This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2006 Travels May 5-8


We were aiming to get to do days from 8am to 5pm, which would give us pay for 8.5 hours. However, I soon found that, once most of the kitchen work was left to me, that I sometimes needed to go longer to get it all done. My records later showed that, in the first two weeks here, the earliest I finished work was 4.45pm, the latest 6.15pm. Over twelve days, I worked 106 hours.

Boss 1 worked with me in the kitchen for the first three days I was there. Then he and B went off to Darwin for their half-week break. When he came back, he appeared satisfied that I could manage, except on really busy days, and left me to it. Boss 2 tended to spend more time in the kitchen on his half weeks at Litchfield. Then it was all a bit less pressured.

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The kitchen

The days quickly fell into a routine. Into the cafe at 8am. Make sure there were burger rolls out of the freezer and defrosting in baskets by the stove – or that bags of fresh ones were filled into the racks. Slice a good number of these in half, horizontally, and put back in the bags to stay fresh.

Prepare the makings for the lettuce cups: grate carrot, slice the other items, assemble cups – two or three large trays of same, depending on how busy we thought we might be. Weekends were often busier.

Slice up the tomato, onion and cucumber for the bus groups – one large icecream container of each  per thirty people. Take these to outside fridges once done. If – as occasionally happened – the mesclun mix kept out there was running low, or had run out, then I must wash and spread out lettuce to dry, on trays, instead.

A complication of the place was that they did not have enough cool storage. The cafe had only been going for a few years. So the stocks of salad and vegetable matter, and the large pieces of cold meats, and other bulk items like the big bags of minced beef, were stored at the Wongaling Community school coolroom – about 5kms away.

On a good morning, by the time I started at 8 am, or soon after, one of the bosses would have done the run down there to pick up what would be required for the day. On a bad day, kitchen work was put out of schedule by the supply run being done late. I soon discovered that if the one bad tempered boss was in a perverse mood, he would deliberately delay the supply run, to put pressure on me in the kitchen! Just because he could….

The hot water urn for coffees needed to be filled and turned on. Coffee beans must be taken from the freezer and ground.

Fridge stocks of things like pieces of defrosted fish had to be checked and replenished from the freezers if necessary.

When Boss 2 was on duty he would make a large tray of apple slice for the cafe, using canned pie apple filling.

Once the daily bus groups had phoned their numbers through, the cold meat platters had to be assembled, per group. I would set out the right number of platters, slice one type of meat and arrange on the platters, then do the second type and arrange, then the salami, to finish. Platters would be covered, labelled by group and put in the outside fridges. I would cut extra meat quantities to go in our inside fridge, to be used for sandwich orders through the day.

I would do extra containers of the tomato, cucumber  and onion for bus groups, once numbers were known, if I hadn’t guessed right, earlier.

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The cafe environs – very lush, very green

I did not like it that the meat slicing machine, which was manually operated, had no guide. It was broken off. One used their hand to push the meat piece down onto the saw. This needed considerable care when a meat piece was getting down towards its end. Otherwise, fingers could be lost! Either OH&S had different standards up north, or they were winging it!

Watermelon had to be sliced and the wedges arranged on platters that also went out to the bus fridges.

Some bus groups had pre-ordered sandwiches, rather than the buffet, and these had to be made ahead, in the quantities and varieties that had been phoned through.

By the time all this was done, there was usually a trickle of customers coming into the cafe, so there began to be cooking to be done and this would swell to a really busy time from about 11am to 2pm.

Orders were written down by whichever boss or B was serving in the cafe, and put on a slide. In the kitchen, I/we filled the orders in the order they had come in, and sent them out with their docket attached.

There were usually drinks to be made, as well, although a lot of customers bought wine or soft drink at the cafe counter. Sometimes B would help out by coming in and making the drinks. But one could be cooking burgers, making sandwiches, heating quiches, making coffee or milkshakes or iced coffee, all at once.

Generally, this period of the day seemed to fly by.

I would go to lunch once the cafe orders had gone quiet. My lunch was usually some of the cold meats, and salad. John quickly got into the habit of getting me to cook him a bacon and egg roll – or two – for his lunch. He had that well before I had time to go to lunch. There was a little roofed rotunda off to one side from the bus group area, and I would sometimes go and eat lunch there – if the bus groups had all finished and gone.

