Centenarian Margot Bates a winner in pool and living well

Real men do eat steak if the gender imbalance in Buenos Aires Brasserie this week is any indicator. There were 20 men to just 6 women diners tucking into an array of steak and whole baby goat legs, the restaurant’s main claim to fame.

However, one of those six women sat alone in a wheelchair close to the door creating something of a mystery until we were about to pay the bill when the restauranteur Julia Messinger  called us all to attention. “I’d like you to meet “Dame’ Margot Bates,’’ she said. “She is our most faithful customer.’’ And she proceeded to tell us that Margot Bates was 100 years and six months old and that each evening, one of the staff collected her from around the corner to dine in the restaurant.

“I come here every night for dinner; they are like family to me,’’  said Margot of Julia and husband Norberto Spagnolo’s conviviality.

Margot is actually a swimming celebrity at the Masters Games and discards her wheelchair to win gold medals in the pool. “I will be swimming in the Masters Games the first week in October,’’ said Margot, after she had given the diners a right royal wave.  “I have 194 gold medals for swimming and I hope to make it 200.’’ “I only began to swim at the age of 87.’’

Despite wearing a visual impairment badge, she told how she still visited nursing homes “to entertain the elderly’’. “I entertain the elderly in the nursing homes and I am older than most of them,’’ she said. But first, she implements her “smiles program’’.  “They will be sitting there with long faces and I tell them that when they all smile, I will begin.’’

In the year 2000, Margot received an OAM for services to the community and achievements in the Masters Games. And she proudly told how The Advertiser will meet her at the Marion Swimming Centre for publicity shots. “They want photographs of me in my swimming costume next Monday morning,’’ she said proudly. “Here’s to us good women…we are  scarce. ‘I have my own website you know.’’

Her life has been blighted by terrible grief last year when her only son, aged 69, died in Paris a year ago. “He flew to Paris and telephoned me on the evening he arrived that he had arrived safely, and the next morning he was dead,’’ she said. Tears filled her eyes. However, her husband, Bob is still alive, but suffering dementia in a nursing home. “I am 100 and he is 95 and we have been married for 58 years.

Although her eyesight is fading, her mind is as sharp and her conversation is spirited. Whatever is the secret of her longevity and quality of life at her age? “I think it is just enjoying each day as it comes. In this life two things stand like stone – kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own,’’ she recited.

PS: On Tuesday, June 28, Margot was a page one girl in The Advertiser in her swimsuit.


French fare for time-poor cooks

Pumpkin soup has never tasted so good with a touch of t urnip, thanks to the great French chef, Auguste Escoffier. The recipe book 2000 Favourite French Recipes was his final gift to French housewives and is translated in English. First published as Ma Cuisine in 1965, ingredients are given in pounds and ounces, which calls for creative input as my scales are now metric only.

Our friends delight in a French touch and they always arrive with a basket of seafood to whet our appetites for my own offerings. This menu, which serves 6, was easy and enjoyable to prepare – and the three courses tasted delicious.
The menu, which serves 6:
Soupe Dauphinoise, (Turnip and Pumpkin Soup) – Escoffier.
Tajine of Lamb with Prunes (Moroccan) wit h Moroccan roast vegetables.
French pastry cups filled with lemon custard.

Soupe Dauphinoise:
Two turnips, one big potato and 250 grams of peeled pumpkin; 2 heaped tablespoons butter, 4 cups of water or chicken or vegetable stock, 2 cups of boiling milk, ½ tsp of salt if using stock or 1 tsp if using water.
Slice vegetables and sauté for a few minutes in the butter. Add the water and salt and cover and cook over moderate heat. When cooked, vitamise before returning to stove top to add boiling milk. Continue stirring for a few more minutes. Just before serving add a swirl of fresh cream and fresh herbs of choice.

The main course is a modified version of a Moroccon recipe from Claudia Roden, who first published A Book of Middle Eastern Food in 1968. However, Tajine of Lamb with Prunes comes from her Tamarind & Saffron, Favourite Recipes from the Middle East, published in 1999. A simple dish from a renowned cook.

