Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Closing Time

Despite much fighting and frantic effort, our only private hospital, The South Burnett Private Hospital, closed yesterday.
One of the enrolled nurses, Racheal Collier, a local woman and mum, was one of many dedicated health employees to work her last shift. The hospital has been her second home for nearly seven years.
She put together this slideshow as a tribute to the tireless workers who are now without jobs. The people and faces behind The South Burnett Private Hospital.
This is a decision that has not only made life harder for thousands of South Burnett residents, who now have to travel for the treatment they need, but has put caring people like Racheal and the people in this video, out of work.
I defy you to watch it and not give a damn.
These are the faces of rural health in Australia.
These people deserve jobs. And we deserve this hospital.
(Almost Wordless Wednesday. I couldn't help myself...)
You can watch the video here

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nuts about Kingaroy

It's been a weird week in the town where I live.
For those who aren't playing at home, I live in a country town called Kingaroy, in the South Burnett.
We moved here originally as a bit of a tree change. Life is generally cheaper, quieter and slower paced than in the city, and it's easy to fall in love with the rolling farmland, quaint towns and constantly-changing scenery and seasons.
But as anyone who has lived on the land or in small country towns knows, life can be tough. In fact, it can be brutal.
It's a time when many businesses are for sale or closing down, and some of our most talented people have to travel to the cities and coast for work opportunities. Nothing new there. But it doesn't make it hurt any less.
It's well-known that farmers regularly struggle to make ends meet as they provide food, produce and drink for Australia and overseas. But what's lesser known is that business people battle to make a living as well. Even when their products and service are very, very good, and deserve to succeed very, very much.
This week, our local Target and Foodworks shut their doors. Our region's only private hospital is still slated to close at the end of the month, although the South Burnett Regional Council mayor Wayne Kratzmann is moving heaven and earth to stop that from happening.
It's heartbreaking to see people losing their jobs and homes. Having to move away from the area they love. Away from friends, family, schools.
The people here are incredibly innovative and are always finding ways to make an income. From the dairy farmers turned winemakers. Those who take in paying guests at romantic cottages and family-oriented farmstays. Those who have turned to making organic cheese, olive oil, or growing macadamia nuts or avocados instead of traditional crops.

Dusty Hill Vineyard (above) and (below) an example of the delicious food on offer: Seafood Bisque

There are restaurateurs doing innovative things with food, and thinking up extra ways to get bottoms on seats and tummies filled. All conscious that their customers are often struggling themselves and can only pay a certain amount to dine out.

A vegetable fritatta from Magpies takeaway, Kingaroy. Made from scratch and with love. They also make the best pies - Barkers Creek pork belly and apple sauce; Corned beef and white sauce; Chicken, Camembert and Asparagus anyone? 

And of course, the town is rightfully known for peanuts.
In fact, when I was a kid, the newsagent in the main street sold postcards that said things like "Kingaroy: The Peanut Capital Of Australia", and 'Home of Australia's best nuts'. Oh how we laughed.
But I'd like to wish that these days, Kingaroy is known for much more than nuts. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

We do macadamia nuts as well 

So it was fitting, that this week Triple J's Breakfast With Matt and Alex producers chose Kingaroy as the subject for their Bonus Weather town.
Matt and Alex and the team choose an Aussie town to appear in the weather update. It's called a bonus town, because it's a town that usually doesn't get a lot of coverage in the mainstream media.
I tried for a chat with Matt and Alex - but have been told maybe next week - and I tried for a chat with indie artist Lupa J, but I've so far had no luck.
Lupa J, who is only 17 and studying year 12, did an awesome job by researching Kingaroy, a town she'd never heard of, on the internet, before writing her song.
She based her song on tourism websites, and although she is obviously an awesome talent and did an amazing job, I'm wondering why the tourism websites she found were so out of date.
Because Lupa J, discovered that Kingaroy was the peanut capital of Australia and latched on to that as her theme song.
She sings Kingaroy's 'twin peanut silos grace the sky'. (There are actually three.) Of our Peanut Festival. (Sadly, there has not been a peanut festival since 2009.) She gets the number of people who live here wrong, and of course, sings that we're famous for our peanuts.
Well I guess that's true.
And I'm not dissing Lupa J. She did her research. She based it on the facts available online. She wrote a cool song and treated our town with respect. (And our nuts!)
Triple J accompaned their social media and the soundwave upload with a photo taken at one of the last peanut festivals. I love that photo and I'm pretty sure the KingaRoyals who heard the song or who looked it up online enjoyed it too.
It's had lots of positive feedback on social media and given our town a little extra attention.
You can listen to the song and see the photo here. 
I think Lupa J rocks. And I think locals would be happy to take on KingaRoyals (the name of the song) as their anthem. If only it was a little more accurate. And again - not her fault.
But I think it's an interesting social media experiment into the efficacy of the knowledge of our brand and the user-friendly, up to date (or lack of), information that's available.
The fact that many travellers these days research a destination via the internet means this is disturbing. The lack of businesses with instagram or twitter accounts, or their own websites, or who fail to update and respond to questions on their facebook accounts, is astonishing. Would-be visitors need to know that there is so much to do in this region - from hiking in the Bunya Mountains, to enjoying lunch at an Irish Tavern in a vineyard, to learning how to make vegan cheese.
I guess my questions are: Why aren't we known for more than our nuts? (Ahem) Why are so many tourism and official pages so out of date? Is it time to bring the peanut festival back? (And I know the arguments about cost, public liability and insurance, but if other regional areas do it, why can't we?)