Once my thirty minutes of peace was over it was back to work. There were the three types of bulk salads to be made for next day’s bus groups.

The kitchen often needed cleaning up, too – there could be a small mountain of dishes, glasses, plates etc to be washed, from the cafe lunch trade. Sometimes, the part time lady came in and did some of this, before she knocked off at about 2pm.

The dregs of the coffee plungers that had been used in the cafe, and the larger ones that were used out in the bus area, were collected in old two litre milk containers, and eventually strained, to become the base mix for the iced coffees. These were then easily topped off with milk and a scoop of ice cream.

There might be quiches to be made, at some stage in the day. These were kept in the fridge and micro-waved as ordered. Puff pastry was filled into pie dishes, the filling was corn kernels, asparagus (tin), some grated cheese, egg and milk mix. These were vegetarian. Chopped bacon could be added to some, for the carnivore version. Usually, a dozen were made at a time, and cooked in the oven.

If the bulk mince meat and chopped onion mix that was used for the basic burger patties, had run low, a fresh lot must be made – involving several kilos of mince and a lot of chopped onion.

The last task for the day was to make the mango cheesecake/s for the next day. The most I ever made in one late afternoon was five of these. The ring tins used were quite large – each one cut up into sixteen good sized serves – so there was a lot of cream cheese, cream and mango involved.

When we knocked off for the day, it was into a shower, which always felt great, after the heat and greasy air of the kitchen. Then we would sit out under our awning, facing the creek and bush, with two or three cans of beer, for happy hour – or longer. It was very restful and a good way to unwind after the day.

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Happy hour outlook from our camp

Eventually, it was time to think about tea. We could scavenge food for our dinners from what was in stock in the cafe. It could be difficult, though, getting in there at tea time to get food stuffs, and even worse to try to cook something there, if one of the bosses was doing dinner orders for the cafe.

The dinner menu was a bit more fancy than the lunch one. Diners could have an upmarket open hamburger, or barra poached in cream and garlic, or steak, for example. The barra was served with steamed rice – done in an electric rice cooker. The bus group bulk salads that I would have freshly made in the afternoon,  were raided for side salads. The dinner trade was intermittent.

I soon found that I tended to be so tired that all I wanted was a tub of yoghurt, which I had stocks of in the van, and replenished from Batchelor whenever I could. Since he’d had a cooked lunch, John was happy to have cold meats and salads, which were easy to collect from the cafe stocks.

We did not stay up late!

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2006 Travels May 4


Another day of learning……

The bulk salads for the bus group lunches were made in the afternoon, for the next day, after the cafe lunch rush had died down. Three such salads were to be served each day – from a repertoire of coleslaw, pasta salad, Waldorf salad, potato salad. Once I got into the routine of it all, the actual choice of which three I would make each afternoon was mine.

Boss 1 did not like commercial dressings, especially mayonnaise, so sour cream was used to dress the coleslaw and potato salads, but he did use mayo on the Waldorf one. The pasta salad was one of his own devising: combining pasta spirals, olives, semi-dried tomatoes, capers, and dressed with the oil from the jar of tomatoes.

Once made, the bulk salads were stored in fridges out by the wash up area, part of the system of minimising traffic through the kitchen in the day time. The system worked well.

The bus groups were also served mesclun mix, from boxes that lived in the outside fridges; tomato wedges, sliced red onion, sliced cucumber. One of the first tasks each morning was to prepare ice cream containers of each of the last three and put them in the outside fridges – one container of each for each thirty guests. Given that, as the season built, there were regularly bus numbers over 100, that was quite a bit of slicing!

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The track from the main road into the cafe

But there was more. Each morning, once bus numbers were known, meat platters had to be assembled for each group. More slicing! Much, much more slicing…..There would be – per person – two slices of ham, two of corned beef, and one of salami.

Sliced bread came from the freezers for them, and individual butter and margarine portions were kept in the bus group fridges.

B ran the bus group area – arranging the right number of chairs in separate group table clusters, setting out the foods, supervising. J soon was roped in to help her.