1kg cubed shoulder of lamb; 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp grated ginger; ¼ teaspoon powdered saffron, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, salt and pepper; 1 large onion, finely chopped; 2 garlic cloves, chopped, and 350g Angas Plains pitted prunes, soaked for 1 hour.

Put oil in pan adding ginger, saffron, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, onion, garlic asalt and pepper. Add meat, cover with water and simmer gently on top the stove, covered for 1 ½ hours, adding water as necessary to keep meat covered, until the meat is very tender.
Add prunes and remaining cinnamon, stir well and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Serve with couscous.

Dessert: Use small sweet French pastry rounds (La Noire Rose brand, which I buy from Fergusons Australia).
Follow the normal custard recipe on the pack of any custard powder packet, but add the zest and juice of one large lemon. Continue stirring until thickened and place in fridge to cool and thicken further. Pour in pastry just before serving. Decorate with whipped cream or half a strawberry.

Jenny’s life exudes grace, courage, elegance:

Best friend Jenny turns 70 today and threw  her own elegant afternoon tea for 70 guests at her home yesterday.  Jenny has always loved beautiful things and her home was so pretty and colourful with floral decorations that I thought I would share them with you as a wonderful statement of style.  Despite the bitter cold and light drizzle, large heaters warmed the patio here we were served champagne and delicious finger savouries which would rival a Royal garden party. Jenny and her daughter,
Elizabeth made them all – Thai chicken rolls, goat  curd and pesto pastries, crab and asparagus vol-au-vents, blinis with  smoked salmon and cream cheese, and gourmet sandwiches.

“I wanted an elegant afternoon with my  family and friends,’’ Jenny told us and we all would agreed she certainly delivered a delightful day. After speeches and the birthday toast, we all lined up for tea, coffee and plates of lovely cakes – pink cream lamingtons, jelly cakes, petite patty cakes and cupcakes finished with swirls of chocolate icing. There were long plates of her signature dish – small French pastries filled with lemon curd.

Her life-long friendship has been a warm, nurturing relationship rock throughout  my sometimes turbulent life and we have shared disappointments, traumas and tragedies as well as many, many happy hours together.

It occurred to me that our  lives have run full circle from very young women with  small daughters to older women, and we have been there for each other along our respective pathways. Through children’s weddings, illness, moving house, my divorce and the deaths of loved ones.

We met the day her daughter Elizabeth, aged two and a half, wandered across the road to play with my own young daughters
and curled up in the porch and fell asleep when we weren’t at home.  When I returned Jenny, she invited me to join her for afternoon tea. That was 40 years ago at a low point of my life and her kindness has never waned.

And here we are celebrating another glorious afternoon tea on the cusp of older age.

Jenny has suffered huge losses in her life and some extraordinary blessings.  Her only son was gravely injured in a road accident and spent three years in Julia Farr Centre in a comatose state. She visited him every day until he died in his early 30’s.   Three months later, her beloved husband, died suddenly in Queensland while they were on holiday.  I wrote both eulogies and delivered them.  She mourned for a very long time.

But there was work to be done because her entrepreneurial husband had a successful business, having recycled disused
buildings at the Julia Farr Centre into student accommodation. Overnight, Jenny, who had been a home-maker, became a businesswoman, bravely taking over the business which she ran for almost a decade until the buildings, leased from the
Julia Farr Centre, were sold by the organisation. For all that time, she was “mother’’ to hundreds of mainly Asian students, although students from 27 countries stayed there.

So Jenny lost her  business and it  saddened her immensely. But she turned her attention to a community life, volunteering for Meals on Wheels each Thursday morning and becoming treasurer for Walkerville Probus club. She became a world traveller
and went to China with an Asian business women’s organisation.

However, Jenny’s great love has been always her gracious home, which her husband had built for her, and since his death,
her beautiful courtyard garden. Her life’s raison d’etre has always been wife, mother and home-maker and her home always been immaculate. Wherever she goes, Jenny is always immaculately dressed reflecting sublime taste in accessories.  She sews
and loves reading romance novels. She is a superb hostess with her L’art de la table matched only by the quality and presentation of her foods.

