asking powerful questions

asking powerful questions

Everything we know in the world has emerged through people’s curiosity. In a world where any answer seems to be a Google search away, we are losing the capacity to be curious and ask questions. In the realm of big analytics, where virtually any cause and effect can be identified, the biggest constraint is the ability to pose the right question. In life generally, and in the work place particularly, we seem to pay more attention to problem solving and analysis. We tend to have a short term focus – and the pace of life tends to stifle reflective conversations.

Going a step further, if we can lift from just asking questions to asking powerful questions, we invite curiosity and possibility, which can generate energy and forward momentum. To achieve this, the settings are as important as the questions. Vogt, Brown and Isaacs, in their important paper, “the art of powerful questions” make the observation that “authentic conversation is less likely to occur in a climate of fear, mistrust and hierarchical control”.

For many leaders, it can be a stretch to encourage diverse views, explore assumptions, suspend judgement and look for connections of ideas. If they can climb this mountain and be prepared to embrace the possibilities that may flow from the conversations, amazing transformation can take place.

Mark Strom, a colleague of mine in the 20I20 exchange leadership group, presented a brilliant TED talk on asking grounded questions. If you’re genuinely interested in this topic, I suggest you allocate 16 minutes of your life to watching the You Tube clip. Mark contends that while grounded questions generate stories and conversations from which change can occur and people can shine, many things work against this happening……such as preoccupation with spreadsheets, procedures and  strategy documents. Mark shares some powerful examples of the difference between abstract and grounded questions in his talk. He explains that a grounded question often comes from the side rather than front on.

Mark makes the point that logic works well on what cannot change, grounded questions work well on what can change. Questions like “what’s wrong?” and “how do we fix it?” tend to lead to focus on problems, whereas questions like, “why did you become a teacher?” take the shackles off, liberating people to generate stories that often lead to special insights.

Vogt and Strom both give guidance about how to ask grounded questions – there are certain rules about construction, scope and assumptions (such as the power of “why” above “which” and “who”), but both come back to the most important success factor – “stand back and look at the people who you are questioning and admire them”. Grounded and powerful questions are natural and not contrived. They come from empathy and a genuine desire to want to learn the answer. In a trusting environment, the art of powerful questioning can uncover, for people and organisations, a world of possibility and deep change.

Leaders with the courage and mindsets to undertake innovation at the enterprise level, are likely to also have the capacity to incorporate a culture of grounded questioning. These will be the leaders who give as much attention to developing powerful questions as they do to problem solving – and who steer strategy evolution that engages multiple voices and perspectives in networks of conversations. Such leaders are creating the conditions that will help to future proof their organisations.

30 great australian wines under $20

30 great australian wines under $20

January 5, 2013  |  life, wine review  |  No Comments

I am so excited about the quality of wines in this summer edition. There were another 20 wines that could have been included. You can guarantee that these wines are exceptional – trophy winners, highly pointed wines and amazingly, all under $20. As our oenologists increasingly understand the complexity of the various terroir in this country, they continue to surprise us with gems like the seductive Rhone like Willunga 100 Shiraz Viognier.

There are more Rieslings than usual in this line up, reflecting the exceptional quality and value from the 2012 vintage (and Clare) and we are still long on the outstanding Shiraz and Cabernets from 2010. There are a couple of serious roses offered for summer consumption, one from Nebbiolo. Only four wines have carried over from the winter edition indicating how quickly good vintages run out, so be quick with these gems!

As with previous posts, links are provided directly to product descriptions and ordering capability at the cheapest known source.

