Historic Lanyon Homestead: where pastures preceded politics


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It’s hard to remember sometimes, but this adolescent planned city of politics and politicians we now call Canberra actually has a history longer than we might imagine, and like much of our nation, it too is steeped in rural and convict beginnings.

A visit to historic Lanyon Homestead sprawling peacefully in the foothills of Tharwa on the outskirts of Canberra is an entry into a time gone by, and a revelation into what once was.IMG_9300

Inhabited by Indigenous peoples for eons before, the Lanyon property began colonial life with squatters and was purchased as a rural property by James Wright and his mate John Lanyon, for whom the property was named, in 1835. John went back to England leaving James to manage Lanyon, with the help of convict labour. It supported a community of 60 for some time, but financial problems resulted in the bank foreclosing on him, and he moved across the river.

Enter the Cunningham family who purchased the property in 1849. After the very first home there was demolished (the excavation of that remains), the current homestead itself was built by the Cunniningham family in 1859, where they raised a family of eight. 1859 is pretty bloody old by Australian standards, especially in Canberra. The homestead and property underwent a number of changes and ownership over the years, eventually being compulsorily acquired by the ACT government in 1971 as the urban sprawl spread outwards towards Tuggeranong and more land was required for housing. That made the then owners, the Fields, pretty unhappy and a long legal battle ensued, ending in the High Court. The Fields lost the property, scored some money which undoubtedly wasn’t enough, and the ACT government picked up a wonderful historic asset.  Somehow Lanyon escaped suburban development and instead was turned into a national treasure now maintained by the ACT Government through ACT Historic places.


I’ve visited Lanyon decades before, when the large collection of Sidney Nolan paintings he donated in 1974 specifically for the property were still housed there (and before they were moved to their current home at CMAG under another furore). I attended a wedding there and even participated in an enthralling treasure hunt aimed at the kids as we ferreted our way around the property solving clues and seeking out treasure. (I’m not sure there was actually to be found but just the thrill of the chase.)

But it was fun to go back with a local group of instagrammers (read chronic photo-takers) to be guided through the homestead and its various outbuildings, dating from convict days, by a team of dedicated and knowledgeable guides to explain some of its past. The homestead building is original, and charming, while the furniture and fittings inside have been re-imagined with items from the era, allowing you a peek into times gone by. It’s really quite lovely.

Outside the main property is a collection of all those outbuildings any self-respecting homestead should have: a kitchen, cooks’ quarters, stables, cellar, etc. There’s even some wonderfully alliterative hand-hewn hexagonal hardwood to hoo-hah at on the floor of the stable, a whole foot deep.

A little meander away, just on the edge of the Murrumbidgee River, there’s a little white hut that once housed the convicts overseer to make sure the convicts were all in place after the days’ work. The residents there could look out just across the river to the spot where William Farrer, of Australian wheat fame, used to reside and experiment with rust-resistant wheat strains suitable for Australian conditions. History at your backdoor indeed. Thirty years I’ve lived in this city and I’ve never twigged that the suburb Farrer was named for that man.

Once you’ve had your fill of history, you can enjoy a picnic from the gardens with the blue hills of the Brindabella Ranges as your backdrop, or grab a coffee or lunch in the cafe if you prefer. Hell, you can even get married at Lanyon if you want.

Some of the property is still leased as a working farm, and the smattering of black cows and a still working Southern Cross windmill from the 1930s render it as truly authentic.

I missed the famed vegetable garden and I didn’t get time to photograph the cows, but here are some resident ducks and their babies instead.


Too much to take in. Too little time. Perhaps I’ll have to go back again.

With thanks to the IgersCanberra team for organising and the lovely ladies @ACTHistoricplaces, Kate, Sally & Clare, who showed us the sights and explained the history, and even put up that timber sheep ‘hurdle’ (above) as they used to do in days of old. Impressive.


The virtual world meets reality – Insta-happenings


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My dear better half despairs of the time I devote living in my ‘other world’ of social media, lurking for hours in a virtual reality behind a small screen. It is somewhat addictive, but recently I proved to him that it can sometimes be more than cyber-stalking and that there are actually real people involved. And sometimes you get to meet them in person.

Enter stage right: IgersCanberra, a local community of people who like to take photos and share them on Instagram. The Igers mob (there’s a core group of organisers) recently put out a photographic challenge on the theme of Feather, fur and fins, sparking a frenzy of clicking and posting activity across Canberra, and which culminated in an exhibition of a selection of images hosted by the Tuggeranong Arts Centre.

