Mrs Pom’s encounters with Australia’s deadliest creatures

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Picture: Fluffy, the great white shark, which was rescued at Manly Beach this week. Credit: Nick Dawkins, Facebook.

Australia may be renowned for its sunshine, beautiful beaches and Kylie Minogue – but it also has a reputation for being home to most of the world’s deadliest creatures.

Sharks immediately come to mind.

But if you live by the beach – even if you are a Pom – after a while you tend to relax about the prospect of actually meeting one in the water.

They are out there, but the rule is don’t swim at dawn or dusk. Plus, there are some shark nets, we are told.

So, when a great white shark was washed up ALIVE on Manly Beach yesterday, it was a reminder that we do live alongside some rather dangerous creatures here in Oz.

And, it also inspired me to write a post about Mrs Pom’s encounters with Australia’s most deadly – and disgusting  – species since arriving here four years ago.

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Picture: Mrs Pom’s early Christmas present.

Deadly Redback in our Christmas tree

I’ve always had a real Christmas tree, and I was surprised to hear most Aussies go for fake ones. However, Mrs Pom wasn’t going to drop her standards, just because we’d moved Down Under. No, I was going to pay an extortionate amount of money – $90 – for a real one which would obviously lose all its needles due to the heat.

The first year, we had no problems, and actually the needles held on pretty well. I now know I was naïve and had actually put my family’s life danger.

The second year, my parents were out for Christmas and were helping me heave this huge 7ft tree into the holder. While Grandad Pom was tightening the screws around the trunk Granny Pom and myself were steadying the tree, arms wrapped around it with our faces basically amongst the branches.

It was at this point that Granny Pom said, “I hope there’s no spiders in this tree” and I looked into the branches and came eyeball to eyeball with a Redback.

On my spider chart, which I had helpfully stuck to the inside door of the broom cupboard as soon as we got here, it said: “Fatal bites have been recorded” next to an identical picture of the Redback in our tree.

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Picture: A vital guide for any Pom living in Oz.

After telling the oldies to keep the tree still, I swiftly got a plastic cup and plate and captured the dangerous Redback.

I’d like to point out that I remained calm at all times and dealt with it like I’d imagine Crocodile Dundee would have.

And, after getting a photo and immediately posting on Facebook, we released it outside.

Next year, Little Pom (the creative one) and I made our own beach-style Christmas tree out of wood from Bunnings. No more real trees for this family.

Cockroaches falling from the ceiling

While I may have remained calm when coming face to face with a Redback, I was not so cool when at work, a cockroach fell from the air vent in the ceiling onto my colleague’s arm. She is also a Pom and did us Brits proud by brushing it off her arm like a pro, while I jumped back ten paces and screamed.

I have an extreme hatred of cockies – as Aussies call them.

While they seem to be in abundance at work, which is in the centre of Manly, we hardly see them in our house. Perhaps one or two a year and while they’re massive – that’s a good thing apparently because whatever happens you don’t want the small, dirty ones known as ‘Germans’. I don’t like them whatever their size, full stop.

So, imagine the worst place to find a cockroach apart from on your plate or your fork? How about on your toothbrush?  And, I found it. On my one. MINE! Late one night I went into the bathroom and saw a huge mother of a cockie on my toothbrush. Cue, more screaming.

The cockie escaped into a crack in the door fame – perhaps behind the walls there’s millions of them. Those are the kind of nightmares I have.

Needless to say, the toothbrush went straight into the bin and I now always put it away inside the bathroom cupboard.

Sea lice in your pants

Thankfully this hasn’t happened to me, but the younger Poms have suffered on occasion.

Apparently, sea lice are actually tiny jellyfish that travel in large numbers in warm summer waters, quite often when there’s lots of seaweed about.

They are microscopic, so the first you’ll know about them is when you start to itch. They have a tendency to get trapped inside your rashie or boardies, which is most unpleasant and painful, I understand.

There’s another type of sea lice, which are ones that live off the mucus and blood of fish. And, they’re even nastier. A recent story of a young guy who was being eaten alive when he walked into the ocean in Melbourne went viral.

The tiny parasite that can give you a meat allergy – or worse

Ticks have been getting bad press in the UK, but guess what? Here, they can give you an allergy to certain types of meat, such as beef, lamb or pork.