The cafe  burger offerings included standard mince beef patty one; kangaroo, using strips of roo meat; chilli – using a really hot sauce obtained from a Darwin supplier; barra, using frozen Nile perch; vegie, using a frozen hash brown; Chicken, using a frozen, crumbed schnitzel. Each of these used different salad and dressing combinations. For the first week or so, I was always having to surreptitiously refer to my little notebook to check the assembly of anything other than the standard beef burger, with its meat, bacon, egg, cheese slice and salad.

The burgers went into a standard white hamburger roll, which would be heated/toasted on the hot plate. One of the early morning jobs was to slice a lot of these and have them thus ready for the lunch action.

The salad component,  used in all except the chilli burger, was made up each morning, in advance. The so-called lettuce cups: a cup shaped iceberg lettuce leaf containing grated carrot, tomato slices, red capsicum rings, cucumber slices, red onion slices. These were assembled on large trays. It was then simply a matter of inverting a cup on top of the assembled burger contents, putting on the top part of the bread bun, and putting a long wooden skewer down through it all, to hold it together. Quite clever.

The cooked burger components were done on a hotplate that was part of the stove. It was only large enough to make about four burgers at a time.

It was evident that the two or three hours from starting at 8am, were going to be an absolute flurry of work, prepping for both the bus groups and the cafe trade.

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Cafe veranda eating area, outdoor table, bus group area beyond it

I watched, and helped a bit with the lunch trade, which was not too large. At least, the making of the occasional ordered sandwich did not hold any special secrets.

I was quite surprised that the vast majority of the cafe customers ordered some sort of burger, rather than sandwiches. I’d have expected a more even mix.

By knock-off time, John’s feet were sore, after a day of working on them.

Before dark, I phoned son to wish him happy birthday – 32. No mobile signals out here, so had to use the office phone, which was in a corner of the cafe, behind the counter. Not at all private.

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2005 Travels April 30


John stoked up the donkey again, first thing.

It was the usual breakfast routine.

I hurried to make up rounds of egg and lettuce, and cheese spread and celery sandwiches, plus some slice, for A and K to take with them. They left not long after breakfast. I was quite sorry to see them go! With only two of them in camp, and just us a lot of the time, they had come to feel like friends.

But there was no time to reflect on that, apart from feeling that their stay had been successful for us, and really enjoyable for them.

The couple – V and P – were going to have an exploring day, so I packed lunch for them too.

They  planned to walk along the Safari Camp Creek, to the house and the main river. P arranged with O to collect a canoe at the house and then canoe upstream on the Calvert as far as Surprise Falls. O would drive out and collect them at the Escarpment water hole at 5pm. This did not work quite as planned – as John predicted, it proved impossible to follow the creek through the dense vegetation, and they finished up taking to the vehicle track we used.

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Thick vegetation along the creek

Once the camp was empty, and John had headed off to put in some significant time in the vegie patch, I did the usual cleaning, then went to check A and K’s tents, and close them up until I had time to strip and clean them, after all guests had left. The lovely K had left us a $100 tip! I was so thrilled that he’d had such a great time that he wanted to do that. They’d written really positive comments in the Guest Book, too.

With the guests out for the day, I did not have the interruption of lunch service, which was appreciated. I was able to have a leisurely shower, for once.

O brought the requested barra down to the camp, in the morning. It was still mostly frozen and clearly had only been taken out of the freezer this morning. When I investigated, after there had been some time for it to thaw a little, realized that it had not been scaled before being frozen! Late morning, fish and I went up the track a ways, and I sat down on a clump of grass, to scale this large, slippery, very cold and un-co-operative fish. At least, barra scales are big ones! It probably would have made quite a comical photo, with me looking like I was cuddling the damned thing. But I was not thinking happy thoughts about O as I worked, though.

I made pannacottas and set them to chill. Put together a green salad. Wrapped fish in foil, with the garlic, ginger, spring onion flavourings, ready to bake in oven later.

O took John with him to the pick up point at the southern part of the Escarpment – so John would know for the future. They had to wait for a while, whilst P had a try at fishing in the water hole. Unsuccessfully. The canoe was left, securely moored, at the river, for future guest use.

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Mud map of area around safari camp and house (not to any scale)

By the time the party got back from the Escarpment, time was getting on, and they still had to clean up before tea. So I did not have to worry about serving pre-dinner nibbles.

