All posts by cheapandcheerfullife

My name is Rosemary and I'm studying Professional Writing and Editing at Open Colleges in Australia. This blog is to advance my writing skills and showcase my portfolio to date.

Back in Birmingham …

So because life hasn’t been that interesting lately, I have come to a bit of a standstill on the blogging front – I am still eating, (things would have to be dire for that to stop), but winter is setting in and I am feeling the urge to hibernate. There is nothing like darkness and cold to just make you want to stay indoors. Just as well for semi-lockdown hey?

I would love to say that in the lockdown days I have finished a multitude of projects and that my house is immaculate – but the fact is that working from home has put a bit of a kibosh on that.

So, what to chat to you about? And then I remembered, I have promised to report back about the Balti experiment.

Firstly, I am pleased to say, that this milder style of curry developed in Birmingham in the 70s was a home cooking success. Secondly, I have to tell you that I think that if I make this again, I should actually take to planting out an onion garden. SO SO many onions (which are fortunately good for us!) followed by a reasonable number of tomatoes!

IMG_1400Of course, the thing about cooking food from other cultures is sourcing the correct ingredients – or at least something remotely similar. Onions are not an issue – I buy 1kg bags probably every four or five weeks, and most of the required herbs and spices were easy to source – or combine. But one certainly got me stuck though – Fenugreek, also known as Kasuri Methi.

I haven’t made my way to a real Asian smallgoods store yet, and maybe fenugreek will be found in one, but instead I went to Google, as we do so often now to find out what on earth to replace it with. I was figuring if it was leafy, then celery or parsley leaves might do the trick. And indeed, this was suggested, but what I was totally not expecting was … maple syrup?

Well … that was a surprise!

But it turns out there’s some chemical common to both that leads the taste to be similar. So … maple syrup it was, which gave my Balti a bit of a sweeter taste than I remember eating before, but nonetheless, the same flavour.

Food never ceases to amaze me!


But the Balti itself? With an onion/tomato/spices sauce, (usually, although it can be vegetarian) diced meat is cooked in more onion and tomatoes and served up in its own cooking bowl, accompanied by a yoghurt dip and Naan. I might try my hand at making Naan at some stage – but I’d be hard pressed to compete with those served up at my ‘local’, the beautifully named ‘Punjab Paradise’ on Ladypool Road, where table Naan stretched in front of us to at least two feet long.

Friends and I tried making Balti once before and it was a long, fatty and complicated process of boiling and marinating and cooking … and it seemed to take literally all day. From memory, it didn’t really taste like the real deal, although the whole street could smell it.

But this time, armed with authentic Balti bowls courtesy of my sister, I was back in Birmingham in a flash, dragging my husband along with me. (Sorry Tony!) At which point, I should explain that a Balti bowl is a small pressed-steel mini-wok type of cooking pan. It is also the dish used to serve up the Balti – which is one dish per person. Cheer with me at the thought of less washing up!

I can heartily recommend the recipes on the Birmingham Balti Bowl website. I’ve only tried one so far, but it is absolutely the real deal. So, if you’re like me and you want to try a piece of cultural, authentic, nostalgic cooking, this is a go-to. Or just if you want to try something different. Because what is life, but an opportunity to try something new sometimes?

Happy trying!

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

I couldn’t help but think today how multi-cultural we are in Australia – especially food-wise. I know I have yet to report about the Balti production, but I have been a bit side-tracked by other cooking.

Multi-cultural you say … are you sure? Well, if the aforementioned Balti (Anglo-Indian) on the meal plan for this week, beside Fettucine carbonara con pollo, fish and chips, burgers and yiros (although technically a kebab*) and crêpes this morning for breakfast, doesn’t scream it, then I don’t know what will convince you!

So, today’s post is actually about the fettucine. I’ve always had a hankering to make pasta. Dried is great – and very convenient – but since being put onto fresh egg lasagne sheets by a dear Italian friend, who was HORRIFIED to hear I used dry sheets, the lure of fresh pasta was definitely there. By the way, I can heartily recommend fresh lasagne sheets. You will never look back.

