Archive for August, 2010

what is your purpose in life?

 Discussing new opportunities over a coffee recently, my colleague surprised me by posing the question, “What is your purpose?” I hesitated and offered a few words about helping others, and then realised that I needed to give this some more thought.  I’ve often thought that it would be quite powerful to have a defined purpose – like a form guide in the back pocket. It was also interesting to read Lenore Taylor in the SMH claiming that the Government’s main problem in the election was a coherent sense of purpose.

This wise colleague who shared the coffee hinted that life’s real purpose was more than about goals and objectives – which are often the means rather than the end, or the things that disguise the real journey. He then shared a challenge he gives some of his mentees, asking them to write a poem about where they are from.  I noted the comment and at the time categorised it as a coaching gimmick. Being a person who likes to tick the box and move on, I went home and penned this:

“My purpose in life is to help people and organisations realise their potential”

Felt a bit chuffed about that – that’s exactly what I do, and enjoy doing it….boards, mentoring, businesses, family, friends….yes, that’s my purpose. I also reflected on how that purpose has evolved over time. Yet, for some reason I kept coming back to this as unfinished business, unable to dismiss the question “where are you from”. As I searched the web for inspiration (and manoeuvred past the religious zealots and their self-righteous offerings of purpose), I discovered the difference between an outer purpose (what you do, your talents, values and preferences) and the inner purpose (where you are from, where you are heading, what brings happiness and sadness).

Realising that my purpose was really an outer purpose, I set to work on the suggested poem, “I  AM FROM” – a very personal and raw offering , one which I did not write to publish, but one which I am prepared to share in this context:

I am from convict stock, from the sunburnt Mallee and Gippsland’s green.I am from the house of love,

built by special parents with shining ideals.


I am from genes conferring forward momentum,

giving intelligence and stupidity, played out in different ways.

I am from the school of glass half full

where possibility and hope outweigh doubt and fear,

where first we seek to understand – and then,

take courage to confront, create, change and renew.


I am from the world, the experiences, the pain and joy

that come with high expectation.

I come from raucous laughter, of mates and sporting contests

from bush tracks, gardens, beaches and layered urban life,

learning to be authentic in a world that is mostly not,

striving to contribute – for family, friends and beyond.


I am of a nature that yearns to be connected, yet

relishes the contrast of escape – where solitude prevails.

I am from the house of love

which cherishes family young and old,

where compassion, generosity and encouragement

nourish and inspire.


He was right! The exercise awakened the inner purpose, just as Steve Pavlina does with his worthwhile life purpose in 20 minutes exercise. Steve suggests that you take a piece of paper and keep writing your purpose, clearing your head, writing it again, until you cry. Then you have nailed it. It’s worth a look.  Another exercise used by top coach Margie Hartley at Channel is to ask “When are you at your best and most energised?” What happens then? What are you doing, feeling thinking? The answers give a clue to the direction of your purpose statements.

I ran the exercises and my purpose now is:

“With love, compassion and courage, to add richness to the lives of those around me”

The process of articulating the purpose will probably be an ongoing one, however I am lifted by the thought that this particular purpose will provide fulfilment and growth to me and hopefully add value to others. It’s important to say that there is no right or wrong in this pursuit – it’s a single private measure that adds meaning to life.

What is your purpose?

tempranillo and wild oats in harmony

August 16, 2010  |  wine review  |  2 Comments

The Spanish grape variety Tempranillo is used to make the famous wines of Rioja. A black, early ripening variety which makes easy drinking styles, it is challenging Sangiovese as the trendy red varietal in Australia. Tempranillo is used by over 200 wineries in King Valley, Mudgee, Barossa, Margaret River and McLaren Vale. We are starting to understand how to make it, as the 2008 from Robert Oatley at Mudgee has demonstrated.

 Robert Oatley is of course the man who created Rosemount, sold it to Foster’s, bought the old Montrose winery at Mudgee, renamed it and built it up under the new banner Robert Oatley wines. With his spare change he bought Hamilton Island and has poured millions into its refurbishment, as well as creating the fabulous Qualia resort on the Island, and completing the development of Dent Island 18 hole golf course next door to Hamilton. Bob is pretty shrewd – he recently bought back many of his original vineyards from Foster’s at a heavy discount.