We do have Australia's best nuts - and the nicest peanut paste. This range is from Taste South Burnett 

And the tastiest nuts and widest range of flavours you will ever taste come from The Peanut Van

I interviewed celebrity chef Miguel Maestre when South Burnett producers took over Brisbane's Eat Street Markets recently, and he pointed out that tourists, foodies, and the media, love quirky festivals
We have great wine, history, olive oil, cheese, farmstays and markets. We are on the doorstep of the beautiful Bunya Mountains.
Let's get all that out there, and let's make our town proud.
Our attractions shouldn't be secret. Our websites should not be out of date. There should be current information, readily available online.
Because while some businesses are sadly closing, others are doing their best to hang in there, be innovative and put this town on the map.
And they deserve all the support they can get.
In the meantime? Go the KingaRoyals.

We also should be known for our fudge. Taste South Burnett's own handmade fudge, made with love 

And sausages ... Well the country does love a carnivore. But these days there are plenty of veggie products too

And don't forget the wine ... the South Burnett produces some amazing wine 

Whipbird Chapel, one of the many unique venues for breakfast, lunch, fresh juice, and more

A nearby hotel, The Wondai. Not your typical country pub

We really do have a Peanut Man, and sometimes he does the rounds of the local shopping mall handing out sweets with his peanut helpers. Only in Kingaroy ... 

Have you been to Kingaroy or the South Burnett? Did you hear the KingaRoyals song? Would you visit if there was a peanut festival here? And how do you like your nuts? 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: The cat, dog and mouse game

It's mouse season in the South Burnett. Here, Lucy and Hannah Kitteh work together to catch a mouse - only for the prize to end up in the mouth of Kit Kat! Or maybe that was their plan all along? 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Better than Byron?

There is a reason why Australia is famous for her beaches. 

And there are places in Australia where I think winter is the very best time to spend time on the beach.

It's not as hot, or as crowded. Prices for accommodation are cheaper, and if you're a fan of the tropics, you're safe from stingers. 

One of my favourite spots this time of year is the northern New South Wales Tweed Coast. 

Even in the middle of winter, the sun shines and you can have the most beautiful beaches to yourself. 

I've ridden along the coastlines with the kids, and in days before kids, I've hiked from beach to beach.

Just a few years ago, I remember relaxing on a boat in the middle of the Tweed River while the kids fished and caught crabs, and thinking I was in heaven.

It was winter. The morning had been chilly, but during the day, it was hot enough to wear T-Shirts and shorts, the kids were in swimmers (and later swam at our resort), and yep, despite sunscreen, I still got some colour.

On that occasion, we stayed at the Big4 North Star Holiday Resort & Caravan Park, at Hastings Point. We were walking distance from surf and river beaches, and there was a huge water play area and swimming pool for the kids where they made instant friends.

More recently, I took some time to get away from the stresses of life with a friend. Since we were looking forward to grown-up time, we checked in to the highly recommended Peppers Salt Resort &  Spa, near Kingscliff.

It's a long drive from country Queensland, so it was lovely to walk into our apartment, where the lights were already on and the room temperature was perfect.

And this was waiting for us! 

There was a comfortable king-size bed with loads of pillows and extra blankets and pillows in the cupboard. The blind between the bathroom could be lifted or drawn for privacy - or otherwise. 

You could watch TV from the huge spa bath, built for two - but only if the blind was up. Luckily, we were friends! 

The bathroom had a roomy shower as well as a separate toilet. There were glass doors separating the ensuite from the main bedroom. It was all very trendy, but I'm glad I wasn't on a first weekend away with a lover, as it wasn't exactly soundproof! 

The apartment came with free movies and wi-fi which meant it was cosy when the night got chilly,  It also meant I had something to do when my early-to-bed friend fell asleep early each night, and then woke with the sun while the insomniac (me) slept in each morning. (Note, we could have drawn the floor-to-ceiling blinds in the apartment to keep the sun out, but we liked the view. And didn't want to sleep the weekend away). 