Now I’m sure after my last post, you were convinced I was turning into a Wild West mama, making all my preserves and jams for the winter. Hey … I thought that’s what I was sounding like … but this week brought out my inner Nonna. Neither of these have anything to do with my true heritage roots – otherwise I would be living on a diet consisting of mainly potatoes, with a variety of sausages thrown in. (My husband did remind me that last week we did have sausages … in a different meal we also had potatoes … so there you go …)

But the pasta idea was pushed along a bit further by coming across (accidentally) an el cheapo pasta machine in a kitchen appliances/knickknacks shop. It did not take me long to decide to take the plunge and purchase one. With its totally manual operation, it is compact and in addition to the flat roller (which is used for lasagne, ravioli and cannelloni) has two cutters – for spaghetti and fettucine.

Pasta is apparently easy – and my experience so far has been two-one, win-fails. The fail was definitely over-confidence on my part. Having had success with my first batch, I thought I was the pasta queen. Instead I was presiding over wet mixture that was not going anywhere useful. Lesson learnt!

Armed with flour, eggs and a little salt, the pasta machine beckoned. 140g of fine flour (also known as “00” flour, or surprise, surprise, “pasta flour”), an egg and two yolks, with a little salt. That is all you need to reach pasta heaven. (I find this does four very generous servings of about 50g each. In actual fact, it’s more like 5 not-so-piggy people servings.)


I use a fork to mix my egg into the flour. There doesn’t seem to be enough egg to go around, but do NOT fall into the temptation of thinking it needs water to help it along. Just tip the mixed-up bits with what feels like leftover flour onto a clean surface and start to knead.

Like bread, the kneading process is the thing that gets the gluten in the flour doing its IMG_1387thing, so get your hands floured up and make the most of the next 10 minutes or so. And when is it ready? Like falling in love, you’ll just know.

Seriously though, the texture does change, and like bread, has to take a big breather before you roll it out.

If you don’t have a pasta maker, you could do as I saw demonstrated on a live video stream from Michael Bublé & Luisana Lopilato recently, where Michael rolled out his dough onto the bench and then attempted to cut it into thin slices. This works too … if you flour the bench first … a small detail his wife neglected to tell him.

So, fresh pasta. It doesn’t have a long shelf life and it does taste different to dried. Is it cheaper? Not on average, but for 200g of dried fettucine I would pay about $1.05 and for fresh, about $1.40. Is it healthier? I think most of that depends on what you eat with it. Of course, a creamy sauce isn’t going to be as healthy as a tomato based one. Most writers suggest that more substantial and heavier sauces work better with dried, just because it is a hardier beast and can cope with the weight. Plus it is convenient. Fresh pasta does require a bit of preparation in advance.


But for show-off points, for all its simplicity, fresh does win. And so, when I’m feeling in the mood, fresh it shall be 😊

*** Edit ***

On further attempts, I should add one batch = 5 servings. You can split it up before resting and freeze the dough for two-three weeks. Thaw, rest a little longer, then roll.


Today’s title is from Federico Fellini – an Italian film director who presided over many films, including La Dolce Vita. I think he makes a fair point!

* for those curious, a kebab is Turkish or Lebanese and uses a flatbread; yiros is Greek and uses a pita bread. There is a difference in the spices used for the marinade. As the one I make is a Greek marinade but with a flatbread, who knows what I should really call it …

Pump up the jam, pump it up …

It has been silence on the Cheap and Cheerful Life front lately – somehow the creative juices have not been flowing enough to sit down and write – well, they flow with ideas, but not pinned down into words and blog posts.

But just so you know I have not been entirely idle, I refer you to Peace of Pie … where Jessica waxes lyrical about the pies she makes (NB do not read if you are feeling hungry) … and where she kindly invited me to be a guest writer. A guest writer, my dear readers!! Does this mean I have really made it in blog-land???

In the bizarre times we are living in at the moment, I have to take these small wins 😊

We are not in lockdown where I live, although the streets are noticeably quieter and the stocks of toilet paper remain low (below is pictorial representation of my theory on why this is so):


But to take my mind off things I am cooking up a bit of a storm in the kitchen. Things I don’t normally make, and for some reason have decided are necessities. To help with this, I bit the bullet and bought some Ball jars. They are not the same as my lovely 500ml mason jars, but they will do, and hey, with ten years between drinks, they are bound to look a bit different. The smaller ones are even quilted, which is all a bit fancy!