Sparkling

Seppelt Salinger Select Cuvee NV at Kemenys for $17.99

Brown Bros Pinot Chardonnay Pinot Meuniere NV at Kemenys for $18.90

Seppelt the Original Sparkling Shiraz 2007 at Kemenys for $17.90

Back Vintage Chardonnay Cuvee Pinot Brut NV – Back Vintage at $12.99

Chardonnay

Castle Rock Great Southern 2012 Chardonnay from Winesnob for $18.95

Flametree Margaret River Chardonnay 2011 from Dan Murphys for $18.95

Hoddles Creek Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2011 from Cloudwine for $19

Stonier Mornington Peninsular Chardonnay 2011 from Dan Murphys at $19.90

Riesling

Taylors Estate Clare Valley Riesling 2012 from Crackawines at $16.95

O’Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling 2012 at Dan Murphys for $19.95

Skillogalee Riesling Clare Valley 2011 from Cloudwine for $19.90

Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling 2012 from Kemenys for $17.75

Other whites

Tim Adams Clare Valley Semillon 2010 from Cloudwine for $19

De Bortoli Deen de Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon 375ml from Dan Murphys for $10.45 (sticky)

Alkoomi White Label Frankland River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from Crackawines at $18.50

Cooks Lot Orange Sauvignon Blanc 2012 from Boutiquewines for $16

Rose

Rolling Pink 2011 (from Orange!) at Cumulus Wines cellar door for $17

Longview Boat Shed Nebbiolo Rose 2012 from Cellardoor for $18.45

Shiraz

Back Vintage Reserve Barossa Valley Shiraz 2010 from BackVintage for $19.99

Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz 2010 from United Cellars for $19.99

O’Leary Walker Clare Valley Shiraz 2010 from Kemenys for $17.99

Torzi Matthews Schist Rock Barossa Valley Shiraz 2011 from Cloudwine for an amazing $18

Willunga 100 McLaren Vale Shiraz Viognier 2010 from Cloudwine for $19 (trophy winner)

Cabernet

Xanadu Next of Kin Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 from Wine Selectors  for $15.30

Kemeny’s Hidden Label Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 from Kemenys at $17.99

Yalumba the Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon from Kemenys at $19.75

Other red

Longview Creek Pippin Macedon Region Pinot Noir 2010 from Cloudwine at $15.95

Tarrawarra Estate Pinot Noir 2010 from Dan Murphys at $19.95

Zeppelin Barossa Valley Grenache 2010 from Cloudwine at $18

Smallfry Joven Barossa Valley Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Carinena and Bastardo direct from Smallfry at $20

pain or gain from structural change?

pain or gain from structural change?

Fanned by the hurricane that is the digital world, creeping globalisation and undeniable climate change, mature economies are undergoing huge structural change. Christopher Rollyson argues that the major driver of change is actually people placing greater value on consumer experience.  They demand better choice, access, convenience and quality at a time when consumer power has never been stronger.

The pace of change is certainly accelerating, as is the noise from many affected by job losses in industries like manufacturing, retail and traditional media. There are plenty of ostriches playing the blame game – “It’s the carbon tax!” (even before its introduction) or, “it’s Fair Work Australia” or “it’s the exchange rate”. Conditioned by a legacy of handouts and bailouts, the complaints are also generally accompanied by calls for the government “to do something”.

Fortunately, there are also business leaders who see the change towards a knowledge economy as an opportunity rather than a problem. Peter Roberts’ recent piece in The Australian Financial Review highlights how enlightened companies are finding the way to adapt and benefit. He cites companies like GE, which has identified $30 billion of near term opportunities in Australia in areas like LNG and wind power. We don’t all have the deep pockets of GE, but there are other impressive examples of adaption to a changing world, such as the gradual transition of LJ Hooker from property developer to sustainability manager. My own experience suggests organisations that embrace environmental and sustainability challenges, tend to drive costs down and foster innovation more rapidly than those that choose to treat them as an imposition.

The knowledge economy isn’t the exclusive domain of high tech and big companies. In reality, the biggest changes will come from the application of innovation and knowledge in the low to medium technology sectors, which form the bulk of the economy. These sectors include food processing, transport, the hospitality industry, and service industries in general. They provide the possibility for intelligent customer-focused business solutions that will attract consumers like magnets.

