Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe: Halls Gap, Victoria, Australia

Brambuk National Park & cultural centre is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away from Melbourne, and a 5 hour drive away from Adelaide, so if you haven’t made the effort to road trip between the two (or live in the area), odds are you’ll miss this National Park. Along with the natural wonders of the place, and a host of optional activities (which I will discuss elsewhere), there is a must see but ultimately highly disappointing Aboriginal cultural center, a really wonderful little cafe with very unusual foods, and of course a pretty good gift shop.

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From my first days of planning my trip to Ballarat, my friend who was hosting me had been describing this place to me, and it was one of the things I insisted we had to do, in SPITE of the fact that I was pretty much laid up because of the sever concussion I had suffered not two weeks before.

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TThe cafe and gift shop building

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They have a large selection of gelato available in flavors native to Australia fruits and spices… Golden Wattle seed, Quandong fruit, Strawberry Gum,  Desert lime, Macadamia nut (which is actually native to Australia, not Hawaii), Riberry and Davidson Plum

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As part of my experiencing Australian pies, I ordered a “Skippy” pie (you have to love the perversity of Aussie humor — check the link), which I shared with my friends (one of whom at 99% of the chips… I only ate two)

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we passed on the Lemon Myrtle scones and instead opted for the Wattleseed Damper w/Quandong & Peach Jam and Wattleseed cream (because I had no idea what a Damper was). After checking out their menu, we decided to go for the Bush Food Platter

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which had a little bit of everything (Kangaroo, Emu sausages, Crocodile, Wild Duck (Australia has a few different breeds, they never told us which one we were eating), 2 Bush Food Chutney’s (again we never found out which flavors) & a Garden Salad w/Bush Tomato & Balsamic Dressing) which is intended for two people, so we shared it between us. DEFINITELY worth trying, if only for all the new flavors. (see below for what some of these things look like)

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some of the spices and seeds mentioned above

While waiting for our food we raided the gift shop, which had a very good selection of items (many of which were made by Aboriginals with the proceeds going to them).

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At first I thought left versus right-handed boomerangs was a joke on the tourists, but no, apparently they need to be designed differently. That said, I was tempted to buy this map of Australia (below) showing all the native tribal lands… but didn’t.

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Once done at the first building you walk down a path to the cultural center

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The real disappointment of this visit was the thing that should have been the star, the cultural center. Even though pretty much all they have in there is photographs, we weren’t allowed to take any. There was a movie on Aboriginal culture but you had to pay to see it (and it wasn’t cheap, so we skipped it).

According to their website’s description, “The Brambuk Cultural Centre is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. Come here to explore the culture, its traditions and various multi-award winning architectural establishments.” So, you’d think this would be a place where politically motivated local Aboriginals would choose to work in order to teach interested visitors about the grandeur of their own culture, and share their love of their own history.

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Note how faded and worn the sign is

But here’s the thing… the odds are when you get there, you won’t spot a single Aboriginal …  not even one with an ancestor four generations back so that all of the distinctive, but also  highly recessive, genetic traits have been bred out — lord knows we didn’t find any (and we asked).

[Rant: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that I have spent months of my life, studying, living and working on the Navajo reservation, and to this day still maintain some VERY close friendships with Native Americans I met during that period of my life who are to this day deeply involved with trying to improve things for their people. What I am not is a knee jerk liberal who attends protests and talks the talk, but has never spent more than a day or two being a tourist among said people, and has therefore never really walked the walk, let alone never spent any real-time talking to said people, whose rights they are so moved to protect; and hence doesn’t even really know who they are let alone understand their problems, and what these people might want for themselves vs., what you the privileged white person might want for them. That said, one of the things that kind of annoyed me while visiting was my observation that in the modern-day Australians (who by all appearances as white) seem to take extreme pride in any small amount of Aboriginal heritage they can claim. Keep in mind, in the case of Aboriginal Australians, that by the third generation, such heritage is difficult to identify visually, and unlike with African genes it can’t “pop up” unexpectedly — where two seemingly white parents can give birth to a dark-skinned child, the same way two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child. So for instance, I, while researching this piece, learned about a European/Anglo member of the Tasmanian government, by the name of Jacqui Lambie, who offended the Aboriginal community by claiming she was one and therefore could represent them, and then went so far as to get her DNA tested to try to prove it. While this on the surface might seem to be not unlike Americans who point to Native American roots that their ancestors would have tried to hide with embarrassment. The difference is that … where as in America that person might take pride in being “part” Cherokee, they rarely if ever have the audacity to claim the state owes them something for prejudice that they themselves never have had to face in their daily lives because of that genetic heritage. In Australia, however, they will; in the current age they will describe themselves as simply Aboriginal, not as ‘part’ Aboriginal, because it is now not only COOL to be Aboriginal, but again it comes with all sorts of benefits designed to provide a ‘leg up’ in a society that has heretofore condemned them. I was for instance more than a little ticked off to see Aboriginal art, which is sold as such rather than just as art, and it’s a big deal to be able to PROVE the authenticity of said art… only for the photo of the artist to be of someone with blond hair and blue eyes. Think Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper who claims aboriginal heritage who couldn’t understand while Americans took issue to her calling herself, “black” and hence being an ‘authentic’ rapper…

