Meat pies

 

 

Driving up the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Byron Bay is like taking a snapshot of a country in transition. Back in the day, small towns and businesses were built to cater for the heavy traffic heading up and down the coast. Kilometre by kilometre these towns have dried up, now just little off-road ramps as the government has put in safer roads and built bypasses along he highway.

There are, however still some towns left standing along the highway that will give you a window into regional Australian life. In Frederickson, you'll pass single storey weatherboard homes with wrap around verandas that are raised off the ground to combat the flooding that creeps through the town every few years. Jacaranda trees will bloom in the front yard, carpeting the ground in purple flowers, and dairy fields will roll around the valley and hills, dotted with black and white coloured cattle. There's an old dairy next to the highway, an old cheese factory attached to the dairy.

Frederickson is six hours from wither Sydney or Brisbane, making it the perfect rest break if you’re driving up the highway. But the one thing that has cars pulling up on either side of the highway and people running across the road dodging traffic is a humble little pie shop called Fredo's.  There are some things that define Australia, and the humble meat pie is one of them. The meat pie has always been the classic working mans meal, the gourmet highlight of trips to the football and the ultimate on the go Australian snack. Traditionally the Australian meat pie has consisted of beef mince in thick tasty gravy encased in a thin golden pastry with a crunchy, flaked pastry top.

In the early 1990s, a small general store along the highway in Frederickson started selling a dozen or so homemade meat pies during the winter to travellers that were sick of the usual soulless hamburger and hot chips style fast food on offer at most petrol stations. Today, Fredo’s is a Pacific highway icon, offering over 50 different types of savoury pie per day from a rotating menu of 160 different pies. Walk into the tiny shopfront and you’ll glimpse beef & burgundy, steak &onion, apricot chicken, lamb & mint, curry, steak & kidney pies, as well as fresh sausage rolls pulled straight from the oven.

Some of the pies on offer are a little left of the centre.  Along with your usual suspects, there’s a kangaroo pie, one made of emu, and their most famous creation: the croc pie, made out of crocodile meat. While I’ve never been game enough to give these pies a go, it’s partly because my favourite pie- the steak & onion is simply so good, with it’s thick tender chunks of beef in a thick onion gravy. The hardest part once you’ve picked your pie is working your way through the three deep queue to the front counter to pay.

The pies have been named some of the best in Australia and while it’s a fairly contentious title, Fredo’s has to over 70 regional and national awards to back up its claim to the throne. The pies are a local operation, and where possible, ingredients are sourced from the local area, generating income for what is a tiny community. Even the beef in the pies comes from cattle grazed on the fields around Frederickson.

Most people eat their pie standing up outside, and there’s always a bit of traffic chaos around Frederickson for your dining entertainment as the truckies pull up and run in to stock up on pies for their long haul run. But the best entertainment is the pie shop’s next door neighbour. Living next door to the pie shop is a giant overweight Rottweiler. The dog is a real ham, using his powerful puppy dog eyes to beg for a bit of your pie just as you’re down to the last, satisfying bite.

Judging by the size of his belly, a sucker is born every day. In my experience though, he’s had to suffer through with just a pat. These pies are just too good to share.

 

 

By Shaney Hudson

 

Port Macquarie

 


 

David Whitley mounts a prized Australian camel in Port Macquarie.

The toothy grin would be quite menacing if it didn’t look so ridiculous. Kneeling down, being strapped up with all manner of tethers, hooks and attachments, is Liela, the massive beast that I am about to entrust with my safety for the next twenty minutes. Her big yellow teeth hang down gormlessly as her handler finishes tightening the saddle. Emerging from behind the truck and the camels, he looks surprised. “Blimey! We don’t usually get this many for the naked ride,” he says, as we all look nervously at our trusty steeds.