One thing I do like though, is the lack of sealing rubber band, which is what is used on my big old Fowlers preserving jars that I inherited from my mother, accompanied by a big impractical clip, thus preventing tidy stacking of jars. So well done Ball on a practical sealing solution!

But what to put in these fancy jars? Obviously the other two days of salad, since I like to be semi-consistent about my jar usage! (To my newer readers, please refer to my previous blog post on salad jars.) But how about JAM …

Jam is surprisingly easy to make, given the modern invention of Jam Sugar (thanks CSR for that!), but basically, it is fruit, almost as much sugar, a dash of lemon juice and heat. The jam sugar I used contains citric acid and pectin … and in case you were wondering (as I was), pectin is made from apple pomace, with a dash of dextrose and citrus peel, and because I am ever-learning … pomace is all the left-over bits from juicing fruit.

That wasn’t hard, was it!

All you need to do is chop the fruit up into smaller pieces, bring to boil a kilo of fruit with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (that’s 40ml) for 4 minutes, then add 4 cups of jam sugar (that would be level with 1 litre in a measuring jug) … I told you it’s a lot of sugar … and boil for 4 minutes more.

IMG_1339     IMG_1341

But how do you know if the jam is ready? On a chilled saucer, put a spoonful of jam and allow to cool. If the surface starts to wrinkle, then it is ready to put into sterilised jars. If not, let your fruit boil a little more, then ladle into jars.


I have seen lots of pictures on Facebook about people snacking away whilst in lockdown or quarantine, so making jam is probably not the best thing for weight watching, but it’s fruit, right?


I don’t intend to make any more, but it was fun to try and now we have a few jars to last us for the duration.

I did find an interesting website, (Pick your own), which talks about the pectin levels in fruit and whether it is necessary to add it to your jam or not. There is a list about 1/3 of the way down which is very interesting. There is obviously more to the science of jam-making than I gave credit! If you have made jams, I’d love to hear how that went for you.

But for now everyone, do take care, remember to wash your hands, and stay safe.


My heading today? You know you know it … Technotronic, circa 1989/1990

“I’ve got a jar stuffed with songs …”

Happy new year my dear readers!!

And look at me today going all Pinterest-y!

Summer is in the air and so is our normal transition from soup to salad, but being a person of a short concentration span, I try to get salad making done on Sundays – enough for at least a couple of days, if not three. But where to store? Apparently I’m not supposed to use the beautiful orange/yellow/khaki Tupperware I inherited from Grandma because of the lead content, so I was left wondering what the ideal container would be.

And then there was Pinterest.

Now, bag Pinterest if you like, but I think it’s a great idea. I used to have a document filled with links divided up into relevant topics, which was fine … but it didn’t have any pretty pictures attached, so it was a bit hard to tell what the link related to, unless I was super organised and added a description too. I’m sure you can feel my pain.

So maybe I haven’t used all the ideas that I pin, and of those I have, not all have been successful, but there have been some winners. And one of the winners is salad jars.


Now if I had known this ten years ago, I would have retained all the perfect mason jars that my pasta sauce came in and re-used them over and over. But retrospection is a fine thing, and I only have three, which is really annoying for a working week.

But are there benefits to using glass jars for salads?

Well, yes, and here’s just a few:

  • They don’t absorb the smell of constant salads (or the dressing)
  • They don’t go sticky
  • They can be sterilised
  • You can see what’s in them
  • They stay super cold (without salad-killing condensation)

But … they are glass, so they are subject to chipping and smashing. Not so great 😦 They are also not such a good on-the-run lunch, unless you’re the type who likes eating one strata level of food at a time.

img_8718.jpgThe trick to a salad jar is the layering. Wet stuff down the bottom, delicates at the top. If I am adding a meat component, such as sliced ham, I add it on the day. I’m sure my lettuce can cope with that burden for a few hours.