In the US, the TRIBES would never allow such a thing, for the obvious reason that funding is finite and every kid who is part Native, but has suffered none of the deprivations of that ancestry, who takes that funding is in effect taking it out of the mouths of the folks who really need it. And now that the tribes themselves have found creative ways to pull themselves out of poverty, they are getting EVEN FIERCER about who does or does not get to call themselves “Native America” versus, being of Native American ancestry. It would be a bit like the Johnson’s (African American family, founders of Ebony and Jett magazine and first African American to make make the Forbes 400 list), who used to live near me — and walking distance from one of the very best high schools in the country — had mansion on Lake Michigan, with a swimming pool and tennis court, and had the Commodores (Lionel Richie‘s band before he went solo) play for their kids sweet 16 party taking advantage of preferred places and funding at Universities, intended to help cure socioeconomic disparities that exist in the African-American community]

According to the staff member we spoke to, while the Aboriginal community gets the final say on what happens there, and everything is done with difference to them… sadly, their interest sort of ends with that, and is mostly focused on the money generated by the place… although one of the staff members said if we signed up for the classes and performances that we had read about and wanted to see (which weren’t happening at that time, and hadn’t happened in a while, and he wasn’t sure when the next one might be), we MIGHT (but not would) see Aboriginals working those events.

What displays they had were placed kind of hap hazard, so that it didn’t tell any sort of meaningful story. Overall, it was kind of massive waste of time

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having trouble embeding the map (follow link to google maps):

 

Mongers Fish and Chips in Manly Beach, Australia

If you’re looking for a healthy meal to eat while at the beach, Mongers’ Fish and Chips is an option. That said, it is NOT the most amazing fish I have ever had, and it is NOT particularly cheap; as such, especially since they refer to themselves as “gourmet” I was expecting better (especially considering all the amazing reviews it had on-line). I chose it in large part because you had the option of frying OR grilling, and my diet required the latter.IMG_6725.jpg

On this day back in on January 24th, because the sky was blue and the temperatures were not too horrible, I had been touring around the greater Sydney area by riding on most of the various ferry lines. [Note: the 24th was the day before the horrific accident that gave me the horrible concussion that I’m still getting over 6 months later — including dental work to try heal my jaw which has been clicking since it got dislocated that day] This was in fact my 2nd time in Manly.

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The first time I had gone there… I think it was by car… with my travel buddy and his mom; we had dinner at an Italian place, whose name I’m sorry to say I no longer remember — it was actually pretty good. After he and I had taken the ferry back to Sydney (which is when I got the idea to at some point in the trip spend a full day just riding around on the them). This time, when I arrived in Manly, it was about my lunch time (which is normal people’s early dinner time), so I looked on yelp to find a decent fish place — which directed me to Mongers.

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I ordered the grilled Barramundi (which is native to Australian waters) with salad… but they removed the corn (carbs) and the pesto (oil) and got creative to make it a bit healthier with spices, and extra veggies in the place of the corn. I took my meal with me to the beach,

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found a nice bench to sit on and enjoyed my meal there. It was OK, not great… the fish didn’t seem particularly fresh to me (an attribute that glares loud when you aren’t covering it up with things like frying or pesto). That said, the view was steller!

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I remember I fed my leftovers to the seagulls, who apparently are not big fans of lettuce. Then, I walked around Manly until it was time to catch the next ferry back to Sydney.