Yes, that’s right. Imagine never being able to enjoy a sausage sizzle, a well-used Aussie term for the act of cooking sausages on a barbie, or a steak ever again.

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Picture: The said tick embedded in Little Pom’s head. Yuck.

These blood-sucking critters also carry other nasty bacteria including one that causes a condition similar to Lyme disease, which can lead to chronic fatigue, although it is not recognised in Australia yet and so therefore there’s no treatment. Brilliant.

To make matters worse, the northern beaches is a worldwide tick hotspot and we haven’t gone unscathed.

Most bites don’t result in long-term illness, but there’s an estimated 1000 people living on the beaches with a meat allergy and others complaining of Lyme-like symptoms.

Little Pom appears to be a magnet for them. Argh!

One tick took a liking to Little Pom’s scalp and promptly embedded its head in his head (so to speak). We froze it with Wart-Off, the current recommended way to remove them, but when it refused to drop off we spent three hours in emergency at Manly Hospital waiting for a nurse to remove it.

Statistically, we’re much more likely to suffer a tick-related illness than come face to face with a shark, which is why they’re my most feared Aussie creature we’ve encountered so far.

Incidentally, the juvenile great white was named Fluffy by its rescuers. A great example of Aussie humour right there.

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By mrspominoz

Mrs Pom’s top tips for Vivid Sydney

 

IT’s not easy being the only female in an increasingly testosterone-ruled family.

In order to bond with the younger males in my brood, I’ve been regularly risking my life because that’s the only chance I get to hang out with them these days.

In the last 12 months I’ve been canyoning, abseiling, I’ve flung myself into icy water from a great height (well, maybe three metres), ridden a quad bike across steep sand dunes, zip lined (three times), done an assault course through the treetops which left me with blisters on my thumbs, kayaked rapids and ridden on a Segway (twice and where on the first occasion I ended up on my backside in the mud, much to the amusement of the others)IMG_3651

Mr and Mrs Pom getting ready for another adrenalin-filled activity.

I’ve even taken up golf, one of their more gentile pursuits, so I don’t get left home alone.

Last month we went to Terrey Hills Par 3 Golf.

I loved it, though I’m not sure Mr Pom did. On my seventeenth attempt to hit the ball out the bunker, he picked it up and told me I needed to know when to give up. We also lost three balls, all my fault.

I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I had little Pomettes?

I’m thinking nail bars and leisurely girly shopping trips.

My last mall expedition with Teen Pom involved me barricading him into a Cotton On cubicle and throwing as many items in over the top knowing I only had a ten-minute window to get him a winter wardrobe.

Despite all this, last week Little Pom and I enjoyed a new activity together, where we didn’t have to put our bodies on the line.

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Little Pom’s photo of me at Vivid.

We went on a photography walking tour of Vivid, Sydney’s three-week long light festival, where buildings, boats and iconic landmarks are lit up.

First I had to convince him it was going to be better than the last time we went two years ago.

You see on that occasion we did it all wrong.

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Little Pom’s first time using an SLR. He didn’t do too badly – one for the wall.

The four of us had gone on the last Friday of the event and the queues to experience some of the installations around Circular Quay were frustratingly long and there were no clear positions to take any snaps of anything other than the backs of people’s heads.

We ended up feeding our grumpy kids fast food on the street and getting the first ferry back to Manly.

Last year the memories were still fresh and I had no takers.

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Circular Quay captured by Mrs Pom.

But, after writing a Manly Daily article on photographer Jenn Cooper who is one of only eight Canon Collective ambassadors in Australia and who lives in Collaroy, I was invited on the media family photo tour. There are various public ones which run throughout the festival.

She promised me crowd-free views, the use of their Canon cameras, expert tuition on how to take the best pictures of the harbour lights and a free A3 print.

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Little Pom has fun with his camera, with some tips from Canon Collective.

I was inspired and Little Pom was too. He was also keen to get his hands on a “proper camera”, which turned out to be a Canon EOS 80D.

I took my own, a Canon Power Shot SX700 HS, in the hope I’d learn how to use other settings apart from automatic.

The walk was midweek and so it wasn’t crowded at all.

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A long exposure catching the light trails from the boats on the harbour. Credit: Mrs Pom.

On the paying tours, you get to go to several secret locations which are good for getting photos.

