Roadkill

I’ve heard the section of the Castlereagh Highway between Walgett and the Ridge described as “Death Valley”. It does seem that the number of grey kangaroos that hop onto the road and into the path of an oncoming vehicle is particularly high there. I should know; I’ve put a bandaarr’s head through the radiator of a school bus on a trip to Tamworth.

Roadkill is so interesting. Each corpse has its story, each one unknowable. Did the joey get away? And is it too now dead? How could a car survive hitting that?!

I’ve pulled over to take a stupidly large number of photos of roadkill. I have no idea why but all I can say is that they’re endlessly fascinating. The contortion of body. The state of decay. Just … the story.

Here are a few, in no particular order. (BTW none of the kills are mine.)

Bandaarr / grey kangaroo. Castlereagh Highway, near Lone Pine turnoff.

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Dhinawan / emu. Cumborah to Grawin road.

Biyaagaarr / brown falcon. Castlereagh Highway.

Budjigaarr / cat. Three Mile Road.

Waan / crow. Cumborah.

Bandaarr / Colly back road.

Dhinawan / emu. Colly back road.

Bibirrgaa/ pig. Angledool back road.

Nhan.garra / ringneck parrot / Butterfly Avenue, dawn, by car light, yesterday morning.

Food Safari 14: Snak Shack

The Snak Shack is a Ridge institution. It’s remarkable that it’s taken me more than two years to feature it in the Food Safari. Outrageous. Shameful.

So what drew you to the Shack after all this time, I hear you ask. Sadly, it was the parlous state of affairs at the bowlo. The words “under new management” never instil great confidence, and the reports I was hearing were not good. Wednesday tea at the bowlo is an absolute given: the food is unpretentious and good value. But times change. K and I went in. We looked. We turned around and left.

Also, the Shack also has a new menu.

Again, plain food, all the usual suspects. Unfortunately they’d had a run on parmies the night before (someone had ordered 10!). And they were out of the pot pie. And the prawn, and maybe the vegetable pasta was off too. But everything else was on!

K went for the carbonara (which had a chicken option; she declined) while I lashed out on the steak. I could have had T-bone but went with the Scotch fillet.

You can dine in at the Snak Shack but K and I decided we’d like to take ours home. Yes, there is a kind of an atmosphere in the Snak Shack. But, well …

It must have been a really bad night at the bowlo because two other Wednesday night bowlo die-hards blew in. They promised me a report on their crumbed fish and bangers and mash. I am still waiting. Michael. Jacob. Still waiting.

The tucker was served in good time and K and I dashed home. It was a hot night and so, even though it was a steak, almost anything seemed possible. Gin and tonic? A James Boag? A full-bodied red? After browsing the cellar for some minutes I settled on a 2016 Brancott Estate sauvignon blanc, which I had wisely sourced from the bowlo bottle shop on a previous expedition. We decanted the grog and tucker, got out the dijon mustard, and ripped in.

Woah there, I hear you cry! Surely you wouldn’t just serve up a feast like that without dropping some monster beats? Here I give a wry chuckle. Of course not. What else but some of Memphis, Tennessee’s finest: Booker T, Eddie Floyd, Shirley Brown, Jean Knight, Mel & Tim. Oh yeah. Ohhhhh yeeaaaah.

Can there be anything better than good food, decent wine, outstanding music and excellent company for a Wednesday night? I say: “No”. There cannot. This was grand.

Except for the pineapple. I mean, seriously, Australia. Enough with the pineapple.

If you are looking for a well priced, filling and unpretentious meal that delivers on its promises, go no further than the Snak Shack. But ring ahead if you want a parmie; they do run out!

Homage to Hopper

A change came through on Monday. In other places this was a cool change: blustery winds as the front moved in; a sharp, torrential downpour; steaming bitumen and pavements; a brief plunge in temperatures that caused those abed to pull up the cotton blankets that have lain rumpled and unused for most of the season.

In the Ridge we got the bluster, and little else other than a houseful of grit blown in from under the door or through the fine mesh of the fly screen.

I went out in it around 11 o’clock at night.