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Glenrowan, Victoria, home of Ned Kelly: Australia’s Billy the Kid

If you ever happen to be driving from Sydney to Melbourne (or visa versa — or looking for a day-trip from either), Glenrowan, the location of Ned Kelly’s final standoff with police, is a must see.  If you’ve never heard of him, Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854 – 1880) is a central figure in Australia’s ideology of self. At a relatively young age he became one of Australia’s last, and still to this day best known Bushrangers; he was also a cop killer, and ultimately the leader of his own gang — although he’s best known for inventing a suit of bulletproof armor to wear during a shoot-out with police. IMG_2011Every book that I read on Australian history (that covered that time period) before coming to the country (I’m that sort of traveler) talks about him, and he’s about to have the 11th movie made about him go into production in the coming months (and if you move very quickly, you could be in it).

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Portraits of Ned, his mother (who is a central figure to his story), and his sister

My travel partner on this trip and I were driving from Melbourne to Sydney (it was a really pretty day…

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in I came here on February 25, 2018… a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, by the end of day’s travel I wasn’t mentally able to mentally focus enough to do any write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and more often than not next day was spent just resting … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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When we passed this sign, which he felt was really funny, and a good example of Australian humor (that an offical sign would look like this)… I didn’t get the joke

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So he explained that it kind of looks like Ned Kelly holding up a wine bottle… and that we were about to drive by the town of Ned Kelly a famous bushranger, and then he started to explain to me who he was. I stopped him and told him that not only did I already know… I had read about him in two different Australian history books, but that I was also about midway through a book devoted to his story (that had won the very prestigious Booker Prize), and could we please stop because I would really like to see the place… and anyways we needed to have lunch.IMG_2007

I had the “house made Pikelets” in large part because it would be something new (I learned while researching for this piece that they are Welsh in origin, and are often referred to as the ‘poor man’s crumpet’) but upon eating them, they tasted indistinguishable from pancakes — just small ones. I also had the pumpkin soup (which in Australia is served savory with a lot of pepper… never sweet, the way it is in the US) and a cup of tea … 

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Then we went to the museum dedicated to Ned Kelly’s story. So for instance I knew from the book I was reading that when Ned was very young, he became the town hero by saving the life of the son of one of the richest families in town (who almost drowned). As a reward Ned was gifted by the father with a purple sash. You’d think since he was very rich and Ned’s family very poor it would have been something more tangible, but it’s almost a symbol of inequality with which Irish immigrants …

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That said, the sash was deeply meaningful to Ned and a treasured possession that he chose to wear under his metal armor on his last day when he knew he would be facing impossible odds, and might well die.

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Mrs. Kelly, Ned’s elderly mother was a major element in his life. Ultimately she was arrested and thrown in prison, unjustly, as a way to capture Ned. He fought to have her freed, including writing a manifesto letter that he tried unsuccessfully to have printed, trying to make people aware of the injustice but failed. All that was printed were annotated summaries that distorted it’s meaning in a way that made the government look good and Ned look bad were printed.

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What happened is long and complicated, but the part that all Australians remember was the final showdown where he wore the armor, but was ultimately captured.

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Inside the museum were a large collection of collected object about Ned or his family, including a selection of items that were supposedly owned by them. My friend and travel buddy, was overwhelmed by seeing a plate that supposedly had belonged to his sister. As a child, he had learned about Ned in part by reading a book written from Ned’s sister’s point of view… so seeing something as simple as a plate, that she had actually, was an emotional experience for him.

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Behind the museum was a reconstruction of the Kelly Homestead, filled with the sorts of items they were known to have owned. The actual homestead is located about 9km away from Glenrowan and still owned by the Kelly family, and NOT open to the public. I remembered reading in the book about the walls covered in newspaper.

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Behind the house were some pet Cockatoos, pictured here because they’re cute

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My first tastes of Aussie pie, Victoria near Ballarat

To quote this article, “What do you call a seven-course meal in Australia? A pie and a six-pack.” Part of traveling is about experiencing local specialities, and one of the things I wanted to do while in Australia was to experience eating an authentic Aussie pie while IN Australia (rather than the stuff you find in the freezer section of some American supermarkets, or the ones sold in S. Korea near the University where I worked).

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So, since I was still on my doctor restricted diet (fatty liver disease), I asked the friend with whom I was staying during my stay in Ballarat if there a pie place in the area that was worth the calorie count, and she said most definitely, and on Feb 3rd she took me.

[NOTE: This one of the many blog posts that I’m writing well AFTER my visit. This event took place only 9 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it afterwards, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

For my first pie, she took me to a neighboring town called Creswick, that like her own used to be gold mining town, that was the unfortunate location of what is still considered the worst below ground mining accident in Australian history. Since I was SO easily fatigued, pretty much every photo I took in this town was while sitting in her car and through either it’s open passenger side window or through the windshield… so please forgive the quality.