We went to one of them, the top of the Overseas Passenger Terminal, where a section is set aside exclusively for Canon customers during Vivid and which has perfect views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Circular Quay.

If you’re not on the tour, you can access the level below for free and still get great views, just not quite as good.

We were there for around an hour, although I could have stayed longer, before we headed back to the Museum of Contemporary Art where the Canon team is based during Vivid and where we could choose our best photographs for printing.

We got to keep the memory card too, so we have all the photos we took that night.

They allowed Little Pom two prints and I have to say they are so good, they will grace our walls.

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Here we both are on the photo tour.

My little photographer and I are even considering popping back across the water to explore Vivid further and take some more photos on our own.

And, we’re both keen to join Jenn Cooper’s free Canon Collective photography workshops at locations across the northern beaches.

She hosts astro sessions at Long Reef, sunrise and sunset workshops at various beaches, as well as sessions for mums wanting to learn how to take good family portraits.

103A9942For details of the photo tours and workshops go to canon.com.au.

Mrs Pom’s Vivid tips:

*Go midweek and be there by 6pm when the lights come on

*If you have little ones that like to run around head to the Botanic Gardens or Taronga Zoo, which have light installations too

*If you have older ones who are interested in photography try the passenger terminal or the Cahill Expressway and use a tripod so you can take long exposures

*If you want to get a cool family photo go to the far side of the Overseas Passenger Terminal where Canon photographers will take a photo of you in front of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge – and where you will also receive a free print

*Be careful of the wildlife (Little Pom lost his burger to a seagull)

By mrspominoz

10 things Mrs Pom didn’t know about Australia before moving here

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1.Aussies often use the adjective beautiful to describe someone. Not because they are a ‘bit of alright’ as we might say in the UK, but because they are beautiful on the inside. Ah.

2. On the flip side, while parents back home might refer to their darling kids who are playing up, as little pickles, here they say it as it really is. When one mum in good humour referred to her toddler as a little bastard, I was genuinely shocked. I mean who actually says what they are thinking out loud?  This week when a dad friend of mine yelled to his teen showing off on the soccer pitch, ‘You’re a tosser Bruce’, * I laughed loudly. He was being a tosser.

3. *That’s not his real name. Sadly, I have not met a Bruce since living here. But, I have come across boys called Jaxon, Hudson and Jefferson and girls called Azalea, Sunny and Acacia, though that just might be a northern beaches thing. When London friends of ours came to Sydney, we realised our children sounded rather foreign. The combination of our families meant our daily roll call sounded like a list of former kings. When one day I called out ‘William, Charlie, Harry come here,’ the names were so English it turned heads, with one Aussie shouting out, ‘I think you’re missing Diana’. By the way that’s my aunt’s name.

4. Contrary to belief, Sydney can be mighty chilly in the winter. I have never been colder in my life (inside our house) as I have here. Most properties aren’t insulated properly and don’t have central heating. Bizarrely, it can often feel warmer outside the house. If the sun is out in winter it can sometimes reach a balmy 20 degrees centigrade, or more, but you will still find many Sydneysiders wearing beanies and scarves – with their boardies (swim shorts) and thongs (flip flops), of course.

5. Riding a skateboard is not just for children in Australia. It is a bone fide form of transport for adults too. Don’t be surprised to see middle-aged men speeding past along Manly seafront.

6. Kids here buy sushi at the school canteen.

7. Aussie TV is absolutely terrible, with an unbelievable number of ads. But what is worse is that the programmes (spelt programs here) don’t always start or finish at the time stated, so quite often you miss the last ten minutes of a show you have recorded. The equivalent of Sky is Foxtel and there is a button on the remote you can press that extends your recording by 20 minutes to compensate for this discrepancy.

8. Since moving here I have swapped my morning BBC news fix, for the dumbed down Channel 9 Today Show. It’s my very guilty pleasure. Although, there is practically no news on this show –I have to source that from elsewhere during my day – I love the larrikin that is Karl Stefanovic. While, he could be described as puerile, he is also an excellent journo when he’s not messing about. His better half on the show is the glamorous Lisa Wilkinson, also a brilliant interviewer. Check out Karl’s funniest moments here: http://bit.ly/1H3yxAO

9. Forget rounders, summer school sport options on the northern beaches include stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing, beach volleyball and sailing.