But what to put in the salad? I have a recipe book on my shelf called “Salad Love” by David Bez. His definition of a salad is: layering a base, vegetables or fruit, fresh herbs, protein, toppings and dressings.

Going by that, I guess virtually anything goes! For example, today I have leftover roast pumpkin thrown in, with toasted pumpkin seeds, just to make my toss-salad equivalent just a little more exciting.

I like the economical idea of salad jars – not necessarily to save money on ingredients – but the idea of being economical about my time too. One or two sessions of chopping a week, rather than five, is quite appealing. Having lunches virtually all prepared in the mornings also has a good feel about it.

And although the Pinterest look of that part of the fridge may give the false impression that I have life totally under control (or that perhaps I may spend too much time on the internet), it’s nice to know that something is organised, for a little while.



Today’s header is a quote from Julian Casablanca, from The Strokes. Here it is in context: “I’m always writing something. I’ve got so much stuff, I don’t know what to do with it. Some of it will be Strokes, some of it will be I don’t know what – stuff for pop singers. TV themes. I’ve got a jar stuffed with songs, all these ideas that are just me humming into a recording device.”

Random? yes, but do you know how hard it is to find a cool quote with the word ‘jar’ in it? that makes sense by itself? 🙂

Perfect Pumpkin

So it is winter … officially on Friday if you date Northern Hemisphere style, but weatherwise here in the southern half, the cold has struck. Oh, you may laugh at me as I rug up as if I am heading off on an Arctic expedition, when temperatures are still in the positives, but it is all relative you know 😊. I’ll remind you of that dear readers when I am toasting at 40 degrees C …

And as a consequence of the fweeeeeeezing conditions, we are on the soup bandwagon again. Five weeks of different soups and already one is leaping ahead as the favourite. It is even on repeat request this week, so it must be a magic mix indeed. Just as well its main preparation time is chopping, and not much more until blitzing time. Quite manageable really, which is nice.

So, as my title hints today, the cheerful soup on the menu this week is Pumpkin. As with many things, the title is a bit misleading, because, in actual fact, pumpkin is maybe only a third of the quantity. But as the ingredient list is too lengthy for a soup name, “Pumpkin” it is.


I’m one for simplicity and rough estimates for amounts, so here’s the approximate quantities …

Serves approx 8

1/2 a butternut pumpkin (not your Hallowe’en variety – sorry!)
2-3 carrots
2 potatoes
1 large sweet potato
1 or 2 red capsicums
vegetable stock (about 3 or 4 cups)
turmeric, ground coriander seed, paprika in generous quantities

chop veggies, add stock and spices.

cook until soft then blitz in batches until smooth


Serve with a bit of cream and some parsley to make it look all Master Chef-y 😊 like so:






A thieving little magpie

I have a confession to make.

I steal recipes.

Well, not really. I am more a collector. A collector of recipes – of those which invoke memories, which are tied up with food and joyful occasions, of smells and tastes and feelings, of experiences and emotions.

Over time I have been able to gather together some recipes that bring back those memories in our own kitchen. It’s quite amazing.

There are, of course, some cooking smells or tastes that are best left forgotten. I’m left bewildered at the 70s taste buds that thought peas set in lime jelly or carrots in orange jelly would be a gourmet dish – or olives. Green olives, green jelly. I can clearly see the connection. Only one small step better than Spam, I suppose, or anything set in aspic.

Here’s a link to cause you to wonder how anyone actually survived this era … (by the way, I am a survivor!) Unbelievable recipes!!

These are definitely not the recipes that I have accumulated!! (Although my very aged copy of the Complete Women’s Weekly cookbook may have some within, accompanied by a tasteful colour picture, or two.)

It was the smell of the freshly baked bread that got me thinking, along with the essential oils that diffuse through our house at night-time. It reminded me how when I even see certain foods, they transport me to another time or place.