Life has slowed a little since she developed thyroid cancer two years ago and her great love of travel has been curtailed. She has made a full recovery from cancer, but  has residual breathlessness, which she finds debilitating.

I could write a book about my quiet, reserved, gracious friend, but for now I want to say “Happy 70th birthday Jenny, and many happy, healthy returns’’.








Olivier’s sejourn in hospital

olivier with grandson Andre, stepson Tyson and his wife Vanessa

Husband is helpless in hospital following a harrowing dash by road from our island home to the regional Victor Harbor hospital at 6am this morning.
Waves of fear washed over me as I gripped the wheel driving in darkness, one eye on the road, the other on the body stretched out on the laid-back seat moaning in agony alongside me.
I recognised that level of pain and remember that same sound when I broke my ankle one morning on my stone steps in the late 1990s.
Olivier is consumed with pain until the doctor in Emergency administers morphine. He is admitted to a hospital bed, but when I insist that his oncologist be informed because he has spinal cancer, he is taken by ambulance to Ashford Hospital in Adelaide. It is a dramatic moment to watch your beloved bundled into an ambulance, but I have no choice but to race home to grab a few clothes and toiletries, and follow him.

The pain began last night, when Olivier said ominously “I think I have done something to my back.’’
The back pain gripped him, wrung him out and refused to leave him despite two rounds of pain-killers, a hot bath and a glass of brandy. But, he refused to take an ambulance and somehow slept. (I did note that he, who never wears pyjamas, dug out a new pair, still unopened, and put them on). I think he knew this pain was something serious. When he awoke it was still dark. He could barely put one foot in front of the other for the pain.
It is a shocking thing, how pain disables and how it has reduced this proud, strongly built man to a delirious state.
From Ashford’s Emergency Department, where he is unaware of anything, he is transferred to the oncology unit, where nurses – in pairs – administer morphine for 24 hours. He asks for more the moment he becomes conscious. The mind plays cruel games as I imagine everything that could possibly go wrong. Total disability springs to mind and I snuff out the unthinkable. All I can do is sit and pray that he will recover from whatever has happened to him.
Monday dawns a beautiful June day, but he is wheeled off to have an MRI of his spine to see if the cancer has progressed. I begin to fear life will never be the same again for him.
Tuesday, I order a wheelchair and an Access cab for the disabled and take him, on his insistence, to visit the neurosurgeon who discovered his cancerous spine in January. He has waited a few months for this visit and won’t get in until August if he misses it. He is in dreadful pain the whole time – an hour in all – and I fear he will die until he is back safe in his hospital bed once more. However, he has a new generation drug for his chronic neuralgic pain in his left forefinger. Another pain-killer added to the regime.
Alarmingly, he still cannot walk without a walking frame and a young female physiotherapist accompanies him as he painfully progresses down the passageway.
Afterwards, the pain ebbs away with a cocktail of painkillers and he drifts off to recover in sleep. He does not eat, so I eat his meals and stay with him.
I don’t dare leave for fear something will happen to him in my absence. So, I sit here in the corner of the room on a lay-back chair and read the daily paper, telephone relatives and SMS friends – and wait for the oncologist, an Indian-born specialist, to arrive.
It is interesting how we human beings adapt to extraordinary circumstances once a routine is established. Each day, I arrive by 10am and stay until 8pm, and as the week progresses, I slip downstairs for a Hudson’s brewed coffee each afternoon. It is surprisingly busy in a hospital room watching a parade of nurses minister to husband. They make an interesting international army of charcoal uniformed bodies who care, who take his blood pressure, his temperature, his sugar levels and dispense pain-killers.
Most nurses are very young and many are from neighbouring Asian countries. One older nurse says she is Chilean. They all wear smiles and carry kindness with them into the room. There are a few male nurses and Robert, an older male nurse, is a constant over our 11-day stay.
Adult children come and sit with him and other relatives also visit. Thursday I meet a friend for a quick lunch close by. And so time, passes and husband slowly recovers.
I relax and observe this other world, hospital life where we find ourselves.
. The 30-bed oncology unit, Marion Ward, is full and our peace is broken constantly with the hacking cough of a patient nearby.
“He must have lung cancer,’’ says Olivier.
Next door, there is a noisy Greek tribe, who have a Greek Orthodox priest in attendance. A sign on the door says “10 minute visits only’’, but the family stays on for two days. Then she is gone and an older male patient has taken her place.
I think to myself that she has probably died.
I am delighted when a bright, young woman, serving meals, reveals herself (behind the white head net) to be a former classmate at my sewing classes. I know Olga’s story, shared on those Monday mornings, that she was a Russian bride, who met her husband on the Internet. And yet, after eight years here, it seems a happy ever after story. “Fancy seeing you here,’’ she says in her difficult English. “But not in these circumstances, hey,’’ she quickly adds when I introduce my husband.
On day 6, I return home to gather more clothes and in my absence my bold son gets permission to take his step-father out for coffee at Hyde Park.
“We would like to take him to Glenelg because it’s my birthday,’’ Tyson tells the charge sister.
“Heavens no!’’, she responded, but he quickly modified his request to “two streets away’’ and reminded her that the oncologist had agreed.

