The Hooper Centre – a handy CBD boost

Yes…..this a blatant plug for my local shopping centre. I have lost count of the times when a last minute item has been found, or a quick bite has saved the day for me. That is particularly true of Shane and Rick at Computer Troubleshooters.

In post-COVID times when cash is becoming less likely to be used, the Hooper Centre has the sought after commodity at its fresh ATM. Its location in the city’s central business parking zone, offers a few unique shops and services, as well as convenient parking and a range of the basic goods and services central Toowoomba workers and local shoppers are seeking.

Bubble Tea is providing delicious tastes in the footpath friendly spot to keep the thirst at bay. When it comes to feeding the hunger pangs, this little centre, once again home to the independent grocer, IGA, provides choices from the Japanese lunch find – Ichi; the Chinese Qi Lin; the quick post-shopping cafe KK’s Eatery or the IG Deli and who can resist the smell of fresh bread from Baker’s Delight?

Prefer to cook at home? Then IGA, The Asian Grocery and Patton’s bulk meat have you covered.

Looking for that perfect outfit for a special occasion? Love me Forever has pre-loved and new fashion for any date. Need the makeup or gift for that outing? Stop in at the Pharmacy and indulge in their gift range.

The Hooper Centre now boasts a 24/7 tanning salon which os self-serve. Bronze up anytime and with the convenience and privacy of this ‘on tap’ service if that is your style. Need a quick hair trim? Barber Boss will fit you in and flatter your look.

Free Choice Tobacconist is there both for your smoking needs – no judgement from me, but……however, their service to convert memories on to dvds warms my family history heart.

Having a medical centre helps local and city centre workers along that part of Toowoomba to keep on top of their health and Choice has cheap and cheerful party and household needs, and the chance of scoring a big win at the newsagent is tempting.

Shopping centres are strategically dotted around Toowoomba, but the Hooper Centre even has a great pop-up plant nursery on Fridays…..and its easy going feel, and range of shops makes it a good place to check out.

Yes, I know there are micro shopping centres opposite both on Hume and Herries streets catering for more gourmet tastes, so they will be highlighted soon as well.

See you there perhaps!

My next exploration is Uniplaza on West Street – very different!

A Virgin Backpacker on R&R in Townsville

After months and months of Word Fest Toowoomba preparation and delivery, there was a moment of clarity. Time to book a time to rest and reflect, and with plenty of friends to harass and a familiar city from my working past to revisit, I donned the compulsory mask and became an air traveller once again. Destination Townsville.

Far North Queensland is a place of extremes, and Townsville, though on a map appears to be in the tropical area of our vast state, is actually in a rain shadow and is usually quite dry. Humidity is stifling in summer, and the only sensible time to holiday is in winter. So on Tuedsay 8th June I landed with my pared down 7 kilos of carry-on luggage, and an exhausted body looking for a mix of Rest & Relaxation.

A delayed flight…….a combination of ramped up security checks not quite managing the throngs of travellers once again taking to the air, and the early hour made for a very quiet time on board as snoozing was the order of the day. My travel pillow is such a great design that it never takes long for me to drift off. Jetstar had offered cheap flights during the months of COVID inactivity, and I knew I would need a break, so I threw caution to the wind and decided this was a safe place to take on my first hostel accommodation.

Why, oh why? I have asked myself many times.

Rewiring my life path after decades teaching and in admin meant a chance to transfer those leadership skills in to planning and delivering a writers, readers and word lovers festival in my home city of Toowoomba. So it has happened and now my reward is a trip to the UK in September/October to explore Booktowns, bookshops and discover festival logistics to enhance the Word Fest 2023 planning. So, keeping the costs down has been the challenge. Hostels seemed to be calling.

So before heading to Autumn weather in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and Paris, I am here in Townsville – and lying on the top bunk of a 4-bed female dorm in the fully occupied Civic Guesthouse and asking Why, oh why?

It is 4 nights of practice! I can do this!

Day 1

Headed straight to the Blue House at 183 Fulham Road…..and my beautiful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob. Absolute welcoming hugs and yarning up with the family that has made me culturally welcomed since 1985.

