The Grampians

I woke to the sound of angel piss. The flawless azure sky that faded as I prepared for bed the night before had, at some time during the dark, boiled into a wet blanket of cloud extending to every horizon.  I ate a quick bacon and egg sandwich at the motel café and rode the ferry across the Mighty Murray.

My 5-hour drive from Mannum to The Grampians consisted of a survey of one variety of rain or another.  The primary road (A8) is pastoral, but over all an entirely miss able experience…until suddenly the horizon rises up steeply in the Grampian Ranges.

In stark contract to the outback I have been through so far (tropical wetlands and central desert) the Grampians is a cool climate granite based forest, not a large or perhaps well know as The Rockies, but certainly similar in flavor. Basically sharp jutting peaks and outcrops surrounded by dense ferny woodlands teaming with wilderness.

Being not made of sugar (but so sweet you would be hard pressed to know it) I took every opportunity to walk on my way over the western range, until I finally settled into Halls Gap in the evening. The Halls Gap YHA is a special place all its own. An “Eco” minded hostel that is very clean and comfortable, and has an herb garden to boot.

Given the location, the many hikes earlier in the day, and the chilly rain, I settled into the Hostel kitchen to make one of my all-time favorite dishes, Risi e Bisi, a wonderful Italian minestra of risotto and peas.  If you are inclined to hostel it (backpacker for you Aussies) this is a great simple dish.

200 gm Arborio Rice

600-700ml Broth (can be from bullion, usually chicken)

2 TBL Olive Oil

Half Small Onion Minced

2 Clove Garlic Minced

200 gm Fresh or Frozen Peas

75 gm Parmesan

Salt & Pepper to taste.

1. Bring the broth to simmer in a stock pot.

2. In a deep sauté pan bring he oil to heat and add the onion

3. Add in the onion and cook to translucent then add in the garlic.

4. After the garlic becomes translucent add in the dry rice, and cook just a minute, stirring frequently.

5. If you like you can deglace with a splash of white wine, but it is not necessary.

6. Begin stirring in the hot stock, adding just enough to cover the rice.

7. AT THIS POINT YOU MUST STIR THE RIOTTO FREQUENTLY. The risotto gets its creamy texture because as you stir you are “rinsing” the starch from the outside of the rice and that is adding gloss and thickening the soup.

8. Add the stock step by step until the rice is just a little dry to bite (about 15 min) then stir in the peas.

9. The peas should cook in just a few minutes, and the risotto should still have quite a lot of broth in it.

10. When the risotto is al dente (an Dante) kill the heat and keep stirring.  Remember this is minestra (a thick soup or stew) so it should be brothy.

11. Stir in the Parmesan until it dissolves. At this point the soup should be thick but soupy (Some people also like to stir in fresh herbs, and/or butter at this point).

12. Serve, eat and enjoy.

They Shouldn’t Have Taken All The Bread

My final tour in Darwin started off promptly with my collection at 6AM. After collecting several other tourists from varying locations we hit the highway for what I was to be a must see, Katherine Gorge, some 370K south of Darwin.

Our fist port of call was a tea break at the Adelaide River Crossing, home to some Crocodile Dundee memorabilia. This place had a tea buffet, and while I satisfied myself with a cool drink from the petrol station out front, an elderly Italian couple in my group were busy bilking the restaurant out of some coin by upgrading themselves with a deviously acquired two for one special.

After tea a visit to the area war memorial, this one a cemetery. As I have intimated before I am not fond of war memorials in general, I am also not fond of cemeteries – let the dead bury the dead. So you can imagine how unimpressed I was to visit a war memorial cemetery.

How come the tour doesn’t stop at the cemetery where all the pauper aboriginals who were run out of their homes, sent to reeducation camps, and prejudiced in every way; have been buried? Now that’s something to memorialize, lest we forget what right pricks we humans can be to one another. No glory in it, just tears, which would be fitting of a cemetery. But I digress.

From there it was rather smooth sailing to the gorge with only one more stop for Edith Falls, a far poorer cousin in every way to the falls and plunge pools of Litchfield the day before.

Finally at Katherine Gorge we were set to have lunch before we took an elongated series of cruises and portages up some of the 13 interconnected gorges along the river.

Lunch was also served buffet, featuring a selection of cold meats, salads and hard rolls. I set about my custom of making a sandwich, passing through the line as my mother has instructed and leaving plenty for everyone else first, but with anticipation of an opportunity for seconds. But by the time I got back round the buffet had been decimated, there were scant scraps of meat and salad, and the rolls had vanished. Oh well, such is life, but as we prepare to depart I note the Italian couple has absconded with a dozen or so rolls (and who knows what else) stuffed in their carryall.

Regarding to the Gorge, Meh. I may be biased having lived for a season at The Grand Tetons, for two years in the wild west of Wickenburg, having made more than a few trips to the splendor of The Grand Canyon, and having been a once well noted salt river pirate; sailing as part of a vast armada of similarly employed cooks on massive tractor inner tubes, striking terror into the hearts of all tourists who “tube” down that gorge. But to me Katherine Gorges were pleasant, certainly as pleasant as some of the above, but too familiar to be considered proper touring.

As I said the gorges are interconnected but they are also quite divided, by huge natural rock shelves, so that the river only flows fully free in flood times.  So also as stated, we needed to portage between gorges. Well just on the way back from the second gorge to the first we were struck, all of a sudden with a powerful and gusty storm. Within a minute all on board the boat were soaked through. We docked at the portage just in time for the rain and wind to get serious about their task. And it only let up once we were near the safety of the final dock.  It is small wonder that in less educated times, stout sea and river faring peoples though these storms driven by a devil, or worse yet by a god. We boarded our bus all soaked through and settled in for a long wet ride back to Darwin.

We had a scheduled stop back at the tea place, and being dinner time they had set up a pay-as-you-go dinner buffet, rounded off to 17 AUD per person with plenty of hot foods and said, it was more than a fair deal.

Enter the Italians. Who tried again to abscond with a two-for-one deal, but this time were caught out by the manager who mentioned that she had let them get away with it at tea, but at supper they must pay their fair due. Well the Italians shouted, screamed, cursed and kicked up a fuss, refusing to pay for two and in the end throwing a plate of food on the floor.

In the start of the argument I had half a mind to pay for their second plate myself, being one prone to random acts of kindness. But I remembered the greed of absconding with all the rolls, and I hesitated. Good luck of me too because, when their behavior turned to such spoiled rotten antics I didn’t want to help them at all. Karma, being a harsh bitch, sent the Italians packing with no supper, left the manager with wasted food and a mess to clean, and me as fat as I ever was.

Another two hours of travel and we were back at our temporary base, ready for future adventures. I have to say this was my least favorite of all the trips