I was chuffed to have one of my images selected: a beautiful peacock taken from a different angle. (This fine fellow turned out to be quite the model, very cooperative and almost stationary while he preened and posed for photos, feathers expanded in full glory. Look at me, look at me. I met him at the marvellous Blackbutt Reserve in Newcastle – more of the peacock glory and the tale of Blackbutt is here. )

Who knew a bottom could be quite so attractive?

tail feathers

How great on the opening night of the exhibition, wine glass in hand, to see all the images displayed on a gallery wall and actually printed in full detail, quite different to seeing them flashing quickly by on a tiny electronic screen. And then, we got to meet some of the faces behind the insta-handles – in full three dimensional person.

If you want to catch the exhibition, it’s on until 28 October, and if you want to read more, the ABC featured the event in a little write up here.

The Canberra Igers group is part of a much wider Igers movement that consists of geographically-based communities around the world, all happily snapping away and sharing their images digitally – and sometimes meeting up!

I’d met a couple of the people before when I attended an ‘instameet’ several months before when a group met up to learn a bit about painting with light in night photography, under the guidance of a few people who knew what they were doing. A bit of shared knowledge goes a long way.


And this weekend I’m off to another one, this time to take a behind-the-scenes peek at rural Lanyon Homestead, one of the oldest buildings we have around these parts, guided by ACT Historic Places. Of course, we’ll have our phones in hand to click madly as we go.

See. It’s really not anti-social at all.

PS Thanks to the Igers team for your work, the excursions, and the cupcakes!


Photo credits for images in top photo: L-R: @millicentrussell; @boomingon; @Daisyduds; @meeklay; @dkolsky

Holiday travel: how to pack like a boss


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packingThere’s a multitude of helpful advice about the smartest and leanest ways of packing for holidays. But it wasn’t until Miss Sunshine (3) came for a sleepover with her carefully packed ‘Trunkie’ that I twigged that’s there’s basically just one rule: pack what’s important to you.

Her packing clearly identify her priorities. Array of soft toys for night time cuddles; choice of foot wear; just-in-case pull ups for night time. I especially loved that she packed food, just in case Marsie and Dude didn’t have any at their place.

There’s a lot to be gleaned from the ‘holiday’ packings of a small one. It’s interesting that after several sleepovers, the packing has reduced somewhat as she’s become more practised and relaxed about the whole process and worked out what’s absolutely key.  (Shoe choices remain a priority, as does toothbrush and toothpaste, I’m pleased to say.) She’s also worked out Marsie and Dude do in fact have food at their house and are likely to share it with her so she won’t starve if she doesn’t bring her own.

That’s what happens. We evolve, and get better with working out what we need and what we don’t. Well, that’s the theory.

So, herewith my suggestions for sensible holiday packing. I wrote it for women, but guys – hell, if the shoe fits…

And lookey look, no long list of affiliate links to each separate suggestion!! Just tips. Just saying.

Think about where you’re going. Hardly rocket science, but think through the days. Somewhere tropical means it’s likely there’ll be lots of rain, so rubber thongs might be handy for the beach and puddles in sudden downpours. Won’t need them in Europe in autumn though. And you won’t need any sort of wool in Asia.

Coordinate, coordinate. Choose one basic colour, maybe black or navy, and make sure everything can go back to that. It means lots of matchy matchy stuff will be happening and it will seem you have heaps of outfits even with limited items. That  helps with the ‘don’t take too much’ thing. The better you plan, the less you need. A colour-consultant-colleague would be screaming in anguish about the lack of colour, but that’s what accessories are for, and feature items, and scarves (see below).

Try on your stuff before you go  It’s amazing how clothes can mysteriously shrink in the wardrobe between seasons (is that just me?). Make sure it all works together and omit items which want to star by themselves. Travel packing is about team play. Keep in mind layering for cooler days or dressing up for evenings.

Plan your travel outfit. Start with what you’ll be wearing on the way and put that aside. Comfy pants are a must, and layers as it gets hotter and colder. No, it’s not just you. Planes can do that too. Wear your heaviest comfy shoes to wear on the plane to lighten your load.