Then a deep breath and with my big girl pants on, I fronted up to the hostel.

My first night. I learnt:-

. Don’t choose the top bunk where the ladder is on the side – the end is easier to cope with the indignity of an overweight body encumbered by a hip with osteoarthritis getting up and down

. Gently assert space – long term occupants, especially young confident backpackers are messy and take over all available space in and on every available piece of furniture.

. Find out when they are leaving in the morning and hold on to toilet, shower and teeth cleaning times until they head off to their respective casual jobs

. Where the fire alarms, kitchen and extra bathrooms are

Ok, so I survived the first night…well til 3.30am anyway. Found a nook down the hallway with a table that is a reasonable height that doesn’t add more aches to your back and uninterruptedly spent time recharging the inevitable devices.

In between snoozes and snacks (another must-do is to find the closest supermarket, easy to prepare, but nutritionally-balanced food supplies and squeeze things in to the bar fridge designed for a six-pack of beer rather than food for 4 people), there was the CBD adventure to come.

Day 2

Sad! Even the addition of the Cowboys League Club in the downtown city centre hasn’t really energised the Flinders Mall. Loads of second-hand clothing shops, a semblance of a commercial hub, some tired infrastructure buildings in need of a spit and polish and the old Sugar Shaker now the Grand Chancellor Hotel.

However the Perc Tucker Gallery’s Percival Portrait Prize exhibition was a gem. Also picked up the Street Art Trail brochure there and saw a couple of the murals….tomorrow’s itinerary perhaps.

Townsville has had suburban sprawl and the smaller satellite shopping centres, the new hospital and the impressive football stadium are catering for the families, schools and sporting needs of a growing city still linked so firmly to its defence forces. The western suburbs have become the home of recent migrant groups and the local Indigenous groups are continuing their active campaigns for inclusion and practical solutions to youth at risk. Townsville is trying hard!

The evening dining experience with old friends at Yayo’s Greek restaurant attached to The Clarion Hotel was superb! The chargrilled octopus and the lemon roasted potatoes were the standout for me, though we all enjoyed our choices. And only 200 metres from the digs.

Bunk was fine, and found a little stool to help the last step down – a grateful bonus!

Day 3

Disappointingly COVID contact meant a planned meetup with another old friend was cancelled, but she suggested a few places of interest. So I explored the City Arcade and its hip boutique brewery and shopping, before a lunch hookup with my mob at the Hotel Allen where we enjoyed many laughs and congratulated long- time activist Gracelyn Smallwood on her inclusion in the Queensland Day Greats Awards.

Townsville is home again to niece Kym and family thanks to Defence Force deployment, so it was a fun twilight fish and chips adventure with Syd, Damo and Sam on The Strand while their Mum was ‘relaxing’ in the Officers’ Mess with a red wine on her 6 week course away. Tons of family spaces and food kiosks and icecreams later, the boys were ready for home and footie, and I was actually yearning for that top bunk.

Not sure why the room mates needed the aircon on, but it got chilly in the wee hours.

Day 4

Saturday slow start. Thawing out and thawing the frozen juice in the midget fridge. Sorting out the clothes to discard…..my travel quirk is to take things that need culling or replacing and throwing them out along the way……..and the ones to wear to lunch. That momentous decision-making was about as much as I could muster.

Then it was off to the Herbert Hotel to meet my Forsyth cousin, Ron. A steak was in order for my final day, after small no-cooking snacks the other days. Also needed to show some semblance of intelligent conversation with this quick-witted gent. A project to record the line of Robert Henry Forsyth for Clan Forsyth Qld needs many hands making light work….thank you, Ron …….and the technology of Otter. This app which converts talk to text is a boon! Helps with my MollyB Blogging work as well. Bonus!

MollyB Blogging……..facebook…come on biard, like and share

Last bunk night. Roomie He Huan is a Chinese Comedian based in Melbourne and she was in Townsville doing a gig for the Fringe Festival at Jezzine Barracks. Will be following her on Insta. Sadly too cold to go to the gig. Too cold in Townsville……oh my goodness, I never thought I would say that!

And so to the end of a quick r&r trip. I couldn’t resist a book browse at the airport…….