Trees arched and strained and Fantasia Street was blurred in a veil of dust that stung my eyes and pasted itself to the sheen of sweat on my face and neck. It was weirdly and unpleasantly exhilarating.

I was struck by the light. I’m a night walker, mostly. I do sometimes get up early to watch the pre-dawn behind the water towers.

But night is my preference. The light puts me in mind of those paintings of Fifties American diners by that man. Rothwell? Rockwell? Norman Rothwell? The beautiful old Miners Co-op Store (possibly the most gorgeous building in the Ridge) oozes nostalgia and a modest – almost timid – kind of melancholy at night. I want to hug it.

I can’t remember the man and so I find out the usual way. Turns out it’s Edward Hopper. (Not even close.) And the painting I have in mind is Nighthawks.

I’m told by the Big Wiki that “In keeping with the title of his painting, Hopper later said, Nighthawks has more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness.” I don’t meet many nighthawks or predators during my walks in the Ridge. They’re probably there all right; they’re just good at avoiding me. So most of the time I wander street after street, my only company a foraging pig dog.

I take pictures as mnemonics to help me with my writing, but sometimes they come out telling a better story than I can. Phone booths, for example. How do they manage to exude so much pathos? Is it the subtle reminder of loved ones far away? Of missed calls and sliding doors that led to lives that could have been?

The post office is very Hopper, perhaps not visually but in the homespun coziness it exudes. The gift card sign. The public notices. The thermometer, with its protective guard.

These ATMs are more Blake’s Seven than Edward Hopper. They’re about as mod as you’re going to get on Morilla Street and yet to me they look like something a set designer from a low-budget BBC show in the Seventies might have come up with when their brief was to create “a futuristic money machine from the far distant future!” Woot woot.

The back of Khan’s brings me back to more familiar Hopper territory. Unlike Hopper’s paintings my photos are relentlessly unpeopled. They’re sparse and harsh. The temperature could be minus 10 rather than plus 30.

Servos at night. Closed servos. I’m feeling glum just typing those words.

Thankfully the jolly “power straddle” of the street lights next to the water bowser cheered me up. How can you not feel happy looking at that?

The mood didn’t last, of course. It never does.

But if things were too much of a Hopperian dystopia, there’s always the bore baths to wash away those nighthawk blues.


It’s no Fifties diner but its sparsely cluttered geometry always fills me with an unidentifiable contentment. A couple of grey nomads from South Australia were my only company, she lapping the pool and squealing in pleasure and shouting “Come on in, honey! It’s goooorrrgeous!” and he muttering in knee-length shorts on the steps, refusing to go any further than ankle deep.

It was a scene that Cheever or Carver or Hemingway would whip into a short story in an instant. But there were no nighthawks or predators here. Just me, and those two, under the basking glow of the night lights.

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Hot, sultry days. Nights that can never quite cool down. This is when I love nightwalking.

At 10.30 the concrete driveways and bitumen streets are still trying to radiate heat into an atmosphere that has no capacity for it and so the air lies thick and cloying like a Victorian miasma. A car sweeps past me and creates a cool, diesel-scented draft against my bare chest.

nightwalking has always triggered in me a kind of mournful sense of time passing. It’s a feeling akin to nostalgia but without nostalgia’s element of glory days long since past, or some place that can never be revisited or some lost love that can never be retrieved.

I don’t have a route for my nightwalking. I find myself beneath the looming giants of the water towers or by the bore baths or outside Duncan’s. It doesn’t matter, it’s the movement in the darkness that counts.

Swampies toil away on roofs.

A beat up wagon with red P plates toots at me.

The sound of a couple arguing languidly in their kitchen.

A dog hurls itself against a chainlink fence.

Curtains flicker blue in the light of a gigantic TV screen.

Teenage lovers snog, oblivious, beneath the fluorescent light of a carport.

There’ll come a time, soon, when it’ll be so cold that I won’t want to leave the house even to go to the bore baths. But that’s a lifetime away right now.

