Once upon a long, long, long time ago, Canberra, my home town, became a meeting place. I'm a vintage Canberran, but that event was well before my time. And I suspect it was way before yours too. Think back 20,000 years, maybe more, to when the first Australians, the Aboriginal people, gathered here for corroborees. Special meetings at which they mingled, danced and feasted on bogong moths.
History tells us that the first European settler in the district was a Mr Joshua John Moore, who established a farm called 'Canberry'. Apparently this name was a derivative of Nganbirra, from the Wiradhari verb Ngangirrabirra, meaning either 'a place for meeting' or 'they meet or assemble.' At least that's what I gleaned from a newspaper article in The Mail, dating back to 1927.
Some readers may not be aware that in the early 1900s, the government of New South Wales suggested locations for the seat of Government for the new Commonwealth of Australia. The regions of Orange, Yass-Canberra and Bombala were shortlisted. In 1908, the Yass-Canberra region was chosen in a House of Representatives ballot and so the Commonwealth surveyor of the day, Mr Charles Scrivener, was sent on a mission to select a suitable a site. The place must be distinctive, and have picturesque views, he was instructed.
Scrivener surveyed the site and noted it as being ‘in an amphitheatre of hills with an outlook towards the north and north-east’. It goes without saying that he had chosen the best location.
Parliament House, which would also become an important meeting place, was opened in the new capital city, Canberra, in 1927. And that's the area's history in a nutshell for you.
After attending the Eat Drink Blog Australian food bloggers meeting in Adelaide in 2012 (which was outstanding, by the way), I felt excited at the prospect that some day, perhaps, the event might be held in Canberra and maybe I could be involved in making it happen.
When I learned that a team of energetic young local women had banded together to form the committee for Eat Drink Blog (EDB) 2015 in Canberra, I was delighted – particularly when I received an invitation to join the brainstorming group.
It was my pleasure to coordinate and judge the EDB 2015 writing competition, and I was also honoured to be included on a panel discussion, and other aspects of the planning. It all seems like such a long time ago now – and the 2015 event has been and gone, although I'm sure those who organised it, and those who attended, won't forget EDB too soon.
A little slice of history...
One of the things that struck me was that much of EDB was held at the Nishi Gallery in Acton, or 'New Acton' as that part of town is now known. You see, the Acton settlement was actually the first suburb in Canberra, from when the Commonwealth surveyors arrived in the early 1900s. It would continue to be the administrative hub of the city for forty or fifty years to follow.
The first homes in Canberra were built in Acton, together with the first hospital, post office, horticultural nursery, bank, and a small gaol. The original Acton farmhouse was initially used to accommodate officials. Towards the end of 1913, The Residency, now known as Old Canberra House, was built. Opposite that was the Constable's Cottage, which has a buggy shed in the back garden. It was in that little shed that my family and I lived from 1958 until 1961. I hope you won't mind that I've thrown in another slice of history.
The Hotel Acton opened in December 1924 and was built to accommodate public servants, politicians and visitors. It was beautifully restored in the year 2000 and would become the heritage listed Diamant Hotel, which was gutted by fire in 2011. Stay with me, please, I'm getting to the point. The Nishi Gallery, where many of the EDB events were held, is situated within that complex.
Eat Drink Blog 2015 - postcards and morsels...
The Eat Drink Blog committee organised more than just a conference. The program offered participants a deliciously interesting and fun experience. An event where folks could meet and mingle with like minded food enthusiasts, food bloggers and food producers, while having a taste of some of the best things Canberra has to offer.
As you'll see from the following postcards, EDB delegates met at The Hamlet food truck dining precinct, where we were welcomed by ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr. The food and beverages on offer at The Hamlet were mind blowing. Truly. I wasn't wearing stretchy pants, so I could only manage a Brod Dog and a lemon meringue milkshake from April's Caravan. Later, participants were treated to a Frugii Dessert Laboratory ice cream tasting and demonstration; and/or cocktails at Hopscotch; and/or whiskey and food matching at Marble & Grain.