Here’s a classic example – give me a fresh buttered brezel and instantly I am in an open subway station in Munich, 2004, making my way in the cold to language school, Not just any old station, but specifically this one:
Karlsplatz Stachus MunichKarlsplatz (Stachus), not in its all fancy bright lights and renovated state, but all concrete-y and looking like something out of the Communist Era (and I know, before you say, that this did not include Munich, but this subway …)

I have yet to try my hand at brezeln making – but I do have a recipe somewhere …

In my mind, when I make falafels, I’m finding my way through the streets of old Jerusalem, I smell naan bread and roasted spices and I’m wandering down the streets of Birmingham’s Balti Triangle, in its heyday, with a Balti restaurant on every corner. Hot custard takes me right back to Grandma’s kitchen, sitting at her red laminate table, looking at the plastic fruit.

I tried a new falafel recipe the other week, inspired by the combination of the efforts of an old school friend and co-incidentally a recipe appearing in the local supermarket magazine. Unlike other attempts, they did not disintegrate into tiny, impossible-to-eat segments in the oil. Not only that, they were declared a ‘keeper’, which is always a good thing, especially since we’d only eaten half of the mix!

I don’t even have a photo of them, which is really sad for a foodie, blogging type person, but as I commented to another old school friend, they were hardly photogenic, although very tasty. It’s not all about looks, you know!

There’s a name for this smell/memory thing – olfactory memory – and there are some interesting studies on it, which include how the brain responds to smell. There appear to be fewer studies on the compulsive desire to have lots of recipes with lots of pictures to drool over, which are never recreated.

It is an interesting thing, considering the brain injury experience in our home, to learn about the sense of smell. Did you know it is the only sense which makes its way directly to the brain, rather than via a series of nerve endings? We have also learnt it is often triggered as a pre-symptom to a seizure, which is helpful for being prepared.

But in the meantime, with my new stove (which, I assure you, was a very welcome change to the kitchen), I am inspired to hit the pile of saved up papers and see what sorts of (nice) smells I can conjure up, to create some new memories to stack away.

My feature photo today is of some preparation for just that. I’m going to launch a balti on my poor unsuspecting husband, so I’ve been cooking up spices and sauces, turning the kitchen a turmeric shade of yellow. I’ll let you know how it all ends up (only if successful of course! 🙂 )

And just for fun, I came across this photo taken by Philipp Kester, which is kept in the Münchner Stadtmuseum … titled “Breznverkäuferin im Hofbräuhaus”, which goes to show I am not alone in my liking of Brez’n 🙂

15_kester_breznverkaeuferin-hofbraeuhaus richard wagner & louis ii

Bread of life

I have been missing a cathartic activity while the football is in recess. I am also looking to tighten the food budget just a fraction, without food compromise. In my wanderings down the supermarket aisle, wondering how I could do the latter, I came across the bread flour.

Now, although bread is considered a staple, we don’t really eat a LOT of bread, unless we are on a constant diet of sandwiches, which I try to avoid. And if you run out, according to Erma Bombeck (an astute US newspaper columnist), this happens:

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.”

I know you’re nodding your head in agreement, just as I did. So, to avoid the shopping trolley explosion, I decided to try my hand out at making it instead. And then a thought crossed my mind. What am I? Some sort of reverse Marie Antoinette? Let them eat bread, rather than cake? Good old Erma has something to say about that too:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” (Note to self – find some more of this woman’s writings – she’s great!)

However, in a small consideration of our waistlines, bread it will be. I am liking the advantages of making bread at home, of which there are a few.

– Cathartic-ness!! I know that’s not really a word, but it suits me fine right now. Knead? Yes sir, I will bash this poor innocent flour ball to get rid of some frustration. What? Only ten minutes? Looks like I’ll have to make another loaf …

– I can make a half loaf (250g) for just over a dollar, with only ½ hour cooking time, and as a bonus, good old yeast does most of the work for me.

– I am supporting a local business.

– I can make it when we need it (pretty much …)

– I know exactly what is going into my loaf of bread, which is not choc-a-bloc with preservatives.

– Hey, eating fresh bread, straight out of the oven. All that rubbish about giving you indigestion? Not this little creature with her cast-iron tummy!

– I don’t need a lot of equipment, and so there’s not a lot of washing up.

Have I convinced you yet?

So, the flour of choice is from Laucke – a crusty white loaf, which comes in all recycled and recyclable packing.