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She took me to the Creswick Country Bakery (also called the Creswick Roast, because they sell coffee), which she said had some of the best pies in the area ….

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We wanted to do Rosemary and lamb, which is their pie that had won the Great Aussie Pie Competition three years running…  but they were out so I’m having a beef and onion…

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me happily chopping down on my very first Aussie pie, it had ground beef in it. I think it would have been better with beef chunks

A few days later she took me to sample a seafood pie made by a friend of hers, who used to own this place, that also won the competition…. he has since opted out of the restaurant business and instead has a catering place (no tables or such to eat it there) that JUST serves up what he’s best known for, pies. Unfortunately I completely forgot to take pictures while there, or before I snarfed the thing down… that said — I still remember it almost 6 months later, great big pieces of very fresh tasting shrimp, scallop and I salmon were in it, in a creamy white sauce (num num num). My friend had also bought some meat pies while we were there to take home for our dinner later that night…

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I’m pretty sure this was a steak and kidney pie, it was also delicious

Dog On The Tucker Box; Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia

This statue titled, “Dog on the Tucker box” is a tribute to Australia’s pioneers, and a ‘well known’ (to Australians) bush poem whose author (may or may not) have been lost to time; it is located on the road between Sydney and Melbourne.

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But here’s the thing, when I googled to try to find the famous poem the statue was based on I found multiple different ones and partial ones, and variations on the same theme, or variations of wording…. so if you play the video below, and then follow some “different” poems that various sites were pointing towards as the poem, you’ll see my confusion.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Dog on a tucker box about 4 months ago, on Feb. 26th, 2018, almost a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … Even a month later my brain wasn’t close to good (I was talking really really slowly at the time, searching for almost every word) and as such I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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That said, the “or worse” referred to in the above image, was explained in other versions I found that said that every time you read “the dog sat on the tuckerbox” you should actually convert it to “the dog shat on the tuckerbox”  … i.e., the past tense of to shit… in other words, this is a poem about a dog that took a dump on this guy’s lunch box.

Bullocky Bill — by anon

As I came down Talbingo Hill
I heard a maiden cry,
‘There goes old Bill the Bullocky
– He’s bound for Gundagai.’

A better poor old beggar
Never cracked an honest crust,
A tougher poor old beggar
Never drug a whip through dust.

His team got bogged on the five-mile creek,
Bill lashed and swore and cried,
‘If Nobbie don’t get me out of this
I’ll tattoo his bloody hide.’

But Nobbie strained and broke the yoke
And poked out the leader’s eye,
And the dog sat on the tucker-box
Five miles from Gundagai.

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‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’ by Jack Moses (A PC version from the 1920’s)

I’ve done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I’ve seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

I’ve been jilted, jarred and crossed in love,
And sand-bagged in the dark,
Till if a mountain fell on me,
I’d treat it as a lark.
It’s when you’ve got your bullocks bogged,
That’s the time you flog and cry,
And the dog sits on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

We’ve all got our little troubles,
In life’s hard, thorny way.
Some strike them in a motor car
And others in a dray.
But when your dog and bullocks strike,
It ain’t no apple pie,
And the dog sat on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

But that’s all past and dead and gone,
And I’ve sold the team for meat,
And perhaps, some day where I was bogged,
There’ll be an asphalt street,
The dog, ah! well he got a bait,
And thought he’d like to die,
So I buried him in the tuckerbox,
Nine miles from Gundagai.

———————————–

Author unknown about 1850

I’m used to punchin’ bullock teams across the hills and plains.
I’ve teamed outback for forty years through bleedin’ hail and rain.
I’ve lived a lot of troubles down, without a bloomin’ lie,
But I can’t forget what happened just five miles from Gundagai.

‘Twas getting dark, the team got bored, the axle snapped in two.
I lost me matches and me pipe, so what was I to do?
The rain it was coming on, and hungry too was I,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Some blokes I know have stacks of luck, no matter where they fall,
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no bloody luck at all.
I couldn’t heat a pot of tea or keep me trousers dry,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Now, I can forgive the bleedin’ team, I can forgive the rain.
I can forgive the damp and cold and go through it again.
I can forgive the rotten luck, but ‘ang me till I die,
I can’t forgive that bloody dog, five miles from Gundagai.

