Lavende: A rare French connection

When Callington restauranteur Christine Wilkinson was a young English girl  growing up in London, she did not feel English at all.  She knew her grandmother, Colette, was French and when she went to France for the first time as a teenager, she felt at  home. “Then when I went to France, I sang in a night club and said “Hey, I feel French!’’,’’ says Christine.

Much was to happen to Christine before that same feeling manifested after she migrated to Australia in her early 20s.

Another 40 years slipped by until Christine created the lovely Lavende French restaurant, within a courtyard of a grand old stone building, which was once the Callington Police Station.

 “We fell in love with the building and bought it by what can only be described as “divine providence’,’’  explains Christine, her two-coloured spiky hairdo belying her certain age.

We knew nothing of Christine’s extraordinary story when our table of four wiled away a wonderful Sunday afternoon dining at Lavende… until Christine joined us for coffee to explain the French connection.

From the moment she migrated to Australia, life threw in roadblocks to her following  her sense of Frenchness. Read more »

A mothering milestone

Do we ever stop being mothers? Are we ever free of the “motherhood’’ tag to finally stop fretting about our adult children?

If there is such a moment, it must be now that my son, my youngest child, Tyson turned 30, a milestone we celebrated with a fabulous, noisy party for family and friends last Saturday.

Apart from a rough ride on a very bumpy road for  a few years in his late teens, Tyson has been a delightful child – thoughtful, caring, excellent at sport, a quick wit and a quirky sense of humour. His older sisters have adored him since the moment they saw him born by caesarean section on June 12, 1980, the same day Azaria Chamberlain was born.  His dad, Graham Williams and I posted a birth notice “Hello world! My name is Tyson Luke Williams….’’ During his “troublesome teens’’,  the girls would never believe any of the tales I told them of his misdemeanors.

When he was 10, I wrote a poem which began “If God gave angels human form, then Tyson Williams would be one…’’ Read more »

A sobering story

It is the tail end of a delightful birthday soiree for eight hosted by our friends/neighbours Chris and Peter and we have retired under the vine-clad pergola for fig-infused ginger pudding with maple syrup and cream.

Scuttlebutt about recent politics and earthquakes had moved on to winespeak – about the best wines we had consumed and on to the typical baby boomer conversation health, well-being and “disease prevention’’.

Among one number is an eastern suburbs GP with a focus on men’s health and another fellow, a singer in a local band,  has not drunk a drop of alcohol all night and he has watched us consume a fine array of Australian red and white wines. This has been an exciting informal wine appreciation course because our host is an associate professor of wine and viticulture, an author and a consultant to the industry. We had begun with a bubbly Bird In Hand sparkling wine (Adelaide Hills), and a crisp O’Leary and Walker Watervale Riesling 2008,  and continued with a Richmond Grove Shiraz 2001. Our own contribution had been a Yering Station Shiraz 2007.

Over dessert, a string of best drunken stories flows which triggers GP Steve to ask what we thought was “enough alcohol consumption at any one time’’.

“If we are talking about disease prevention then we must look at the impact of alcohol on the body,’’ says the quietly-spoken Steve.  

We are alert enough to simply listen.

“It’s not just the brain, it’s the liver and all organs of the body really,’’ he continues. “Most people think the standard consumption without doing harm is two drinks for women and four drinks for men.

“But it’s now two alcoholic drinks for everyone at any one time if we want to prevent disease.’’

The word “alcoholism’’ is not mentioned as such, but Steve adds what we all know in our hearts that it is now recognised that alcohol is the No. 1 drug problem in Australia. One of the saddest statistics is the unfortunate few who become addicted to alcohol.

I  quote from a cover story I had written using figures from the National Health and Medical Research Foundation, the body attempting to change attitudes downward to only a two drink limit.

What had surprised me when I wrote the article, which was geared to exposing the dangers of binge drinking on young people and the brain injury it could cause, was that the largest consumers of alcohol were actually men aged 60-plus.

“That kind of drinking causes any number of diseases,’’ says Steve. “Heart disease, kidney failure, liver disease and the big one, diabetes.’’

My research also shows that heavy drinking over a 10-15 year period damages the brain as surely as pregnant alcoholic mothers give birth to impaired babies.

It becomes a sobering moment.

Vale Adriana

Adriana Xenides, who died this week aged 54 of a ruptured intestine, was a breath-takingly beautiful dark haired Argentian-born 17-year-old when her big break into modelling happened by chance.

