I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Click and connect: on creativity in the COVID era

Recently, I teamed back up with photographer Jude van Daalen to talk about our recent collaborative project, ‘Together Apart: Life in Lockdown’ with Hobsons Bay City Council.

Home Delivery is a new online program that delivers a hit of creative content every Thursday lunchtime. It features live chats with artists, live musical performances, podcasts, or professional development workshop, hosted by MC Matto Lucas.

We talked about how our creative practices have changed – for Jude, it was moving from the environment of a photographic studio to shooting from a safe social distance, swapping colour photography for black and white, and snatching the shot as it happens, instead of a controlled, styled shoot.

For me – well, the last time I worked in an office was a brief stint in the cradle of the Murdoch empire, in the Adelaide Advertiser, back in the mists of time. So, working from home hasn’t been an enormous leap for me. What has changed is the content. In the 12 months before COVID locked us all down, I had taken a private train through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, I spent Christmas in a log cabin in remote, central Finland and New Year in icy Stockholm, had been puma spotting on horseback through snowy Patagonia and eaten all the potatoes in Peru, before undertaking an epic, multi-stop flight from Lima to Cairo, via Ecuador and Madrid.

So, when lockdown hit, my job became pretty irrelevant, pretty fast. I still write the occasional travel story based on the journeys I can squeeze in between lockdowns, but with Melbourne recently taking the gong as the world’s longest locked-down city, those trips are becoming but beautiful memories.

Instead, we’ve created a book, billboards and several art exhibitions based on our book, Together Apart: Life in Lockdown based on Melburnians’ lives in lockdown. (yep, it was supposed to be a snapshot of a brief moment in time…)

Click here to watch the podcast, as Jude and I talk about retaining that creative energy while in lock down.


A city sleeps: Melbourne moves into Lockdown #6

Last night, I walked through the heart of Melbourne as we went into our sixth lockdown.

The city’s laneways rang with the sound of shutters going down as the city locked itself up.

It was a pretty crazy time to be editing a guidebook for the city. But there I found myself, sitting in little Shandong Mama Mini, eating its fabulous mackerel dumplings with manager Gin, taking notes and talking optimistically about when New Yorkers are going to roam freely through our little laneways once again…maybe next June.

Walking the darkening streets, I saw a woman at the gates of Gucci, pleading, pleading to make a last purchase before lockdown – only to be turned away by staff. The cash registers are closed, she was told, night is falling and lockdown looms.

The doorman at Society, the hottest new restaurant in town, told me all the late bookings had been shunted into earlier time slots, with diners ushered back onto the streets before the stroke of 8pm.

A cheery Big Issue seller chatted about his business model falling apart: with few office workers and less city dwellers, his magazines remain unsold. But he was fully vaccinated, he told me. Was I?

“These lockdowns are killing us,” said the waiter in Pellegrini where, for the first time in living memory, I could get a seat at the bar and a chat with the black apron clad waiters. Snapping a photo of the luscious cakes of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the glittering Block Arcade – normally a false hope due to the hordes of drooling instagrammers – was but a cinch, and the Royal Arcade remains empty of its traditional shoppers, down on a day trip from the country.

Street cafes were being packed up, outdoor furniture stacked away, kitchen staff clearing the benches, glass of wine in hand. Music played in empty hotel lobbies, with no-one to listen to it.

The streets emptied so completely they could double as a setting for an apocalyptic zombie movie.

Food delivery drivers tore down empty footpaths on their scooters with impunity.

Traffic lights clicked uselessly as an ambulance careened unimpeded through a red light – lights flashing but the sirens silent in the darkening night.


Rise of the phoenix: Melbourne in lockdown

It’s been a tough week for us Melburnians. Banned from every other state, curfews from 8pm, corralled to just 5km from our homes. This week, the city has been divided between sadness and anger. Friends have sobbed – in privacy or in public – mourning the loss of their former lives, while others – me included – are hot balls of rage at the stupidity of a few who have refused to listen to our doctors telling us to stop mingling, or more people will die.

I wrote this piece because I’m oddly patriotic about this city, because I need to voice how gutted I am about these restrictions on our lives, and also to reinforce my belief that they’re necessary to preserve our people. I also I know we’ll come out of this stronger, and that we will find unexpected reserves of creativity and beauty, that we will ensnare those dreams and ideas that, in our usual frantic lives, dance on the fringes of our peripheral vision, forgotten in the grind of the commute and clock punching.