Take a scarf. My absolute must-have item. What a multitude of purposes it serves! Wrapped around your knees or neck, it keeps you warm, or snazzy; around your head or shoulders it keeps you appropriate in mosques; draped in the evening it makes you glam and gorgeous; and during the day it protects you from sunburn (unless you’re British in which case you’re likely to want to maximise your sun exposure and turn bright red and blistered to demonstrate you’ve been on holiday). You can even wrap it around your head as the locals do in Morocco and protect yourself from heatstroke in the Sahara. So versatile! Hell, go crazy – maybe take two! I like cotton longish ones – super versatile and easy to wash – rather than small silk ones that slip off.


Shoe choices. These things can overload your case, but are key to get right. If you’re going to walk a lot, take comfy walking shoes, and ones you’ve worn in.  And do you really need those heels? Last trip I managed to take just flats. I am at peace with my vertically-challenged body, and a pair of pretty flats can look dressy. Just don’t take too many. Daughter Moo once tried to take 13 pairs of shoes to Hamilton Island for a week. With effort, I whittled her down to eight.

Pack clothes that are warm enough. This one’s sooo important. If you’re cold, you’re miserable, and likely everyone else will be too, because you’ll complain all the time, especially at your partner. Or again, is that just me? Personally I’d rather carry a jacket and not wear it rather than be cold. Just got myself a lightweight down one which ticks all the boxes for changing weather. Bliss bliss bliss.

Allow time to sort out your technology – and test it I swear it almost takes longer to pack all the techo things than the clothes things, just so you can stay ‘connected’ to all those things and people you’re trying to have a break from. Phone, laptop, tablet, chargers, spare batteries, camera, lenses, memory cards, USB, blah, blah, blah. Here’s my big hint: if you’re going to buy new gear just before you go (because you get the GST back as you’re leaving, remember?), allow yourself time to transfer your stuff and TEST IT WORKS before you go. Go into your apps and online accounts to check passwords etc from any new devices. Such a pain when you can’t access them from overseas if they require a phone connection for passwords and you’re relying on free wifi. Yep, I still do that.

Remove those gym clothes you packed. Who are you kidding? If you’re really dedicated and you do perchance get to the gym instead of cocktail hour, you can just wear the shorts and t-shirt already packed. The runners are okay – you’ll probably use them.

Store your travel bibs and bobs together. I’ve got a permanent little box of travel stuff ready to pull out and go when needed: travel purse, suitcase locks, adapters, plastic zip lock bags, sewing kit, mini shampoos and so on. Boom.


Do the Chanel thing – When you think you’re done, take something out (instead of off). Maybe that extra jumper, or that other black top that looks pretty much the same as the first one. It’s black. No one will see it’s dirty—#thebeautyofblack.

I’m sure I’m getting better all the time, but hell, it still takes a while.

What are your fave packing tips?


Mark Wilkinson: a man with a guitar and a gift


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Sometimes you go to a concert or music show at a stadium, or at a theatre, or a club. Or sometimes you get to go to one in someone’s house on a farm in Oakdale in a place so random you need Google maps to find your way there.

Such is the flavour of Mark Wilkinson’s current tour, ‘The Road Home’, which has been taking place since May, from North America to across Australia and New Zealand, on farms, in people’s homes and random venues. It’s the epitome of up close and personal. And isn’t it lovely?

We’d come prepared for an outdoor event, on an evening with serious bite, with jackets and beanies, three layers and a rug. We even brought directors chairs. But luckily we didn’t need any of those because instead we were inside in a shed that had been transformed by our enthusiastic hosts, the warm and welcoming Joe and Kim, into a fine venue created just for the evening.

What had been a shell of a building had been fitted out with walls, a roof, then rows of seats, heaters and even a choice of comfy lounges at the back and front (they had to buy new ones for inside to replace them), with a stage lit softly at the front. Our hosts even put on an unexpected and generous dinner spread, enough to feed an army. I think that’s because they’re Italian and the relies were invited. That’s what they do. We brought wine but they offered us more. We felt we were among friends.

The stage was a simple affair—a mic, two speakers and a trio of central bulbs casting soft light upwards, and fine stranfs of fairy lights strung loosely around the perimeter, and a lit M & W set at the back either side of lettering spelling out the name of the tour. It was all that was needed. And then entered a small-framed performer with a guitar and a serious demeanour, with a calm but powerful presence, who stills the rooms and lets you into his world.