I tried the Wild Oats Tempranillo 2008 twice on a recent weekend visit to Mudgee (which is by the way, a much more rewarding experience than a visit to the Hunter). The first was a Friday night in the delightful Roth’s wine bar in Market Street Mudgee. Roth’s is the oldest wine bar in NSW – a delightful venue with log fires, old couches, live music, a broad range of local and other wines and some great tapas and gourmet pizzas at ridiculously accessible prices

The Wild Oats Tempranillo cost $25 for the bottle at Roth’s (or $19 to take away) and next day at cellar door $15, as part of a six pack, so it qualifies for my $15 to $20 value set. It was an effective marriage with the tapas and gourmet pizza. When chatting to the guy at the cellar door the next day, he described it as a “mid-week wine” – I guess that means an easy drinking wine that goes well with food.

My tasting notes:

Vibrant lifted cherry fruit. A lighter style that is soft and silky on the tongue. Dark cherry and five spice on the front palate, opening to attractive mealy, savoury flavours. Quite complex, finishing with soft dusty tannins. Easy drinking style. 14% alcohol. 93/100

an english professor, a publican's daughter and 150 days off the grog

an english professor, a publican’s daughter and 150 days off the grog

August 13, 2010  |  life, main blog, motivation  |  1 Comment

At Melbourne University in the early 70’s, I took in a lecture from an English Professor of biochemistry who specialised in the liver. He offered the following advice:

 “You students are like much of the population – on average, moderate to heavy drinkers. Your livers will probably let you get away with this, providing you abstain from alcohol one day a week, one week a month and one month a year”

Many years later my GP commented on self-confessed consumption levels – ones I thought modest at 25 standard drinks a week, with a month off a year and the odd alcohol free day - by declaring confidently that it was simply a matter of what would be destroyed first, my liver or my brain!

This year I signed up again for the wonderful Feb Free program where we give up the grog for 28 days and raise money for the homeless. The first few days are always a bit of a struggle as the comforting glass of wine with a meal makes way for green tea. But this soon transcends to clarity and self – righteousness. Why do I bother putting these toxins in my body? Now you need to understand that I LOVE the world of wine – collecting, tasting and the social interactions that accompany it. So I was looking forward to a taste on the first day of March.

That morning I woke up feeling SO GOOD that I decided, in a moment of quiet determination, to keep the abstinence running indefinitely. I managed to remain in this state for 150 days, almost running Feb Free and Dry July into each other! I found it interesting that some people were keen to put pressure on me to “just have a glass”, whereas others respected the decision and in some cases, resolved to also run a concurrent dry spell (out of sympathy or guilt). Through sober eyes, it’s much easier to see the way alcohol underpins the social norms of this country. I also reflected on the wasted time and increased health bills that flow when alcohol consumption exceeds its role as a social lubricant and accompaniment with food. Apparently the social cost of alcohol abuse is at least $15 billion annually.

From a personal perspective, I lost eight kilograms without even trying – there must be more sugar in wine than I had thought. I also seemed to find lots of extra time (needed less sleep), was mentally sharper, more inclined to exercise, and couldn’t wait to wake to the high of the morning. Maybe more people would do this if they realised how wonderful natural highs can be – with no side effects. I have enjoyed a wine or two recently but have used the 150 days as a circuit breaker to ring in a new approach to consumption – sipping and tasting, drinking less and better and reverting to the regime of that visiting English professor.

By the way, my wife joined me for some of the journey – doing her bit for temperance. She needed to get a few credits after failing the temperance exam at Rutherglen Higher Elementary School. What hope did she have as the daughter of Frank Ferrari – founder of the famous Poacher’s Paradise Hotel in Rutherglen?

(feature image courstesy Tony Sernack)

vietnam - it's all about people and food

vietnam – it’s all about people and food

August 13, 2010  |  travel tips and tales, uncategorized  |  No Comments

Vietnam has become a fashionable and accessible destination for Australians. If you’re thinking of going, do it soon as this country is becoming westernised by the day. A recent trip from the Mekong Delta in the south to Sapa on the Chinese border in the north, spanned the delights of Vietnam for 23 days. There were plenty of tantalising travel stories from Halong Bay, Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang , Sapa and Ho Chi Minh City. This record focuses on the food and the people – good reasons to experience Vietnam at any location.

Vietnamese food is fantastic! Forget the jokes about dogs and possums – although we did see dog looking strangely like Peking duck at Sapa. In a general sense the food is light, clean, flavoursome and different. Vietnam is a food bowl of fertile river plains, deltas and terraced hills. The variety and presentation of produce in the wet markets would put Woolworths and Coles to shame. All organically grown, the quality and flavour of fruit and vegetables is second to none.