The exercise yard for these ships of the desert is the extraordinary Lighthouse Beach in Port Macquarie, New South Wales. It’s a phenomenal stretch of sand, disappearing for 9km towards the headland on the horizon, as the perilous-looking surf crashes repeatedly into the rocks. Aside for one dog-walker, we’re the only people (and animals) in sight. The five camels kneeling diligently before us have been captured roaming the deserts of Central Australia, and where one goes, the others follow. It’s a full house today, but Greg, the decidedly ocker type in charge, says that as herd animals, you can’t part them even if only two punters show up for the ride. Which, he is forced to concede, will not be conducted naked after all.

We’re told of the battle with the local council to allow the camel rides on the beach, and it seems as though one of the provisos was that all of the creatures must be fitted with a ‘lucky dip’ bag. “Later on, you’ll all get to put your hand in here to find the two dollar coin,” says Greg as the final member of the herd gets a dung-catcher placed discreetly over its backside.

 

 

Australian camels are unique. They are thought to be the only wild population left in the world, as in their African and Asian homelands, the camel has been long since domesticated. The irony is that just over 150 years ago, there weren’t any camels in Australia – they were brought over by traders and explorers in a bid to chart the barren central landscape and freight goods across it. Some of the imports broke free, and given that no man in his right mind was going to go chasing after a rogue escapee in no man’s land, a substantial wild population emerged. Today, there are thought to be nearly a million descendants of these libertines milling around aimlessly in the wild, and it’s a figure that is increasing fairly rapidly.

The Aussie camel is also regarded as the world’s finest breed, free from diseases that have ravaged populations elsewhere, and, believe it or not, it is one of our major exports to Saudi Arabia. I look Liela in the eye as Greg reels off his big list of carefully accumulated camel facts. You are going to play nice, aren’t you?

“There are two types of camel. The ones with one hump are called dromedaries, and live mainly in Africa. And they don’t spit – that’s llamas…” Greg continues, as I mull over the saddle. And more importantly, how on earth I’m going to get into it. Finally, with our preparations for the camel trivia quiz fully complete, it’s time to get on, and it seems as though the method of choice is to stick one foot in the stirrup, then heave yourself over, trying desperately to hang on.

Once we’re all up, seated and ready for action, it’s the camels’ turn to rise. Liela rumbles to her feet with all the athleticism of a pensioner getting out of a chair. If there’s one thing camels are not, it is elegant. Another thing they are not is comfortable. As we slowly start to move down the beach, it is a succession of bumps, jolts and spine rattles. I had suspected that it may be a little like riding a horse, where you can make yourself more comfortable by lifting out of the saddle slightly and bobbing along with the footsteps. Alas, this is not the case; you’ve got no option but to clang along with your calves chafing against the stirrups.

We move at a very slow walk, which although devastatingly unpleasant on the rear end, is at least safe. Even the most accomplished horseman probably wouldn’t fancy trying to rein in one of these monsters in full flow, but a kilometre and a half down the beach, Greg decides to up the stakes a bit. He pulls out a flick knife and starts back on the statistics.

“Now then, these camels can run at speeds of between 70 and 80 kilometres per hour,” he says, moving his finger to halfway up the blade. “We stick it in this far to get to 70, and all the way in for 80. “Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to do that to the animals,” he adds, clearly having issues with the tree-hugging nanny state he’s been brought up in, whilst turning his attention to the bemused Singaporean couple on the front camel. “So we’ll have to do it to these two. And we all want to go at 80, don’t we?”

Fortunately for those about to be stabbed, nobody really does. The level of trust placed in our mounts is at the sort of level usually reserved for estate agents with slicked back hair, pony tails and gold teeth. So we start to amble back to our starting point. If there is one thing more awkward and uncomfortable than getting on a camel or riding a camel, it is dismounting from one. On command, Liela suddenly drops onto her front knees, sending me careering into the front of the saddle with an almighty crunch and fearing for my chances of ever having children.

“You should be glad you’re not on that one,” says Greg, pointing at the biggest in the herd. “He’s known as the Nutcracker.” But, all told, Liela has behaved herself impeccably, so a big hug is in order. We’re told the camels genuinely enjoy this, and given that the toothy smile is back out in force again, I’m inclined to believe it.