—–

Once upon a time, Melbourne was a dag. You may love our laneways, live music, literature and lavish tables, but this town’s definitely been shabby around the edges in its past.

Born in Melbourne to parents who later fled north for the warmth of the tropics, my return visits to Melbourne as a child were nothing short of Alice arriving in a multicultural wonderland. Traipsing behind my gruff great-aunt, in her fur-lined coat perfumed with Alpine menthol cigarettes, she’d let me purchase our tickets from the (quite frankly, terrifying) conductor on the tram into the city, where we’d walk Swanston Street.

We’d slow down past the delights of the Arthur Daley-styled London con man selling kangaroo-shaped opal necklaces on the way to the Coles Cafeteria on Bourke Street. Six floors up in a lift! She’d treat me to braised steak and onions, and dessert I didn’t have to share with a sibling. Walking through the city, I’d smell the rich scent of Greek souvlaki, taste lemony Italian gelato, hear sales pitches called in heavily accented English at the Queen Vic and South Melbourne fruit markets, where freshly skinned rabbits hung beside salamis of obscene lengths.

Later, I would wash my hands in the water wall and stare up into the looming interiors of the NGV, pausing especially for Tom Roberts’ and Frederick McCubbin’s Australian idylls painted in the wilderness of Box Hill nearly a century before I was born there.

What my great-aunt didn’t dwell on were the wee-washed laneways or the abandoned factories whose brick walls we’d hit our tennis balls against for hours, the rough band rooms with beer-washed floors and a mullet-topped clientele, and a railway depot in the city’s centre.

The city weathered the scorn poured on it from its northern rival, the Emerald City, with its greed-is-good suits and aerobics classes in front of the Opera House. Truth be told, Sydney just did a far better PR job on itself in the 80s and 90s, with its waterfront beauty, money worship and bicentennial bluster.

In retaliation, the Melbourne scene crawled out from its underground lair and laid itself bare to the world. Cheap rents, laid-back laws and low expectations fuelled the spawning of tiny specialist cafes, the 10-person bars, the curious design shops, the wee art spaces wedged into street corners.  It’s a truism that if you walk down a darkened lane in Sydney, you expect to be mugged. Walk down a darkened lane in Melbourne and find…the hottest bar that everyone’s talking about: if you can’t find it, it must be sensational.

Those lanes, places and arcades are empty right now, as we push through what fees like a never-ending lockdown.

But we’re a resilient people, an artistic people. We know our talents and if we can flip from a backwater to become internationally renowned for our food, music, art and literature, then we’ll flip again from this virus. We’ll write, we’ll paint, we’ll act and we’ll sing. And we’ll do it all bloody well, because that’s what we’re good at.

I’ve written this piece as much for myself as for my fellow Melburnians in the face of rising coronavirus numbers, locked borders, closed airports and nasty memes. There have been tears, there have been rages, but there’s also been rationality and there is also hope.

I’ll see you under the clocks again soon.


Bringing Finnish Lapland to Helsinki, Finland

During winter, snow-laden winds sweep across lakes and tundras of Finnish Lapland, freezing all in their wake. Reindeer forage for lichen in the chilled earth, and the brief minutes the sun rises above the horizon are bookended by a deep blue twilight that heralds the return of the polar night.

A thousand kilometres south, there’s no snow on the footpaths of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but it retains its connection with the drama of the deep north through Lapland Hotel Bulevardi, in the chic Design District.

Let me tell you: breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few. But this one – inspired by the food of Lapland – is one of the most intriguing.

To read my story, published by Essentials Magazine, click here


Notes from a zombie zone: Turkmenistan’s Ashgabat airport

To get through the departure gates at Ashgabat airport, in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, I had to have my passport scanned.

And my fingerprints.

And my thumbprints.

And my retinas.

They’re taking no chances in this airport. Not that there would be many me look-alikes here. There just aren’t that many people, full stop. And most of the women are swanning about with impossibly high headdresses and long, vivid gowns that sweep the already immaculate white marble floors.

Should you find yourself in Ashgabat any time soon, click here to read my review in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.


Best hotel breakfast buffet 2019: Helsinki, Finland

Breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few in this job. But this morning’s buffet at the Lapland Hotels Bulevardi, in Helsinki, was one of the best.

I’m currently in the Finnish capital, about to head even further north to Kuusamo, on the border of Russia and Lapland, which is why I chose to stay in this new hotel in Helsinki – to warm up to the Lappish way of life.

