8th June 2011
You simply cannot walk past the cake display here at the Tearooms without stopping to stare, or perhaps I should say ….gaze. (and gaze longingly at that) It views like a work of art. Indeed, in keeping with the surrounding art gallery, the cabinet is like an extension of the exhibition space, full of colour, texture and beautiful creations. It is a mini gallery all on its own.
Local baker’s apprentice “Simon” (who has recently won an “Apprentice of the Year” award) is the artist behind some of these amazing culinary masterpieces. Like Brenda, he makes these cakes from scratch with only the finest ingredients and methods….not a trace of premix or packet elements that you can find in your regular bakery food. This is the real deal!
Teamed up with the goodness and delight of Brenda’s own baking – all home made with love and natural ingredients – I defy anyone not to pause and appreciate, if not salivate over, the beautiful culinary artworks.
I felt compelled to buy a piece of Neapolitan Cake, tempted by the layers of custard, pink and vanilla sponge, with cream and chocolate highlights, all wrapped in layers of diagonally striped pink and white sponge. It wasn’t easy choice with the chocolate mousse cake sitting there with it’s delicate “angel wings” of chocolate adorning the top….and the rich and tasty “everyone’s favourite” – carrot cake, begging me to try a slice. Of course, in the stillness, I imagined Mary sitting there before me – what if I offered this cake to her? Would she frown on my thoughts and share her own?
“You don’t have it so bad, do you?” she says. “Do you have any idea how foreign this all looks to me? The closest we had to bakery delights was simple home made bread, hot and crusty and tough as boots, baked in whatever oven space we could put together. Usually without butter. And cake, if it existed was heavy enough to slow down a bullock team. There was no cream sponge, no chocolate wafer topping and unless you were the gentry, no cake forks! I hope you are not going to sit there and complain about life in front of me!”
I felt sympathy. After all, as I explain, I live on a farm where my parents, grandparents and great grandparents had worked hard to establish a life from the bush, during group settlement. All around me, in my father’s museum, and in my parents’ photos and stories, were reminders of the painstaking labour and hardship that helped forge the “easy life” we now have. I do have a sense of the harshness and unforgiving nature of life in this area back then. Hands on was the name of the game. Everything was carved or dug, shaped or cut, or stitched or built by hand.
As I think of this, Mary holds out her hands to me. Chapped, scarred, toughened with calluses and lines – she waves them with a sense of sadness, and yet weary pride. No soft skin or painted, manicured nails here. It is hands like hers that built the foundations of, yes, this easy life we now lead. It is hands like hers that made the sacrifices so that ours can do other things. As I look at her hands, I feel the chill, the water constantly cold, the long hours of washing heavy clothes in tubs of water with a hard block of soap, the redness and soreness of hands never still or dry. I feel the pain of blisters and calluses, the weight of the shovel, the axe, the heavy tools, the carting, chopping, dragging and lifting, the digging and ploughing to grow even the most basic of foods, the sheer hard labour that was the only way to make any kind of existence. I smell the aroma of leather and horses and damp earth and the Australian bush.
“Yes” she says, nodding. “The young people today have no idea. Now everything is done with machines, or gadgets, you have electricity and cars and computers, you can buy things in shops instead of having to make every single item you require, and you have time free from the chores of survival to just enjoy life. Like here in the tearooms…”
I paused in the quiet to appreciate these thoughts, and simply be grateful for how easy my life was in comparison. Sometimes we get caught up in our own problems and believing life is tough, but if we were to be forced back in time, to have all our modern facilities removed, we might be shocked at how lost we would be… And unable to cope with the sheer necessity for long and arduous hours of labour to achieve even the most basic of existences. Even two power blackouts recently, one for seven hours, and one for nearly twenty hours, left me feeling rather hopeless and useless where everyday living was concerned. I know I would not have cut it back in Mary’s day. I offered up silent thanks to my ancestors for all of their dedication and persistence and my sympathy to those like Mary who could not even begin to imagine the luxuries that we now enjoy.
“You’re trying to make me fat!!!” I hear someone exclaim from the counter, and sure enough customers, are standing before the cake cabinet, about to order, and faced with a difficult choice. “Not that I need any help with that!” laughs one lady as she happily makes her selection.
Seems like a similar theme of appreciation is expressed by most customers, as the notepads on the table will testify ….
“Scones and Tea
(by a “Local”)
“Came all the way from Switzerland
For your Bannoffee Pie!
Can’t wait to try it again.
See you next in 2012”
“Mmmm a few words…
But what can you say
About a place you feel so at home,
You could just sit, relax,
And just enjoy this wonderful day”
“My wife and I have travelled from Tassie.
We love your town, inspired by the warm hospitality!
Will return again someday.
Enjoyed the 2km wharf and of course the “Goose” café.
Geoff and Therese Marshall
Ps: wonderful soup!
We also received some “real” poetry…
“There was a man from Leeds
Who ate a packet of seeds.
In less than an hour,
His head was a flower
And his legs were a garden of weeds.”
A little boost for the café poet’s morale (hey…thank you Ms R…..!)
There once was a lady called Wendy,
She used to be sporty and bendy,
Don’t hold that against her,
Coz now she’s a fabulous photographer.
She captures your heart,
With her fabulous art.
And so we’ll never forget our Wendy J “
And some special philosophy to inspire your thoughts…
“Live a good life,
Spend some time helping others,
Love your wife, children and siblings,
Be proud of yourself.
Never hurt anyone.
Remember, life has an expiration date.”
“Don’t look ahead,
Don’t look behind,
Be where you are now,
In the moment”
(Phil Maynes, Eungella, NSW)
ps would have liked to stay in the moment of the chocolate cake!
“Perfection lies on the edge of darkness”
(anonymous 8th June 2011)
It was another busy day at the Café – customers flowing in to treat themselves or find that special something they were searching for whether it was sustenance, courage or inspiration. “Chocolate cake for courage, for ‘gravitas’ ” said Brenda, dishing up a moist and succulent slice on a plate beside a crimson rose and a bowl of whipped cream. Only here could you receive a plate of courage and passion so beautifully presented.
It was a rich and rewarding day for me, having conversations with the most interesting people – shared stories that I could take away and treasure…discussing everything from local history and detecting buried treasures, boatbuilding and manual labour in Eritrea, to literary gems that endure for no reason other than their poetic effect upon our own memories – Oh the joys of a “good blowout on tripe and onions” (Thanks Val!!) Life is like that in such a place as the Old Post Office Tearooms.