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The infamous Australian sense of humor at play

This is one of those roadside attractions that means nothing unless you’re conversant with local folk culture … which I was not.  My travel mate however was born and raised in Australia, so he insisted we stop here. And this ladies in gentleman is why it’s always helpful to travel with a local.

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Just next to the statue was this restaurant, Oliver’s Real Food, which my friend said was must try, as it is the Australian “healthy” version of a fast food chain, i.e., lots of organic and vegetarian ‘fast food’ options.

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Me being held by a ‘big’ Koala,

In front of the restaurant was a big Koala, but as I had already seen a much BIGGER Koala while in Australia, I didn’t really consider it to be particularly worthy of note (other than for sheer cuteness) … but of course a picture was necessary.

At the restaurant I had some nothing to write home about sushi and edamamae (hard to screw up). That said, they had what I ultimately decided was probably one of my favorite ginger beers in all of Australia… it had a really STRONG ginger bite, which is how I like it — with the added advantage of it was supposed to have a good dose of probiotics

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Downtown Katoomba, Australia

Katoomba is a cute but small town, located about an hour and a half by car from Sydney (or 2.5 hours by train) about 2 kilometers from one of Australia’s natural wonders (which I of course was visiting), whose major industry is tourism. It’s a lot less tourist-trappy than most towns of this sort, while still having a sort of enough to keep visitors happy.

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NOTE: I’m writing this blog post well AFTER the fact. I was In Katoomba from January 12th to 18th of 2018 — about 5 months ago. BUT, because of the massive concussion I suffered only one week later, on Jan 25th… I have fallen woefully behind on the posts for that the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) I am taking the opportunity to rectify that…

The downtown area begins, essentially, at the top of a VERY steep hill, where it runs a bit alongside the rail road tracks, and then extends about a half mile South, down hill, in the direction of the natural attractions. (Other than a local movie theater, there’s little of any interest to none locals on the north side of the tracks).

Getting around:
And of course I am ASSUMING you don’t have a car… if you do you can just skip this part

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Getting from Sydney to Katoomba by train is actually a rather easy and enjoyable ride (see blog post). One of the things to remember is that IF you’ve already been in Sydney over the course of a week, and have actively been using the rail systems “Opal” transit card, once you have used it for eight trips in the course of one week (Monday to Sunday) you to qualify for 50% off on all trips for the rest of that week…  including the price of the rail trip out to Katoomba and back.

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That said, while there are also some bus routes you can take from the station to get you to your Airbnb or hotel, most of them stop running around 6pm … which I learned the hard way, when I arrived on a 6:30 pm train and ended up having to drag my heavy suitcase the 20 minutes it took to walk (almost a full mile) to my Airbnb… Luckily it was all down hill or I would broken into tears (the Airbnb host had COMPLETELY neglected to mention that fact in spite of my having told her what train I would be arriving on).

That said, I soon learned (not from her) that there are TWO 24 hour taxi services which will pick you up from pretty much anywhere, and run you home (I STRONGLY suggest keeping their phone numbers with you). The one you’re most likely going to be using is the Wentworth Falls Taxi, +61 (0)2 4782 1311; as the other, Blue Mountains Maxi Taxi, specializes in large wheelchair accessible vans that can accommodate up to nine passengers, +61 423 890 670, although they’re perfectly happy to pick up just one.
Places to eat:

Sanwiye Korean Cafe:

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First off, this place is TINY and popular. As such, unless you come on a non-vacation weekday and get very lucky… you WILL need a reservation (call +61 405 402 130) The time I opted for the basic home-style dishes my ex-boyfriend’s mother used to make regularly…   Mandu-guk (it’s a dumpling soup) and Japchae (which they spelled japjae)… I also ordered Kimchi, as this is the first Korean place I’ve ever been too that does NOT include the obligatory Banchan side dishes for free… and an order of Ginger Tea. That said, if you look at the reviews on Trip advisor, and pay attention to the ethnicity of the writers, you’ll see the western customers seemed to be way more enamored with the place than the Koreans (did I mention no obligatory Banchan?). For myself, the Madu-guk and Japchae were fine (they are two kind of hard to screw up dishes) but the Kimchi is SO incredibly mild that I could not smell it, or taste any of the red pepper.