1.  All I need is to weigh out half the flour, add my (supplied) yeast and 145ml of water at a yeast-friendly temperature.  Mix it up

2.  Knead it for 10 minutes and leave to sit to contemplate life for a while

3.  Re-knead (treading gently this time – after all, it’s feeling very sensitive after all that contemplation)

4.  Leave to again consider life

5.  Cook

6.  And EAT!!


I’m happy with that 🙂

“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”

I have discovered a new website, but I fear it will be the death of ‘free time’ for me.

As a child, the ability to read suddenly clicked in Grade 1. I don’t know what made it suddenly all fall into place, but once it did, there was a whole new world out there waiting to be discovered!

Fortunately, I lived in a home filled with books. Lots of books. I moved into a smaller house when I was older, and quite a few books came with me. My husband (who is not really a reader) very kindly bought me a Kindle Reader, which does save on a lot of space. He also attached our Billy bookcases to the wall so they wouldn’t fall on his head. (By the way, did you know Ikea estimates a Billy bookcase is sold somewhere every five seconds??? That’s a lot of bookcases!!)

The library is also my friend (given that this is a cheap and cheerful life, after all), and fortunately I live quite close to a very good one, which has lots of books. Unlike my old school library, which we went into at my school’s recent anniversary. Most of the shelves weren’t even there anymore. It broke my heart to see this library like this, apart from the fact that it didn’t look right any more, missing its tall shelves with the Dewey system numbers painted on with old-style gold paint. Grant you, I am sentimental, but I really did start to feel sorry for the students that are there now.

whs library 1946 DSCN5344  whs library 2019 IMG_6378

But to my new found source of interesting stuff … the GoodReads website …

This was the quote that brought me there:

“Throw off your worries when you throw off your clothes at night.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte

I came across this quote whilst working through a DailyOM course, and as it seemed an unlikely thing for an emperor/conquering character to say, I thought I would try to locate the source of the quote. I have yet to discover in what context Napoleon used this phrase (and could it be like a meme I saw on Facebook attributed to Abraham Lincoln … “Everything you see on the Internet is 100% true”…), so if anyone knows, please feel free to enlighten me!

{I can only think it was in a letter to his good wife Josephine (or maybe the second one, Marie-Louise) … it doesn’t really sound like an extract from a good, stirring, off-to-battle and kill-them-all speech, does it …}

I have used quotes from this website before, but not really had a good look through it. And now … oh dear … there are books and more books that are catching my eye. This could be a good thing, as I like reading, but maybe not, as I have quite a lot of things I should also be doing … like writing more regular blog posts, for example!

It is amazing that in the English language, with only twenty-six symbols in their infinite combinations, could bring into being such an enormous amount of writings, so very different from each other. It gives me a headache thinking about it, because it is so vast. I have the same mind-boggled thoughts about music. And so many different thoughts that go through the human brain to create those words, or that music. Okay, I should stop now.

My heading today is a quote from Diane Duane’s book, ‘So You Want to Be a Wizard’. With phrases like that, I think wizardry should be my next career choice. But at the very least, I should add this book to my list.

Ah, THE list … I have a few books on that ‘must-read next’ list, courtesy of other book-loving friends. I also have books I go back to, often. I could not tell you how often I have read the Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess Bride, or Jane Austen’s writings. But most recently I have been reading about what colours to wear and how to use

Sometimes one’s reading has to be of a more practical nature 😦

And sometimes one has to learn to stop, like I should here. No funny stories to share with you today … just lots of memories of sneakily reading the last chapter of a book by torchlight, tucked under the sheets. No-one could tell, of course, so I believed …


Today’s photos are: an artistic streak from me, as well as:
Whyalla High library in 1946 from the WHS records
Whyalla High library in 2018 courtesy of Gen Gordon


A step back in time

I’m having a bit of a retrospective time of it at the moment. My high school is embarking on 75th anniversary celebrations at the end of the month, bringing with it an influx of old school photos onto my Facebook feed. Many of these are from before my time, although many names are familiar, partly because they are relatives of my school friends. However, the older photos have lists of names which sound like the local street directory, which I find amusing.