 

The kitschest street in Australia

 

 

David Whitley take a detour to Bee Gees Way in Redcliffe, Queensland

The bronze statue of three bare-footed young boys, one with guitar in hand, is dedicated to Bodding, Basser and Woggie. Behind it, yellow plaques bear seemingly random phrases. “Nights On Broadway”, “Run To Me”, “Woman In Love”…

The link becomes more apparent when the eye scans over the better known song titles. “Massachusetts”, “I Started A Joke”, “How Deep Is Your Love”… The three boys are Robin, Barry and Maurice Gibb, who would go on to achieve worldwide fame and fortune as the Bee Gees.

On its own, the statue and song titles combo would be a subtle little tribute to a band that was founded and named in Redcliffe, Queensland. But it comes as part of a quite marvellously OTT laneway that has been entirely given over to the local boys done good. Redcliffe is enormously proud of the Bee Gees, and Bee Gees Way is its way of showing off that pride.

The Gibb Brothers were born on the Isle Of Man, but spent their early years in the outskirts of Manchester in England. The family moved over to Redcliffe in 1958, when Barry was 12 years old and the twins were just nine. They had been playing music together back in the UK, but it was in Redcliffe where things started to happen.

At the entrance to Bee Gees Way, which is just off the shore-hugging Redcliffe Parade, there’s a huge glass plinth on which Barry’s recollections of playing at the Redcliffe Speedway are printed.

  

“Back then we talked them into letting us sing in between the races – whether it was the gnats or the stock cars. We sang through the PA system on the back of a lorry, the crowd threw money on the track and we gleefully ran out and picked up the change.”

It was while doing this that racing driver Bill Goode and radio DJ Bill Gates spotted them, and signed the boys up on their first contract. It was signed at the Gibb family home on Oxley Avenue, on March 16th, 1959 – and we know that because a replica of the contract, signatures and all, has been blown up and placed inside the glass plinth.

They became the BGs (which comes from the initials of Bill Goode, Bill Gates and Barry Gibb, rather than the usually assumed ‘Brothers Gibb’). And as they started to make TV and radio appearances in Australia, that became the Bee Gees.

The boys of the initial bronze statue became the men of the new bronze statue opposite, which shows an altogether more recognisable Bee Gees. Barry has his long mane, Maurice his hat, Robin his earring. And behind that is a 70 metre mural featuring stencil-like images of the brothers, and more of Barry’s thoughts. ‘Mo’ was the extrovert, who always had a gang of kids running behind him in the schoolyard; a “magnetic personality” who was “never off stage”.

Robin is portrayed as a dichotomy, two people in one, who was as obsessed with history as music.

It’s this personal, reminiscing approach that plays a big part in making Bee Gees Way so odd. It could have been a lionising tribute, and it could have been an outdoor museum, but it’s neither. It’s more an extended interview with an old man, possibly a few glasses of wine to the good, taking a misty-eyed look back at the past.

Opposite the mural is a wall covered in lots and lots of photos, covering everything from the brothers’ parents getting married to them hauling Grammy awards and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductions. On the way, there are sweet childhood pics, and ludicrously camp disco-era silver-costumed promo shots. Each is accompanied by a caption from Barry, who generally resorts to half-hearted jokes such as “Was it a hit?” under recording studio photos rather than any real deep insight.

Larger panels give a touch more sense of the Bee Gee story, particularly the one where Barry recollects arriving in Southampton in 1967. They had returned to the UK in a bid to make it big internationally. They were quickly told that “groups are out” and “You have to be an Eric Clapton or you don’t stand a chance”.

“We heard this constantly but we never listened,” are the last words. And they were proved right not to, as later that year Massachusetts became their first smash hit.

A big screen plays footage of Barry being interviewed, interspersed with videos of Bee Gees songs, with the air of justifiable if mildly daggy indulgence tempering the overall kitsch daftness of the lane’s very existence.