The following morning, delegates were transported to the Capital Region Farmers Market, where we were treated to breakfast from local producers and a cooking demonstration by chefs from the CIT. I have always wanted to see a croquembouche being made and I was not disappointed by the very talented CIT chef Dammika Hatharasinghe.
After our morning at the market, we were transported to the Nishi Gallery in Acton for a highly entertaining keynote address by Gourmet Farmer and former Canberra lad, Matthew Evans. Matthew was a regular presenter at my former cooking school and I was delighted when he said yes to my invitation for him to be the keynote speaker.
At lunchtime, we walked across the footbridge by the lake to the container village at Westside Acton Park, where I enjoyed a crisp and crunchy Banh Mi salad. Others indulged in delicious looking fish and chips, and a gelato.
Back at the Nishi Gallery, my colleague, Wendy Johnson, stirred the pot on the topic of restaurant reviews. Next, the wise and knowledgeable Todd Wright, from Threesides Media, talked about SEO. Next, the amazing, Tess Godkin, showed us how to style and photograph food so that it looks like a spread from a glossy magazine. Just wow. And then the smart phone savvy, Alice Lau, demonstrated her skills with photography and videography.
That evening, delegates enjoyed a regional produce dinner at A.Baker in Acton, where the writing and photography competition winners were announced. I say again, it was a genuine pleasure to be in charge of the writing competition. Congratulations once again to the winners and runners up. Well done!
On the last day of EDB, delegates met once again at the Nishi Gallery, where we were treated to breakfast featuring local producers, The Fix Cold Pressed Juices, The Muesli Bar, A.Baker and Six8 Coffee Roasters. First up was the panel discussion: Fulltime Blogging the Holy Grail? featuring Amanda Whitley from HerCanberra, Carla and Emma a.k.a. The Merrymaker Sisters and moi. Feedback from this session has been good, at least from my perspective, and I think that by sharing our own experiences, between us, we gave our blogger colleagues some food for thought.
Carly Jacobs from Smaggle lifted our spirits with her talk on Fitting It All In- How to build your blog when you are too damn busy. Finally, the The Merrymaker Sisters were back to present a session on How to Self-publish Your Cookbook. In the afternoon, delegates were split into groups and transported to a variety of destinations, including The Cupping Room, to meet the World’s Best Barista Sasa Sestic; lunch and a coffee roasting session at Two before Ten, Aranda; a Canberra region wine education session at The Canberra Wine House; a cooking demonstration and lunch at The Boathouse by the Lake; or a beer making and tasting tour at Bentspoke Brewery. And that, as they say, was a wrap.
Eat Drink Blog gave me the opportunity to meet a few of my fellow food bloggers in person. People such as Sandra from Please Pass the Recipe, Sherry from Sherry's Pickings, Margot from Gather and Graze, Gary from Yummy Lummy, and Clare from The Life of Clare, among many others.
I would like to thank the EDB 2015 Committee: Rachi, Giulia, Tara, Linda, Amanda and Belinda for pulling together a marvellous EDB event and showcasing Canberra in the best possible way. Thanks for including me, too! (Exclamation mark essential here). Thank you also to EDB sponsors HerCanberra and Visit Canberra. Thank you also to my long-time Canberra food writer colleague, Wendy Johnson, for agreeing to assist me with the judging of the entries in the restaurant review category of the writing competition. I couldn't have done it without you. A huge thank you to Essential Ingredient Canberra, Capital Wines, Bakers Secret, OXO Greensaver and Corningware for their generous sponsorship of prizes for the writing competition.
Note: I was hoping to present a visually rich summary of Eat Drink Blog 2015 using my own photographs, however the SD card on my pocket rocket camera decided to fail on me and I lost a few hundred pictures. I was only able to rescue a few that I had instagrammed. Thank you to EDB, Rebecca Doyle Photography and Ari Rex Photography for allowing me to use a few of your images, watermarked appropriately.
Tell me dear readers, were you aware of Canberra's history as a meeting place? Have you ever made a croquembouche? And were you one of the delegates at Eat Drink Blog?
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