Dinner was the foil-baked barra, French fries, salad, followed by pannacotta with berry coulis (mashed tinned raspberries and strawberries). It seemed a success. I went in and sat with the group, over coffee. It meant we were rather late getting the dishes done, though, and things set up for the morning.

Feeding these two who booked on such short notice had taught me the wisdom of always having a large frozen fish, preferably a barra, for emergency use. I told O to replenish that supply, as soon as he could!

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2005 Travels April 29


It was the same breakfast routine as before. The cooked breakfast was bacon, eggs, half a warmed tomato.

I was very glad that I had thought to buy good coffee bags to bring with us for the camp – it was so much better to be able to serve “proper” coffee, of sorts. The complement the choices of assorted teabags that I had set out in a small basket. I boiled the water for drinks in one of the big kettles and set it out on a board on the meal table, so guests could make their own drinks.

O took the men out and about, with Anzac biscuits for smoko. That batch of biscuits had lasted well.

He had remembered to defrost the mince – and to bring it down to camp when he came for the men.

I quickly tidied up the men’s tents and checked that one was ready for the new people to occupy. Added an extra jug of water to those in the fridge. Cleaned the showers and toilet.

Made two loaves of bread.

The mail plane came in during the morning. After  last week’s fiasco, I had only asked O to put in a small order, assuming he would be paying more careful attention to what he was doing. Just bread, salami, and a couple of tins of Carnation milk, for cooking with, specifically a coffee mousse recipe. I didn’t know about the extra guests in time to order any extras for them. But should have enough to manage – provided they did not decide to stay too much longer!

Somehow, my order for two tins of Carnation  milk had become twenty tins! The unimpressed pilot had made some comment about pushing the weight limits, which only became clear when I saw what had come. I didn’t know if the error was O’s or the supermarket’s and it seemed best not to ask! Couldn’t see myself using that much evaporated milk in a whole season!

What did come in the mail bag , and which O brought down to camp at lunchtime, was a box of books from the Taminmin Library. So exciting – but I wouldn’t have time to even open the box for a look, until maybe late tonight – or after guests had all departed.

I had to cater for lunch in camp today. Made a bean salad – using tinned beans, with additions like capsicum and onion. Cooked the Long Tom – in foil, in the oven. Supplemented that and the bean salad with tinned tuna, warmed up leftover ratatouille, tinned beetroot, with some fresh fruit to follow.

After cleaning up from lunch, I made a slice, destined for morning teas – Everyone’s Favourite Slice – a sort of shortbread, jam and coconut concoction. Also made chocolate hedgehog slice.

Prepared the bol sauce and had it simmering for a long, slow time, to make it nice and thick and rich.

Made a Greek salad for tea, and a fresh fruit salad for dessert. Grated up a chunk of parmesan cheese (from my van fridge!). Hard boiled eggs for tomorrow, mashed them. Chopped up celery and lettuce too.

The new guests arrived mid-afternoon. O had taken A and K back out for another fish, so it was arranged that John would meet their plane and bring them to camp in our Truck. Their reaction, upon arriving at camp,  was the same as A and K’s – “Wow”. Because of its lush green-ness, it really did look great.

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I served them afternoon tea of drinks and biscuits, then they went to settle in and explore the camp. They were relatively young and had a job that took them all over the world, crewing the luxury yacht of some wealthy American. $37 million’s worth of boat!

While they were settling in, I got to making pre-dinner nibbles – bottled salsa and biscuits, olives, cheese cubes with little cornichons,  peanuts.

Dinner went well. The dining table in the tent seated six comfortably – O and John ate with the others. The spag bol turned out well, with grated parmesan to top it, the Greek salad, with fruit salad and hedgehog slices to follow.

Then O lit a fire in the fire pit and they all sat round that, with their after dinner coffees, talking.

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Fire pit area by the creek

O told me he had a frozen barra at the house. I asked him to defrost it overnight.

By the time all was done in the kitchen and the guests had made their way off to their tents for the night, it was 10.30pm. Long day. Last thing, as we walked off to our camp, was for John to stoke the hot water donkey, to ensure warm water for morning ablutions.