Tra la la la lah, la la la lah

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, Baby Jesus was born in a manger. Baby Jesus grew up to become Man Jesus. Man Jesus started a carpentry apprenticeship but, embracing the Roman administration’s mantra that “Change is the only constant” and “You will have more than one career in your lifetime” and even “The job you have when you’re 30 has not yet been invented”, Man Jesus downed tools to develop a well respected career in public speaking. Things went wrong though, due to fake news and reasons that are too complex and boring to talk about here, and we remember these events by making fir trees out of cans of XXXX Gold.

I spotted this wonderful testament to our constantly evolving relationship with Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit in a shop window in Gulargambone. The Gul deserves its own full post, but in the meantime I must remain focused and remember to talk about Christmas lights. The Ridge has them!

Actually, no, the Ridge has bazillions of them!

I’m  usually a bit of a snob when it comes to Christmas lights but, like Man Jesus, I too have changed and adapted to my new world. I really like them in the Ridge! Fantasia Street, fittingly, has the best. I had thought that Black Prince Drive might have a good display as this is where, in my limited understanding of the Ridge’s class system, posh people live. But BPD was disappointing. No, I’ll go further. It was rubbish. They didn’t even have an inflatable Santa.

Nettleton Drive had a crack. These folk even arranged for the paddy wagon to park out front to add a bit of red and blue to the sparkling array. That’s initiative. Are you listening, Black Prince Drive?

It’s very hard to take decent pictures of Christmas lights with an iPhone, but please believe me when I say that this was the best one.

It made me warm inside.

As did this uniquely Ridge-esque interpretation of a Yule Tree: a Christmas cactus!

I love you, people who did this!
(But I would not like to be the person who has to get the tinsel off.)

Happy Christmas, Ridge-ites! Have a wonderful break and a spectacular 2018.

Food Safari 13: Street Food

One of the most exciting things about being in a new country is trying out the local food. There will always be cafes and restaurants and bistros, but nothing beats the thrill of bolting an exotic dish sold by a surly street vendor with a rudimentary understanding of personal hygiene.

There are few opportunities for such occasions in Yuwaalaraay country, but street food does occasionally appear, comet-like, before vanishing in a trail of dust and saturated fat. Opal Festival is one such occasion.

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But there are others, and here are a few examples from around the traps. Food Safari ratings have been applied.

The Supa Sausage / Curly Spud

I remember the thrill I got at last year’s Opal Fest when I saw my first curly spud-on-a-stick. I’d already smashed my face with salty fatty goo and so, while I meant to come back and get a curly spud later on, I got distracted by a shiny milk bottle top or a balloon or something and forgot. So I’ve been kicking myself hard in the nuts for 365 days as punishment for my stupidity.

But – at last! – the kicking stopped: the curly potato lady was back in town!

Her van wasn’t with the main stalls but was tucked away near the entrance to Spider Brown Oval. I was drawn towards it by an attractive sign. I have friends who work as designers and typographers: look on and learn, boys and girls.

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The supa sausage was tempting but I kept my resolve and got the curly spud. It took a while for the lady to cook it, and that’s one of the differences between fast food and street food. This was a mum-and-dad operation and so each curly spud was individually battered, dropped into a ridiculously small vat of moderately hot oil, and cooked slowly – sloooooowly – until ready. A hearty shake of chicken salt and a hose down with red sauce and it was good to go.

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My dining companion went down the supa sausage route.

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But I’m glad I stuck to my guns. The curly spud ticked all the street food boxes: tasty, a bit weird, potentially life-threatening, yum.

Food Safari rating: 8/10

Bruno’s Pizza

I don’t really think of pizza as street food, but Bruno’s has a mobile trailer with a genuine wood-fired pizza oven bolted on the back. They deserve points out of ten just for having a crack.

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I went for the margherita, which was really just a sauce base with a massive coating of melty cheese. Again, I was ably assisted by my dining companion, to whom a supa sausage was no more than an appetiser.

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It’s a bit hard to judge this one. What am I comparing it to: a regular Bruno’s pizza or a curly spud on a stick? Sure, the cheese was a bit burnt, but not enough to make me not eat it. And inside that creme brûlée top there was a molten core of stringy mozzarella (or mozzarella-type product). If I say, “It did the job” then that sounds a bit unflattering, but … well, it did the job.

