Adventuresome Australia

In 1982 I moved to Newport, Rhode Island, the sailing capital of the U.S., though Annapolis might dispute that. I loved the town and its hustle and bustle of a vibrant seaside resort with its Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, special events sponsored by the Newport Preservation Society, sailing, and being near the Atlantic Ocean. It was the summer of 1984 that brought the America’s Cup Races to Newport and it was one of the most fabulous summers I ever remember.

During that summer, I met a charming man from north of Melbourne, Australia, and I dated him until he returned home. Alas, I wasn’t to marry him as I was not an Outback person. Also, I met a couple from Melbourne with a son my daughter’s age. Over the years, we promised to keep in touch and did so via Christmas cards, letters, and email. I was always hopeful they’d return to this country or I’d get to visit Australia. Two years ago, the opportunity arose to visit both Australia and New Zealand with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT).

I opted to journey to Melbourne a day early, luckily upgrading on Qantas, as it is a very long flight, even from Los Angeles. Arriving in the morning, I couldn’t check into my room at the Pullman on the Park as they were finishing up a huge cricket tournament just across the road, but I was allowed to change in the spa. Shortly thereafter, I walked across verdant Fitzroy Park to the lovely small Federici’s restaurant, named after the opera star. That is where I met Norman and his wife, Barbara, whom he had met after returning to Australia from Newport, and Mark (who was now divorced). After 35 years, it was like old times sharing photos and stories, and then Mark walked us around and drove us through Melbourne, ending up at the Brighton Yacht Club for a cool drink. I am so thankful I chose to go then, as Norman now has dementia, and probably would not know me.

Mark mentioned that the Melbourne International Flower Show was on, so the next morning we headed there. I haven’t been to the Philadelphia Flower Show in a few years, but I don’t think it could top Melbourne. The ornate building and its grounds were filled with every flower possible, people walking on stilts, and mannequins made up of flowers. It was overwhelming but the most gorgeous sight possible. The walk back to the hotel took me by St. Paul’s Cathedral. A quick dip in the hot tub before meeting my group from OAT was highly invigorating. When I travel, I rarely stop and am always exploring, so a dip in a pool or hot tub energizes me.

Melbourne is a beautiful city with parks, the Royal Botanical Garden, wide boulevards, the beaches, and the night penguins near the Royal Melbourne Yacht Club. The architecture is pleasing. The Shrine of Remembrance honors those who have served in the various wars, especially World War I. The day we visited was National Greek Day and so many people appeared in costumes and with flags flying. The Victoria Market was filled with specialties from around the world.

Our first real adventure was trying to catch our plane to Adelaide. Somehow the bus didn’t arrive, our guide rounded up a few cabs, and a call was made to the airport to hold the plane. We didn’t even have to go through security! However, a bus did meet us after our flight and took us to Cleland Wildlife Park to see koalas, Tasmanian Devils, kangaroos, wallabies, dingos, wetlands with swans, ducks, and other birds.

At the Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide, Katie Barney visits with a kangaroo.

The next morning, an expert briefed us on the horrible treatment of the Aboriginal people – many were buried alive up to their necks, killed in other ways, and it was not until the 1970s that they gained rights to their land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. The original population of 25 million now numbers only about 470,000. The museum in Adelaide has an incredible exhibit on the South Pacific. I could have spent days there learning about each culture. In the Barossa Valley, we visit several wineries, including Sir James Hardy’s, many of whose wines I drank during that America’s Cup summer in Newport.

In Alice Springs we visited the Old Telegraph Station, which dates back to 1872 to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide. Then we went on the Desert Park Aboriginal Culture tour with Jeremy, an Aboriginal guide, seeing native birds, nocturnal animals, dingos, dried out river beds, and learning about the deep spiritual and cultural connection the Aboriginal people have to the land. Alice Springs School of the Air provides education to children living in the remote Outback. I bought their cookbook Recipes for the Centre and left a donation. I remembered over the years that Norman and Barbara had educated their children through the school.

Traveling to Uluru (Ayers Rock) we stopped at the Curtin Springs Station to learn about the native grasses and how some are used to make paper. Watching the sun set over the monolith Ayers Rock did not disappoint with its red and orange hues of rock.

Ayers Rock, also known as Uluru, is Australia’s most recognized natural landmark. Uluru is known to appear to change color at different times of the day and year, particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset.

We also enjoyed toasting and exploring the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Center. Jen, our guide, prepared barbecue that night with barramundi, kangaroo, beef, lamb chops, chicken sausage, salads, and Pavlova. Pavlova is claimed by both Australia and New Zealand as its national dessert, named for the famous ballerina. The recipe is in my international cookbook under the New Zealand chapter, as the recipe was contributed by the chef at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington. Other Aussie food, excellent wine and beers we tried during the trip included Vegemite (didn’t like it), meat pies, sausage rolls, and Anzac biscuits. Almost all Foster Beer is exported, so it’s very difficult to get in the country. The next morning was Easter Sunday where we watched the sunrise and drank champagne and ate pastries at Ayers Rock. It was magical as the full moon disappeared. We were stunned. No words can describe what we had just seen, and on Easter morning.