I didn’t study history until my last year of school, and even then, it was rather dry and ho-hum. I developed a taste for it when I was able to visit places where things actually happened. As part of that process, an interest in the history of my birthplace also developed.

New Picture (3)

Whyalla is a relatively new place – by the standards of Europe it is virtually a baby – but it means that the links to its beginnings are still there. We visited Tony’s aunt and uncle a little while ago, which was lovely. During the conversation, out came the 100 year anniversary book from their primary school. On the first page is a faded photo of the very first students of the tiny Hummock Hill School, dated around 1905. Aunty Dawn pointed to one of the little girls in their white smocks. “There’s my mum.” Not much further along in the book is Uncle Bernie playing his fife. If my sums are right, he would have been one of the early students at my high school, which somehow makes the gap quite small. I have a feeling he was just as cheeky a little boy as he is an old man. I only wish I had met him earlier.

Built on the shoulders of industry, Whyalla is a dry and dusty place, covered in iron ore and pellet plant dust. The result is that the older buildings have a *slightly* pink tinge to them and the hot north winds have a kind of abrasive effect. The ‘Big Australian’, BHP, was keen to make the most of the recently discovered iron ore deposits in the Middleback Ranges in the early 1900s. It made economic sense to house the miners and the harbour workers nearby and so gradually a town grew on the coast.

New Picture (1)

I think I might write more about that in another post later on, but for now, we’ll move on rapidly through a few decades.

By the late 1930s, it was decided a high school building was necessary. More children were staying in school for longer – the compulsory leaving age had been made higher – and BHP needed engineers and apprentices for its pig-iron and shipbuilding enterprises, so the education had to match. There certainly wasn’t enough room for them at the existing primary schools.

As with most major projects in Whyalla, the majority of funding for the initial building was contributed by BHP. With its first long-term Headmaster, Mr Hartley Searle, at the helm, it steadily grew. I have not had personal contact with Mr Searle, but I had reason to feel not-so-kindly in his direction as I worked my way through five years of his Maths textbooks with their imaginary and real concepts.

New Picture (2)

My high school was unique for its time. By the time I attended this school, with its younger buildings climbing up the hill, it was the way most state schools are now – co-ed with a broad range of subjects available. But in the 1940s this was not the norm. Many of the state schools were still boys or girls only schools and there were limited choices. In ‘High’ schools, there was a choice of the General course (to go on to further study) or the Commercial (to be some sort of secretary). The ‘Technical’ high schools were for preparing students for trades.

Whyalla Technical High School combined both types of education. (The ‘Technical’ was dropped in 1971.) It also had the bonus of housing the trade school for apprentices and a flourishing night school for the community.

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I know the school was still used for community education even up until the early 1980s, as my mother attended music theory classes held by one of the music teachers one night a week. As a child, I went with her sometimes. My most distinct memory of this, apart from the lines of desks in a small room, is getting into trouble for leaving a book behind. The ballet school I attended also used the school hall for its annual recital until it moved more permanently into the TAFE College.

As I sit here writing, pictures and memories flash through my mind …

Kids running from all directions towards a narrow gate to catch the bus home.
The smell of pancake in the hall dressing rooms.
The herded feeling of the canteen queue (in, ironically, a converted dairy building).
The Principal wandering across the lawn to his house at lunchtime.
Learning dance routines for school musicals.
Blue, white and grey bodies, everywhere you look, making their way to different rooms for the next class.DSCN4826
Ducking at school assemblies while squawking seagulls fly overhead.

The coolness inside the main building – a relief from the heat outside.
Seeing the Queen racing past the school, running slightly late for an official engagement.
And what felt like rites of passage … as I look down at my pencil tin, made so long ago in metalwork class, along with at least 140 others that year alone.

The thought that this school could be closed down in the next few years makes me sad. Sad at a loss of history and sad that my hometown has diminished so much that there aren’t enough students to justify keeping it open … or maybe it’s progress. I don’t know …New Picture (6)

So, this is part of the reason this anniversary weekend is personally important.

And then another thought passes through my mind … a song from a couple of years before I started high school.