10. Be prepared to collect your post from random places such as petrol stations and newsagents. I was bemused to get a note from the postman to say my parcel had been dropped off at the local Caltex petrol station. Apparently, that’s normal.

Are you an expat? What have you learned about Oz you didn’t know before you moved here?

By mrspominoz

Don’t mess with Aussie customs (as Johnny Depp has found out)

In the words of straight talking Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, Pistol and Boo should bugger off back to the United States or be killed.

If you’re not Down Under you may not have heard about this leading news item showing on every Australian TV channel and website and trending on Twitter.

So, let me fill you in. Pistol and Boo are Hollywood actor Johnny Depp’s two Yorkshire terriers.

He is currently on the Gold Coast filming his latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

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He also appears to have allegedly smuggled his pooches into the country on a private jet without declaring them to customs.

It was only when he took them to a local dog groomer that customs clocked on that he had brought his dogs into the country, illegally. And, we know Australia’s stance on illegal immigrants? They’re tough.

Joyce then stated that even though Depp was a movie star who had been voted sexiest man alive twice, it didn’t mean he could break the law, before saying: “It’s time that Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States.”

Brilliant.

He then told Depp he had 50 hours to get the dogs out of the country or they would be euthanised, sparking a Twitter frenzy with hashtags such as #WarOnTerrier and giving me a much needed boost on a boring Thursday.

So, do I feel sorry for Depp? No bloody way!

Ask any Pom who has moved to Australia with their possessions, it’s not easy.

Australia is renowned for its strict customs laws and fair enough, the government wants to protect this beautiful country, its natural flora and native wildlife.

Nevertheless, it was surprising as to what Australian customs deemed “dangerous” including our vacuum cleaner (even after a thorough clean), antiques, wicker baskets, wooden spoons, wooden and plastic chopping boards that had been used and any scratched plastic food containers or water bottles (which was all of them).

We didn’t ship our car over because it would have meant having it cleaned by specialists and then being lifted by crane into a container, so as not to bring any contaminants from British roads into the country. We were warned it was highly likely customs would demand it be cleaned again at this end, at our own cost. We didn’t bother.

We also spent a fun afternoon washing every pair of shoes, football boots, rugby boots, trainers and wellies of all trace of mud and dirt. Along with scooters, roller blades and our four bikes (thank you dad!).

We were also discouraged from shipping medicines, foods, alcohol, as they would all need to be declared. So, we didn’t.

It was hard work, but we got here. Legally.

So, Depp, you may be a movie star and have been voted sexiest man twice but I have no sympathy for you either.

After all the blood, sweat and tears of our move Down Under, the Pom family is unanimous – Boo and Pistol should go.

Next time, get your paperwork sorted like the rest of us.

By mrspominoz

Where are all the kangaroos?

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Picture caption: Guaranteed marsupial spotting at The Basin, Sydney.

When we first arrived in Sydney in 2013, the little Poms were unimpressed. “But, where are all the kangaroos?” they said. Our youngest revealed he had expected to see roos bouncing down the streets and a koala in every tree. “It’s just like England, but sunnier,” he complained.

We knew we had to do something about that. So, last year we went outback. Even then we didn’t see any roos until we were a good 1,000km into our trip. Then we saw plenty. Read about our must-do road trip published in Escape, Best Weekend and online at dailytelegraph.com.au.

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The Pom family at an outback pub in the middle of nowhere.

When our last lot of visitors were here, we all took a trip to North Queensland and saw some amazing underwater wildlife. But, while our lovely guests were bowled over with turtles and stingrays, I could tell they were disappointed at not spotting a roo. After all, they’d been in the country two weeks and not even glimpsed a bouncing marsupial.

I mean it’s not the fault of the tourist. Australia has really milked the kangaroo. It’s on every Australian-made product, on some of the coins, plastered across the national airline and you can barely move in Manly’s many tourist shops for kangaroo paraphernalia.

But, what if you want to see a real one? The zoo would have been a straightforward exercise, but no, our visitors wanted to see one in its natural habitat and why not?

With just one day left in Sydney in which to find a roo in the wild, I took them to The Basin in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. This oasis is just a 15 minute ferry ride from Palm Beach wharf. It has a grass area overlooking Pittwater and a beautiful, sheltered beach and an inland lagoon.