A virgin backpacker no longer. Paris here I come in October.

An Easter Word Trail

While the children are excitedly doing egg hunts, there are plenty of adult trails to hop along in Toowoomba. Thought it might be fun to egg you on….here’s a WORD TRAIL for your long weekend.

Where can you find these words in our beautiful garden city?

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

Roses are Red….

8.

9.

10.

Let me know how you go! ANSWERS in the next post on @MollyB Blogging on FaceBook.

Celtic Fest Warwick

What a spectacular! Car parking was banked back hundreds of metres in either direction of the Warwick Showgrounds yesterday, crowds poured in, programs and maps were handed out by smiling volunteers to incoming patrons eager to follow the sound of the bagpipes, and so the adventure began. A grand way to celebrate the return of festivals and the sun was shining on this inaugural event hoping to cement Warwick as Queensland’s Celtic Capital.

And of course it gave me the chance to proudly wear my Clan Forsyth kilt, and my McPhail Clan sash and reflect on my Scottish and Scots-Irish heritage.

Drawn to the applause coming from the stands around the main show ring, we were entertained by the efforts of brawny men hurling things; the Lighthorse charges and displays and the various local and visiting bands. A great way to start the day! And the crowd kept building.

Moving on to where the strains of the singing and playing of mixed ages and instruments stirred our Celtic blood, we ear-marked the wines and ales for later. Characters wandered freely in the well spaced grounds and people watching was part of the fun….and the strains of voices and music floated from many directions – which way now?

Intrigued by the sign, we followed the sounds of children captivated by the hairy highland beasts – and were just as captivated!

Wandering past the majestic Clydesdale horses, we could hear the clash of broad swords and the clang of armour……and before we knew it, we were deep in the heart of a Medieaval Village.

Expecting nothing, we were soon fully engaged in the various displays, demonstrations of weaving and armoury, cooking and tale telling from groups who certainly take their hobbies very seriously. Onions and bread seemed to be the common food stuffs – which of course started our search for something a bit more enticing for lunch.

Food vendors were plentiful, with the usual offerings. Queues were long at the much loved Shannon’s Chip Van, but the crowd’s social distancing manners shone through, and a short wait in the mild sunlight was easy. Lunch was enjoyed under shady trees. Being entertained by the belly dancers with a touch of tartan on their costumes while we ate was a bonus – and not an onion in sight!

While waiting for the dance performances, we watched the nerve-racking tossing of the caber – highland games in Warwick – who would have thought it!

Of course, festivals invariably bring a variety of stalls and static displays, and Celtic Fest was no different. Clan displays, book sellers, garments and every accessory you might require to join the villagers and their age-old reenactments were there – spoilt for choice! LSM (Long Suffering Male) actually found his ancestral clan tartan and it has already found a place in his family history memorabilia.

Hearty congratulations to the organisers who had put so much planning and effort in to the program and presentation. If the aim was to have this as an ongoing event, then today’s success should ensure that.

Then it was back to that challenge of the parking……..Sliante!

Toowoomba on Show

Impending rain must have had the Heritage Bank sponsors, volunteers and show organisers anxious, but the general Toowoomba community turned out in droves for the return of the Toowoomba Show. Eager to take advantage of the public holiday, and weary of the restrictions of the pandemic, families flocked to the attractions and particularly Sideshow Alley.

The fact that by 9.45am the car parks were overflowing, and the sun was out, meant the promise of a crowd pleaser. As we meandered along towards the Founders Pavilion, the jaunty Greek Gardening Australia’s Costa gave us a friendly welcome on his way to his many sessions. One of the highlights of this year’s regional show was the Mulberry Project and its gardens produced by a team dedicated to including recent migrant and refugee arrivals, volunteers and the local business supporters like Pohlman’s Nursery.

Those who missed out on getting to their Long Lunch this time need to be alert and not miss the next one.

With a jam-packed program and map under our arm we set out around the large, well-maintained site to see the sights.

