purpose in life is important no matter what age or stage you're at. She has artistic skills but they've become dormant, as they can do when you're in a comfortable stage of life and when days slip by without effort. But something has changed and she means to find a new direction.

I like this woman. She is full of life and understands that there is no point in standing still. At some point she asks me my age. I can't remember where that question came from and sometimes I like to think that I'm ageless but I answer. But since she asked I decide to ignore the maxim "never ask a woman her age" and shoot the question back her way. She's 72. I am a little taken aback as I would have thought her more than ten years younger. She has great skin, her hands are those of an artist and her eyes sparkle.

The cafe in town is packed. The food and service is great and the sun continues to share its warmth with us on this midwinter's day.

'Pretty bloody good for 72' says Paul over breakfast.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

New writing challenge

I've got to the point with my family research where I've captured much of what I need of the contemporary story. I've filled a number of gaps though there are still plenty of holes. When did my grandfather set up his bakery in Woodburn? And was he really run out of town after the war to create work opportunities for the returning diggers? And was the fact that he was Italian a factor? And when did he buy his 'doomed to fail' cane farm? I have a lead on the last one but I need to go to Sydney to the Land Titles Office.

At this point I am building up courage to try and write about my great grandfather and his family's journey from northern Italy to Australia via New Guinea and Noumea. I'm reading about Italy in the 19th Century, researching life in steerage class on migrant ships and watching the film "Tree of Wooden Clogs". This 1978 film depicts peasant life in northern Italy and is performed by a cast of locals. It's very good.

My major dilemma is finding the story 'voice. I'm playing with having Dominic and Marietta, Lorenzo's children, tell the story. I'm inspired by 'Mr. Pip", the Loyd Jones novel which I read recently, in which the story of island life on Bougainville during a period of major civil disruption is told through the eyes of a 14 year old. It's beautifully done.

Here's my first attempt at an opening. I'm putting it out there so I can see it from a readers perspective.

Lorenzo's story.

Time, history, evolution, call it what you will, travels a path none can predict. The only thing certain is that it   always continues its forward journey slowly carving a track through time like a glacier. Familes grow and merge and dissolve; children are born, grow into adults and have children of their own. The family glacier splits into ever more and finer slivers as it progresses. Occasionally the glacier follows a deviation, a fault-line leading nowhere and that line stagnates, melts and dies.

I wasn't destined to have my line die out. I had ten children, five boys and five girls and the first of these, Stephen Antonio, produced a son, Stephen Anthony, who produced a further son, christened Stephen John.

In an unusual occurrance in this Italian descendant family, my step brother (we shared a father) had in his line another Stephen John. I say unusual because, while the first family seems to have become enamoured of the Stephen moniker and there are plenty of Giovannis and Johns across the generations, Stephen is otherwise, rare. Add to that, the fact that these two families had not met in over one hundred years, so there was no conscious or unconscious influence at play. It seems that this doubling of names was purely coincidental.

It was more than one hundred and thirty years after my birth that these two Stephen John Capelins met, via email I believe, a form unknown in my era. In fact my father couldn't even write his own name let alone compose a letter or postcard. Their common link was my father, Lorenzo.


One of my first clear memories of my father is the night of the argument which changed our lives.

It had been another bleak day with an icy wind blowing from the distant northern alps. Our village sat exposed on the plains, its back turned to the annual buffeting and sleeting rains of winter. The cows agreed. They stood, forlorn in the late afternoon dun coloured light, their tails limply dropping over exposed rumps giving what little protection tails could. Their udders were full, their eyes sad, as they stood on the rough stony yard awaiting entry to the milking yard and to the warmth of their overnight stalls. The dark was early and a welcome relief from the half dark of the day.        ................................................................

More details will expose his relationship within the household and his insights into his father's decision making and way of thinking. He will be the voice of common sense.We'll learn that this is Domenic speaking through the dialogue in the next few pages. I'm also thinking that his sister Marietta will be the emotional voice in the story, the one who sees the emotional impact on the family and her mother.