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The lagoon at The Basin, Pittwater. Picture credit: Julie Cross.

Now, I must own up. I’ve never seen kangaroos here, but wallabies yes. I just hoped our guests wouldn’t notice.

The wallabies didn’t disappoint. As we stepped off the pier we could see marsupials in abundance.

And, what’s more, several had little joeys. C’mon, I want to hear a collective “aah”.

The wallabies were obviously use to humans and did not seem in the least bit bothered that the paparazzi had turned up.

A thousand photos later, we turned our backs on them and dipped our toes in the water. Job done.

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“No worries”. These wallabies were well use to humans wanting photos. Picture credit: Julie Cross

By mrspominoz

Mrs Pom finds her Mr Motivator

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Caption: Joe, from Manly Beach Running Club and Mrs Pom. Just to remind you, we started at sea level!

One of the first things I did when I arrived in Sydney was google running clubs in Manly and up popped Manly Beach Running Club, which just happens to be run by a fellow Pom called Joe, an Essex boy no less. I have a soft spot for Essex boys (well, I have to say that as Mr Pom is one).

Anyway, Joe runs early morning running sessions from 5.30am, which would mean a 5am get up for me. Look, I’m still not ready for that yet. I know the rest of Manly is up doing things at that time, but it’s too early. Three times a week I get up at 5.45am for a 5k walk with my friend. But 5am? It ain’t happening.

So, I tend to join him for his weekly ‘mum slot’ on a Wednesday after school drop-off.

Our normal hour consists of a gentle run, anything from 5k to 7k, and some ab work. I find chatting to other mums or Joe, who is not just our running coach but our life guru and counsellor, helps to distract when the going gets tough.

This week I was the only mum to turn up. Uh oh. This is always bad news, especially for the lazy runner. I told him I had a sore back to try and elicit some sympathy, he suggested a gentle 10k. Perhaps I should fill you in with a little more detail. The temperature was mid 20s and the run was to North Head and back. It’s a hilly climb, involving running across grass, up steps, along sandy tracks, over metal grids, with a steep descent over rocks, which were still slippy from the recent rain.

The last time I ran 10k was about a year ago and it was a cold, crisp, winter’s day in Blighty.

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Caption: Beautiful Wimbledon Common where I ran my last 10k with my running pals (the weather was a little cooler)

This was going to be hard.

“OK,” I said, like a fool.

So, off we went and yes, it hurt. A lot.

Now, for $20, it’s a great deal for what is essentially a personal training session. And, poor Joe earned it. It was a one way conversation up the long, steep hill to the top of North Head. He spoke, I couldn’t.

He coaxed me all the way up to the summit with inspirational chatter. He got onto the subject of old British TV fitness instructors, including Mr Motivator from the breakfast show GMTV. I remember exercising along with Mr Motivator and my mum and sister in our kitchen in the 1990s. Funnily enough, my mum told me she had found her old VHS video of Mr Motivator the other day and had started using it again.

Joe reminds me of Mr Motivator in that he’s such a positive person and is always trying to motivate us with tips on how to improve our fitness, how to eat healthily (he’s an enthusiastic vegan and passionate juicer) and his general outlook on life.

He said a lot of what holds people back are the bullies in our heads. We really can make our bodies do extraordinary things if we can conquer those inner voices telling us to give up. He was pretty much describing what I was thinking, though I couldn’t tell him because I was just trying to get enough oxygen into my lungs.

This is the guy who is obviously very good at defeating those bullies. This year he broke a Guinness World Record by year running 250k – without stopping. From memory I think he ran continuously for two days, apparently he found the second night quite tough! A typical Sunday for him includes an all-day run. This weekend he ran 95k in 12 hours and 12 minutes. Anway, back to my little 10k.

Once at the top of the North Head we were rewarded with absolutely incredible views along the coast and we asked a tourist to take our picture. I managed to persuade Joe to make a second stop on the other side so we could get a photo looking out across the harbour and to have another quick breather.

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Caption: Joe at North Head with city views behind

Then it was the descent. By the time we had worked our way back down to Shelly Beach via a bush track, which is basically rocks and boulders, my legs were jelly, my face was a beetroot red and all I could think of was that I needed to cool down.  I staggered into Coles and bought one of those green juices – it must have been all that talk from Joe – and a ten-pack of fruit ice-lollies. I drank the juice in the car park and ate two watermelon lollies when I got home, while lying down on the sofa. It was that bad.