WIth the Bluey and Bingo Show, the rides, Show bags, Dog Training, Circus, Dinosaurs, Pig Racing, Animal Nursery and the traditional Dagwood dogs and fairy floss, the kids were well catered for. Bigger kids were on the lookout for the Wood Chop, Jet ski show, the big boy tractors, Reptile display and hearty food choices.

And then into the Pavilion and the quaility of the displays was outstanding. Cooking demonstrations with Paul West; the introduction by Elizabeth Kempster of her “Memoirs of a Jersey Girl”; the floral handicraft and cake displays were awe-inspiring. Reminders of a forthcoming election sprinkled in amongst the CWA scones and jam made for an interesting cross-section. Local identity Greg ‘ Johnno says’ Johnson and Con the Fruiterer made an appearance.

Elizabeth Kempster

We were fascinated by the extraordinary talent of the cake decorators and the spinning and weaving entries. Don’t you agree? WATCH THIS SPACE for an amazing announcement from Chief Steward, Marion, about a Toowoomba first from her loom. We are very excited!

A very poignant reminder of how lucky we are despite recent flooding and COVID disruptions was the Ukrainian traditional Easter basket on display.

Traditional Ukrainian Easter Basket

With a wide selection of food to keep the energy up, and a twirl on the rides (from the ground of course), our few hours at the show were a treat………but with the evening program and the weekend to come, let’s hope the skies are kind. Well done everyone involved!

The Pleasure of The Plate

So many compliments and taste temptations kept popping up when Toowoomba&Darling Downs visited the newest addition to Toowoomba’s modern Australian cuisine dining scene. Wearing their pride on their sleeves, our hosts Mark and Marketing Manager Katie were justifiably beaming as they showcased The Plate. All the work that has gone in to the expansion of The Paddock Butchery and the Shed Coffee Drive Thru at the old Delacey’s Hotel at 224 Ruthven Street, has delivered an upmarket restaurant which will provide an engaging dining experience for couples, groups, families and events alike.

The design ensures that upon entry the theme of the ‘country meets city’ is upfront. The decor is stylish country and the flow of the different bar and brewery experiences is smooth. The restaurant offers spaces for private groups, and the seating with a view on to Ruthven Street is genuinely alluring to passers-by.

Smoking and drying the meats in conjunction with the Butchery is an interesting distraction on the way through to the Brewery. Brews are hoping to be released in May.

Disability access is first class.

As you follow these features through to the bar to try out the cocktail making, you get the vibe that the staff are very much part of a family that values their vast experience and that is eager to bring this fresh new experience to Toowoomba. You know you are in for a few different tastes. Instead of going for the ‘usuals’, be guided by the suggestions and taste combinations on offer. For someone who is not normally a cocktail drinker, the choices were very well balanced.

All were worth a shot! While at the bar, indulge in a few shared plates – the ciabatta with bone marrow butter; warm marinated olives; chicken derrieres (yes some family fights over these can now be resolved – so yummy I forgot to take the photo before the tasting); and my pick, the Boccadillo Little Spanish Sandwich with fried oyster, chirizo, pepper and basil mayo…..and more to choose from.

Hardly needed any bidding to move to one of the dining areas for the pleasure of the next courses. The decor has lots of stories behind it, and Mark was a great host telling us the origin of the bison and bull heads and the landscape mural. There is plenty of room catering for larger and late night groups.

Back up towards the Brewery, we passed the enthusiastic, experienced and much awarded chef, Max Stephenson, and his fresh young team.

We started our taste discoveries of the entrees, mains and desserts. The menu is extensive. The choices are a mix of the familar, and the ‘let’s try something different” with dietary friendly versions rather than a predictable salad. The beef, as expected, is from the paddock to the plate inhouse, and superbly aged for such a dining treat.

Entrees were beautifully presented and proportioned – again a variety to choose from, including the squid with fresh lime; the Burrata Cheese with tomato confit; the Wagu Carpaccio with black berries and Peccorino and the Australian Kingfish sashimi in white soy and citrus sauce. All favourites at our table.

Then the Mains – the fish was Schnapper with the freshest salsa verde and greens; 24 hour brined Pork Cutlet was charcoaled grilled with a seeded Pale Ale mustard – superb; the quarter chicken with Portugese rub was served with a peasant salad and the Vegetarian Mushroom pappardelle was the table favourite – beside the Dry-aged Mort & Co beef that is.

