Hidden Talent Revealed

Close to home #7 Painting at Cork & Chroma

That old saying “I can’t draw to save myself” definitely applies to me. My artistic flair is meagre and even my stick figures don’t look good. But after an evening spent at Cork & Chroma in South Brisbane, I might need to re-evaluate my opinion of my abilities.

Cork & Chroma is a paint and sip studio. BYO your favourite drinks, put on an apron and be prepared to reveal hidden talents, guided by one of the studio’s resident artists. You don’t need any prior knowledge to join in. The artist leads everyone step by step through the painting process, demonstrating each technique and offering individual advice when it’s needed.


On the Saturday night we visit there are several groups: a hen’s night, a girls’ night out, a few couples and our family gathering of three generations. Blank canvases, full of promise, are set up on our easels. We fill our palettes with acrylic paints, some colours required and others we add as we like. Our glasses are also filled and we’re ready to paint and sip.


Our instructor begins by showing us three techniques for using our paint brushes. We start, mixing colours to create the background of our paintings. At first we’re tentative, but as we begin to fill our canvases with layers of paint we relax and by the time it comes to adding highlights we’re much more free with our brushes.


My rustic scene takes shape. The window comes to life, there’s light and shade on my pot of gardenias and the bicycle leaning against the wall even looks like it’s ready to be ridden.

As our confidence increases so does our willingness to add our own touches to our paintings. There might be more than 30 paintings of the same scene, but not one is identical to another. In one painting a cat suns itself by the wall and a mouse scampers across the ground in another. In my painting, a window box full of pansies takes centre stage.


When our lesson is over, we all gather for a group photo, our paintings proudly displayed as we admire each other’s work. Renoir I’m not, but tonight I’ve created my own masterpiece.


*This story originally appeared in Queensland Smart Farmer Magazine, August/September 2016.

Cork & Chroma

No Photos!

Close to home #6 Kayaking with Straddie Adventures

When I hear the words “Don’t bring anything you don’t want to get wet” my plan to take beautiful photographs of the sea disappears with my camera, which I reluctantly put away. I’m about to paddle a kayak for the first time in 40 years and it’s likely more than the camera will get wet.


I’m kayaking with friends at North Stradbroke Island, 30 km east of Brisbane, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Debbie, an island local and part of the team at Straddie Adventures, will be our guide as we paddle south from Amity Point into Rainbow Channel. We launch our kayaks in the late afternoon sunlight and paddle out past the pier, giving it a wide berth. “The kids jumping off the end of the pier enjoy trying to overturn passing kayaks,” says Debbie.


The incoming tide carries us along, towards broad sand flats where sea grass bends with the current. At first our steering is as poor as our timing and we laugh at our efforts, but Debbie reassures us: “Laughter is good. I know everyone is enjoying themselves.”

Sting rays live in these shallow waters. Suddenly there’s a flash of silver; the water stirs as the first one glides under us. There’s a flurry as another burrows into the sand. Even though she does this trip most days, Debbie is as excited as we are when more sting rays appear. “It’s different each day,” she says. “The sea is never the same. We can’t predict what the animals will do or where they will be.” Ahead of us fish leap out of the water, a sure sign that shovelhead sharks are about, but they’re shy and swift. We only see black fins and water churning in their wake.

We paddle into Wallum Creek, country of the indigenous Quandamooka people. This part of Moreton Bay is a protected marine park; only the traditional owners are allowed to hunt and fish here. Around the first bend of the creek our paddling slows as the tide takes us deeper into the mangroves. The sun dips lower in the sky and there is silence along the creek banks. “It’s never this quiet on the mainland,” says Debbie. Green turtles are often seen in the creek, but today they are hiding. As the sky darkens we grudgingly leave this magical place. Now the paddling is harder, as we push forward against the tide.

As we reach the mouth of the creek, the sun, a huge fiery ball, hovers just above the mainland before slipping behind the blackened mountains of the Taylor Range. To the north, the jagged shapes of the Glasshouse Mountains are silhouetted in the burnt orange sky. The last rays of sunlight are replaced by city lights while the jet stream from an invisible plane glows like a firebrand.

Another day, another glorious sunset!

Another day, another glorious sunset!

The water of Moreton Bay has turned from aquamarine to deep oily green, the sky’s reflection gilding each ripple. I too reflect on the day. I may not have stunning images on my camera, but they’ll be in my memory forever. And I’m only a little wet!


*This story first appeared in Queensland Smart Farmer Magazine, November/December 2015.

A Loo With a View ~ The Cruise Edition

Goin’ Cruising #10

Tropical loos with ocean views

Along the Queensland coast.

With palm trees, sand and sun all round

Which do you like the most?



The Lagoon, Airlie Beach



Airlie Beach



Cairns Esplanade



Market Park, Port Douglas



Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas


And if you need to find a loo

when you’re back on board the ship,

There are loos with views on every deck

to get you through the trip!



Pacific Ocean, The Dome, Pacific Dawn

Celebrating Flowers

August ~ Flower Show

In the last full week of September, Toowoomba celebrates all things floral during its annual Carnival of Flowers. Australia’s Garden City confirms its reputation with a grand floral parade, competition gardens and colourful exhibitions featuring everything from teapots to quilts.

Every year, St Luke’s Anglican Church hosts a beautiful floral display created by the Toowoomba Floral Art Group. Spectacular arrangements featuring both everyday and exotic blooms fill the church and thousands of visitors come to enjoy and admire.






There are more beautiful flower shows and open gardens over at Jude’s place.

In The Kitchen

Goin’ Cruising #9

Day Six – Willis Island/Sea Day

After enjoying our visits to Airlie Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas, a day at sea provided a welcome opportunity to relax. We shopped at the duty free stores, lost yet again in the tie break of the Cake and Coffee Trivia competition and went for our morning walk around Deck 14. To maintain this demanding schedule we needed sustenance,  and it was provided by the delicious food at the Waterfront Restaurant.


We ate almost exclusively at the Waterfront during our cruise, and every meal was excellent. We were delighted by the efficiency and grace of the restaurant staff and amazed at how quickly we were served. We wondered how all this food was created day after day; with more than 1500 hungry passengers on board Pacific Dawn the demands would be enormous.  So when the chance came to experience first hand how all this wonderful food is created, we joined in with equal parts enthusiasm and curiosity.

First we went to a culinary demonstration in the Marquee Theatre. Executive Chef Alexander Keck and Maître d’Hôtel Darren Cholerton entertained us with a humorous commentary, often poking fun at each other while creating Broccoli, Scallop and Bacon Risotto and Crème Caramel.


While the dishes were cooking, we learned that all the food served on board Pacific Dawn is sourced in Australia and, for a seven day cruise, 250 pallets of supplies are delivered to the ship.


The scents wafting from the cooking station on the stage were enticing and we eagerly raised our hands when Entertainment Director Zoltina-J asked for taste testing volunteers. Mr ET was among the lucky ones to be chosen and he joined the others on stage for a close up view of the cooking.


His verdict on the risotto: “10 out of 10!”



When the demonstration was finished we headed to the Waterfront Restaurant for a behind the scenes walk through the kitchen, where staff members were busy preparing the lunch menu.



Of course, when food is consumed, there is always washing up to be done. Around 32 000 plates and 30 000 pieces of cutlery are washed every day. We made sure not to stop in the cleaning area in case we were conscripted!


Later, when we returned to the Waterfront, we sat down for lunch not just with healthy appetites but also a deeper appreciation of those who helped to bring such delicious food to our table.