It was an intimate affair, only 60 or so people in the room, some new to this grounded artist who seems to fly somewhat under the radar, and some dedicated followers. One’s so dedicated she follows him from venue to venue, even state to state. An evening of beautiful melodies, lyrics that pierce your soul, and a voice that resonates and pulses with emotion, with a morsel of vibrato in all the right places to elevate it to the heavens. It’s a gifted voice and just a snippet of it – whether you heard it in a coffee ad on television years ago (me) or wafting down the streets of the Rocks as Mark performs as a busker (the hosts) – can stop you in your tracks, and cause you to track down its owner.

An acoustic guitar is the only accompaniment, a trusted friend to help tell the stories, with signature and unapologetic squeaks as fingers slide from one fret to the next along the way. This from a singer whose face grimaces from emotion from time to time as he experiences the songs himself, and pulls away from the mic as if in exquisite pain to finish the notes with fervour but never force.

From the front lounge to the side, Joe the host erupts in praise after the third song. ‘That was brilliant. Just brilliant. That was brilliant that song.’ And everyone laughs. The faces of the family dogs appear occasionally at the glass window behind the performer, and even they bark their approval occasionally during the breaks to be part of the event. It seemed apt.

All my favourites are played, and there are many, and then more. It’s beautiful music, laid back, soulful, pretty beyond aesthetics. ‘Love High’ came early —’our song’, the one we dance to when it comes on at home, the one which will farewell us at our funerals, but we can’t dance here. Just listen. It’s an effort not to join in with the vocals through the evening, but when you’re only two metres from the performer you know it just can’t be done.

As if the music itself isn’t emotional enough in its own right, that night just before the show started I learned that Connie Johnson from Love Your Sister cancer charity had died hours before, our Connie, Canberra’s Connie, everyone’s Connie. So when Mark sang ‘All I Ever Wanted’ at the end of the evening, there was a special poignancy about it and the lyrics seemed to be hers: “Something so strong, that never dies.” It’s about being in the here and now, which is pretty much what #nowisawesome is all about.

There’s an encore, another sad song, and then another encore, and another. We finish with ‘Another necklace’, another fave. Too many anothers.

If you don’t know this music, look it up. Listen to it. Seriously.

We stocked up on the newest albums to add to our collection and listened to them on the drive home the next day. Without exception, each track is worthy, and the interspersion of violin and cello add another dimension and depth to the simplicity of the unplugged live versions.

On the night it was just one singer, one guitar, one voice.

It was enough.

Tricky Thai travel tips


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Local tips can add to your holiday joy, even if you’re a seasoned traveller, including little things you knew already but had forgotten. Fresh from the shores of the Andaman Sea in Phuket, here’s a collection of some favourite tips from the last trip.

Getting around

  • Always travel with someone who likes maps, especially when maps are not your friend. Good to get some orientation and idea of distances to plan your days and before you set off in taxis.


  • Taxis and tuk tuks are the choices to get around town. Barter hard with a smile. Do some investigations first to get a ballpark and work from there, for example, prices hotel foyers prices give you a starting point to come down from. You can even hire a driver or a boat for the day and split the cost between friends.
  • Get a metred taxi from the airport (check it’s on when you get in). We paid 700 THB into Phuket, were quoted 1100THB on the way back by the hotel desk service, and agreed 850 TBT on the street ourselves by being insistent, so prices vary.
  • When you agree a price, specify ‘no stops’ or you might find yourself being dragged around their friend’s shop on the way.
  • Tuk tuks in Phuket are sadly not of the fun three-wheeled variety found elsewhere in Thailand, and they’re also more expensive. If you’re getting a tuk tuk home and you know you’re being charged an inflated rate but they won’t budge (any of them!, because they don’t like having to take you up that hill to your hotel), pick one with pimping lights and pumping music. Makes you feel like you got your money’s worth, and your fellow passengers will sing.


  • Bartering is expected at the markets but not in shopping centres and restaurants. Barter with good humour and manners to get you further. If you’re allowed to walk away without a fight, you’re at their limit. Don’t forget, the final dollar you save will probably be way more important to the Thai seller than to you.
  • Street stalls and markets in Phuket and other areas of Thailand are full of life and hustle and bustle and give credence to the Thai catch cry of ‘same same’. If you want something a bit different, head to the quieter areas off the beaten track, like old Phuket Town or even some of the larger shopping centres. Old Phuket Town has some wonderful historic streets dotted with unique shops and galleries, where the speed slows down tenfold and the quality and variety goes up.