But Redcliffe is more than happy milking its claim to fame, and Barry has happily obliged with a few memories from his short time there. “I have changed, but the child inside me has not,” are his words immortalised on the wall. “I am still here on Redcliffe Beach, fishing for that tiger shark.”

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Horse Riding

 

There are moments in life when you feel free. Often they happen when you travel, which might explain why so many of us keep pouring all our hard earned cash into the next trip, thirsty for the next mind-blowing epiphany or adrenaline filled rush. For me, one of those moments happened when I was riding along the beach on the North-Eastern Coast of Australia.

 

I’d arranged to go horse riding on Seven Mile beach, a long stretch of sand 25 minutes drive south of Byron Bay. Here, the much more relaxed Ballina Council allows a range of four-legged and four-wheeled beach activities during the less crowded weekdays. My beach ride with Seahorses riding school includes pick up and drop off from Byron Bay, lunch with tropical fruit, and perhaps the biggest draw card of all- the chance to swim in the surf with the horses. Riders have the opportunity to take the ride at their own rate. Novices and those a bit unsure of themselves in the saddle can happily walk the horses along the beach; whilst more experienced riders have the opportunity to set their own pace.

I've been assigned a black mare called Jade, and as Jo, the owner, had gives me a leg up into the saddle, she mentions that my stead has a bit of spark. Once we reach the beach, I set off with another rider ahead of the pack at a brisk trot. After we're a safe distance from the others, I give Jade all the rein I can, entwine my fingers in her glossy mane and lean forward. I don't even need to touch her with my heels to get her going. Jade's not a spark but a whole box of fireworks. She's off and running. And I'm loving it.

At a gallop we hug the shoreline, eroded bone-coloured sand dunes frosted with green straw grass to our left and turbulent metallic blue surf to our right. Despite our fast pace, my mare doesn't like getting her hooves wet and sashays sideways each time the tide laps in, leaving a snake trail of hoof prints in the sand behind us. It seems as if there's not a soul in sight. No parents running after little kids with tubes of fluorescent zinc, no backpackers taking surf lessons, and no rainbow beach umbrellas cart wheeling towards us. At best, I think I can see ant-sized people scattered a few kilometres down the beach.


It's pure exhilaration and only the thought of my head hitting hard wet sand at top speed convinces me to check our pace. After a long run, I slowly rein my mount in. The rest of the riders are a spec in the distance, so I turn and walk slowly to meet them. A jellyfish the size of a car tyre lies washed up on the sand, an iridescent pancake thrown out by the ocean. As the sun warms my back I notice that smooth volcanic pebbles dot the shore like black stars. The only sound is a fusion of wind and surf. That moment as we walk together, the world makes sense.


But the best is yet to come. With horses stripped of saddles and riders sans clothes, we lead the horses barefoot across the burning sand to the water. Just like your average punter, the horses have their own quirks. Some happily make a beeline for the water like a kid on the last day of summer holidays, whilst others flatly refuse to put a hoof in. Given Jade's water phobia, I ride Jo's palomino pony, who is more partial to taking a dip.

After hoisting myself onto the horse with all the dignity one can muster in a low cut bikini, I spend the next minute shifting from side to side on the skeletal back of the pony. I'm secretly glad my posterior has a lot of padding to help me perch on top.

The horses wade into their chests, the breakers slapping their bellies. They jump, frolic, and shake, neighing loudly to each other. Even though the water only comes up to my calves, I'm drenched as my stead paws the surf the way a bull would before a charge. My Palomino dips her muzzle and throws her head from side to side. She couldn't be more at home if she was a duckling.

After a few minutes, though my horse decides she's had enough. She heads to shore for that favourite horsey pastime, a roll in the sand.  I'm unceremoniously left behind, sprawled in the water at the hooves of my fellow riders. I'm soaked, I'm laughing, and it’s one of the best days of my life.