Organisers of the annual Royal Show Wool Parades were in a spin when a top-name invited Italian model, co-incidentally also named Adriana, disgraced herself through over-indulgence, and was sent back home.

A local replacement had to be found immediately and Adriana Xenides, a local fledgling model, took her place.

She sashayed down the catwalk wearing her wide, warm smile, her luscious dark locks swinging sensually, and her Greek/Spanish good looks easily won the hearts of the audience. It was her big break and she swept into a modelling career.

I met Adriana a few years later in 1978, when she joined the inaugural  Mrs South Australia Quest as an entrant raising funds for the then Crippled Children’s Association which I organised and she was, quite simply, unforgettable. An engaging brunette with a chatty, vivacious personality, the  22-year-old won the hearts of the judges and was named among the eight finalists, but was considered too young to carry the initial image of the married women’s quest.  

However, Adriana found real fame when Grundy Television made her the glamorous blonde co-host of Wheel of Fortune, where her role was then the simplistic task of  spinning a wheel to determine a letter – and she did it in spectacular style, winning the hearts of the nation for 18 long years. She became a TV star in 1981 when her long legs, stunning fashion sense  and engaging style made her household name.

But, long-time friend Joan Lady Hardy recalls how Adriana was devastated when she lost her job.

“Her job there was her life and she created something out of  what was really spinning letters, but she turned it into this amazing, theatrical experience…she gave a grand performance every single night and created her own little Hollywood.

“It was almost a fantasy world within that wheel of fortune,’’ says Lady Hardy.

In reward, her faithful audience adored her and voted her one of TV’s most loved icons, but when they switched the limelight off, Adriana’s own fortune took a body blow and she plunged into anonymity and clinical depression. She never quite got back on her feet.

“Adriana felt so secure in that show and had never looked beyond to where she might be in, say, five years time, because she thought it would never end,’’ says Lady Hardy.

Her personal life was a never-ending sad saga with three marriages and divorces, a high profile broken engagement with Tom Hardy, a relative of Lady Hardy’s, a controversial serious car accident, scrapes with the law, chronic ill-health and clinical depression.

After the breakup, Lady Hardy and Adriana continued their long friendship through letter-writing.

“She wrote such lovely letters and one of them was 17 pages long,’’ says Lady Hardy.

 “Another  letter explained why the breakup happened and I replied “there is no way I am taking sides here’ and she appreciated that and we had a friendship which lasted far beyond that period of her life.’’

Despite an extended term in hospital receiving treatment for clinical depression, she recovered to appear on some small screen guest appearances on Celebrity Big Brother and Beauty and the Beast, but Adriana never worked full time in television again.

The final, sad chapter in her life ended a decade of deteriorating poor health when she died from a ruptured intestine on Monday afternoon. Her faithful friend, Michael Shepherd, who had been publicity manager for Channel 7, recalls how she endured years of pain. She once described the pain in her abdomen as “so hard it takes you down to your knees’’. She was taken by ambulance on Sunday afternoon, her stomach swollen to twice its size and as hard as concrete. She died 20 minutes before Michael reached her on Monday afternoon.

“They opened her up and closed her up again saying there was nothing they could do. Burg (John Burgess former co-host of Wheel of Fortune) got there  before she died, but she was heavily sedated,’’ he says.

 “She was in regular pain management and despite it all, she was trying desperately to give her life meaning,’’

My vivid memory is of vivacious Adriana as an enthusiastic quest entrant, with a loving husband and it is sad to accept that her life for 30-odd years thereafter unfolded as one big emotional heartache.

“We are victims of our own decisions and she did make some bad decisions when it came to men and relationships,’’ says Michael. “Some took advantage of her generosity. She once said to me ‘Have I got a sign on my forehead which says “Idiots welcome’!’’.

One of the saddest moments of her life was when her beloved Spanish mother, Conseula, died in her arms in September 2003. Michael says she never recovered fully from her loss.

“We met in the1990, when I came to Adelaide with the Home and Away actors,’’ says Michael who is now publicity director for TV1 and thee Sci-Fi channel for Foxtel.

“We have always had a great brother sister-type relationship.

 “There were times when she was  Oh God  beside herself with monumental problems, but she had just graduated from a course in makeup for film and television and she was going to start working behind the scenes.’’

“Adrie’’, as Michael calls her, suffered not only excruciating pain, but also from an aching loneliness. It triggered her depression.

“She would text me at, say 2am in the morning and say “Do you feel like a chat?’’

As her relatives lay her to rest in peace at a private ceremony in Sydney on Friday, my own thoughts on our fallen star matches those of Lady Hardy.