  • Try some street food – hot and fresh. Pad Thai cooked right in front of you is not to be missed and is one of the safest ways to eat.

  • Remember that just about everything in Thailand comes with chilli, occasionally near deadly quantities, so ask for it to be tempered to your taste buds if you don’t want to lose your lips.
  • Always eat the pineapple. It’s holiday pineapple. A special kind of pineapple. Delicious. It also has ‘medicinal’ properties to overcome other ‘issues’ you may have when suddenly adjusting to a different diet. Lots of fruit! Say no more.

  • Fresh croissants at brekkie are a good thing, but Thai humidity makes them soggy within seconds. If there’s a conveyor belt type toaster, whack them through to return them to their former crisp glory. Also transforms pancakes from rubbery to hot and delicious within seconds. Winning.

  • No matter how many times I try desserts in Asia, even at the poshest of establishments, I am underwhelmed. They’re all about flummery, gelatinous textures and super sweet flavours. But the local ice creams are pretty fab, and dirt cheap. If you’re buying from the street-side box fridges, forget the standard magnum type things and hit the local brands instead. Delicious!
  • Try a street stall pancake for dessert on the run. There’s a bit of a fixation on banana flavoured ones, but the simple lemon and sugar is a classic. Watch the cooker first to see how thick the pancakes are – it’s a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – you have to get one that’s just right.


  • Don’t drink the local water – that will increase your chances of getting sick. This means the country goes through an extraordinary number of plastic bottles buying bottled water, many of which end up in the oceans and discarded on the beaches. Shame! Don’t leave them behind and be horror tourists.
  • But if you keep one, or even better, travel with your own drinking bottle, you can boil water at night and keep refilling your own bottle and help save the world one bottle at a time.
  • Keep some bottled water next to your toothbrush and use that for brushing instead of the unpotable local stuff. That one sneaks up on you.
  • Wine drinkers – just give up for the duration and stick to cocktails – cheaper by far and feels more like a vacation. Or drink the local beer which is a cost effective travel drink.

Spa treatments and massages

  • Do some of these. Do many of these. Do these every day if you can. Get. a. foot. massage.
  • Choose the place you go carefully. Sometimes it is a case of you get what you pay for, like nail polish that goes furry and peels in two days for $9. The spas in resorts or hotels are more expensive, but they are more convenient and will often be nicer with better privacy and offer a more indulgent experience. Hotels usually offer two for one deals and happy hour deals in the middle of the day, especially in the low season.

  • I’m pretty sure the spa treatment places along the main drag with strings of girls and lady boys thrusting the massage menus at you as you walk past do more than manicures and back massages. Especially the ones with private rooms. That’s probably not the place to go if you’re away for a girls’ week away.
  • Be aware that once you add oil in the mix (aromatherapy massages), tummies and sometimes even more can be involved. You’re in charge – specify beforehand if you want to concentrate on certain body parts or leave some out.
  • Try something new – I did a heat compression massage which was fab, but don’t let anyone walk on your back. No one’s tried that on me, but I’ve heard stories and it can do a lot of damage.


  • Zika virus and malaria are about, so take insect repellent with you and put it on before you go out. Close your door and wardrobe at night in your hotel room – mozzies lurk there during the day and come out at night to catch you unawares. Sneaky little buggers. Depending on where you go, consider malaria tablets (before, during and after your trip), and even a mozzie net.

And a special tip to my beloved daughter and others of the lily white variety.

  • Yes, Ms Temporary Tomato. Of course you can still get burnt under an umbrella, especially when your skin is so white and transparent even taxi drivers comment. And the water in the pool does afford any protection as you float around on top of it, even for a few minutes. In fact, it’s just like saying to the sunburn gods, ‘Send it down, Huey – with an extra bit of bite.’ It’s like that Thai chilli- it burns.

Wherever you go, do a bit of research first about your destination and what’s on offer. For Thailand, Lonely Planet is a good start, or Phuket.com, or expat or foodie blogs and (serious) foodie reviews (more on eating out in Phuket coming soon). You don’t want to find out about the amazing things when you get home.




How to banish the texting sloth in your life and text like a boss


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I am totally crushing at the latest bit of technology in my life. The time I am saving now when I’m wasting time!

