What a year. Illness overcome (quiet spot in my lung thankfully not collapsed), my first university degree – bit late but better than never – working with a wonderful family, the Quatrovilles on creating the Danks Street Produce Merchants in the old Fratelli Fresh building (stay tuned), had my portrait painted for the Archibald (didn’t get in) by the talented Robin Lawrence – I’m going to record it as a series of captions.
Let’s get the politics out of the way. It was an extraordinary year for that. We knew that Abbott was a ratbag and an idiot, but I don’t think anybody knew exactly how bad he would be. Coal is good for humanity. Death Cult. Stop the boats. Axe the tax. And in the foreground climate dolts like Lomberg and the combover queen Maurice Newman. He’s gone, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when Turnbull took over. Until we realised that he’s just Abbott with charm. Adani. Gonksi. Coal is good for humanity. My theory is that the rightists who really run the country told abbott he couldn’t win an election and crated the theatrical event that had him ousted for Turnbull. Who will do as he’s told as long as he has the top job. We have to do something about this system. Which brings me to the next and last political statement for the past year.
Both sides hate them. My dear wife continues to work for them. They have a new leader, Richard Di Natale who, so far, has not put a foot wrong. And they continue to be #3 by a long shot in spite of having far and away the most sensible and cohesive policies – not to mention principles – of either the other two.
The next year should prove unfortunately must interesting. Will Mr Adani be able to raise the finance for his deeply dangerous and totally unnecessary mine? As an article on the ABC Drum suggested this will be a decisive decision, not just for Australia but the planet.
This is my remarkable elder daughter Laura with her bicycle at Sydney international on her way to ride on her won from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok. Do you see the trepidation on her face? Everyone said DON’T DO IT! YOU’LL BE MURDERED/RAPED OR AT THE VERY LEAST YOUR BIKE WILL BE STOLEN! Well, guess what? She set off in her own quiet determined and prepared way, and had a marvellous trip, meeting only kind and helpful people. Good on her. She came back and is back at the ABC, living in Marrickville and planning more cycling adventures.
And there is Daughter #2, Paloma, on the right. She is the shameless slut. And one of the founder members of Sexual Violence won’t be Silenced, a vocal and active group of young women fighting sexual violence and sexism at first online and then everywhere.
And there are the two of them at Paloma’s graduation last year from Sydney college of the Arts (Laura already had her Masters in creative writing from UTS) Now Laura is doing a post grad degree as is Paloma. And in the meantime Paloma is working at the State Gallery of NSW restaurant while she figures out how to take over the world.
And we went to Tasmania and to Mona. Won’t write a lot about this because there’s a blog elsewhere about it. I haven’t been to Tasmania for at least ten years and then my reaction was, what a nice quaint little place with some terrific food. Now, post Walsh, it’s a very exciting place. I’m only talking about Hobart: we went no further this time, next time I want to get down to Bruny as well as explore the whole island more. Indeed so impressed were we by Hobart we spent some time wondering whether we could live there. Question not yet answered.
After three years, and working closely with my wonderful supervisor Professor Paul Ashton, I was awarded a Doctor of Creative Arts for my thesis Terra Nullius. Culina Nullius: the contradictions of Australian food culture. It was quite the hardest thing I’ve ever written, but at the same time, enormously enjoyable. Just wish I’d done it thirty years ago. But there you go. Reactions have been interesting. One dear friend said “well, there’s tangible proof of your intellectual capacity”, another was incredulous. And so was I. But there you go. So far, it has yielded one book.
The Oldest Foods on Earth: a history of Australian native foods with recipes published in February by NewSouth, thanks to a terrific publisher Phillipa McGuinness. Here’s the blurb:
‘This is a book about Australian food. Not the food that European Australians cooked from ingredients they brought with them, but the unique flora and fauna that nourished the Aboriginal peoples of this land for over 50,000 years. It was to try and understand why European Australians have almost entirely rejected these foods for over 200 years that I wrote this book.”
We celebrate cultural and culinary diversity, yet shun the foods that grew here before white settlers arrived. We love ‘superfoods’ from remote, exotic locations, yet reject those that grow in our own land. We say we revere sustainable local produce, yet ignore Australian native plants and animals that are better for the land than those from Europe.
In this, the most important of his books, John Newton boils down these paradoxes by arguing that if we are what we eat, we need to eat the foods that will help attune us to this land and, he believes, play a part in reconciling us with its first inhabitants.
Along the way, he documents the devastation visited on the indigenous inhabitants by our forcibly removing them from their food sources and the foods that had nourished them.
Newton also shows how the tide is turning. European Australians are beginning to accept and love the flavours of our own foods, everything from kangaroo to quandongs, from fresh muntries to the latest addition, the magpie goose.’
Can’t show you the cover yet because the latest version isn’t ready. But it is, even if I say so myself, a good read.
And the other great thing I did last year – and will be doing again next year – is working with Peter and Dom Quattroville setting up the Danks Street Produce Merchants. This is a very satisfying project, working again in collaboration – writing is a lonely job – with the Quattrovilles and the prospective stallholders and the very talented young illustrator and designer Emiel Saada whose father George I worked with yonks ago at Leo Burnett.
Sitting for my portrait with Robin Lawrence was another highlight. Robin is a wonderful artist and human being. We didn’t make the Archibald, but there it is. In oils.
We’ve had some excellent meals this year – Peter Conistis’ Alpha, Two chaps in Marrickville, Capriccio in Leichhardt, Khaybar in Auburn … but we keep coming back to the arroz negro at Encasa in Pitt Street. Don’t forget to order chilli and extra alioli.
And I can’t leave 2015 without thanking and praising the wonderful food group. We meet once a month and talk about… food in ways that the glossies and the newspapers just don’t. It’s kinda like the Symposium of Gastronomy but a lot more relaxed. Thank you Barbara Sweeney (for the use of your studio) Alison Vincent, Paul Van Reyk, Jacqui Newling, Charmaine O’Brien, Juan Carlo Tomas, Colin Sheringham, Nicholas Jordan, Helen Greeenwood, Alana Mann and Sarah Benjamin.
And finally, my wife, De Brierley Newton. Again, this year as in the 29 previous, the best thing in my life. Two portraits. Her alone and her washing Banjo, the world’s best dog.
See in you in 2016, the year of the Monkey. And remember the old Chinese proverb:
‘Unless we change the direction we are headed, we might end up where we are going’