Good to have begun, even if the story moves completely away from this beginning. It's challenging because I've never really written in a voice other than my own. 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Beyond the Boundary

The launch of 'Beyond the Boundary - A Walk through West End's Aboriginal, Greek and Activist History',  went extremely well last Friday evening. Avid Reader Bookshop was packed. 

We began with a 'Welcome to Country' ceremony with didge by Robbie and words from local elder Sam Watson and ended with a song about West End rewritten around the Go Betweens 'Streets of Our Town'. Great stories. Great feedback. Great looking publication. And then.

We conducted a guided walk on the following Sunday - six guides (plus local Greek historian and architect George Kassos) almost outnumbered those on the walk. The guide is written as a story rather than simply a list of 'highlights' of architecture so the walk was lots of fun and allowed locals to chip in with stories of their own.

On the right Tim Quinn points out a quirky local icon, Zapeion, a purpose designed combination of a Greek frontage and a typical 'Queenslander' timber rear. Designed by the Greek owner by way of embracing his new cultural identity.

George Kassos knows a lot about West End and its history and even more about the Greeks in the area. Below, he is introducing us to the key Greek establishments and history as we exit Musgrave Park. Musgrave Park is a place with a history which begins well before white settlement and still regarded by the Aboriginal community as a spiritual place. The Greek Community Centre, Greek Church and significant amount of property owned by the Greek community overlooks the park. So two of the oldest cultures on the planet meet on this site.

It is the site of the annual Greek Panyiri Festival attended by 10s of thousands and of the annual NAIDOC Aboriginal Festival and currently, is also home to a tent embassy of Aboriginal activists demanding recognition of their prior ownership of this land and of this country. The Greek Festival happened only two weeks ago. The police were brought in to relocate the tent embassy. There was a standoff. And finally a compromise.

Our walking guide is nothing if not topical, and since it deals with the Activist history of West End this was a demonstration, in the flesh, of the ongoing willingness of the locals to make their voices heard.

The final element of the walk took us to Hellenic House (the subject of a story I wrote about a year ago), a Greek icon of Parthenon proportions. It was once the hub of the Brisbane Greek community. Initially purchased, in the 1920s, as the site for the new Greek Orthodox Church, then, failing this, it became the site of the first Greek child care centre and finally a kafeneio - the men's coffee club, one of which exists in every Greek village. It is still this to this day (with modifications to the men's only rules in this modern era).
For those not familiar with Brisbane and West End, the title 'Beyond the Boundary' refers to West End community's propensity to always push the envelope and demand to be heard on issues of local and broader importance, and also to the fact that in the 1800s a 3 square mile boundary was created around the newly established Brisbane Town from which the Aborigines were excluded after 4pm and on Sundays. The main cross roads of  West End are Boundary Street and Vulture Street (formerly Boundary Street South). This marks the south west border of the Town boundaries. Musgrave Park is within this boundary.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Capelin Family History

Link to Steve and Mick's site featuring their family story.  My brother and I are in the process of creating a blog with a family history focus. At this stage it's very much in the early clumsy stage. The website will also be accessible from our parents headstone which will feature a QR code.

Don't know what a QR code is?

As a luddite my explanation would be this. Think of a bar code for food items which gets scanned at the cash point. Now think of a postage stamp size code which your smart phone can scan. And, finally, if you have downloaded the QR App. (don't you love that word) to your phone or IPad it will automatically connect you to that website. The people at the cemetary who will be arranging for the casting of the headstone didn't know what we were talking about, but the stonemason/foundry who will do the work were  hip, and understood our request.

Being naive, we're assuming that descendants in 100 years will still be able to use this 2012 technology.

Are we nuts or what?

Friday, 1 June 2012

Beyond the Boundary

Launching this Walking Tour of West End Brisbane tonight.  Written by yours truly.