The only problem was a 5am alarm that had us both shooting upright out of bed each morning. Apparently the alarm had been set by the apartment's previous occupants. The issue was meant to have been fixed, but the alarm went off again the very next morning. 

Luckily, each day I was comfy enough to get back to sleep while my friend caught up on the previous night's movie.

I mentioned it on check-out because I didn't want the slumber of the next guests to be so rudely interrupted. I would have felt sorry for someone with a baby or someone on a romantic break. 

We'd been upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment, with a loft-style bedroom with king single beds, another TV, and roomy ensuite upstairs. As always, I really wish the kids could have come. They would have loved it! 

The view of the downstairs area from the loft bedroom. The lounge was so comfy you could sleep on it, so we could easily have slept another two. Seriously, I could have moved in there. (That's my junk on the right hand side. And yes we both took our laptops, although we tried very hard not to use them).

All the comforts of home... 

Salt Village has loads of restaurants to choose from, plus Peppers has some great dining options as well. I'm told it can be quiet on a weeknight off season, but on this weekend, the village was buzzing. 

 We had a really delicious Thai meal the first night, and the next evening concocted something from goodies we bought at markets that day.

A fully equipped kitchen, with a decent sized fridge. So you could easily spend a week or more there and save money by cooking. There was a washer and dryer as well. 

The roomy apartment.

The next morning, we explored the beach. Watch out for stingers and sharks! #Straya

The water was actually not too chilly - even in winter. 

We had the beach to ourselves. Paradise. 

Only in Australia

Then it was time to explore. But only after a heart-starting coffee first. 

Nearby Brunswick Heads Markets are colourful and well worth a visit. 

Some of the local scenery 

The iconic Hotel Brunswick ... a fabulous spot for a drink or a pub lunch in the sun 

And beautiful Brunswick Heads. Byron Bay is still gorgeous, but the lesser known Brunswick Heads is even better I think. Sssh! Don't tell anyone!

Another almost deserted beach ... and you can walk to Byron Bay if you are so inclined.

 Our busy day took in an overpriced lunch at busy Byron Bay that had us thinking wistfully of the relaxed Brunswick Heads hotel or the Fishermen's Co-op, where you can buy the tastiest seafood fresh from the trawler. 

Wine Time featured champagne and strawberries from Brunswick Heads Market. Dinner was thrown together from goodies purchased during the day and the previous night's leftovers, with local fudge for dessert. 

We could have gone out but the couch was so comfortable and the apartment so warm and inviting, it was relaxing just to stay in and enjoy a few movies.

Oh, and coming from the South Burnett, where we are nearly always in drought,  I enjoyed a big bubbly spa bath each night. Bliss. 

I'm sure that's why I slept in again on Sunday morning, and had to be woken in time for breakfast.

And here I know I have forgotten to upload some photos, because I always take photos of delicious food.

Peppers does a particularly nice breakfast buffet, with a selection of hot and cold dishes.

 We had to wait for a short time each morning for seating, even though they didn't seem particularly busy.

 On the second morning, I had a quick chat to the waitress and she explained the policy was so that guests still enjoyed a pleasant dining experience with plenty of fresh selections. Unlike some hotel and resort buffets, where you get what I call the 'pig-at-a-trough' experience. So I forgave them for that, because breakfast really was pleasant for a buffet, and we didn't feel any pressure to move on quickly either, as we shared the newspaper and chatted over coffee. Okay, and one more serve of fruit, just to be healthy! 

We didn't get to use the pools, spa, tennis court, gym, or bikes - although the kids and I have ridden from Kingscliff to various beaches; and kayaked and stand-up paddle boarded on our previous visit to the region.

Next time I return to the Tweed, I'd really like to take the kids to Peppers, because I think they would love the upstairs bedroom, the super big spa bath, and a bit more of a grown-up experience to the region.

I still think Byron Bay is one of the best spots in the world. It's just that I prefer to share my nature, beauty and food with a few less people.

Peppers Resort & Spa near Kingscliff really has it all. Including the gorgeous beach. 

What's your holiday style? Do you mind sharing a hot spot? Or keeping a secret to yourself? 

Brunswick Heads

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: The Tuk Tuk Edition

It's been pretty shit sad around here lately, so I laughed when I found some photos and videos from a Queens-Only trip to Bangkok a few years ago. You have to listen to the audio for the funny part ...