Pho (rice noodles, pronounced fer) is the breakfast food of a nation. We ate a lot of pho tai – rare beef with rice noodles, some chilli, lime, bean shoots and Vietnamese mint. Com (rice) is the staple food and can be made into wrappers, noodles and sweets. Vietnamese spring rolls (nem) are excellent, as are the range of salads. Green papaya and green mango salads were brilliant. Use of various herbs and spices add special flavour to most meals. And we can’t forget that wonderful legacy from the French – fresh baguettes available everywhere.

Most of our meals were taken in restaurants that ranged from authentic local shops such as the one in Hue where we had special egg pancakes, to the more upmarket restaurants such as Au Lac in Hanoi. We even had some meals on the street and strongly support this bold approach (although the street stalls are rapidly disappearing)

Two thirds of Vietnam’s 84 million people are under thirty. These people respect their heritage but are in touch with the globe through mobile phones, i pods and the internet. The Vietnamese are proud, determined and shrewd. In history they have seen off the Chinese, the French and the Americans. There is a strong work ethic and loyalty to family, together with a strong instinct to do business and to deal. We thought that people in the north were softer and more subtle than their countrymen in Saigon. Melbourne is to Hanoi, as Saigon is to Sydney.

On the religious front, most of the population have adopted the triple religion – where Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism have fused with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism.

Be warned – Vietnam is addictive and now rates as one of my top two repeat destinations.

hilltops region and another beauty from barwang

August 9, 2010  |  uncategorized, wine review  |  No Comments

The Hilltops Wine Region is one of New South Wales’ most exciting wine regions. Situated around the towns of Young, Boorowa and Harden, the Hilltops is fast gaining recognition as a consistent producer of ultra-premium wine.  Croatian immigrants planted the first vines in this region in the 1860’s. These vines were planted especially for refreshments for the diggers working in the near-by gold fields. The more recent vineyards contributing to today’s viticulture industry were established from the 1970′s. The Southcorp viticulturalists used to say that anywhere you can grow cherries is a good area for quality red wine grapes

Barwang is a part of the McWilliams stable. McWilliams is renowned for presenting wines of great value. This is no exception. I paid $14 in Vintage Cellars at a case rate, but I have noticed it for $13 on line.

Barwang Hlltops Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

My tasting notes follow:

“Bright brick red, vibrant colour. Attractive black currant and blackberry nose with some lifted floral overtones. Powerful berry fruit with licorice and chocolate combined with lovely mocha oak that opens up in the glass. Tongue coating, rich savoury tannins – still a little aggressive – but will rapidly soften with a little more ageing. Lingering mouth full of flavour. 14.0% alcohol. Great wine of outstanding value. 93/100”

a leadership crisis

I’m glad our current political leaders are not running businesses. The liquidators would be working overtime. Where is the context? Where is the strategy? Where is the mid to long term thinking? Where is the courage to forge public opinion rather than follow it?

In yesterday’s press (Aug 6), there were three items that were poignant.

Firstly, the leaders of the major infrastructure businesses in Australia put the population and immigration debate in context. We need more people in this country. We are not at risk of being resource constrained. The boat people issue is a media and political beat up that panders to prejudice. Both parties are guilty of taking the easier option of limiting migration, rather than facing the challenges of infrastructure development for a bigger and better Australia.

Secondly, a letter to the SMH from Wayne Duncombe (no on-line link) suggests that we are “in an era where a few outer suburban seats dominated by selfish, narrow-minded voters ….will determine who holds government”. I guess the rejoinder is that we get what we deserve, but those of us in non-marginal seats do have courses of action available (see later).

Thirdly, Ross Garnaut, in his Hamer Oration, criticised both major parties for lack of leadership in climate change. He said that it represents the “nadir of the early 21st Century political culture, in which short term politics and accession to sectional pressures has held sway over leadership and analysis of the national interest”. Leadership does seem to be an essential ingredient missing in public policy today.

It is surprising that since the elevation of a conservative over a moderate (or social progressive) in the Liberal Party, that vision on issues like climate change is lacking. Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey showed great courage in their stance on the ETS. Sadly, we won’t progress on this issue under conservative control of the Coalition. Tony’s own definition of a conservative in his book Battlelines, is “someone who is focussed on precedent”.

