Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wondai markets

The kids and I regularly make the trek to Wondai, a small town in the South Burnett.
I went back recently, sans kids, for a Kingaroy State High School reunion, which I blogged about here.
(Wondai school only went to year 10, so I, along with a few others, caught the bus to Kingaroy school for years 11 and 12.)
It was, to be honest, a fairly boring town to grow up in.
Everyone knew each other, so there was no getting up to mischief without Mum and Dad finding out about it! And whenever we needed to see doctors or other specialists, we had to travel to Brisbane or Toowoomba. Same with tertiary education. Or with attending stuff like the Brisbane Ekka, or going to the beach.
As a child who regularly got travel sickness, I grew up dreading long car journeys.
And yet, part of the isolation was also Wondai's charm.
I spent a good deal of my formative years riding my pushbike up and down roughly-hewn tracks in the bush, walking my dog to visit my grandmother, yabbying at waterholes, and swimming at the local pool.
I regret that my kids can't enjoy the same freedom.
There have been great changes in the South Burnett since I lived there, with award-winning wineries, cheese-making, artists, fast food outlets, and even traffic lights making appearances.
But Wondai has retained a rural charm.
On Saturdays, Wondai has a true country market, where locals gather to buy and sell their wares.
Something for everyone

Beautiful hand-made goodies by local artist Sue Warry who has an online store here.

All you need is LOVE ... more of Sue's creations
I couldn't resist buying this because it reminded me of our kitteh, Hannah

Feeling clucky?

Don't pay exhorbitant city prices for jewellery! Come to Wondai Markets where you will pick up beautiful items for a steal.

Wild Soapnuts
I hadn't seen them before but they are small berry-like nuts which contain a soap-like substance. They are a natural, environmentally-friendly alternative to chemical-based detergents and washing power, or even as personal cleansers and bath gels.

Farm-fresh goodness at country prices

More pumpkins than you can roll down a hill...
(Nearby Goomeri holds an annual pumpkin festival, which includes a pumpkin rolling race down the main street of the town).

These are actually brown onions, but look white because of their freshness. The farmer told me he plucked them from the earth the previous afternoon.

Looking for a new outfit? I love the Abba-style top on the left

A girl can never have too many cute clothes hangers ....

So readers, do you get back to your home towns often? 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our new baby!

Settle down!
It's not actually MY baby.
Or even a new furry one.
But everyone loves a newborn, so I couldn't help sharing the news about the arrival of Queensland's newest tourism ambassador ... a cute female Inshore Bottlenose dolphin.
Born to proud Mum Zippa, 10, at Sea World September 2, the yet-to-be-named baby is about 80 cm long,
The sweet-as-sugar calf is already suckling milk from her mummy, and is swimming strongly beside her.
Sea World Marine Mammal Trainer, Erin King - who it must be said, has one of the best jobs in the world - says the trainers are all really excited by the birth.
“On the morning of September 2, we went to check on Zippa and we were delighted to discover that she had calved overnight," says Erin.
“The calf was actually born a few weeks earlier then we were expecting – Zippa might have known that spring was in the air.”
The Sea World dolphin breeding program is one of the world’s best, and the theme park is running a naming competition in conjuction with The Today Show between September 23 and 27.
Meanwhile, Sea World visitors can see the new mum and calf in the park’s Dolphin Nursery pools located opposite the Sea Lion theatre.
The best way to see Sea World’s newest dolphin is with a VIP Pass which offers unlimited entry to Sea World, Movie World and Wet’n’Wild until June 30 2011 for $99.99.
Isn't she sweet? The newborn dolphin with proud Mumma Zippa