Julian Cribb has written a compelling opinion piece called Australia in 2050. He paints a picture of the biggest economic driver being knowledge (including technology and advice) and thebiggest export sector climate adaptation, where we use our own natural climate volatility experience as an intellectual springboard for creating new industries. Opportunities will span food production, water management, construction of homes and workplaces, urban design and tropical medicine.

What can governments do? The most relevant policy responses are likely to be around supporting financial pressures borne by innovative firms, and re-focusing the role of Australia’s knowledge infrastructure, particularly universities and scientific institutions. There will also need to be a much greater commitment to R&D, in the way that China has committed to spend an incredible 2.2% of GDP annually ($320 billion) on R&D in the latest five year plan. Such responses are required to diminish the debilitating brain drain from Australia to places like Silicon Valley. We need to see the level of debate about our rapidly changing economy, migrate from whingeing and blame, to insight and possibility.

image by jason hoover

creative christmas gifts

creative christmas gifts

January 3, 2012  |  life, main blog  |  1 Comment

This year, inspired by our daughter’s new Oxfam job, the family decided to make gifts rather than buy them. We also imposed a $20 limit (which was blurred a bit in some cases). The process put more meaning into gifting and produced some highly creative outcomes. In some cases, they involved weeks of work. 7 people exchanged 42 bespoke items and it was an absolute blast!

While the list below would probably be best published in November 2012, it may serve to inspire others to adopt the theme for next Christmas. Our gifts included:

  • A clock made from a Lionel Ritchie vinyl (featuring “All Night Long!) with dominoes stuck on to mark the hours and a battery powered clock mechanism at the back. Genius!
  • Fifty metres of handmade festival bunting
  • Homemade chalkboards using special chalkboard paint, and white chalk.
  • Homemade calendars, photo albums and greeting cards
  • Flywire mesh in a material covered painted frame to hold jewellery (earrings etc)
  • Large kitchen jars containing lollies or teabags, with a chalkboard strip for labelling
  • Rhubarb champagne which needs to sit for 3 weeks. It gets drier and more alcoholic with time. (Suggest reducing the sugar in this linked recipe by up to 50% on personal preference)
  • Homemade vintage apron, shower hats, bow tie, headband, phone holder and felt moccasins
  • Home cooked shortbread, chocolate plum puddings, rocky road and chocolate bark
  • Small clay vases with magnets to use as fridge displays
  • Album covered drink coasters
  • Pesto made from home grown basil
  • Hand knitted fingerless gloves, footy beanie, socks, headbands and scarf
  • Crushed and engraved vintage spoons as herb garden markers
  • Beautifully sewn serviettes and cushion covers
  • A magpie repelling bike helmet
  • Painted plaster of paris paperweight
  • Boutique virgin olive oil bottles infused with chilli, garlic and rosemary
  • A heat bag in the shape of a sausage dog
  • Lead light painted glasses for candles
  • Handmade hats for Alessi kitchen monkeys (salt and pepper shakers, timers etc)

Any other ideas, or would you rather store them up to surprise for next year?

making the complicated simple

December 19, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, life, main blog, philosophy  |  2 Comments

After my wife read the first draft of this post about making things simple, she said, “you’re guilty as charged – you’ve written a complicated piece on simplicity!” She was right. Complicating things is what we tend to do. But here’s the good news. As information, the pace of change and choice grow quickly, we don’t need to roll over and accept that complexity must prevail.

Edward de Bono said, “Dealing with complexity is inefficient and an unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple”.

 I asked a friend who plays golf very well, what tuition books he reads. He replied, “a golf swing is simple mate, you just focus on the ball and hit it – constant analysis complicates it”. On reflection I thought that his comment was a poignant metaphor for life itself.

 Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple defines innovation and creativity. It’s true in technology (think Steve Jobs), art, photography, design and fashion. Coco Chanel said, “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. Leonardo da Vinci offered “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

 Perhaps the greatest challenge in removing complexity is in communicating simply – and this can be a real burden. Mark Twain made a telling comment “I apologise for the length of my letter, I didn’t have time to make it shorter”. It’s not hard to think of examples in our own working lives where we’ve over cooked our written and spoken communication. A former boss of mine claimed that if you couldn’t put it on one page then you didn’t understand it. Something is simple or complex depending on the way we choose to describe it.

 It’s tough getting simplicity in workplaces, where making things appear complex tends to be an art form. Jargon, sounding important and impression management are often actually rewarded in organisations. For leaders who can see the value of a simpler, more inclusive approach concerted effort to de-complicate, achieves reduced costs and mistakes, and improved morale and return on investment. Making the complex clear always helps people work smarter – because it’s a lot easier to figure out what’s important and ignore what isn’t. Note however that Einstein said that “everything must be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
In our personal lives we’ve become so materialistic and self-indulgent that the next new toy or experience isn’t special for long.  Accumulation of “things” has led to clutter in both our living space and inner space.  We’ve also tended to be more excessive with what we try and fit into our lives, what we consume and the way we obsessively protect our kids. It’s also easy to allow the struggle and strife of others to become part of us – which is something the Kinks say we should eliminate in their little known song, Complicated Life.

The old saying, “less is more” resonates with me. The fewer friends, possessions, and experiences we have, the more we appreciate and enjoy them. Simple living, which is about people being satisfied with what they need rather than what they want, is different from living in poverty – it’s a lifestyle choice. The choice might be around frugality, health, ecological footprint, stress or just increased quality time. The people I know who live this way are, without exception, the happiest. The art of having less but enjoying our lives more, involves a few simple changes in perspective, like understanding where our true values lie – and focusing on them.

What else can we do? We can try to minimize the impact of negative people in our lives as part of our search for simplicity and elegance. It doesn’t mean removing ourselves from criticism, but it does mean taking control of our environment. We can also escape from the “everyday” to get doses of perspective by experiencing wilderness, meditating, and volunteering, for example.

Simplifying our unnecessarily complicated lives can also extend to what we eat. I’m reminded of my mum’s sign in her library, “live simply so others may simply live”. There’s also a lot to be gained by being more like children – learning, appreciating what’s around us, being active, having fun and above all keeping things simple. What ideas do you have for making the complicated simple?

a youthful mindset

a youthful mindset

In the space of 24 hours recently I met a young person who seemed old and an older couple who seemed young. The 45 year old was living in the glory of his football days and the 85 year olds were enthusiastically seeking new things to challenge them. It made me think that a youthful mindset isn’t necessarily related to chronological age. Then I remembered Samuel Ullman’s brilliant poem on youth, read it again and felt the need to share.

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigour of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

 Youth means the temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.  This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty.  Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.  We grow old by deserting our ideals.

 Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

 Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing childlike appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living.  In the centre of your heart and my heart here is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

 When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty”

 The insights are brilliant. This was Konosuke Matsushita’s favourite poem. The “god” of Japanese management and founder of Panasonic was a living example of a person who died happy at 95 with a curious mind. Ullman died at 84, still writing.

 We often joke that 60 is the new 50, 50 is the new 40, and so on. As much as youthfulness depends upon staying fit and strong, it also depends on what’s going on in our heads. If you want to feel old, convince yourself that your best days are behind you. It’s not uncommon for people who think like this to have an aversion to change and to find it difficult to face new challenges, like social media. People who turn that on its head and take a future orientation, tend to have an enthusiasm and energy for life beyond their years. It’s not always about age!