For those who don’t get what I’m talking about, proper Kimchi should STINK, and at least mildly burn your mouth with the heat of the pepper. I had a Korean roommate back in college who initially kept a small bottle of Kimchi in our fridge, which because of the layout of the dorm room was in the same tiny room as our closets… we quickly banned the practice and forced her to keep it downstairs in the dorm room of some other Korean girls, because the stink had passed through the refrigerator’s walls and all of our clothes were suffering from Aux-d’kimchi. Additionally — keep in mind I lived in South Korea for almost three years while working as a professor, one of the first signs that I was back ‘home’ after spending some time in the States visiting my other home, was walking into an EMPTY elevator and being accosted by the scent of the Kimchi that some previous occupant had left behind (usually sweated out, like an alcoholic’s stench, or way too much cologne)

 

Paragon Cafe:

This restaurant would have been worth trying if only because it’s a piece of Australian history.  IMG_6067.JPG
It was the countries oldest continually serving Cafe (101 years when I went), the place is quaint beyond belief and is like a walk back in history to the 1900’s.

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established 1916 … the place had changed hands at least four times already, and according to this new report, shortly after I visited the current owner was being forced to leave by May 27 (over a week ago) because the business owner could no longer afford the rent, and whether the place will be maintained in its current form is in doubt.

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That said, I thought the food here was ok, WOEFULLY overpriced, and in spite of that nothing to write home about (the fact that it was struggling was therefore not a surprise). If you look closely at this menu (below) you’ll know what I ordered.

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Here’s hoping ….

 

The Gingerbread House:

When I finally spotted this place, located at the far south-east corner of the downtown area I decided that I was in love; This is a former church that for lack of congregants was converted into a cafe, that surrounds a gingerbread house/shop devoted to all things ginger!! (And as my friends know I LOVE ginger.)

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While there I found what may be the ultimate ginger drink, it’s called Rochester Ginger and (according to the company), it’s recipe is based on one made by Dickens himself … which I would happily drink regularly but for the fact that it’s $9.40 for a small bottle, about as pricy as wine …  when I got home I found Amazon has it  for slightly more. … By the way 1 cup = 236 ml, so this stuff is a bit over 177 calories a cup (while Coke is about 96 calories a cup)IMG_1907.JPG

they also had me try this organic ginger ale assuring me I would love it, but it was blah.

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There was also a ginger flavored Turkish Delight which was ok, but after the Rochester everything paled.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/The+Gingerbread+House/@-33.7172034,150.3120487,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xaaf95d3e9b389737?sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFo57m88nbAhVD3VMKHfpPAGEQ_BIImQEwDw

Avalon Restaurant:

Based on the amount of business they do, this restaurant located not far from the train station seemed to me to be one of the most popular places in town. Their “specials” didn’t seem to change much Kangaroo burgers and pancakes with ice cream), and what finally drew me in was the burger. (Not my first taste of ‘skippy‘, which is what all the locals seem to call it, that was at Pins On Lurline, an upscale restaurant located outside of the downtown distract in what was once a private home … hence not included in this blog)

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The burger was less a burger than a sliced meat sandwich, with little rounds of kangaroo meat… not all that tasty and very chewy. While sitting there waiting for my food, I spotted this girl sitting next to me. I asked her if it was alright for me to take the picture and she allowed it…

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 The picture is completely untouched … the light was just perfect … and I of course allowed her to send a copy of it to herself.

 

Carrington Hotel
Let’s hear it for hotels that could not afford to update their facilities, until the fact that they had not becomes they’re selling point. Looking at the Carrington it’s pretty clear that’s the reality.

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I of course don’t know this for sure but after walking around the place I’m willing to take a bet that once the building was old enough to qualify for a World heritage landmark listing, and restoration funds that come with it, that that was probably the first time since 1927 that any serious renovations of the property happened…. and we should all be grateful because walking through its doors is like stepping back in time. According to Wikipedia it’s the only 19th century grand hotel still in use in all of New South Wales.
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This massive hotel property is located right in the downtown area, a meer steps away from the train station.