Food Safari rating: 7/10.

Kebab truck

This thing appeared overnight and was quickly the talk of the town. A night of catastrophic binge drinking isn’t complete without a fistful of foil-wrapped kebaby loveliness. Manys the time I’ve wobbled away from the Orient Hotel in Cooks Hill, only to find that my trusty bicycle has taken me to the Oasis in Hamilton, as though it knows that I need a kebab. How do bicycles know that stuff?

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The Ridge kebab van had a bit of a queue when I arrived. A couple of coppers had pulled up their Toyota and were making an order. The interaction did not fill me confidence. The man copper asked for tabouli, but the kebab people did not have tabouli because “Khan’s can’t get it in” or something. WTF? Don’t you just chop up a bunch of parsley and mint and throw in a few bits and pieces? The salad consisted of an iceberg lettuce, some tomato and maybe a Spanish onion. The man copper looked understandably forlorn. “I’ve just come here from Fairfield” he muttered, to no-one in particular.

I ordered mine. No felafel were available but there was meat. Well, beef. So I got beef. There was some interaction about the salad; though I didn’t realise it at the time this led to further misunderstanding. Just for the record, here is the salad bar at the Oasis kebab shop in Hamilton. I’m getting EVERYTHING, and being served by a man who is impeccably polite in spite of having to serve people like me and the shrieking drunks who fall out of the Kent Hotel at 2 in the morning.

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I know that street food should be eaten on the street but I took my kebab home. When I unwrapped it I found myself frozen in a state of disbelief. The kebab had been baked in a sandwich press into a kind of flattened meat biscuit. And there was no salad at all! It was just meat and cheese!

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It was absolutely crap, of course, and most of it went in the bin.

As an aside, I stopped in Walgett recently and bought a ham and cheese croissant and a coffee. Again, they put the croissant in a sandwich press. Is it a western NSW thing? I’d always thought that the point of a croissant was the lightness of the fluffy flaky pastry. But at least the Walgett croissant tasted like a croissant. Ridge kebabs? Nope. Just, nope.

Food Safari rating: 1/10

Steak Sandwich

The steak sandwich, along with the sausage sizzle, must be the pinnacle of Australian street food. And yet it is, like any classic, so easy to stuff up. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been given a piece of boot leather slopped between a couple of sheets of doughy pap, all smeared with sugary sauce.

The Men’s Shed were having a fundraising BBQ on Opal Street one morning: Grassy and (I think) Peter were hard at it, frying away on the mobile trailer they use for these things. I’d been hearing good things about the new butcher and thought what the hell, I’ll give it a go.

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I’m so glad I did. The steak was from the butcher and the bread from the baker next door, fresh that morning. There’d been a slow down in custom and so my steak, when I got it, had been rested, just like real food. It was THE BEST STEAK SANDWICH I HAVE EVER EATEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Food Safari rating: 11/10

Chicken Tender Pizza Roll

Yes, you read that right.

This doesn’t really qualify as street food as it came from the school canteen. I was on duty in the gym; the usual boys were playing basketball and the usual girls were slumped at the side watching the usual boys. There’s a “no food or drink” rule in the canteen but one of the usual boys arrived late and, in the way of boys that age, was pressing fuel into his mouth. (At what age does that end, that ability to eat two pies then play a game of football immediately after, without wanting to vomit?)

I was so startled at this thing that I asked him to deconstruct it for me. It consists of:

  • 1 x ham and cheese pizza roll
  • 5 x chicken tenders
  • 1 x tomato sauce squeezy sachet

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A cousin who lives in the shadier part of the Edinburgh docks told me about a thing called, in those parts, a “pizza supper”. You go to the chip shop and they get a frozen pizza, fold it in half, put hot chips inside the folded pizza and then deep fry the lot.

There’s a kind of genius logic in there, and I have to admit that there was a time when I would have thought that the chicken tender pizza roll was also the work of genius, rather than a starving 15-year-old boy.

Food Safari rating: untested and so unmarkable, but 8/10 for innovation.

The Ridge Has Got Talent

You can’t have yin without yang, or heads without tails, or action without reaction, or Donald Trump without  … well, anyone really. For all that the far west lacks in resources and infrastructure and opportunities, it more than makes up for in vision and zest and can-do attitude.