Staying close to her Mum

Photos courtesy of Sea World publicity

No Parking

When I flew to Sydney and back recently, I decided to make things easy on myself.
Rather than leave my car overnight at a train station for a couple of nights, and train it in, trailing suitcase and other crap; I decided to drive.
And then I looked at those off-airport parking stations. You know the ones where you park nearby, and then catch a shuttle bus to the airport. Said shuttle bus later meets you at the airport when you arrive back, and drives you back to your car.
I emailed a couple of parking stations, and only one of them got back to me, and that was to say they were full.
Then I looked at the airport parking website, and the price wasn't that much more than the next company on my list.
So, because of my arthritis, I decided it would be worth to pay a little extra for the convenience of getting straight to the airport rather than lugging bags into and out of cars and buses.
The plan was: Arrive, park, walk across to the terminal, and that would be it. And the opposite when I got back. Easy!
I have news for anyone planning to follow in my footsteps: Don't do it!
There's loads of work being done at the Brisbane Airport Domestic Terminal, and because of that, access means a huge detour, trailing bags and other crap along bumpy, dusty, noisy surfaces. At several stages, you actually have to wait while heavy vehicles cross the pathway.
It didn't help that I'd unknowingly parked pretty much as far away from the parking exit to the terminal as I could. Nor did it help that there weren't any trolleys available until I was almost inside the terminal, and by then it would have been a waste of $4.
On the way home, I took a different way back to my car, thinking that would be way easier and closer. Erm, no. It was just as far, and just as difficult. It was poorly signposted. I wasn't the only person lost and tired.
Eventually I made it to my car and I thought: There is obviously going to be some kind of discount after all the inconvenience. I mean they had signs everywhere that apologised for said incovenience.
But no. The automated ticket payment machine quite happily extracted $60 from me for my troubles.
Normally, I would have complained. But there is no option to actually give feedback to a real person at the Brisbane Domestic Airport station. In fact, you can only leave the facility, if you have already paid the grossly-inflated bill at their automated ticket machine.
I looked longingly at the shuttle busses as they conveniently picked up and dropped people off right outside the terminal. I know what I'll be doing next time I have to fly out of Brisbane Domestic Airport.
And I can't believe the powers that are not providing the service they promise, have the audacity to charge full price.
I quote from their own website:
Accessible, secure and hassle free - Brisbane Airport Parking is the convenient choice.
And here is the option I chose:
PARKLONG - best for more than 4 hours. This facility offers you value for money, combined with proximity to the terminal in a secure environment for your car.
Here's the thing: It is currently not close if you have to WALK to the terminal, because you have to go a round-about way. And I packed light. And also? It was not value for money. It was probably secure, I'll give them that.
The website does mumble about car parking changes but doesn't actually say anything like: 'This means you're going to have to walk a crap of a long way, over uneven services, and we're still going to charge you full price for the inconvenience!"
I was lucky I'd allowed enough time, or I may actually have missed my flight, not having factored in the delay. Anyway.
It's Un-Australian I tell you.
And that is my Rant For The Day.
What has pissed you off recently?


Monday, September 20, 2010

Nowhere like ... Sydney

Sometimes, even a born and bred Queenslander has to leave the warm embrace of the Sunshine State.
And so it was that I found myself being winged away safely to Sydney by Virgin Blue.
It was time for my literary agent, Selwa Anthony's, Sassy conference. Both Selwa and Virgin Blue kindly sponsored my attendance, and I can't thank them enough.
It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of visit, so I didn't get a chance to see much of Sydney at all.
In fact, except for a childhood visit via caravan with my family - and that's a whole other story - I've only ever been to Sydney for work.
Sassy was held at the Swissotel Sydney, and they did a really good job of feeding us and making us feel welcome.
I missed out on the Selwa Anthony Event special prices, so had to upgrade to a room on one of the Executive Floors. I still managed to get a good deal via Swissotel's own website (they guarantee the best possible rate, and so it was).
My room was quiet, clean, and comfortable and I relished every moment of waking up in my king-sized bed alone. I just wish I could have brought a couple of those pillows home!
Then there was the Executive Club lounge. I was able to use their wi-fi, and work in comfort.
Breakfast and evening canapes were included and the staff were just lovely, without being over the top.
 I loved my visit to Sydney, but next time I'd like to see a little more than the inside of my hotel!
A room with a view

View from my bathroom

Loved the bed and the pillows!
Evening canapes
The executive club lounge
My room had an ergonomic chair, internet access and office supplies.

So, when I eventually return to Sydney, what should I see first?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We likie

How often do you think of complaining about poor service, but never actually get around to doing so?
I'm a bit like that, although occasionally I get cranky enough to fire off an email. I am never abusive or angry, I am not after any freebies (okay, well it would be nice, but doesn't happen).
About 80 per cent of the time, I get no reply, even if several emails/online forms are submitted.
But I really respect those people/companies/businesses who respond to feedback. And I try to give positive feedback where it's due also.
One of those companies is McDonalds. They market heavily towards kids, especially with their Happy Meal toys, and I can't tell you how many times we have ordered a meal, paid, and been given it before finding out the toy they've advertised has been sold out and replaced with something crappy they never got rid of first time around.
A few years ago, it had happened a little too often, and fed up with consoling inconsolable kids, I emailed them to complain.
To give them credit, McDonalds PR rang me the very next day, asked which toys the kids had missed out on. They express posted the toys to the kids straight away, which was awesome. A couple of vouchers would have been even better, since this had happened numerous times, but hey, they solved the complaint and that's something.
We've gotten more canny when it comes to ordering Happy Meals. (And yes I know I shouldn't buy the kids junk food, but sometimes it's nice for them to have a 'treat', and when you're travelling, it's often the best spot to give the kids a play, and a wee, and have a half-decent coffee.) Anyway, nowadays the kids usually ask to see the toys first, before ordering.
Then there's Wotif, where, although we've had some great experiences, there have been some horrific ones as well. Usually it is down to the hotel/resort not being truthful about the facilities or level of quality. The word 'luxury' is clearly subjective.
One holiday was so particularly bad, that I resorted to complaining to wotif, several times. I never got one single answer, even though my then husband spent thousands of dollars each year booking hotels through them for business and I was doing a lot of travel writing at the time. In recent times, I've also found that wotif doesn't always have the best deals, so check with the resort direct before you book. Then if your plans change, you can always transfer the booking to another date, rather than pay a cancellation fee.
The same with Qantas, who sent me some intelligible, impersonal reply obviously written by either someone who didn't speak or write English well or possibly a computer, to a valid complaint. It did not address my concerns in any way, and also announced that the problem had been dealt with, unless I got back to them. I tried once more, with no response, and by then it was too much bother to go back to them, and again I let it slide.
There are loads of places I could out, but I try to play nice, and in that spirit I would like to recognise those companies/businesses that do offer exceptional service.
Here are some of my favourites:

Muffin Break at Mt Ommaney Shopping Centre, Brisbane. I don't do muffins,(it's the weight thing), but they do a decent skim milk coffee, and Miss 7 loves their Mini-Muffin deals. $4.95 gets her three mini-muffins, a juice, colouring in page, and pencils. It's brilliant value and the staff are always very kind to her. She usually polishes off two mini-muffins and has one for morning tea the next day. Mr 9 loves their hot chocolates, and likes to order his own. Again, they are really sweet to him, and treat him like a 'big boy'.

The BP Service Station at Colinton, D'Aguilar Highway, Colinton. Fondly know as the Slush Puppy Stop, we usually stop here during one of our frequent visits to Wondai in the South Burnett, where my parents still live. The ladies there are always unfailingly lovely and helpful, and nothing is too much trouble. The loos are cleaned frequently and pass even Miss 7's tough public toilet standards. This is the only time I will buy the kids a Slush Puppy so they look forward to it as a treat on the long journey.

Yum Yum Peking Duck, Darra. Possibly Brisbane's best Peking Duck at reasonable prices. The surroundings aren't flash, but the food is excellent and the service is great if you're a regular. Staff always fuss over the kids and even remember their names, where they go to school, and favourite dishes and drinks.

Trampoline Gelato, Indooroopilly Shopping Centre - Unfortunately, a lot of their gelatos may contain traces of nuts and tree nuts, which makes it hard for Mr 9. But Miss 7 loves their ice-cream, especially the low-fat chocolate one.  Again, the staff are always friendly and offer tastes without having to be asked. Unlike some ice-cream chains, where uninterested staff sigh and grudgingly offer the tiniest tastes when asked. (People, I have kids ... we are obviously going to buy something if we've come this far ... I just want to make sure they will eat it, since it's pretty expensive!) Trampoline staff obviously get that, and I love that it's all made fresh on the spot. (I also can't believe the low-fat chocolate one is low-fat - it certainly tastes wickedly good).

Virgin Blue and Pacific Blue Airlines - Even though you pay for 'extras' like food and drink on the domestic Virgin, the friendly service is included on both versions of this airline. The price is usually less than Qantas, and the staff are always so friendly and helpful. On one flight, they bought our meals out first and a hostie walked the baby around the plane so we could eat. They've always had a stroller available for the journey from check-in to boarding - again, not so with Qantas. On another flight, staff took the kids down the back of the plane and painted their faces (having asked permission first). On yet another, they taught the kids dance steps and had a mock fashion parade. On occasions, we've had staff cracking jokes, singing or even dancing mid-flight.

And while I'm speaking of airlines, Air New Zealand is amazing. Not only is their marketing second to none - their Nothing To Hide campaign was pure genius - but the service and comfort is always good, even in economy. They are very effective on twitter also, with @flyairNZ responding quickly and efficiently to comments, praise, queries and all the rest. They also have an @airpointsfairy, who regularly sprinkles her fairy dust asking for and granting flight-related wishes.

The most memorable moment was on a flight with Air New Zealand from Auckland to Apia in Samoa. Miss 7 was chosen to be the Lolly Girl, and got to hand out lollies on descent to all the passengers. And after landing, we were all allowed into the cockpit for photos with the captain. Mr 9 was seriously impressed, and Miss 7 was given a huge bag of lollies to keep for her troubles.

So forget about the brickbats ... anyone else got any bouquets for excellent service?