“Once met, you don’t’ forget people like Adriana,’’ concludes Lady Hardy.

“Yet, hers was a very lonely life; I don’t think her depression ever left her.’’

The tragedy was that Adriana was living alone, without a partner, no children and surviving on a government pension when she died. Yet she was still trying so hard to find a meaningful role for herself in life.

A sunburnt country via the Ghan

When I was a young child visiting Grandma, the sweetest moments were when the train would clickety-clack past the front gate along the Islington line. I would swing from the gate, all bobby socks and long plaits, waving furiously to the engine driver.

Those memories, the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the sheer joy of trains,  flood back now as I board a mammoth, historic train, The Ghan, at the platform at Keswick Station, Adelaide.

The stationmaster blows his whistle and shouts “All Aboard’’ we begin the train journey of a lifetime – travelling by rail to Darwin – from south to north across our strange, intriguing continent.

My step-daughter is marrying in Pine Creek, 200 kilometres south of Darwin and I admit I was tempted to fly  Hop on,  Fly over the land and hop off  in city slicker style three hours later. Read more »

The grandchildren as guests


Ours is a house of bliss right now as we host grand-children from either end of the age spectrum.

Oldest grandson Andre, a solidly built 27-year-old fine arts student from Charles Darwin University has flown in from Darwin to transfer to UniSA with his Korean girlfriend, Saelim in tow. They are lively company with conversation filled with their dreams of success and plans to find a house, get a car and establish themselves supplementing a student allowance at Adelaide craft markets.  He hopes to become a sculptor and comes here on a remote area government scholarship with a glowing reference from Darwin’s Arts Faculty.  The first step in this endeavour is to borrow one of our cars and it becomes a familiar sight to see my Mazda 323 disappear down the driveway as they house-hunt and job-hunt and handle university paperwork.  His enthusiasm is our joy, too, when he is accepted at Uni and we celebrate with cocktails at Montezuma’s Mexican restaurant.

They are gone just days before my oldest daughter, Serena’s family arrives from London – son-in-law, Jon and three precious grand-children, Samuel, Angus and Josephine, aged 8, 6 and 2 years.  Now our settled life is delightfully disrupted and all four bedrooms are filled with mattresses for little bodies jammed alongside desks in both studies.  Suddenly we need shifts to use the bathroom and the house is not only filled with the musical chatter of children sharing their little worries with grandma and pappy, but also with myriad shoes and toys everywhere to trip over.   

They are the only grand-children on my side of the family and we see them for only a few days a year.   Now we are mesmerised by the charm of our youngest grandchild –and my only natural grand-daughter. To be a good grandma, one must stop and take time to sit down and listen and talk to them, to magically produce movies on DVD on demand and in our house, to read books to them. This exercise shows I am out of touch. When  I produce Father Bear Comes Home, and begin reading the 62-page tome to six-year-old Angus, he says in his cute British accent,  “Grandma I would like to read that myself.’’  Oh, well, Josephine, at two years 10 months, will love my Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, which I have saved for 30 years in various bookshelves for this very moment. Yet, the world of children has galloped into the technological age and these nursery rhymes such as Wee Willie Winkie and Old Mother Hubbard seem ludicrous to imprint in this fresh little mind. After all Josephine had shown us her capacity to remember. She could not even speak when she visited a year ago. A toddler of 22 months, we had borrowed a colourful trike for her to scoot around on and within minutes of arriving here this year, she asked “where is the little car grandma?’’   She had remembered, and I am suddenly conscious of the drivel I am feeding into her sponge-like brain – banal nursery rhymes which had no contemporary meaning. Why didn’t I browse bookshops beforehand for Australian rhymes?

 Women not only win the hearts of men through their stomachs, the kitchen is the place to make one’s mark as a good grandma.  As I don an apron, I thank my own departed mother who would cook for hours for her 13 grand-children producing trayloads of  biscuits, cakes, tarts or sausage rolls.   So, I make pastry for lemon tarts and quiches  and they knead the dough. I make stuffing for the duck before my chatting audience. “Let me stuff the duck,’’ says Samuel and I patiently watch as he fills the cavity with a sense of pride. “You will make a good chef,’’ I tell him.  Praise wins the youngest of hearts. They are like the magpies outside on the lawn, mouths open waiting for food, fridge door swinging off its hinges, incessant questions, all against the drone of the washing machine.

All of it has brought our house alive again to the wonderful sound of children and we rejoice in our captivating young company, if only for five days.