Desserts – the Sheep’s Milk Yoghurt Parfait, rhubarb compote and grilled peach was delicious, as was the decadent Mars Bar Mousse with salted praline and Metiisto chocolate topped off with Mark’s wine recommendations. The perfect end to the meal.

Thinking of a special family or staff celebration, then the private dining area and the fine selection of wines would be just ideal.

No guessing as to whether we will be back. Bookings are open for tables of up to 8 people from Wednesday 16th March from 11.30 for lunch and dinner- Wednesdays to Sundays. Visit the website http://www.theplaterestaurant.com.au or for larger bookings phone 07 4637 1010.

The friendly smiles of Mark, Bianca and Sharon will be there to greet you.

Cameraman Cutta

Cutta Murphy, the man behind the camera, soon puts his photography clients at ease. His easy-going manner and quiet professionalism hit the perfect note, and his sessions are a dream.

His biggest fan is his marriage celebrant wife, Megan. It was through Megan that I was introduced to Cutta as a prospective candidate for a photoshoot being planned for Word Fest Toowoomba’s 2022 program. The first event on the festival’s calendar was to be the multicultural recipe book A Taste of Toowoomba. Needing a photographer who could relate to those with cultural heritage from many backgrounds, Cutta’s own heritage as an Indigenous man with his humble ways was ideal.

But what about his photography? It was easy to tell that his creative shots of Megan captured during her role as celebrant for many and varied couples in many and varied settings were both inspired by his love for Megan and his understanding of the light, the emotion of the moment and the right second to press the shutter of the camera. This, coupled with his love of food and experiencing new flavours and recipes, clinched the deal for our Collaboration Team, and Cutta was on board for our project.

During both shoots at Darling Heights State School and the You Belong office in Keefe St, Cutta and his offsider, Marilyn, had to contend with the overwhelming noise and informality of many women bringing in their prepared dishes, and the sometimes awkward attempts at communicating without a shared language – but Cutta just quietly found the best spot for the light and went about his business of bringing those dishes alive.

It was a delight to work with him, and share the spoils of the dishes after each shoot. Everyone who was involved loved his gentle instructions and creative props and poses. Lots of smiles tell the story. Lots of connections were made, including a personal connection to a friend of the Murphy’s from Thargomindah. Such a small world!

From the session at You Belong, Cutta was invited to exhibit a chosen piece of his photography at their exhibition Neighbours at the University of Southern Queensland’s Creative Arts Gallery. How exciting for me to pop in to the exhibition and see his experimental digitisation of one of the shots hanging on the wall.

His legacy, proudly for us, and more importantly for Toowoomba, is the collection of beautiful food photography now captured from our community’s heart and heritage.

Cutta Murphy – a lovely man of many talents! Thank you from our hearts to yours.

Love it or Leave it – Valentine’s Day

While many thousands of protesters rally in Australia’s Capital, Canberra, this weekend to have their voices heard in a cry for Freedom against government mandates, most of the rest of the country and the world will be out exercising their freedom by buying sweets, flowers and cards to send as a symbol of romantic love on 14th February – Valentine’s Day. Others of course will not. Mainly seen as another contemporary economic opportunity in a society propelled by money, most western countries profit by the rituals and symbols which have grown from probable early Christian beliefs like Lupercalia’s whipping of women in to a major day of sentimentality.

Non-Christian faiths have denounced this capitalist push for yet another spending spree as not having any foundation in their beliefs, while secular countries which pick up any threads of ancient connections to anyone named Valentine, saint or not, freely admit the origins of this day are very tenuous and murky indeed. If you pull on the ends on any of these historical threads, they quickly unravel or they are so short the grip releases.

No, I am not the Grinch of Valentine’s Day. Businesses will take advantage of every opportunity that comes along to boost their livelihood, and that’s the nature of marketing. People will be drawn in by smart marketing and choose to spend their money however they wish. I get that.