And another memory flashes by of sitting in the front foyer by the Principal’s office, with the honour boards above my head looking slightly precarious, while I anxiously wait to go to a piano exam and watch teenagers clattering down the library stairs …

Kids out driving Saturday afternoon just pass me by
And I’m just savouring familiar sights
We share some history, this town and I
Number one is to find some friends to say, “You’re doing well.”
After all this time you boys look just the same
Number two is the happy hour at one of two hotels
Settle in to play, “Do you remember so and so?”
Number three is, never say her name.


Happy 75th anniversary Whyalla High School!


Flame Trees lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos
Songwriters: Steve Prestwich / Don Walker (Cold Chisel)

Feature Photo: Whyalla Technical High School 1945 from foto supplies – Albury Camera House (Flickr) used by permission.

Other photos … various photography classes …


A Grand Jeté forward

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated the one year anniversary of me returning to ballet classes. After a hiatus of some 30 years, I was inspired to return and find the graceful me that had somehow been lost in the mists of time.

RMcD.Wed.ofI know that it is working, because the day after this auspicious occasion, I fell down the stairs at work. Don’t worry – it was only a couple of stairs, and probably the most hurt bit of me was my pride (because, of course, there was someone at the foot of the stairs watching this all unfold!!)

I find my old ballet teacher haunts me, telling me to pull my tail under, or to point my feet more. If it wasn’t for the fact that she is actually still alive, although unwell and quite elderly, I would ask her nicely to please go away and let me enjoy myself. But in a way, it is good that she’s there – because she actually was a very good teacher – although exceptionally firm – so I do point my toes more and probably I have better technique as a result.

I learnt ballet for eight years as a child/teenager, and thoroughly enjoyed it, except for pointe work. I met girls who were at different schools and who were different ages to me, so my social circle widened. It was like a family and I’m glad to have all of the ballet girls, as well as the few ballet boys, in my life. Many of us learnt for many years, so we spent quite a bit of time with each other, learning exercises for exams and later in the year, routines for the annual recital.

IMG_1288My father used to say he was a wonderful ballet mother, as he joined in the transporting of daughters to their many classes per week. Somehow my sister’s timetable and mine never matched up, so it was five or six trips per week to the ballet studio for our parents. I am amused by the fact that his ballet mother status did not extend to sewing costumes, or assisting with applying make-up, or any of the other tasks my mother was roped into doing.

When I wait to go into classes now, I look at the ballet fathers (including my dentist), and it makes me glad that they are part of this part of their children’s lives.

Ballet as an adult does not include obligatory exams or concerts – which will be a relief to the concert-goers. I’m not sure performing adults is such a great look, so I’m glad this ballet school doesn’t encourage it.

But I am back baby!

With the grace of a baby elephant, I leap around the room, with all the finesse that a few extra (unwanted) kilos bring, and adding my own creative spin on a lot of the exercises, I am there! Why, in a couple more years I could have the Australian Ballet banging on my front door, begging me to join them.

While that may be stretching the truth just a little, I am not regretting going back to ballet at all. I have met some lovely people, who mutter under their breath just as much as I do when we make mistakes. We have classes where everything goes right and classes where it is the complete opposite.

But for now, I’ll leave you with a funny story that my old ballet teacher told us when we recently visited her.

Before she started our ballet school in about 1973, she had a job teaching dance classes for upper primary in the local schools. Dance classes, she had found, were quite popular with the girls, but not so much with the boys. But suddenly, this was no longer the case. Much to the teacher’s surprise, the boys poured into dance class. She couldn’t quite work out why, until she heard mention of the name Ron Barassi … a famous footballer turned coach in Melbourne, who was including ballet in his football training. All the boys wanted to play football like him, so off to dance class they went!

I researched a little about this football legend and discovered he helped Sir Robert Helpmann with some football-inspired choreography in the mid-1960s. If you’ve ever seen the ballet “The Display”, this is the result. It also seems to have had the consequence of some unorthodox football training, which goes to show, you never know quite where ballet can take you … but that’s another story for another day …


Today’s featured photo is courtesy of Kryziz Bonny, a very talented photographer from Mexico. You can follow her on Flickr. (