I am more disappointed with the ALP, starting from the time that Kevin Rudd dropped the ball on climate change after Copenhagen. NZ saw fit to introduce and ETS and China will follow soon. The subsequent pandering to the polls and electorate on this and other issues by the incumbent PM is sad, and as it is transpiring, counter-productive to her re-election.

Australians are demanding vision, courage and leadership. In the unlikely event that the trend identified by Ross Garnaut is turned around, what can we do? Parliaments in a democracy can be a handbrake on progress, but a democracy does allow free expression of speech. As we have seen with organisations like Get Up, movements of like-minded individuals will increasingly be responsible for telling the story, creating awareness and shifting public opinion. The politicians will then have no choice but to legislate.

We are also likely to see a fresh force in politics that represents forward thinking, social progressiveness and authenticity in a global context. A fresh force that is not only sought by Gen Y voters, but also by some old baby boomers like me! Now that the ALP seems to have deserted this space, Bob Brown’s successor (hopefully someone in the Nick McKim mould), will have the opportunity to create a modified Greens Party with a broader social agenda – one that could transform the political landscape.

chardonnay and the barwang bargain

August 6, 2010  |  wine review  |  1 Comment

Chardonnay in general

It has amused me how the herd flocked to sauvignon blanc and then pinot gris, following what is trendy. Neither of these varieties can offer the complexities and sheer drinking pleasure that a good chardonnay does. The ABC (anything but chardonnay) movement was probably borne as a result of people’s experiences with some pretty dodgy high yielding product, together with slightly higher than acceptable levels of residual sugar in accessible wines.

At the other end of the spectrum, some of the big buttery styles made with malolactic fermentation, were unattractive to many consumers. While some marketers have recently made a virtue out of unwooded chardonnay, complexity that comes from some time in wood makes for attractive styles, as long as the fruit is not overpowered.

Chardonnay is the white variety of burgundy, used to produce some masterpieces that are gob smackingly good. We have an abundance of chardonnay in Australia and seriously good wines are within reach of consumers on $15 to $20 budgets.Today’s discovery is one of these.

Barwang 2008 Chardonnay

Barwang is part of the McWillam’s stable, better known for the red wines sourced from the Young area. This chardonnay is from Tumbaraumba, an exciting emerging wine region from southern NSW.

It represents exceptional value for money. I bought this bottle for $20 at Vintage Cellars but with the current 30% case discount on offer, it came in at a remarkable $14. This is chardonnay that can stand up against the legends like Eileen Hardy, Coldstream Hills, Pierro and Leeuwin Estate – all more than $50 a bottle.

My tasting notes follow:

Restrained and attractive nose with subtle lime overtones. Fresh flavours open to complexity in the glass, which will develop over time. Shows delightful mineral and flinty characteristics that combine with the gentle fruit salad of pears, apples and white peaches. Lovely creamy texture and just enough wood treatment. Balanced and beautiful with limes and sweet fruit to the very last. 94/100

a day in arrezzo

a day in arrezzo

August 1, 2010  |  travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

Rock of Ages had kept an article from a back edition of Gourmet Traveller about the Fiera for Antichera in Arezzo, a town of around 20,000 in southern Tuscany, which is, the article said, held on the first weekend of every month. In good faith we set off on Saturday October first, on a train trip to Arezzo to see if this market had staying power. Talk about an understatement! Thirty years of momentum have turned the Fiera into Europe’s major antique market with 30,000 buyers and sellers converging on Arezzo to recycle their treasures.

  We’ve never seen anything like it…Camberwell market times 50 in scale, with every street of the centro historico lined with stalls - dealers having travelled from many countries to display Europe’s finest old treasures. Our eyes were out on stalks as we fossicked through old keys, coins, glassware, paintings, furniture, books – all quality products and not overly expensive. This wasn’t a buying occasion for us, with transport logistics an issue and a house sale looming, but we did treat ourselves to a trinket each. Rock bought a necklace from Murano (an island off Venice famous for its glass) and I snapped up a 5 lire silver coin from 1820. Interestingly, with thousands of people converging on Arezzo for the market, many of the vendors wrapped up their stalls in canvass for the mandatory siesta, so we made our way back to Perugia after a roast pork roll (the best outside Borough Market in London) in a back street. The Arezzo market is something anyone travelling to this part of Italy should try and take in. The markets themselves are amazing, but it’s the setting that is special….flanked by 14 and 15th Century churches and buildings, all with many stories to tell.