No longer do I have to battle that pesky little ‘keypad’ on the bottom of my phone trying to type long messages, hitting all the wrong keys, battling autocorrect, lagging three steps behind when I’m in a conversation with multiple 20-somethings at the same time. I’m still struggling with my first reply and my phone’s going ping, ping, ping, with all the messages flooding in. By the time I’m finished my response, it’s likely to be no longer relevant. How do they type so bloody quickly on those things? And no – using my thumbs does not work! They don’t seem to be connected to my brain the same way yours are.

So now I’ve got my own back – I have invested in a bluetooth keyboard which connects to my phone to a regular little keyboard but bit smaller. I can use ALL my fingers again (well, nine of them) and keep up with all those rapid, pinging conversations from the young ones in my life.

I actually bought the keyboard because the keyboard on my fancy little laptop for travels had decided it will not type ‘A’s anymore, which makes writing coherent sentences quite difficult. And the cost to repair? $280. Gotta love this disposable technology designed to last just a couple of years, or just until it’s out of warranty!@?

In any case, connecting the iphone to the keyboard has brought a great joy to my life.

Phone keyboard sloth – be gone!

Transforming Fyshwick – more than meets the eye


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img_0195Changes are afoot in Fyshwick. If you’ve been around in Canberra a while, you may remember Fyshwick as being rather an industrial place, full of cars and hardware and building-type things (and yes, yes – those other things too).

But there’s a bit of a transformation taking place, and Fyshwick is becoming quite a little shopping hub as well, full of speciality and boutique businesses with gourmet delights, antiques, fashion and other delights abounding. Recently I wrote about ten excellent reasons to visit Fyshwick as a way to explain my Fyshwick-frequenting, but there’s heaps more – and the list is growing.

You just have to know where to go. So, isn’t it handy that a few enterprising individuals have joined forces and have made a lovely little map of some of the boutique establishments on offer? Unsurprisingly, it’s called Boutiques of Fyshwick. I suspect there will be another edition a little further on the track, because this place keeps transforming.img_9014 (2)

Here’s the lowdown on the first five members of #BoutiqueFyshwick.

Urban Providore

If you love your food, you need to know about Urban Providore, and the whirlwind of Dawn who is behind it. Beginning life as a wholesaler of gourmet foods from regional producers across Australia, Urban Providore is now set up in Fyshwick to supply us normal folk as well, in store or online, which means you can buy the same things in smaller quantities. Things like relishes, and salad dressings and vinaigrettes, and spices, and even smoked black pepper, my friend’s fave. And did I mention the fudge? And then there’s a world of non-food foody-type items (they call them accoutrements), like cook books, and chopping boards, and garlic presses. (You should never underestimate the importance of a good garlic press in your life). And confession – I’ve got my eye on one of their hampers for Christmas.  Life is definitely too short for bad food.


Humble House Gallery

Take a few steps off Wollongong Street, follow the timber garden path at the end of a laneway, and a whole world of Chinese history, furniture and design will erupt before your eyes as you enter the Humble House Gallery. It’s actually enormous and full of wondrous things, like traditional cupboards, sideboards and tables (mahjong anyone?) as well as ceramics and lamps and decorator pieces with a difference. All Chinese. All restoration work is carried out in Beijing, where Roger is proud to tell you that workmanship is the highest priority and all work is handcrafted. Completely loving the timber grain measures that doubles as vases. And to top it off (literally), there’s a small museum of Chinese historic pieces on the top floor that’s well worth a visit in itself. This gallery has been a stalwart of Canberra business for 20 years, seven of those in Fyshwick. And it all sits quietly there at the end of the lane, just waiting to be discovered.


Endangered Heritage

Have you ever wondered what to do with your mum’s wilting wedding dress you can’t bear to throw out or how to repair an old cracked vase with much sentimental value? The conservator folks at Endangered Heritage know all about those old things and how to preserve them or possibly fix them. There’s a whole team of experts, in fact, that know about textiles and papers and frame and storing and chemicals and all sorts of technical things. They even do disaster recovery, which sounds rather public-servantish in a town like Canberra but can actually help you save treasures that have been damaged by water or insects. Just when I’m trying to clear out cupboards, I have discovered someone who can help restore things instead!

