Nine of my favourite Blue Mountains activities

Looks like it’s time for me to write something a little more constructive than my last few blogs…

I had a chat with some tree-changers about my recent rant and while they love their new home in the mountains, they were actually yet to embrace what the area offers.

I grew up in the Blue Mountains – a childhood I loved, once I got over the lack of shopping centres and prevalence of gumnut mugs – and since then I have trashed the Blue Mountains for turning too bogan, and for being left to ruin by a council that is too conservative and small-minded .

So now, I am going to prove my deep adoration for the place where I was raised, and explain what you can do with your days if you do choose to move there, or what to do if you’d like to use it as an escape hatch to relieve inner city tension – as I do.

Everyone knows (and many abhor) the Three Sisters experience, the overpriced Scenic World, and the Leura Mall. For now, I’m leaving them to Sunday drivers and tour groups in buses that have koalas painted on the side.

Here are nine great Blue Mountains activities. They are things I enjoy and that you may not know of. Actually, it’s only eight and I want you to add a ninth in the comments…

1) Garage Sales

even hoarders gotts sell up sometime

Oi. You payin' for that?

The community in the mountains has a few humble features you might never discover without scratching the surface; The art being created, the organic food being produced and the garage sales!

Check the local paper – The BM Gazette – on Friday night and line up the best addresses on your GPS. Be ready to go by 8am – the pro’s start even earlier. I often get around to six or eight ten within a couple of hours and usually within just a few suburbs. Most garage sales are chockas with retro bric-a-brac that city stores charge you much, much more for.

Plus, you get to go in strangers’ houses! They don’t mind. Many residents see it as a social event and invite the neighbours over. It’s as if selling their junk is just an excuse to meet people. Get involved.

2) Mount Hay lookout

Hay, not bad

"It's been such an amazing journey" - Every evicted reality TV star

With countless lookouts to choose from, this one is well away from the traffic and tourists but you aren’t at risk of needing a chopper lift you out.  The walk out is pretty splendid too so park your car early and repeat the mantra “It’s all about the journey”  – this is especially useful if you are underwhelmed by wide vistas of mountains that aren’t really that blue.

3) Shop at Frou Fou.

Obviously if there was a bigger pic i would have inserted that one not this one

In the old location. Some might say, vintage.

The owner of this unique store (now on Raymond Road, Springwood) is Parissa, a friend of mine who used to run it out of a tiny space in Lilyfield. Parissa is so aesthetically minded she always looks like she just left a Parisienne street market in the 1950s. That pretty much explains the store too.

4) Wentworth Falls Lake

taken with a Canon 20D by someone better than me

The lake is better than the falls. but both work much better in daylight.

Many long-time residents of the mountains never visit this lake or the slightly less glorious Glenbrook Lagoon. I’ll never understand why. Each offers a much richer experience than those man-made ponds you find in new estates. Expect ducks, playground equipment, more ducks and barbecues.

5) Lily’s Pad Cafe 

pull up a leaf

The barista here is a cross between Michael Franti and Ghandi

Leura has many good quality cafes but the Mall is busy and full of Mosman mothers on the weekend but luckily most people don’t realise this one has the best coffee, the best outdoor area and the food is, well, it’s all about the coffee and the outdoor seating.

6) Birdwood Gully Glow-Worms

dont feed the worms

Everything I want in a bushwalk. Brevity.

How many places in Sydney boast a twilight glowworm bushwalk. Oh boy is this a cool walk, ideal for the young, old or infirm. Ok, maybe not the infirm – a wheelchair wouldn’t get beyond the first few metres. But this is a mostly level wander in a gully just a couple of minutes from Springwood’s town centre It lights up with the Aussie equivalent of fireflies at dusk. You’re all done in under forty minutes. Delightful.

7) Sassafras Gully

Elle not sighted

In Sassafras, no one can hear you ... at all.

Head to the end of Sassafras Gully Road in Springwood to discover the natural water hole made famous by my friend Doug when he initiated ten years worth of camping adventures for me and my friends. It was then made even more famous as the place where Elle Macpherson went skinny-dipping for the film Sirens. It’s about a two-hour round trip. There’s a reasonably steep walk out. Take the whole family or just your backpack – whichever is easiest to get in the car.

8 ) The Carrington

Pull up a sofa

Newspapers circa 1900 cited her as the only rival to Raffles within The Empire. Raffles!