And what happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok ...
For now!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Save our hospital! (And lady surgery)

This time last week I was recovering in hospital from surgery to the rather delicate lady part areas.
It's a road I've been down before, and I'm sure every woman reading this will wince as they are reading it.
I love my children. They are a blessing and I would never go back in time and not have them.
But I am one of those women that pregnancy never agreed with.
I did not glow.
I got hideously sick. I put on far too much weight. My pelvis moved too much. I suffered terrible hormonal migraines. I bled. My ankles, feet and fingers swelled. My blood pressure got dangerously high. My yet-to-be diagnosed arthritis flared up. I suffered from a condition called symphasis pubis dysfunction, which is incredibly painful. I was exhausted. Towards the end of my pregnancies, I resembled a bowling ball on legs.
Childbirth and pregnancy took a fair toll on my body, and down the track I'm still suffering the consequences.
I've had several surgeries since, and I guess the latest won't be the last.
Late last year, I started experiencing some painful and embarrassing symptoms, and although I've been complaining regularly to my GP ever since - to the extent of actually asking for a referral to see my gynaecologist - she fobbed me off, telling me it's to be expected at my age (I'm 47, thanks for asking).
This is despite my history, the fact that I have a mirena (so shouldn't be experiencing any abnormal bleeding at all - one of my symptoms), that my blood tests show I'm not menopausal (ditto), and that women generally know their own bodies. Plus, if I want to see my gynaecologist, I probably should have the right to see him, don't you think? Particularly as I pay for the pleasure, and it's not exactly a fun day out.

Anyway, as it happened, I had to go to Brisbane for a check-up on some of his previous handiwork the week previously. This was technically with the lady from the company who supplies the neurostimulation pacemaker that now sits in my sacrum. The pacemaker does the work that the nerves that have been damaged by my arthritis should be doing to ensure my pelvic floor works properly.
My gynae, Dr Philip Hall, inserted this, so he was part of the consultation. As I went to leave, I mentioned I'd been asking to come back to see him, and he immediately asked what had been going on. I was extremely lucky that he was concerned enough to fit me in and take a look immediately.
Without going into the gory details, there was something that was going on that shouldn't have been. He scheduled me for surgery a few days later.
And here's the thing: I was able to have this surgery done in my own home town.
If you follow MIA, you'll know I made the tree change to Kingaroy, a rural community in the South Burnett, just on two years ago now.
We're starved for good medical care here. In fact, it took me months to just get into a decent medical centre which was taking new patients.
Dr Hall is one of the great specialists who visits regularly to bring his expertise to patients in the area. For now, he's still able to operate at the South Burnett Private Hospital. (I couldn't have had my procedure done at the local public hospital, because it's not available there. Neither is an appointment with a visiting gynaecologist currently).
But our local private hospital is in danger of closing at the end of the month.
A lot of residents don't care, because they think only 'rich' patients, with private health cover can afford to go there.
But they forget about the old people, the disabled, the vulnerable. Those who can't drive to Brisbane, Toowoomba or the Sunshine Coast for their surgeries or their consultations with specialists.
There is one bus to Brisbane from Kingaroy that goes as far as Caboolture. It runs once daily, from Monday to Friday. You then have to take a train to the city and get to the nearest hospital or doctor's surgery as best you can. It's not cheap, and it's not practical for most old and frail folk.
Those who need drivers depend on people having to take time off work, often from their own businesses, which can cost hundreds of dollars. Factor in overnight accommodation - sometimes longer - and you're screwed.
It's a false economy.
There is a Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme, but the forms are difficult to fill out, and even some specialists (and their staff) have difficulty doing so. Sometimes medical staff lose them and there is no backdating. Sometimes the authorities will not approve accommodation even if the doctor has requested that it is required. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get funding approved, and it's just a splash in the ocean towards the cost of travelling to the city for medical care anyway.
The people who will suffer the most are the old folk who now will have to travel to get their cataracts done, the blokes with incontinence issues, the women who will have to wait to get their prolapses fixed. But no one seems to care about them.
Currently, the private hospital's services includes (apart from gynaecology and incontinence):  general surgeon, orthopaedic surgeon, urologist, ophthalmologist, maxillofacial surgeon, dentist, cardiologist, paediatrician, hearing specialist, resting echo cardiograms, stress testing plus medical admissions.
What's going to happen to all those patients if these specialists stop coming to our area? Where are these specialists going to operate if the hospital closes?
I wrote about my stay here;
Do you live in a rural area? How do you cope when it comes to getting good quality medical care?
And have your instincts ever been right when it comes to your own health?

My room at the South Burnett Private Hospital. Not quite as posh as a city hospital, but it was a private room (shared bathroom), and the whole surgical procedure was far more comfortable and more personalised than the one-size-fits-all affairs I normally experience in the city. 

Waiting for my surgery in a private room. It was comfortable compared to what I'm used to at busy city hospitals, where you have no privacy and little dignity at all. I even had a nurse who helped me get dressed and into those unappealing white socks - and who helped me get changed later.

The after-surgery snack was pretty unappetising 

But after all that fasting, that night's dinner - chicken soup, vol-u-vent, salad and a cup of tea - was lovely. 

The worst shock to the system was that this is what passed for coffee the next morning - but I've experienced that in the city too. And seriously, that's when you know it's time to go home.