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Caption: What a view! ‘Jelly legs’ stops to take in Manly, Freshwater and Curl Curl beaches from North Head

So, this week I turn up to discover it’s just me again! Come on girls are you trying to kill me?

This time we head to Curl Curl and again the scenery is fantastic, but there are a lot of steps. Why is Sydney so hilly? The legs have soon turned to jelly. It’s a shorter route, around 8k, but with a break in the middle which involves jumping squats, sit-ups, lunges, and press ups.

Again it is a hot day and Mrs Pom is still not used to the heat.

After running up the steps from Freshwater to Queenscliff, I absolutely have to stop as I’m really struggling to breathe. Joe asks whether I have asthma, which I don’t, although I imagine this must be what it feels like. After about 30 seconds I start again.

However, a few days later when I’m heading to Freshie I see this sign.

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Caption: You may think it’s because you’re unfit, but it could be asthma weed making you breathless (well, that’s my excuse anyway)

I’ve never heard of asthma weed before and after reading up on it, it’s really quite nasty, not native I should add.

This time I didn’t have a reaction, probably because I wasn’t running and gulping in great lungfuls of air. On a positive note, perhaps it will get me out of having to run up those steep set of steps again?

My ‘attack’ didn’t get me out of my homework though – 50 squats a day. I think I’d prefer times tables. Now if I can just get those bullies out of my head….

Mrs Pom would like to make it clear she did not receive any payment for this post. She can thoroughly recommend Joe and is hoping someone will be joining her for a run next week. Runners meet at Manly Surf Club at 9.15am every Wednesday. Mums with buggies are very welcome (which will mean no steps!). If you go to the early morning session, it’s just $10.

http://manlybeachrunningclub.com/

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Peats Bite, Hawkesbury River, NSW

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Peats Bite Restaurant Review

As any parent will know taking children to a smart restaurant can be incredibly stressful.

But there we were in the most incredible location on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, just an hour’s drive north of Sydney, at a family-run restaurant only accessible by boat. It sounds like a destination suited to A-listers. And yes, it is. Singers George Michael, Billy Joel, Bob Geldof and actor Johnny Depp, to name just a few celebrities, have all eaten here. But this restaurant isn’t exclusive, it is open to all, even kids.

There’s an easy vibe at Peats Bite. Perhaps it is the incredible water views. All the tables look out to the river where you can watch boats motor past, the palm trees swaying and the local pelican swooping over the pontoon.

Diners are requested to arrive at noon so they can enjoy the six course meal (not including the aperitif, amuse and petit fours) over four hours at an easy pace.

How can this be achieved with children, I hear you ask?

Well, our boys, aged eight and 12, soon gulped down their sizeable portion of steak and chips, when they heard there was a pool on site.

Along with the owner’s grandchildren, and other youngsters who were dining, they splashed about in the pool, which while out of sight was perfect for kids who are confident in the water.

There was also an outdoor chess set with oversized pieces and some grass to roam about on.

Now and then a child, dripping wet, would run through the restaurant looking for a towel, skilfully dodging the overweight resident dog who was wandering around trying to beg food from the diners.

'Whose a pretty boy then?'

‘Who’s a pretty boy then?’

There was also entertainment, it was cabaret, from owner and crooner Tammy Miljoen, 68. After a few glasses of wine I was humming if not singing along. But Manuel, the out-of-control parrot created the biggest laugh of the day. He flies about the place freely and is the feathery equivalent of Hannibal Lector.

Half way through the French classic La Vie en Rose by Edith Piaf, Manuel flew over and perched on Tammy’s shoulder and chest and decided to take the odd bite. Tammy attempted to finish her song, before shouting, “Piss off Manuel,” to laughs from the diners. Manuel took no notice, of course.

Meanwhile, the impossibly young but talented chef Kane Donkin, just 21, was whizzing around the kitchen on an office chair, preparing the incredible $130 set menu, after breaking his ankle surfing.

Don’t let this chaotic scene put you off, because it was incredibly chilled.

But, let’s start at the beginning.