 

The Yellow Deli
The interior is VERY cute and Hobbit-warren like, and every food program (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc) ranked it as the most popular eatery in town (must number of reviews, with almost all of the people giving it positive votes).
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I had arrived in Katoomba on a Friday night, and was mystified to find this place closed, but once I finally stepped inside I understand why. Every single man working there had a beard, a pigtail and was wearing very similar natural fiber clothes; That and the fact that women were all dressed akin to Mormons in terms of coverage, sent off a bell in my brain saying, “this is a restaurant owned by a cult.”
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So I asked, and it turned out they’re a religious group founded in Chattanooga Tennessee. They keep sabbath Friday night to Saturday…. like Jews, but they are not vegetarians like the 7th day Adventists (of whom there are many in the Chattanooga area)… at least based on the menu of what they were serving. They only believe in the old testament not the New Testament but don’t consider themselves to be Jewish… but rather they consider themselves to be Christians. The guy I spoke to, the manager, who was VERY excited that I had keyed into the cues that they were probably a religious group and asking about their beliefs, gave me a bunch of reading material
All that said, they make a very good Carob hot chocolate.
I really liked this place, I liked it enough that I ordered their fresh watermelon & ginger drink more than few times. You tell them what you want, and they throw the ingredients in a blender and serve it up.
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Katoomba, Australia: Pins On Lurline, an upscale resturant

Pins on Lurline (the latter is the name of the street it’s on) is a tasty, slightly pricey, upscale, chef driven restaurant that you will probably need to book well in advance if you want a seat. Located in New South Wales Australia, in the tourist town of Katoomba, not far from Echo Point Lookout (a favorite point for viewing the Three Sisters); this restaurant is listed as 5 stars on Yelp, and as 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor. 

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Upon first arriving in Katoomba I tried to find a good place to eat dinner. This restaurant was listed as one of the very best it town on multiple sites, so I called and asked if they were open and could have dinner there… suffice it to say the guy who picked up the phone almost laughed at me, and gave a clear “no, sorry, we’re fully booked.” And since, for the most part, I can’t be bothered with this sort of place (unless its a very tiny yet popular place, I rarely find the food at places that require booking ahead to be worth the hassle), I just sort of wrote it off as one of the places I wouldn’t be going to.

The next day was a bit windy, but I decided to walk down the street towards the Three Sisters, the major tourism draw for this town, which took me right by the restaurant. I decided to go up to the building and if possible try to stick my head in, and maybe to make a booking — because I had seen they had Kangaroo on the menu, and I wanted to try it.

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As luck would have it, although the place was completely empty, the door was open although there was woman was inside standing near the bar, who seemed to be busy taking phone bookings for that evening. I assumed therefore that it wasn’t open yet for business, but that they were just prepping for that evening.

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So I asked if I could see the menu and maybe make a booking, and she was like, “well we’re open now, would you like lunch?”
“You’re open?”
“Yes, we’ve just started doing lunch on weekends. Didn’t you see the sign?” (it was a Saturday)
“I was just walking by and I didn’t see any sign.”
“Oh, it must have blown over” (like I said, it was windy

Now here’s the thing, according to the various web sites I had looked at Pins wasn’t supposed to be open at lunch, and even the night before when I called the guy hadn’t mentioned it … and if I hadn’t been walking right by it I would I would never have known. Which sort of explains why I was the only person in the restaurant for most of my meal… towards the very end a 2nd couple also stopped by to make reservations, and ended up staying for lunch.

I ordered the pumpkin soup …. normally they put a dollop of cream on top but for me that didn’t.

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It ended up being kind of overwhelmingly peppery without the added fat, but coffee is good. It surprised me a bit because in the the states pumpkin soup would normally be sweeter, and with cinnamon in it. Apparently that’s NOT how the Aussies like it, what I learned from talking to the woman is that here pumpkin soup is always savory and with lots of pepper (a fact later confirmed to me by others).

For my main I ordered the seared kangaroo with a green salad. The woman “warned” me that Kangaroo because it’s so low fat has to be eaten rare, and I told her that was fine because I actually prefer my steak “blue” … which is a bit like seared tuna, and is borderline raw. 

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She said that because their usual dressing are full of oil the cook did some improving. The kangaroo was not bad, but not amazing… Bison is way more flavorful and I can see why in this case the locals tended to prefer to eat lamb, mutton or beef. But apparently apparently Kangaroo is very healthy. The way it was cooked it came out tender; and the taste was more like ostrich than beef or bison… it has a very subtle flavor … I actually felt that the cook has overwhelmed it with the taste of charring/burned edges.