 I believe that a youthful mindset is a precursor to happiness, quality of life and longevity. Here are five things we can all do on that journey: 

  1. Get fit and stay strong, offsetting the 400gms of muscle we lose every year after 30
  2. Have a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge
  3. Look forward to things
  4. Vigorously pursue your ideals, rather than just accepting, or complaining about, a less than perfect world
  5. Take on new challenges – even if they’re a bit of a stretch
  6. Show gratitude for our lives and what we can give and achieve
surprising argentina

surprising argentina

As we become increasingly aware of our short time on this planet, priorities for life, including travel, are often discussed. Little did we imagine that Argentina would take priority in our own travel plans. Encouraged by one daughter, we enjoyed an amazing two weeks in Buenos Aries and north-west Argentina. The appetite has been whetted for more, in a fascinating country with 5000km of coastline from tropical to sub Antarctic environments.  

 Rich with Inca heritage and battles with European invaders, and of politics over the past 60 years that have swayed between military rule and Peronist power (past and present), Argentina seems poised to regain lost prosperity. There are stark contrasts between regional poverty – almost third world poverty – and some of the well to do in Buenos Aries. Another contrast is old world sophistication and the vibrant energy of the young. Gauchos, tango dancers and i phones happily coexist, and yet it’s easy to sense substantial change ahead in this highly urbanised, exciting country of 42 million people. Low taxation and high inflation are current challenges for this resurgent, resource rich nation.

 From a tourism perspective, Argentina has seemingly untapped potential. Before the direct Qantas flight home from Buenos Aries (which shifts to Santiago in April 2012), I talked with Geoff McGeary, the founder and owner of APT, who has just established a business in Argentina. The adventure business is booming and he can’t keep up with demand from Australia alone. The country is accessible and interesting, with key points of differentiation in a tourism world that is increasingly homogeneous.

 Argentinians love football, siestas, and have a strong sense of community. The European influence – not only from Spain but from Italy as well – permeates local life, with bidets to be found even in hostels. This is an accommodating country, one which is tolerant and welcoming. It also possesses an energy brooding beneath the siesta – an energy that will make Argentina economically more powerful and accessible to the world. There is a pervasive sense of hope and justice in Argentina, just nine years after the dramas of police shooting protestors in the streets.

 Argentina served up surprises everywhere:

  •  Argentina is a food bowl. We enjoyed the quality of the produce available on the domestic market – much of it reflecting no middle men in the supply chain, although supermarkets are starting to put pressure on small local shop keepers as they have done in every other part of the developing world. Some food was exceptional – like freshly squeezed orange juice; organically grown and dried peaches; fresh shelled walnuts; raisins; tomatoes that tasted as if they came from the back garden; succulent corn; ripe and cheap avocadoes; abundant and tender fresh asparagus and of course the meat – fillet steak was AUD 8.00 a kg in most retails outlets
  • The insidious influence of western diet is having an impact on the local population with obesity apparent and possibly aligned with an overwhelming consumption of soft drink, confectionary and very sweet and fatty bakery items. What a shame given the corn and other foodstuffs that formed the base diet for Argentinians in the past
  • The behaviour of children and young adults is as we knew it forty years ago – respectful, controlled and cheerful. We were amused by the habit of very young students wearing lab coats – like young engineers. Bizarre but cute!
  • Old cars are abundant, particularly in regional Argentina  – Ford 100’s, Ford Falcons, old Peugot 504’s and Renault 12’s, Fiats and the ubiquitous Volkswagens and  Toyotas
  • Beverage consumption varies from the comfort of flasks of mate tea to fizzy drinks to the hip wine bars of Palermo serving craft beer on tap and wine by the glass. Red wine is improving and represents a real global opportunity for the industry – blessed with cheap labour and proven terroir. Quaffing wine is very cheap and good wines excellent value. AUD10 will deliver a seriously good Cabernet or Malbec.
  • Whatever happened to the African slaves who were abundant in the 19th Century? Little is written about this subject. Did they leave due to the prejudices of the military; did they become subsumed into the population; or did they perish?
  • Although Argentina has seen a large influx of Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, there is almost no Asian or Muslim presence in the country
and the fairies danced at midnight

and the fairies danced at midnight

September 21, 2011  |  life, main blog  |  2 Comments

I went to a wedding recently – probably been to 30 others over the years – but this one was different. It was a three day festival – the Tie the Knot Festival in the stunning Kangaroo Valley.