Canty’s bookshop

Philosopher Thomas Aquinas warned us to ‘beware the man of a single book’. In that case, you don’t need to be wary of Luke and Laura Canty of Canty’s bookshop at all, because they’ve got thousands of them. Well over fifty thousand of them. And they’re stacked and piled and packed in and up, and they cover just about any topic you can think of. Mainly good quality second hand but with a great collection of new remaindered ones as well at good prices. I’m rather fond of the cooking section. I buy cooking books for my hubbie and he cooks things from it for me. Boom! It’s not a huge shop for the number of books it contains, but there is a Tardis inside.


Hang ups framing and Christmas Emporium

Christmas is always coming in Fyshwick now that the Hang Up Framing Gallery has transformed itself into a year-long Christmas emporium as well. It’s like Santa’s workshop without the elves. There’s trees, and garlands and decorations, and of course snow globes. Who doesn’t love a snow globe?  All your Christmases at once. And for those who insist on being bah-humbugs, you can always get your framing done or get your hanging sorted.


Watch out for Fyshwick, Canberra – it’s going through a bit of a rebirth. Who needs fireworks anyway when we’ve got Skyfire?


To buy or not to buy…a whopping great campervan


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van 📷 TheBeast

That is the question.

And it’s one we’ve been asking ourselves for quite a while now, and doing a bit of investigation and a lot of soul searching along the way. There’s a great big country out there with lots to see and do, and this could be the way to do it. Lots of flexibility, our own little home on wheels, we wouldn’t have to spend a fortune on accommodation, go wherever we wanted, take things slow, find some hidden places off the beaten track (well, not too far off because I watched Wolf Creek). All those things.

When we first started tossing the idea around, we had simple expectations. Just something small and basic. We didn’t need anything too fancy. No big kitchen, and definitely no bathroom. We don’t want to be responsible for that stuff. And we certainly don’t want to tow a caravan or trailer – too big and heavy and it wouldn’t allow us to stop easily here and there on a whim. There’s all those surprise little shops and coffee places you simply must pop into unexpectedly, and trying to get a park with a Mack truck-equivalent tagging along behind just wasn’t our idea of fun. Nope, just an old style Kombie thing, but a bit nicer perhaps. We could pretend we were straight out of ‘The Drifters’ from decades ago, carefree and travelling without a worry in the world. We’d just need a comfy mattress and a few basic kitchen items. And well, maybe a Nespresso machine. Just a small one.

So we started looking. We had some ideas about how much it would cost, but those ideas were soon blown out of the water. Not even close. But still, just something simple. And second hand would be fine. But not too old of course. You don’t want to buy someone else’s mechanical problems.

And we looked a bit more. We looked at Hiaces and Frontliners and a few others, and vans people had transformed themselves. Of course the ones with lower prices had high milages, and they were a bit old, and the panelling was a bit daggy, and some weren’t very clean. That little princess was beginning to emerge. And so was the prince too, to be honest.

So we thought, maybe we’ll get a new one instead. The prices went up of course, but they’d be nice and clean, and … you know, nice. Then we looked at VWs instead of Toyotas, and the prices went up again. And then we looked at Trakka, and the prices escalated more, but everything was so well thought out, and practical, and neat, and terribly nice. There were blinds that transformed into flyscreens in the blink of an eye, and little heaters, and lights that dimmed, and roofs that popped up in 15 seconds and tables that popped on outside in ten, and hot showers and other marvellous things. And there was still space for that little coffee machine.

And then we found a beauty – a simply marvellous, almost new campervan with everything that opens and shuts which is oh so clean and sparkly, but which costs about as much as years of extravagant, fully inclusive holidays, or even a significant proportion of a new home.

And therein lies the problem.

It’s a bloody big investment, this campervan thing, and you can do a hell of a lot of alternative travel with the money that we’re thinking of pouring into the purchase of one. And that’s even before you consider on-road and running costs,  and then chuck in some extra dollars to cover the park accommodation costs you’ll encounter, unless you’re way out in the sticks, and then there’s that Wolf Creek type fear again.

Now Mr T is constantly running the numbers through his head, taking into account our adjusted price bracket, and trying to turn it into a completely fiscal, objective decision – which of course, it is not. It’s not just about money, it’s about the lifestyle. Right? Once  that van is there in the garage (which it actually won’t quite fit into, incidentally – so that’s another cost to fix that), it will be tempting us, luring us, tantalising us, with thoughts of rollicking road trips and adventures into the unknown, and we’ll be so much more inclined to just pop in and go.