Miss 7 (then 6) as the Lolly Girl on the flight to Samoa.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dimitie's Cottage, Wondai

Dimities Cottage is beloved in the South Burnett district as a unique venue for anything from a good old-fashioned afternoon tea, to a fabulous party.
Last weekend, my niece celebrated her 30th birthday in style at Dimities. The menu featured some really fresh, delicious seafood - ocean-fresh Australian prawns, crabs, bugs and oysters, plus salads, vegies and a really delicious whole snapper which fell apart as your fork touched it. 
For afters there was pavlova, trifle and fruit salad, plus tea and coffee.
It was an exceptional opportunity to wander through the cottage, and examine the art, crafts, soft toys and other goodies on offer.
Guests who needed some time-out, took their coffee out on the veranda and soaked up the country atmosphere.
Dimities is definitely worth a visit when you're next in the South Burnett, and don't forget to check their website for special events.  
If you go: Dimities Cottage is open 7 days at 49 Haly Street, Wondai. Ph: 07 41685744.

There's something for everyone at Dimities

Country style

Her Maj., the Queen presided over the evening

This 'baby', created by a local artist, looked so real he/she kept freaking us out!

Arts and crafts
Pretty and practical

What country cottage would be without a resident cat?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In praise of Dads

On the lead-up to Father's Day, I tweeted for ideas on what to get my own Dad this weekend.

Now, Dad is pretty old-fashioned in his tastes, and he's nearly 80.

He's not a big fan of books, though he still reads the newspaper from cover to cover, and he already gets that home-delivered.

He kind of likes DVDs but has trouble working the DVD player.

He's got more than enough socks, and as for jocks? I don't really want to go there.

I'm thinking movie passes, or a voucher for dinner or coffees to enjoy with Mum.

But while I ponder a pressie, I thought I'd share some of my funny Dad moments:
  • When I was a thumb-sucking kid, Dad told me he'd sucked his own thumb off, which is why he had only a little stub where his thumb should be. He'd actually lost his thumb in a truck accident, but I didn't know that. I told my class at Show and Tell one day and got into trouble for making up stories!
  • Whenever he was driving dangerously or speeding (which was quite a lot), Mum would yell him to slow down. "It's okay, I used to be a racing car driver," he'd say. This too, I believed, and got another bollocking at school for telling lies.
  • Mum was more the disciplinarian in our family and Dad was the one we went to when we wanted to be allowed to do something controversial Mum didn't want us to do - like attend a school disco, spend time with 'wild' friends or members of the opposite sex, or play sport/do theatre rehearsals on Sundays. (Gasp!)
  • Dad was self-employed and a councillor, so was rarely at home when we were young. I doubt that he's ever changed a nappy in his life! But what he lacked in the childhood department he made up for when we were older. I remember him spending hours on the phone on my behalf to get me close-to-front-row seats to a Sting Concert when I was a teenager. This was in the old days when tickets for concerts could only ever be bought on the phone or physically in line. And he didn't even like Sting or The Police.
  • He was frequently the taxi driver when I wanted to go to social events before I could drive, and would come out at night to pick up my friends and I, and drop us safely home.
  • Throughout the years, he has held many serious burial services when beloved pets died, laying them gently to rest, covering the grave, allowing us to pay our respects and decorating the graves with flowers.  
  • He once knicked a traffic cone so I could put it in my room at uni, which earned me loads of street cred.
  • During my teenage fitness kicks, he would get up early to jog with me before breakfast, because he and Mum were worried a baddie would get me.
  • He's walked me down the aisle twice now, and has cried with me when those marriages have failed.
  • He gets emotional at family gatherings, especially if he gives a speech.
  • He frequently calls us by the wrong names ... it's a family joke and dammit if my siblings and I don't have the same problem now!
  • He loves a bargain ... something my eldest brother and I have inherited. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes we curse it.
  • He's passionate about news, church, volunteer work, gardening, and politics. In fact, I'm pretty sure I became a journalist because I grew up reading the paper and watching news and current affairs shows. He still does this now, but has added junk mail (while scouring for bargains) to his reading of choice. 
  • He treats his miniature long-haired daschund Luther like a child.
  • He dotes on my Mum as well, forever getting cups of tea, and stacking/emptying the dishwasher
  • He's the go-to man in the community for people who don't have family to help them, regularly driving other oldies to medical appointments, shopping trips, or family events. He doesn't even ask for petrol money. 
  • He's a shameless, unpaid promoter for the South Burnett, where he was born and still lives.
We don't always understand each other, but I love my Dad and I know he loves me.

Does anyone else have Dad stories they want to share?

Supervising mode. Letting the kids dig for potatoes in his vegetable garden

Dad's furry baby Luther

Luther likes to help out in the garden

Mum and Dad. They've been married for 52 years!

More of the garden

Happy Father's Day!