Visitors pepper the long weekend and on Tuesday, day 10, his own oncologist returns from overseas and examines him. “Olivier has fractured a bone in his back and it is probably caused by the damage to the spine,’’ he says.
We had imagined that the four-day road trip to Lake Eyre on rough roads had not done his cancerous spine any good. But then I remembered that on the Saturday morning, Olivier had turned our double bed mattress.
“Whatever are you doing that for?’’ I had asked, alarmed, when I had found him leaning against the upright mattress.
I had helped him flip it back onto the bed, but in retrospect, I think the damage was done in that one act.
We are so thankful that he has not been left paralysed and he knows that he will not be able to lift anything heavy again.
In the words of a friend, “The only things you can move now are your eyelids!’’

Creative Cry from Country

It is ironic that poet and actor Michelle Murray stands in an historic witness box at the South Coast Regional ArtsCentre – once the Goolwa court house, to spin her mythical story of  The Black Wedding Dress.

It is a strange, rivetting tale, a mix of universal myth and self-discovery, although her voice is that of Ana, a half-cast child, named Ana, born of a white mother and Aboriginal father,  who was abandoned and lost between two cultures before transformation.

A graduate from the Centre for Performing Arts,  Michelle Murray performs against a dramatic backdrop on the rear white wall behind her – an artwork by local artist Yvonne East of a charcoal on paper life-sized naked woman hanging from her wrists bound by rope.

It is one of a handful of  artworks in this extraordinary art, poetry and performance collaboration, which reflect not only themes in women’s lives – men, marriage, child birth and responsibility – but also mythical symbolism which defines cultures.

The room – with its historic prisoner’s box in another corner, is adorned with artworks by Nyorie Bungey, Michael Bryant
and Barbary O’Brien, whereby the regional arts centre invited renowned local artists to interpret Murray’s script.

However, the iconic artwork is a black wedding dress, set in the centre of a small room alongside. It is striking, yet clearly  a rag dress.  A 19th century-style bodice fits over   a skirt made of strips of black cotton fabric which trail as a train into dust.
The whole magnificent work is adorned with bones, rusted metal, shells and buttons.

The extraordinary piece, entitled Abandoned Dress, is the interpretation of local artist Annabelle Collette, who has symbolised the pain and anguish of Ana as she searches through myth and reality to find herself.

As Murray tells her poetic prose, images are flashed onto the naked body art on the back wall, conjuring up notions of country, home, church, pregnancy and loss, death, abandonment and renewal through a search for love. Afterwards, Michelle Murray, who lives close by in Mt Compass, says there are many points of autobiography in her narrative as well as reference to the indigenous people of the Wangkangurra/Yarliyandi country.