We were two hours late. However, so were several other people eating at Peats Bite that day. The holiday traffic out of Sydney was heavy, then it took a little longer to get onto our rented houseboat than we had expected.

Then the dreaded westerlies meant we were battling against the tide and the gusty winds as we travelled upriver from Brooklyn to Peats Bite, just past Milson’s Island, where the restaurant is situated. The usual 40 minute journey by houseboat, turned into an hour.

Phoning ahead we got hold of Tammy, who bought the property with her late husband Rod, and turned it into a restaurant in 1982.

“Don’t rush, take your time, and most importantly drive safely,” was her reassuring response.

Eventually we arrived and after anchoring a hundred metres from the shore, Geoff Milner, the partner of Tammy’s daughter Tanya, pulled up alongside our boat to take us to the pontoon. If you don’t have a boat, Geoff will pick you up from Kangaroo Point, near Brooklyn, or if you want to arrive in style there’s always the seaplane that flies from Rose Bay in Sydney to the restaurant in 30 minutes.

By boat was fancy enough for Mrs Pom. Stepping onto the pontoon with my summer dress flapping in the light (to rather quite gusty) breeze and one hand on my floppy hat, I felt every inch the celebrity.

We were shown to one of a number of modest wooden tables in a covered outdoor area all facing towards the water, and greeted with an aperitif, a frappe of iced green tea, whiskey and mint. Delicious. Mr and Mrs Pom are not too keen on whiskey, but this a great refresher. So much so that I googled it to discover whiskey and green-tea cocktails are all the rage in China, with forums dedicated to discussing the best recipes.

Cheers: Frappe of iced green tea and whiskey cocktail

Cheers: Frappe of iced green tea and whiskey cocktail

For a light, refreshing version, perfect for impressing guests this summer, follow this Peats Bite recipe:

60ml Johnnie Walker whiskey

45ml sugar syrup

Small handful of fresh mint

Blend with heaps of ice and green tea

Next up was the amuse, a melon gazpacho with extra virgin olive oil, which was the one item on the menu that didn’t really grab me. The refreshingly honest waitress wrinkled up her nose and suggested it might be the texture which had put me off. I think it may have been, either way it didn’t work.

However, the first course was an array of little delights, which also caught the children’s imagination (unfortunately). The piping hot, fresh, chargrilled flatbread was served with labna, a dip made with Greek yoghurt. Once we had dunked the bread into the yoghurt, we then dipped it into a bowl of dukkah, lightly toasted crushed nuts and seeds. A satisfying combination.

Other tasters in the first course included barramundi topped with avocado and soy and citrus, served on china spoons and scallops placed in shells alongside a cauliflower puree, green apple, and pancetta. Both nibbles used traditional combinations with an added twist. I particularly liked the cauliflower puree with the scallops.

Mr Pom, the skipper, was able to enjoy the oysters topped with frozen cucumber, in peace, as the rest of us are not too keen. He noted they were extremely fresh and happily rather sizeable.

The following three courses were again simple – no crazy combinations. Straightfoward dishes, cooked well and presented elegantly. The saltwater barramundi had a crispy skin, but flaked apart nicely as the fork hit. It came with a giant cous cous salad.

As we were tucking into the fish, we noticed a commotion at another table as the men jumped up and raced towards the pontoon. They had just noticed their yacht was not anchored properly and was drifting towards our houseboat. Eeek. Geoff came to the rescue again, taking the guys to their boat so they could secure it properly.

The beef scotch fillet

The beef scotch fillet

As the drama was unfolding we moved onto the third course. The buttermilk soaked chicken breast and the sweetcorn custard was on the sweet side, but worked well with the rich deeper flavours of the black olive gravy. The next course was a good quality beef scotch fillet, with burnt eggplant puree, a baby turnip and topped with a radish. I loved the burnt taste of the puree with the beef, which was a great pink colour in the middle.

Pretty as a picture: Vanilla cheesecake cream, rhubarb, with black pepper roasted strawberries

Pretty as a picture: Vanilla cheesecake cream, rhubarb, with black pepper roasted strawberries

The vanilla cheesecake, with poached rhubarb and black pepper roasted strawberries, was ridiculously beautiful and looked too good to eat, but I did, quickly, before those pesky boys came back from the pool.