It’s just that I cannot really understand why the tokens of cupids, red roses and soppy Hallmark cards showering billions of dollars everywhere for one day of the year win over so many while kindness, love, inclusion, peaceful and neighbourly words and actions we could be promoting on every day of the year don’t have the same spending power. Well perhaps I can – it’s about gestures which help us escape from repetitive work days, escape from guilt about domestic violence, escape from the mundane just by swiping a credit card, but then allow the routines of life to return without having to commit to actions of change.

Anyway, here’s to a happy Monday 14th, however you choose to celebrate it – I am just grateful we have the freedom here in Australia to protest about Freedom and the freedom to buy red roses any day of the year.

Stepping Up

Lena Nabi is a Toowoomba secondary school student with a passion for justice and change. With the purpose of getting conversation started around racial and cultural discrimination among youth in the community, she initiated a workshop to bring like-minded young people together. The gathering was held on Saturday 15th January in the community space at Another Life Cafe and Wares in Bellevue Street, and piqued the interest of young adults and teenagers from a variety of cultural backgrounds. As part of Lena’s vision for a vehicle for discussion and increasing understanding amongst people of different backgrounds, Lena launched what she hopes will be the first of many opportunities for this concept to grow in the future.

It is a privilege to share her thoughts on the initiative. Lena believes it was a great start. The topics which were discussed included the impact of the media, and the under-representation of cultural groups on television and what effect these standards have on young people today in Australia, and here in Toowoomba in particular. There were a variety of workshop activities and strategies used to bring out statements and discussion, and to allow opportunities for the participants to feel safe and heard. As many of those who attended come from migrant and refugee backgrounds, this youth-generated workshop was highly valued for the chance to express opinions without an agenda from adults or external influences.

Some of the comments which flowed from the workshop included:

“Social media is a common contributor to racism”.

“My culture is not represented on tv”.

” I have the courage to speak out if ever discriminated against.”

These and many other topics were explored throughout the time spent so productively together.

Participants gave very positive feedback and shared comments such as :

I came to the workshop to learn more about the matter and be able to share our knowledge with our community.

This was a great session where I got to be involved in a session starting change.

So what is the next step for Lena and her vision?

She is striving to develop as a youth social enterprise. This will require funding to support future projects and already she and her team members are looking at a Get Up funding campaign. If this becomes available Lena hopes to present opportunities like the workshop in her school, and hopes to spread the message in the community as well to build more awareness, understanding and hopefully action to address the issues raised.

What is the change this small but determined group is hoping to see?

You can follow along with Lena as she steps up in the world of social justice and knocks on the doors that can help her build. Initially, Lena saw support from the Toowoomba&Darling Downs social media platform, and Word Fest Toowoomba, and now it is hoped partnerships with other youth organisations will provide broader community visibility as well. We expect to see much more of Lena in the future as her voice rings in the change we would all like to see, and this group helps shape a more just future across the Toowoomba landscape.

Mt Cotton – thank you!

Bushland, wildlife, community carers and the top notch Sirromet winery up the road – a restorative balm in contrast with the global, national, state and regional issues plaguing life in January 2022. I didn’t realise how much I needed this peaceful locale until my early morning wakeup call from the boxer dogs I am house-sitting, the fresh shower and the short walk reclaiming control over body and mind – tomorrow will be a longer and wider exploration of this part of the Redlands in South-East Queensland to keep the momentum going.

The daily visits from native birds and wallabies is good for the soul……. and playing with photos is fun!

Kind householders in this Sanctuary Drive enclave ensure the safety of the wildlife and healthy ecosystems. How could you not engage in this community care if you live at an adress like SugarGlider Court or Brushbox Court.

Mt Cotton was once a sleepy farming community, but is sleepy no longer. However, s aome of the farms remain and other commercial enterprises have come and a Village Centre now exists to cater for the survival needs of those who have made this haven a home…..but the rural feel remains.

Walking gives you the chance to see the small, and often quirky – I hope Teddy enjoys his swing, and those who are familiar with Street Libraries will be happy to see this festive offering. I will add something to its eclectic mix when I stroll out in a different direction tomorrow – and I know it will energise me for the working week ahead.

Thank you to the Baird family for sharing this sanctuary with me.