A prime example of this is the Lightning Ridge Central School’s trip to Nepal, the second of which is planned for 2018. You can imagine how hard it is to organise such a thing from out here, and the risk-averse Department of Education didn’t exactly lay out the red carpet. So the local branch of Rotary stepped in to auspice the trip on the proviso that the students raised the funds themselves. It happened in 2016 and it’s happening again! There are regular car washes and raffles, but the major event on the fundraising calendar is The Ridge Has Got Talent.

As I approached the doors of the bowlo’s main auditorium I could hear the hum of a goodly sized crowd. And, of course, I got hit up straight away for entry fees and donations. Well, what else did I expect? Here’s the glamorous Krystal, ably assisted in money-taking duties by Evey.

For my ten bucks I got an act list and a stubby pencil, the type you find in bookies shops or voting booths on election day. There were 17 acts and I must admit that my heart sank a little. I’ve sat through a fair few of these things for my own kids and I wondered, did I have the stamina to sit through such an affair when it’s someone else’s gorgeousness labouring through Für Elise on a Casio keyboard. And I’m still slightly traumatised by the memory – it was a stinking hot afternoon in maybe 1998 at the Lawrence O’Toole centre in Hamilton North – of three Year 5 girls in leotards and sparkly bowlers dancing energetically to You Can Leave Your Hat On. But no: this would be different.

And it was! Not always in ways that I’d anticipated. The rotten photo below is of The Mystery Piano Player. So mysterious in fact that he can’t be seen, his faced blacked up and his costume blending in with the curtains. Was he even there? If I hadn’t heard him with my own ears I’d have thought he was an optical illusion or a conjuring trick.

Silly man: this was the conjuring trick! We were summoned to the dance floor, where we were told volunteers would be needed. I was a bit late arriving and, honestly, I’m not very good at keeping up with these things, so frankly I had no idea what was happening.

Luckily, Stacey knew exactly what was happening. Three of diamonds! Of course!

There were a few dance troupes. This was Evey and the Barretts. I’d been strong-armed into voting for this mob by Leon, Evey’s dad. He’s not a person to argue with and so I did exactly what was asked, before they’d even performed. When they finished Leon glared around the room and defied anyone not to clap louder and longer, which we all did. Thankfully they were actually quite good and so I didn’t feel too compromised.

Jada and Ava couldn’t make the night, unfortunately, but in true Ridge style a back-up act was rustled together. Barry and Gayle look like they know their way around the stage of a bowling club and I’m guessing this was not the first time they’d stepped into the breach on a talent night. They banged out a fine rendition of a song I’d never heard of which had the slightly alarming (for a school fundraiser) refrain “He drinks tequila / And she talks dirty in Spanish”. I had a brief You Can Leave Your Hat On flashback but everyone took it in good spirit.

(I’ve saved you the effort of Googling. It’s song by Sammy Kershaw and Lorrie Morgan (aka Sammy&Lorrie) and has had over million YouTube views. Seriously, where have I been all these years?)

You’ve got to admire the pluck of these little kids, especially the ones that got up and played or sang solo. This one looked like a little Minnie Mouse in her red polka dot skirt and white face. I’m guessing that’s a mum videoing her daughter’s rendition of Bubbly on the phone. Go, girl!

The senior acts finished off the night, with the Schools Spectacular dancers and a solo number by Penny (I think it was Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris) which eventually took out the pool. Then we got hit up for more raffle tickets and donations. I now have a ticket in the Khan’t trolley dash. 2561 has always been my lucky number and I’m going to start scoping out the aisles in coming weeks.

And so that part of the night ended. I was somewhat disturbed at how much pleasure I got from watching other people’s children perform their song and dance routines. This must surely be a sign that I’m getting old; there was a time I would have sneered at such an event but we all mellow with time.

Certainly my travelling companions were so mellow that they nearly nodded off in the foyer.

Good luck, happy fundraisers. And bring back amazing, life-changing stories from Nepal in 2018. You’ll never be the same again, and neither will the Ridge.