 

Scrub Hill

 

One person who knows the forests and swamps of Fraser Island intimately is Uncle Joe. Better known as Jo-Jo – or simply ‘Cuz’ – to his boss Norman at Scrub Hill Tours, Uncle Joe is certainly one of the best Aboriginal guides in Australia. He’s toured much of the country already Norman claims that he has been ‘head-hunted’ as a guide in the Top End where another mob was so impressed with his knowledge that they virtually tried to kidnap him. With his toothless grin and gnarled, oakwood features Uncle Joe’s infectious laughter also makes him a perfect guide.

Countries as far removed as Botswana, Guatemala, Algeria and Peru have trained many of their indigenous people to be spectacularly good guides but the Australian tourism industry in general seems to be overlooking one of its truly unique treasures: an immeasurably rich and mind-bogglingly ancient traditional culture. You can travel a long way across this great island continent without meeting an Aboriginal guide. Yet these are people whose ancestors managed the land so effectively for 50,000 years before the first white settlers arrived. Most tourists would be more impressed to hear the history of Uluru (once Ayer’s Rock) straight from an Aboriginal mouth. Recent Aboriginal history is perhaps even more astounding than tales of the dreamtime.

Uncle Joe has the rough, gnarled features that betray a hard life. Like his boss – and every other man on the community-run project – Joe has served time behind bars. “When we were kids there were very few corridors of life open to us,” says Norman. “Teachers ignored us and just naturally assumed that we would never amount to anything. So, of course, labelled like that it was very rare if any of us did. When Jo-Jo and I were teenagers we were automatically stamped as outlaws: every Friday we would head for remote beaches where we could hang out because if the police caught us around town on Friday they would just push us all into jail and keep us there until Sunday night. This was so the white people could enjoy their weekend without having to see black fellas around town. We were outlaws anyway so we began to look on jail as a trial we had to pass to be accepted.”

In effect jail-time became a sort of surrogate initiation to manhood. “Even today in this town it’s unusual to come across an Aboriginal lad who makes it to twenty without spending time behind bars. It’s a sad fact and something that we are still struggling to change. This was perhaps the most racist town in the country.” Norman tells a story of how he and some friends managed to catch three Klu Klux Klan members who were burning a cross in front of his Aunt’s house. Norman too was a boxer in his youth and the KKK men clearly had a bad night.

“Tensions run high at times. Our ancestors on Fraser Island were at the front line of the European invasion. It was our people who were among the first to die. Later we were sent away to missions. Few of us can be sure even of what our roots are. There were about five thousand Butchulla people when the Europeans came here. But after the stolen generation there were just two families here. My grandmother was the last of our people to be born in the old way, on the ground under one of the sacred trees.

Norman’s mother was one who, apparently, never doubted even after all this that her people still had a real future. A woman as tough as the harsh land that she comes from Auntie Francis, as everyone called her, seems to be the arch-typical Aussie battler. Among other things Auntie Francis was a prize-winning boxer in her youth who gave more than a few professional male boxers a thumping they didn’t fast forget.

Hearing from her son that teachers deliberately ignored Aboriginal kids she obtained permission to visit schools and sit in on classes to make sure her people were getting the education due to them. Scrub Hill Farm at the edge of the town of Hervey was her initiative too. She lobbied for a permit to buy the hilltop site which was then a poisonous aluminium mine and, with her sons, she worked to establish a bush-tucker farm that could not only offer tours and accommodation but also, eventually, supply home-grown Australian salads that could compete with introduced crops.

Walking around the project Norman shows me the sacred trees, the astounding variety of fruits and edible shrubs, the tree whose root is used to make boomerangs...His enthusiasm is infectious and I begin to wonder if I can change my itinerary entirely and learn more from Scrub Hill and some of the most interesting guides I had yet found in Australia.

But it was not to be. Norman had a community committee meeting to sit in on. More importantly, he reckoned that his mum was already there.

“...and she’ll probably thump me if I’m late!”