 

A weekend in Patonga; New South Wales, Australia

Patonga is a sleepy sea-side town without a train station, that’s located about an hour north of downtown Sydney. It is a nice place for a quiet relaxed stay (and to escape the heat of the city). It’s basically a beach, beach sides homes, one seemingly nice hotel (I never entered beyond the restaurant areas) with a bar/restaurant and cafe (with free WIFI!!!), a few art galleries representing the art of local artists, and a post box. Be warned, the place doesn’t even have a proper convenience store, and I’m not even sure there’s regular bus. And NOT all Australian cell phone companies service the place… lord knows ours didn’t — hence our excitement of it being freely available at the hotel about a block away from our beach house.
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This last weekend my travel-buddy Mik took to me visit an ex-girlfriend of his, someone who is now “family” for him. She has friends who have a beach house in this small town north of Sydney and had lent it to her.
Because there was construction on the train line we needed to take there, we had to take a bus from the central train station (the main hub station for Sydney)…
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which I thought was a good thing because you see more from buses than from trains
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Ultimately we ended up taking the bus none stop all the way from Sydney’s central station to an external suburb called Berowra — for what seemed like good one hour ride, possibly more, at which point the we were transferred to a waiting train. Now from my perspective this was pretty unusual. In the States, they’ll usually work on one or two station’s (or bits of line) at a time and at most this sort of filler bus will takes the place of that, here they seem to prefer to do the whole line all at once.
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Note how rural this area is

IMG_0538From there, we connected to the train (which should have started at Central Station, but for the construction)

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…. and took that to Woy Woy Station. Then we walked the distance from the station to the local mall which held the grocery store (ALL major brand groceries in Australia seem to be located in malls)

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where we got some food, and met his friend who drove us the rest of the way.

In part I think this was because a) there was no connecting bus to the place, and b) as I mentioned before, there are no grocery stores in Patonga (not even a small one for basics like milk and eggs).

Patonga while very small is a VERY nice place…. it’s a tiny peninsula surrounded by a river which empties into the sea, and slightly protected bay

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When we arrived I was amazed by how close to the beach we were

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A panorama shot with our house (with it’s back porch) to the right and the beach to the left, just past the sand dunes, the panorama distorts the distances a bit, but it was very close

 

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The path from our back-porch from our porch, sans the panorama view

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Path through the dunes to the beach

As the pictures show Patonga is really nice, and the placement of the home we were staying at couldn’t have been better.

We swam in the ocean… which was great escape because the house didn’t have any air conditioning and the temps hit 110 F that week… i.e., HOT!

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Just above the spot where the river meets the ocean and there is a really strong current that will carry you down towards the sea, but that runs right into a sandbank which will catch you … we road it multiple times, really relaxing

And had a few meals at the local restaurant, which we were really excited to discover had free wifi, because the house we were staying at didn’t….

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the cell phone company my friend and I had signed up for wasn’t offering up ANY bars, let alone data. (His girlfriend’s phone WAS getting signal, but she was on a much more expensive provider.)

First time there, my friend ordered an iced mocha and got this — what best can be described as a deconstructed Iced mocha

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we were impressed… I on the other hand ordered an iced coffee and an avocado toast

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Like I mentioned before, the temps near us had reached 110F, and as a result I was getting very dehydrated… I don’t handle heat well

I bought us drinking coconuts and 2 cold pressed watermelon juices JUST for me… cause I dehydrate faster than most people

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After, my friend suggested we take the coconuts with us, and when we got back to the house he opened them up using a saw he found in the garage, and we ate the meat…

That same day I had a one on one with a praying mantis — I honestly don’t remember EVER seeing one that wasn’t in a cage before

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One of the things that I learned while in Patonga is that the silk of Aussie spiders is impressively strong… like seriously….way stronger than at home. That, and apparently the ones with webs are as a rule not the poisonous ones… my travel partner threw a small stress fit when he heard I wanted to find small rocks to bring back to the states and put on my Dad’s tombstone.  Under rocks is where you find the most poisonous ones. He said that I should absolutely not pick them up without gloves.

… Also, because there was no air-con where we were staying I slept with the sliding glass doors open, protected from intruders by metal gates that doubled as bug screens. As such, out-door sounds were NOT blocked, and except for no calls from Mammal predators this place sounds like the jungle. This includes magpies (which sing pretty)

and, in the place of hyenas and or monkeys, kookaburra birds which sound like an insane man laughing his head off in an insane asylum (and LOUD)…

my traveling companion, who is Australian, likes the sound — I learned later there is a popular Australian children’s song about the bird — Personally, I think the bird sounds a bit creepy, but my friend loves it …. anyway, one of those was in the back garden and between it and the heat, I woke up at 5am. I later learned another name for it is “the Bushman’s Alarm Clock” because they tend to go NUTS, and loudly, at 5am.