Next up was Cairns, home to the Great Barrier Reef. We boarded a catamaran for a full day excursion where one can dive, swim, or ride in a semi-submersible vessel. Exploring the Reef and learning what is happening there opened our minds to the nasty problem of pollution in the world. We wonder at the graceful turtles, colorful fish, and wide variety of corals, but sadly the floating plastic is a huge problem.

The Daintree Rainforest was nearby and a hike there and wildlife cruise made us marvel at the incredible country Australia is. One moment we were in the desert, which goes on for thousands of miles (if you travel through it you have to take full provisions and check in every six hours), or now in the natural wonder of a rainforest. That night, I walked on an almost deserted beach outside the hotel. The next morning, I started down the path and realized the outline I saw was where a huge crocodile had recently been. I didn’t want to be its next victim and scurried quickly back to the hotel. So much for my walk.

Sydney, like Melbourne, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Much of the architecture is 19th century, but there is so much more there with its harbor, the Rocks District, the beaches – Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair and Bondi; the verdant colors; and, of course, the Opera House where we were given a private tour. The Sydney Opera House was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. We toured Altmann and Cherny, home of the Aurora Australis, the world-famous black opal, and learned about the different types of opal. Red is the rarest. My daughter was the recipient of a small opal pendant.

The Sydney Opera House was completed in 1973, taking 14 years to complete.

Australia is a long way from Maryland, but so worth the trip. Next month I will take you to New Zealand, which we also visited. I am very grateful I visited these two countries when I did. I was able to meet my friends and I avoided the terrible fires that so devastated the animal population, especially the koalas. I don’t think I will ever return but I cherish the memories and the wonderful 15 people I traveled with and our guide. She was fabulous.

As a footnote, I would like to mention right after I returned home was Anzac Day, celebrated annually at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I was able to attend the service with the Australian Ambassador and many Aussies, including the military attache. He and his wife have become friends of mine. Since they had just arrived in the States and were living in Virginia, she was able to attend the Northern Virginia conversation group (NOVA) of THIS for Diplomats with me. It was our annual tea held at the Belle Haven Club in Alexandria. We have met several times since. Anzac Day is a very special day in Australia and New Zealand as most people don’t realize how many of their troops were killed serving during World War I. The service was very emotional, especially having visited the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. If you have not watched the movie “Gallipoli,” I highly recommend it to learn about the bravery of men and women of these two countries and the sacrifices they made.

 Katie Barney is a local author, world traveler and volunteer for THIS for Diplomats in Washington, D.C. For more international recipes, consider purchasing The Enchanting World of Food at or call 410-820-9915 for more information.

 Lamb Skewers with Lemon &Garlic

Serves 4

500g lamb leg steak, diced

1 red capsicum, cut into 2cm pieces

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 lemon, juiced

½  teaspoon dried mint

½  cup low-fat Greek-style yogurt

4 large coliban potatoes

olive oil cooking spray

80g mixed salad leaves

1 Lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced

Thread lamb and capsicum alternately onto (pre-soaked) skewers. Combine half the garlic, ¼ cup lemon juice and mint in a ceramic dish. Add skewers and turn to coat in garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, if time permits. Combine remaining garlic and yogurt in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Pierce each potato with a fork and place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave, uncovered, on high (100%) for 8 to 10 minutes or until just cooked through. Allow to cool slightly. Cut potatoes into 1 cm-thick slices. Preheat barbecue grill and place on medium-high heat. Spray skewers with oil. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes each side for medium or until cooked to your liking. Spray potato slices with oil. Cook on barbecue plate for 2 minutes each side or until golden. Remove potato to a plate. Divide salad leaves and cucumber between plates. Top with skewers. Serve with potato and yogurt.

Recipe courtesy of Andrew McGowan, Medowie, NSW, Australia

 Coffee Basted Lamb Roast – Outback Australia Style

1 lamb roast – either leg or shoulder

Several cloves of garlic

1 tbls. salt

1 tbls. dry mustard powder

1 cup milk

1 tbls. instant coffee powder

(Or one cup of very strong milky coffee)

1 cup stock – beef, veal or vegetable

2 tbls. raspberry or strawberry jam, or cranberry sauce

Heat oven to 350° F. Cut garlic into slivers and insert into meat. Mix salt and mustard together, rub over lamb. Place in suitable greased roasting pan and roast for 1 hour. Dissolve coffee in boiling water, add milk, then pour over lamb. Return to oven. Continue cooking meat, basting with coffee liquid at regular intervals until lamb is cooked to personal preference. Remove lamb roast to rest, wrap in foil. Scrape pan to loosen coffee and lamb juices and add stock and jam. Stir well to blend. Simmer to reduce and thicken gravy, adding any juices from resting lamb. Season gravy with salt and pepper to taste, pour into serving jug. Thinly slice lamb and serve generous portions. Best served with traditional vegetables (potato, carrot, pumpkin, parsnip) roasted in a separate pan, and also steamed green peas, beans. May also be served with Couscous. Sit back and enjoy appreciative sighs from contented guests.

Recipe courtesy of Norman and Barbara Crossley, Clifton Springs, Victoria, Australia

Katie Barney is a local author and world traveler. She is the author of The Enchanting World of Food by

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