It was a mix of the stylish, handmade ceramics by Anu Pentik, the moody setting with its reindeer pelts and the exciting food – much of it drawn from Lapland, where the group is dominant – that makes it an absolute standout.

Top of the list was the most humble dish, an exceptional organic oatmeal porridge, slow cooked in the oven for three hours: I’m not usually a salty porridge girl, but with cherry jam and a swish of Lappish honey, it sung to me.

I couldn’t eat it all, I had to leave space for the spruce sprout smoothie and the sea buckthorn smoothie, the warm smoked salmon and the ice-cellar pickled salmon. Then the smoked reindeer and oyster mushroom omelette, a little of the reindeer blood sausage with lingonberry jam, cloudberries, blackberries, blueberries from Muonio, lingonberry pie and smoked cheeses from Kuusamo (where we head tomorrow). It took a while.

Small Girl tested the mini cinnamon rolls (korvapuusti) and hot chocolate, and declared them perfect.

The chef on the breakfast shift admitted that Lappish cuisine is protein-heavy. “Hearty,” was his diplomatic word for the array of meats, fish, cheeses and cakes that lined the buffet.

The devastating news is that because we are leaving so early tomorrow, we will miss breakfast, which rolls in until 1pm on Sundays.

No wonder Finns are so happy.


Street art goes to new heights: The Adnate, Perth, Australia

Living in Melbourne, it’s hard not to love street art. We have such great galleries around the city, including Hosier Lane in the city centre, but stretching out to Fitzroy, Collingwood and neighbouring suburbs, where the local councils have encouraged a culture of street art, you can spy fabulous, big-scale murals across entire buildings.

One of the city’s best-known artists, Matt Adnate, has taken it one step further with his mega-murals down laneways and up high-rise buildings. So it’s great to see he’s become the newest face of the Art Series hotels, who dedicate each of its hotels to a singular artist.

The Adnate opened in Perth last week, and it’s a traffic-stopper, with a 25-storey mural on the hotel’s exterior, the largest mural in the southern hemisphere.

You can read more about it here, in my article for the Traveller section in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.


How to do Abu Dhabi with kids

Play Batman, colour in, or get cool in the pool – Abu Dhabi ticks all the boxes for travelling with kids.

I did a test-run with the 7-year-old in the United Arab Emirate, which is a natural stopover for Australians en route to Europe (or pretty much anywhere else in the world). With eight hours, three days (or even more) up your sleeve, there’s plenty to do in this super family-friendly town, even in the height of summer.

The highlights for us included the new Warner Bros Movie World, hot laps around the F1 circuit (for the teen in our gang), riding camels in the desert, and plenty of pool time at the five-star Saadiyat Rotana hotel.

If you’re after some pointers (or even a few tips for if travelling without kids), take a look at this feature I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller section, and enjoy!

http://www.traveller.com.au/abu-dhabi-childrens-edition-h1fii4


Hilton Manila hotel review

Manila’s traffic is so bad a whole city of airport hotels has sprung up to service airline passengers coming into the city on their way to and from the Philippines’ fabulous islands. Newport City includes a Marriott and a Savoy, convenience stores and coffee shops, casinos and shopping malls, and now the city’s only Hilton, which opened in October 2018.
It’s the end of a tropical holiday, so of the five dining venues, it must be the swim-up bar for a lunch of mango mai tais, hot fresh pizza with buffalo mozzarella and fresh fish fingers for the small fry. Service is super-chatty and super-friendly, though not speedy, as the hotel is still polishing its act. Madison Bar & Lounge near the entrance is easy to overlook but chocophiles note: its patisserie serves excellent chocolate croissants. There’s also a well-stocked gin bar with knowledgeable staff and a jazz singer who croons into the wee hours.

Click here to read the full review, which was first published in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.


Perfect pitch at Port Fairy’s Drift House

A long weekend on Victoria’s Great Ocean Drive – it’s the stuff of nightmares.

One of Australia’s most popular sightseeing drives, the drawcards are the 12 Apostles (but we all know that there are heaps less – or more? – of these famed sea stacks. I managed to evade the crowds and find my own piece of peace by continuing an hour past the tourist hubs to the prettiest town around, Port Fairy.

The destination? Drift House, which is almost more famous overseas than here in Australia for its four perfect suites, and perfectly pitched service from its owners, Colleen Guiney and John Watkinson.

Now, the Edwardian cottage next door has been transformed to add two new, equally fresh suites to the best address in town. Read my short story, which appeared in my weekly column in the Sunday Age and Sun-Herald newspapers, and online at Traveller.


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