By this stage we had worked our way through a $38 Wombat Crossing, a Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley and we were starting on a red, which we took back onto the boat, a $35 Cool Woods Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia, which went very nicely with the sixth course of French brie, with pickled beetroot jelly and crisp bread.

We enjoyed the petit fours with tea and coffee on a sofa on the lawn chatting to Tammy, Tanya and Geoff about their beautiful restaurant and how it had shaped their lives, as the late sun sparkled on the rippling water and the pelican flew overhead.

Our neighbours on the Hawkesbury

Our neighbours on the Hawkesbury

Despite our little houseboat bobbing about a little too much for our liking we decided we were too relaxed and had perhaps a few too many glasses of wine to move it anywhere else for the night. Kindly Tanya dropped as back at the boat. The best cab ride home ever.

For more details click onto Peats Bite’s website: http://peatsbite.com.au/

The restaurant is open from noon until 4pm every weekend from September to June and some weekdays during the summer period. It is essential to book beforehand, to save disappointment. It’s well worth getting there on time so you can enjoy the experience over four hours. There is accommodation on site too for those who want to extend their time in this wonderful spot.

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Fighting on the front lawns – it’s council clean-up day

Fighting on the front lawns - it's council clean-up day

Photo caption: Kids get creative in Harbord Park with items left for collection

Sitting on our balcony, enjoying the sunset with a glass of wine, the peace and quiet is disrupted by a van backing up our driveway. A man jumps out and starts rummaging through some rubbish on the neighbour’s front verge. I give Mr Pom a knowing look, “there’s another one”, I whisper.

After a few minutes he summons his pal in the van, who jumps out and they pick up the 1960s sideboard – which I had earlier noted had one drawer missing – putting it in the back of the van.

Earlier in the day I had passed a woman with ‘this is mine eyes’ standing guard over a shabby blue sofa at the roadside, mobile phone to her ear, presumably calling for back-up. I also watched with some amusement, as an elderly lady poked through some boxes filled with old plant pots, eventually walking off with one with a dragon pattern on it.

It’s catching. The next morning I walk past some garden chairs, which I note look in pretty good shape. Would they be useful in the back yard, I wonder? But just five minutes later when I return, they are no longer there. I’m too slow.

For those back in the UK let me introduce you to Australia’s best invention – council clean-up day.

To sum it up, twice a year the local council will take away any household items you no longer want. You are allowed to put these items out on the front verge 48 hours before.

Let me tell you why this is so exciting. If you’re nosy like me, you can get a good insight into what your neighbours are like by what they’ve thrown out. But, if you like what you see, grab it. It’s a free for all, though you have to be quick.

Not long after we arrived I had a conversation with a Brit, a teacher at a private school, who is a council clean-up addict. Incredibly, she has furnished most of her house with items thrown out by other people, mainly her neighbours.

“It’s amazing what people put out for the clean-up, perfectly good pieces of furniture, lamps, chairs, you name it I’ve picked it up,” she said.

“I managed to find matching Ikea floor lamps from outside different houses during one council clean up and they were such a great find, perfect for my house. When one broke a couple of years later, I actually considered buying one. That’s unusual for me, as I just don’t pay for things anymore. A few weeks later I was driving through an area which was having a collection and I spied another one, I really couldn’t believe my luck.”

Councils don’t tend to advertise which areas are having a clean-up to stop people dumping unwanted rubbish on other people’s lawns.

But, my friend has a network of other council clean-up fiends and they alert each other by text when they spot items on the verge ready for collection. “I often make a detour, on the way to or from work, to scour the front lawns due for collection,” she said.

Unfortunately, we were so ruthless before leaving the UK, we had nothing to throw out. So, I didn’t even get the satisfaction of seeing someone make off with our cast-offs. I also need to up my game if I want to benefit from these clean-ups. I need to patrol the area twice a day and if I see something take it there and then or if it is too big guard it and phone a friend for help.

I am on the look out as we are short of a few items. Garden furniture would be useful, another bookcase and some storage boxes. I have a friend who is currently scouring the streets for dining room chairs. We have an agreement, if I see any suitable chairs for her, I’ll stand guard until she gets there and she’ll do the same for any furniture she thinks I might be interested in.

Anyway, I’d better go. I’ve heard there’s a clean-up in Manly tomorrow. I think I’ll go for a little drive….