“The story originates from the country around Birdsville because my uncle, Kym Fort was the publican of the Birdsville Hotel in the 1980s and 90s,’’ says Mrs Murray.  We all went up there from time to time as teenagers to help out with waitressing or whatever,’’ she recalls. “I met my husband, Francis Murray, an Aboriginal man and I learnt a lot about country. We lived in a caravan behind a shed.’’ “There are lots and lots of personal references woven through the story,’’ she admits.

However, she says the myths were not specifically Aboriginal, but universal, and she had borrowed wisdom from Joseph  Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. “He pulls out all the myths from different cultures and points out their similarities,’’ she says. “His work is presented as the universal myth: It is used as the Bible for the hero stories of Hollywood. “We bring in our own myths in order to meet another culture and you can then engage with it. “For instance, Ana is swallowed by a s erpent, which is borrowing from the Biblical story of  Jonah being swallowed by the whale.’’

Her intriguing narrative presents a spiritual journey and her words, images and references of lost souls carry notions of the deep spirituality of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ tome, Women Who Run With the Wolves. One is left wondering of her own life and if she married in a black wedding: “There are lots and lots of personal references woven through the story,’’ she admits.

“My dress was a very dark green, so dark it could have been black…and I was married barefoot and five months pregnant.’’

The Black Dress reveals an intriguing talent and one chapter is to be published by Islet, while her first, unrelated poetic publication is a short story, The Welcome, published by Meanjin.

A young mother of two, Murray hopes her performance will be accepted as a Country Arts Tours Exhibition.


Lake Eyre – a stunning shimmering inland sea

Vicky Sass-Nielson (right), Norma Jackson (l) and moi.

It’s a phenomenon in our lifetime to peer below at Australia’s vast inland sea – Lake Eyre filled with water, so crystal clear it mirrors the sky.

Where once there was only that barren, crusty, salty surface we learnt about in geography lessons at school, now the desert is in flood. Water is everywhere and everything here is changed as flowing waters define the landscape into stunning shapes. Into sandy beaches, islands and headlands and through the parched earth trickling rivers now flow and mud flats now sprout a beard of green.

The dead centre of Australia is transformed by those flood waters from Queensland’s summer floods and below me lies a shimmering sea zipping along under a light morning breeze.

Ahead the waters lap against sand cliffs as stunning at those at Port Willunga, where I once holidayed as a young woman and on the headland countless pelicans gather.

From on high, flying hundreds of metres above in a small six-seater Cessna 210 aircraft, this watery wonderland is absolutely beautiful and I am mesmerised.

The miracle is that the inland sea shows us how Australia used to be eons ago when the Diamontina River was always a torrent.

I am in distinguished company for this unique experience because Australian pioneering explorer Edward John Eyre’s great, great grand-daughter, Veronica Sass-Nielsen sits alongside me.

She is spellbound – like me – to learn from our pilot that the West End of Lake Eyre North is three metres deep and rising.

Yet Lake Eyre South, immediately below us, is so shallow – at 300 mm deep that I can see the sand underneath.

Here the sea is different as it swirls around the ridges and sandhills like a huge python . We swoop lower before we turn back to the flat, arid landscape of Marree.  It is bald and barren but for rivulets of water snaking their way through the parched earth. The rivers have begun to dry up once more leaving in their wake muddy patches tinged with green and isolated clumps of stunted vegetation.

In one part it’s like a moonscape, in another the bare earth has all the fleshy colours of a carcase.

The inland sea now stretching 145 kilometres from one end to the other, an awesome legacy of El Nina and Cyclone Yari.

As we land back at Marree I ask Veronica what she thought of Lake Eyre, named after her forebear.  “It was absolutely beautiful; I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world,” says Veronica, who travelled from Perth to make what she had described as a very personal journey.

The flight was a highlight of an outback tour with Gekko Safari which included Clare winetasting, Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges and Prairie Hotel Parachilna. More information on www.gekkosafari.com.au.

click below to see the photos