Lay about with a glass of port in the one of the library rooms of Katoomba’s Carrington Hotel. Where else can you wander into a majestic old hotel, pull up a Chesterton lounge and dally for hours, completely unnoticed. The landscaped grounds offer more space to laze about if you get a sunny day. If you want something more high-brow, you could try Lilianfels but I imagine they’d throw you out if you had too much fun.

9) Your turn.

I want to know your secret Blue Mountains experience… PLEASE??!!
Use the comments area below.

Paying for your Tree-Change

Saw an article yesterday…

Families given $7,000 to leave Sydney

Riiiiight. Except people move to the cities and outer-urban areas for opportunities, not just the lure of good espresso and more schools to choose from.

Then there is the more moderate weather, the better health care resources, the beach…

Read the full story of the government’s latest cash-bonuses-as-social-engineering initiative.

Surely an attitude change would have to come first; like those perceptions that all folks in regional areas are short-sighted, uneducated or filled small-town busybodies and Fossey’s outlets.

However, other generalisations are based in fact.

People in regional areas of Australia tend to have broader accents, have the worn skin of years spent laboring in the sun and they more frequently wear shapeless fleece tracksuits in public.

So if you are planning on a tree-change to the outer-urban fringe, as several of my friends are, remember this:

1) Once you leave the urban property market, you may never be able to re-enter it.
2) If you’re moving to save money, and you only go an hour or two from the city, I doubt the relatively small savings on your cost of living and/or your mortgage will be worth the trade-off. This goes double if you are planning to commute from your now distant location.
3) The thrill of a move away from the crowded, over-priced, hectic lifestyle will eventually wear off and you may then regret leaving the diversity, opportunities and energy a city usually delivers.
4) People who love you will miss you.

A Book Review: Sydney by Delia Falconer

cover of Sydney Delia Falconer

When I recently returned home from overseas – a five week stint in Europe and the UK – I felt immensely proud of Sydney and glad to be home.

But I was aware that this feeling was, in part, artificial. I knew what I really liked was the familiarity. Travelling abroad, for me at least, is like the discomfort you feel having to drive someone else’s car or use their pantry. From the first day back I wanted to embrace the inner west, smell Glebe’s dankness, gaze wistfully from the Anzac Bridge and have a brilliant Newtown coffee.

So when I saw this book and read a few paragraphs in Kinokuniya, it suited my state of mind – I wanted to know what made Sydney a shiny world-class city but also to understand how it differed from the other grand metropolises of the world.

Sydney answered my first desire wonderfully. (Just like when you visit Manly and always think these people have it all! It’s like always being on holiday!) And for many good reasons, I’m certain, the book avoided the comparisons of my second desire. (Ten minutes on the corso and you want out.)

Sydney, Delia suggests, is a mass of contradictions, all revolving around a central failing that it wants beauty but more readily embraces ugliness; It’s urge is to play and be playful but it is in fact an angry workaholic, Sydney delights in the finer points of life but also adores debauchery. Delia has a point. She has many and perhaps too many. There are myriad metaphors for Sydney and she writes with a colour that does the metropolitan area proud, but, like Darling Harbour, she just tries a bit too hard.

The author has an intriguing history herself and perhaps because of that, she feels at one with Sydney in many deeply profound ways. She grew up playing with the kids of Brett Whiteley and her parents knew Patrick White. She seems like something of a socialite but thankfully doesn’t get too high-brow on the reader. (She’s the Chatswood of writers.)

Delia has many fascinating sidelines about how our city functions and its people oscillate around our festivals and routines. She exposes our bigotry and our generosity equally. She draws on Kenneth Slessor’s great old poems and splices little known colonial history with recent memories.

Towards the end of the book, it all starts to unravel – like when Anzac Parade reaches La Perouse “Where are we?” I remember thinking. “It’s Mad Max meets Blacktown!” – and the book’s editor’s get sloppy as the author starts navel-gazing.

Maybe it’s all supposed to resemble a walk across the Harbour Bridge. It begins wonderfully, then half way along you realise the fences spoil the view and by the end you think it’d be fabulous if they’d just finished it right.

Other notes
Delia Falconer is the author of two novels, The Service of Clouds and The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers; both were shortlisted for major Australian and international awards, including the Miles Franklin and Commonwealth Prize.

