In the late 1950s my father, the gentleman barber who liked to be known as 'Andre the Great', spent a few hard earned pounds on a very fine full-length leather coat. And with the docket from that investment he managed to win for himself a little Fiat motor car that would herald the beginning of many seaside adventures.
Now, my dad had little or no experience as a driver when he took possession of his prize. According to one of the many stories he told me during his lifetime, in Hungary he had ridden an old bicycle from village to village, bartering haircuts for food, clothing and shoes... and otherwise he travelled on foot. Here, after winning the car, 'the local policeman' taught him to drive on flat open land near where we lived in Acton, on what is now Lake Burley Griffin.
Before long, wanderlust took hold and my family spent weekends venturing interstate at every opportunity. My mother bundled us into the car, together with a picnic blanket, a thermos of her café au lait, a supply of travel sweets, fresh fruit and a pile of sandwiches. I have many fond memories of us frequenting destinations like Wee Jasper, Corin Dam, Bateman's Bay and all around the South coast region.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.
In those days, the 150 km journey from Canberra to the coast took several hours over winding, narrow mountain roads. I'm guessing we first made those trips in the early 60s, as I can recall that we waited in line with other cars to board a punt ferry that took us across the Clyde River at Nelligen. (My research confirms that while the Bateman's Bay bridge was built in 1956, the Nelligen bridge wasn't completed until 1964). We sang most of the way, would always stop for a picnic and cup of thermos-tasting coffee at the town park in Braidwood, and always excitedly looked out for Pooh's Corner, a small but famous rock cave near the top of the Clyde Mountain pass.
Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.
Several Hungarian families, mine included, bought small parcels of land at Sunpatch (a seaside town now known Tomakin) and so we spent many summer holidays in tiny cottages there ... fishing, swimming, bushwalking, collecting shells, cooking and eating, as you do. The years passed and, having worked themselves into old age, my parents sold up at Sunpatch and bought a land on a magnificent cliff at Malua Bay, where they eventually built their dream retirement cottage. After my wedding in '78, they moved from Canberra and enjoyed a relaxed decade of seaside living until my father was diagnosed with cancer. I'm not sure that my mother ever got over the sale of their beloved coastal house, for her own health went downhill once they returned to the city. In fact she became more and more unwell over the years and, while my father recovered to spritely good health, to our surprise she passed away in hospital two days after her 75th birthday.
Much do I love, at civic treat, The monsters of the deep to eat; To see the rosy salmon lying, by smelts encircled, born for frying.
Seafood has always been a favourite of mine. I tasted my first salty oyster on a rocky outcrop at Malua Bay and quickly grew to love the breaded fish fillets with hand cut potato chips, and the Hungarian fisherman's soup known as Halászlé (hola/sle), that my godmother and my mum cooked when dad returned from fishing on the bay. Flathead, whiting, nannygai and flake are at their very sweetest and most succulent when cooked soon after being caught!
My parents always made an occasion of fish and chip dinners, and in their old age ate lunch once a week at the cafeteria at Canberra Hospital simply because the fish and chips were so good! Indeed, one Easter Saturday which also happened to be the day of my mother's death, my father and the extended family left mum's bedside to throw down some sustenance in the form of fish and chips at that same cafeteria. As quickly as possible, we were back by her side and within 10 minutes my mother took her last laboured breath.
We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back... whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back from whence we came.
On an April afternoon in 1997, per her wishes my mother's ashes were sprinkled into the cove below their former cliff-top home, but not before my frail 80 year old father toppled off the rocks and into the water, the urn with his wife's ashes held tightly in his arms as he disappeared into the clutch of the suddenly angry waves. He would have drowned were it not for my boy (who was only 14) and my then husband, both of whom risked their lives to save him. In time, the pair were recognised as heroes and duly awarded RLS rescue medals. In the swirling mass of sea, my darling dad managed to rescue his glasses and Tyrolean hat and, as we pulled him back to the safety of the rocks, and all he could say over and over was 'That couldn't have just happened!'
As the five of us walked in stunned silence away from the rocks and towards the goat track leading up to the cliff, we looked back and noticed that the sea was calm once again. Thus, we couldn't all help but consider that perhaps mum had beckoned dad to join her. And though we managed to put it behind us, the event was to trigger things that would continue to affect the entire family.
But then that's another story...
Above: the views my parents enjoyed at Malua Bay and the cove which is the final resting place for my mother and the younger of my two brothers (top photo is one I took in the 1970s and had mounted for my parents as a gift when they sold up and returned to the city... my father is holding it in the newspaper clipping below); self with canine best friend, Alice the German Shepherd, in 1977; and my parents, Iren and András, enjoying ice cream cones on the sands of Malua Beach circa 1970, taken with my Polaroid. The sun was in their eyes, hence the frowns on their faces.
Below: Canberra newspaper clippings show the day my father took possession of the Fiat, and a few days after he almost lost his life at sea.
Whether it's Halászlé, Tom Yum Po Tak, Bouillabaisse. or simply Chowder, I adore fish soup. My recipe for this chowder is based on a superb dish that Peter and I have enjoyed many times at The Shipwright's Arms Hotel in Hobart's Battery Point. Shippies, as it's known, is a traditional old style English corner pub that was established in 1846. Here, I have used my basic vichyssoise (leek and potato soup) recipe and added the freshest morsels of seafood. And I have to tell you, it's really good!
CREAMY SEAFOOD CHOWDER
2 leeks, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
5 cups (1.25 litres) vegetable or chicken stock
500g potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 bay leaves
200g each green prawns (shelled and deveined), scallops, mussel meat, sliced squid and cubed salmon flesh
1/2 cup cream
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon saffron strands
freshly ground pepper
fresh parsley, chopped
Melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan, add the sliced leeks and stir until soft and golden. Add the stock, potatoes, celery and bay leaves, and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when tested with a skewer or fork. Remove the bay leaves. Using a stick blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add more stock if the chowder is not at the right consistency, as in too thick. Then add the seafood, saffron strands and lemon juice, and cook gently for 4-5 minutes until the seafood is cooked through. Stir in the cream and season to taste with freshly ground white pepper. Serve immediately, garnished with a little chopped parsley if desired. This recipe serves six.
The freshest morsels of seafood...
The process in pictures...
* The quotations in bold above are from
Tell me about your seaside adventures... and is fish soup a favourite at your place?
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I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.