Or … we could just fly over to Perth or up to Cairns, because Jesus, that’s a hell of a long way to drive, and stay for a fortnight in some fancy-pants places instead, like resorts or whole spacious apartments with verandahs and marble bathrooms, and still be no worse off. Maybe better.


I thought we’d decided, but now the jury is out.

Can anyone help?






Sawtell’s Abicus – counting the positives


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A newcomer to the Sawtell dining scene is Abicus, a casual but sleek restaurant at the roundabout at the end of the main street. Behind its banks of exterior glass windows and dressed in timbers, white walls and splashes of green, the space says cafe – crisp, cool, clean – but the food says restaurant and indicates a chef who clearly knows what he’s doing.

The food is contemporary and thoughtful without trying to be too precious. For entrees, marrying pepper and lime squid with coconut and pineapple brought an unexpected sweet zing to the plate, along with memories of beach holidays, while the lashings of greenery in the form of pak choy and cucumber balanced the saltiness of the vinaigrette of the lobster ravioli nicely. And didn’t it look fresh and appealing?

The native fish dish (snapper) was light and fresh and well matched with the richer Persian flavours of harrisa and a touch of lemon yogurt, dutch carrots and fried cauli on the edges, although the very centre was undercooked and remained on the plate, unremarked on clearing. The pork belly was beautifully rendered and served well by the smooth celeriac puree and other flavours.  And what a welcome relief to find there were sufficient vegetables served with main meals to make them complete affairs in themselves without requiring the add-on sides.

A mid-week visit meant that the restaurant was quiet, but it also meant that it was ‘locals’ night’ with a good value choice of two courses for $45 or three for $55 on offer, even though as interstaters we were far from locals. If only our fellow Canberrans had known they too could have escaped the winter cold and scored a deal at the same time. If you can’t make choices or you have big appetites, there’s also degustation option as well.

I can’t normally manage a three courser, but couldn’t resist the temptation of ‘white chocolate mousse, local passionfruit, meringue, toasted coconut, coconut sorbet’ at the end. That’s what happens when someone puts all your favourite things on one plate and tells you about it. And I’m so pleased I succumbed. There’s a chocolate option too for those with more stamina. The restaurant is fully licensed but they’ll let you BYO for $12 a bottle. We did.

Abicus follows another restaurant in the same location with quite a reputation for good food so it has big shoes to fill but it’s covering the ground pretty well with generous servings of well-balanced and interesting flavours, without too much fuss but presented with finesse.

Apparently they also do events and corporate catering.

I wonder why they spelled it Abicus though?


The reawakening of Newrybar – hidden treasure of the hinterland


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This quaint little township nestled in the green hinterland of northern New South Wales is just a short drive from bustling coastal Byron Bay but exists on another timescale and mentality, and is thriving on its recent extension into good food and beautiful things.

Here you will leave behind the surfers and backpackers to mingle instead with an older crowd, more likely to be dressed in linen than boardies, and taking life at a slower place and savouring the small moments and the gourmet treats.

At the heart of this hamlet (just the word ‘hamlet’ makes my heart sing) is Harvest and its various food-based enterprises concentrating on fresh and local – an inviting and innovative restaurant, an artisan 100 year old bakery and gourmet deli next door, and a tiered-organic edible garden for supplying the aforementioned restaurant – all housed in a series of restored rustic and charming historic buildings. The weekend breakfasts have quite a reputation. And the spaces also transform into magical settings for events and weddings.

When you’re done with eating and stocking up on gourmet delights in the deli or you’ve had your caffeine hit (excellent coffee by the way), you can wander across the road to a collection of lovely shops to while away a bit more time, and meet some of the local dogs.

Antiques and things of old mixed in with modern gifts and newly created furniture pieces from The Shed (formerly Paul’s shed), and a whole world of shopping pleasure at the Newrybar Merchants, a collective of local artists and curators of beautiful things who’ve put together a whole world of shopping delights under one roof. A florist, a bookseller, an art gallery, a gorgeous collection of homewares and furnishings, things that smell delicious, and clothes for him and her and the little ones, including every shade of cream imaginable. Ah – heaven in a shop!

I think I’ll let the photos do the talking.



IMG_9818IMG_9819[1]We didn’t stay long, but long enough to know we have to go back and rectify our failed plans to eat at the restaurant, and maybe try some of the locally grown macadamias.

Foodies and shoppers – put this place on your list!

Next time I’m definitely planning to stay over.