Get Sydney at Boomerang Books

Why Jamie Oliver’s Italian will deliver for Sydney

It’s just a restaurant, yes, but if you are a foodie on a budget, the appearance of Jamie’s Italian in Sydney’s Pitt Street should already have you salivating.

My young family and I recently had two meals at the Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Bath, England, a restaurant that combined so many good things that it was one of the most memorable meals in a five-week trip across four countries.

From the outside, it wasn’t much, and in the ancient, historical theme park of Bath, it was disappointingly modern. But once inside, any disappointment waned in response to the clever layout and countless cool touches.

From the entrance, you can already see more meat than your local butcher, framing what appears to be the first of three kitchens. It’s an Italian restaurant – vegetarians are welcome but ignored…

Next delightful touch we saw was a display of fresh bread – like all the pasta used, it was baked daily and on the premises. Not half bad.

The vibe is fast-paced and noisy but the good was quick and the crowd young, so it any kitchen noise seemed intentional – the customers were supposed to notice the food being created, everything designed to give you an immersive food experience.

Next thing we noticed was how well the place took care of kids. The waiters were professional without being uptight, so our spills and demands were all fine. They had a high-chair waiting for us at our table. The waiter fell in love with our son. And then he brought….

KIDS’ CRAYONS!

Seriously, some joints hate you from the moment you walk in with kids so this was blowing our collective minds. Cafe owners of Sydney take note, if you appreciate and cater to the children, then like adults, they will like you more and be more compliant! It’s not brain surgery.

So our food hadn’t even arrived and we all had huge Dolmio grins.

And then the food did arrive. I can’t recall exactly what it was but each choice delivered and was less than $AU20.

Kids were happy – and drowning in good spicy sauces. We enjoyed the delicate tastes of fresh herbs with Jamie’s flourishes hidden somewhere on every plate.

I should point out that Jamie wasn’t there and staff said he had only ever dropped in once when they chalked his outline on a ready-made wall.

This IS a franchise. Oliver is good at it (he made $30,000/hour last year and he’s about to make a move into Facebook games) and this food chain certainly cashes in on his popularity, but unlike the Tefal saucepans that bear his name yet you can still ruin a meal with them, the restaurants can claim to deliver on a menu that he has created and tasted.

Plus, I believe they deliver on his mantra – good food for everyone, all the time.

He recently established a Ministry of Food – Australia including a centre in Ipswich, Queensland, that will help to ’empower, educate and engage as many people as possible to love and enjoy good food.’

But let’s not forget dessert.

These were also on display as you walked in. So the decision was taken care of earlier on.
Wifey went with a chocolate tart but I loved the sound of baked nectarines sprinkled with brown sugar and nutmeg. I chose it because I thought, “I have all those ingredients, why aren’t I making this?”

And so, Jamie’s Italian had delivered on a third Oliver mantra; ‘Keep Cooking Skills Alive’.

I was inspired, not to eat out more, but to be more creative when cooking at home.

Bish bash bosh, sorted.

Jamie’s Italian is set to open later this year at the location of 107 Pitt Street, Sydney (where Industrie wine bar used to be).

twitter.com/jamieoliver http://www.jamieoliver.com/

The Keli Lane twist

Does anyone know what is going on with this? She doesn’t appear to be a manipulating killer capable of pure evil. Yet she makes it through an entire court case and heads off to jail for the good part of her middle age without ever giving a plausible explanation of her missing baby’s whereabouts… kelilane_header.jpg Then, today, just two days after the verdict is delivered, a taxi driver appears – as if out of nowhere – and has a plausible story of how he witnessed Keli dumping her baby in bushland. (Read the taxi driver’s story) The still-shocking event happened during a taxi ride from the hospital and the story ends with the baby be taken away by a mystery woman!!?? Not out of morbid curiosity but …. oh actually it it probably is. Here are my immediate questions… Where was the taxi driver during the months of cross-examination and blanket media coverage? Where was the taxi driver last week when Channel 7 offered half a million dollars for this kind of info Who is this lady who picked up the baby? Was it arranged drop-off point? Why leave a newborn baby with a bottle unless you expect it to be picked up and the bottle is for the new caretaker? wanted300.jpg

What do you think? I want to hear some theories…

I also want to know the baby is still alive.

UPDATE: The twist also has a twist. The taxi driver making the claims has been identified as having suffered mental illness and had their licence cancelled at the time of baby Tegan’s birth. Keli has denied she dumped the baby in bushland.

me tweeting

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