Sometimes it is a case of not seeing and needing to be shown. On our recent trip to Bundaberg, I spent my time looking for inspiration. Our friends J & G decided to take us on a more ‘local’ tour to find the things I complained were not there.
J and G are Swiss born and incredible people, for whom we have enormous love and respect. They are like modern pioneers; they’ve moved from their families and lives in Europe, via a number of years in New Zealand dairy farming, to dairy farming in Heywood, Victoria and now – the move north to Queensland. G says they have found their paradise. J no longer charges himself with caffeine to milk cows before dawn, braving the icy winters of the south. They are sun kissed, relaxed and have adapted to Queensland life – including looking aghast when we suggest a swim in July. G laughs. Only Victorians swim in the Winter. It’s cold. It’s 19 degrees celcius. Feels like Summer to me.
G is an organised person. She jumps into her Landcruiser and says, Follow me. I’ll show you some shops – but we’ll have lunch first.
We head to a spot on the river, where tucked down on the waterfront, is a seafood shop and restaurant of some repute, called Grunskies.
It is cool for this time of year and the cafe blinds are closed, which muddies an otherwise glorious view of a sweeping curve of the Burnett River. Across the river are swathes of fallen trees that look like flattened straw. G explains where the water level was during the flood. It came up to here. She points to the signage above the counter. This entire place was under water. Years ago, the path of the river was changed by the powers that be in Bundaberg, ‘to suit’. During the flood, according to G, it went right back where it belonged. Where it had flowed for a millennium. Nature can’t be told.
The seafood we eat is fabulous, luscious and fresh – and alongside the crowded restaurant space, the shop sells beautiful fresh fish and other gourmet local products including Macadamias. Smartly packaged and attractively merchandised. There’s a cool room set at around 5 degrees celcius (about the overnight Winter temperature average at home) and it feels like a fridge – but the colour and quality of fish, crabs and small shellfish is amazing.
From the river we head to a side street near Sugarland (the shopping centre) and discover the absolute gem of Bundaberg called Nonna’s Pantry. My coeliac husband, Pete pounces on the containers like he’s in a sweet shop. We discover there’s one of those in the next room – however, for the moment, he is gazing at the tubs of gluten-free flours, banana bread mixes and nuts. He wishes aloud, Why can’t we have a shop like this at home?
Bundaberg has in fact been incredibly kind to Pete’s gluten-free diet. Numerous cafes and restaurants, even the little local bakery in Bargara Beach, which is filled with sickly-sweet iced creations, has gluten-free alternatives.
At the back is a section of tubs of sweets and there is a new gelato bar, which honestly looks every bit as good as the selection we were treated to on our recent trip to Italy. Our children look dazzled by the colour and selection, but each chooses something equally delicious.
Sitting outside, as we devour our treats, I spy an asian grocer a couple of doors down.
A what? Trotting down the road, I think I can feel a little excitement building. An asian grocer, next to Sugarland? Inside, all the familiar aromas of asian food products warms the nostrils. There is something special about an asian grocer – a lot of the products remain untried in my kitchen, but I love the smells, the colourful packaging and the newness of things, the fresh inspiration. I’m no Kylie Kwong – but I do have some favourites. We spy some lovely jasmine and green teas, which we plonk on the counter. I spy a sign that says, something or other….Visa forms available here – and I ask blithely, what that was for, to do with VISA cards? No, Visa forms for workers. OH. Some are thicker than some. That would be me. I think of the asian women picking vegetables in the local paddocks, bent over in the sun, with their trademark triangular straw hats.
G says, I have lots more places to show you, but we only have time for one more today and I want to take Sarah to a shop I know she’ll love. We jump back in our cars and head across town to a gorgeous homewares and lifestyle shop called Saskias. Now G is after my own heart, as I recognise some of the products I stocked in my own shop before I closed it at Christmas. Immediately I see a scarf and eye off some lovely Moroccan style lanterns and numerous other pieces. The owner, Saskia is there, as well as a lovely assistant, Tess – and we have a looooong chat. Pete says, Oh, no G – what have you done? I am in shopping heaven, of course and my ‘handbrake’ is with me. Not a good combination.
Suffice to say, I am out the door with the luscious scarf and a few bits for my girls and I will go back for the Moroccan style lantern by Papaya for G – as a house warming gift. She loved it, too. It will look fantastic on her outdoor table in the undercover entertaining area at night, sending patterned light upwards onto the roof. As we head back to Bargara, leaving a smiling G (She has done a great job, we think), I realise there is more to Bundaberg than meets the eye. We would never have found these hidden gems if it wasn’t for G. They are spread out over the city and you need ‘insider’ knowledge to find them. Having J and in this instance, particularly G – our experience of Bundaberg is made all the richer.
I still say Bundaberg has a lot of potential. Its history is rich and decorative. Its historical architecture is beautiful. There is so much more more that could happen. But that could be decidedly unrealistic – its people are still recovering. And I wouldn’t blame them for being utterly exhausted. Most of all, I have come away with huge respect for what the people have achieved after great parcels of their city were decimated months ago by flood. If you dig a little deeper, there is a resilience and a toughness that can only be admired.
I discover, through J that Bundaberg has the fourth most favourable and temperate climate in the world. If you look up, and the sun is shining and the air is warm, you know why…why they come here and why they stay.
I’ll think of J and G when the next howling northerly Summer wind shrivels my garden and the thermometer tips over 40 degrees. I will. Just as I do, when we thud onto the tarmac at Melbourne airport and the captain says it’s a balmy nine degrees.
But after all is said and done, I do love warming my backside next good open fire in July. And I did buy that scarf. A lot more useful in Victoria, than Queensland… I think, anyway.
I’m looking forward to home.