A talented bride and groom were the planners, architects and visionaries behind organising and delivering a complex event. They celebrated the philosophy of inclusiveness, with every one of the 140 guests having a particular role, however small. The broader participation of generous guests somehow added to the fulfilment – almost as though we all had a hand in creating this unique experience. The wedding planners catered for diverse interests (from yoga to karaoke), in this non-stop cauldron of activity that flowed from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.

The wedding component was special – the love between the marrying couple so authentic and apparent in many ways. Their bespoke vows, exchanged in a bush cathedral of spiritual significance, transcended a ceremony of tradition and spontaneity. The bride jumped up and down with excitement when the celebrant pronounced them man and wife. Spoken blessings from friends and family were original and heartfelt, the bride and groom never stopped grinning. In this timeless bush setting, flanked by massive rock walls and lofty trees, we were united with nature and could feel a flood of love, emotion and spirituality wash over us. No more words were needed.

There was only a handful of baby boomers present – this was a festival for the bride and groom’s friends. When the band stopped playing at the reception, these friends were transformed on mass into fairies, in the blink of an eye. They seemed to have done it before and were eager to seek their collective liberation through costume and friendship.

It was different because we had sensory stimulation, from the stunning location at Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat, to the food and beverage (cocktails, Back Vintage fizz, Berry sourdough bakery breakfast, Duck Duck Goose catering), and to the infectious enthusiasm of a collective of fun loving, caring young men and women. Constant stimulation also came from a spirit and tone which transcended the event….a spirit of love, inclusion, care and friendship. It was truly remarkable.

That bride is my daughter, Catherine – and you can’t begin to imagine how happy I am for her, and how much I love and respect her – and her caring, understanding husband, Cyrus. My mate Les, a person of great depth and wisdom, penned the following verse which captured powerfully the essence of the festival. I offer it with his permission and my total admiration.

 the fairies danced at midnight

kindred spirits wait

dwarfed by nature

bush beauty

and weathered rock

the voice of an angel

time stops

wisdom shared

vows read

clouds passed overhead

as tears flowed

with contagion joy

and the fairies danced at midnight.

celebrations

ordered grace

laughter, courage

a warm embrace

family pride

on display

a speechless bride

remained at play

the bush sparkled

the knot tied tight

and the fairies danced at midnight.

colour, movement

souls set free

costumes, lanterns

burning trees

moonlight magic

stars shone bright

a sea of love

at high tide

and the fairies danced at midnight.

audacious, amazing

never again

a one off moment

shared with friends

creative joy

knows no bounds

when spirit soars

and laughter sounds

and fairies dance at midnight

the melbourne sydney coastal road trip

the melbourne sydney coastal road trip

August 30, 2011  |  life, travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

People often remark that we’re lucky to have two of the world’s best cities separated only by a 75 minute flight. However, they may not appreciate the quality of the experiences offered by the coastal road journey between the two. You can do it in 12 hours hard driving, but if that’s the aim, take the Hume and do it in 9! Tackling the Prince’s Highway over two days is a better option, and even longer with side trips.

There’s plenty of information available about popular stopovers on this route, so this post focuses on some of the secrets, starting from Melbourne. The first secret is at Yarragon, which may be a little early for the first coffee.  However, it boasts an excellent art and craft gallery featuring many well-known Australian artists. It’s called Town and Country Gallery and is open 10 to 5pm daily.

On the way to Bairnsdale you can consider two paths off the beaten track. One is Walhalla – turn off at Moe – and immerse yourself in some gold mining history. The drive and scenery are spectacular as well, taking the return journey towards the Prince’s Highway at Traralgon. Walhalla – a sleepy town with 20 residents-  portrays life as it was in the gold rush when 4000 miners sought their fortune. There are plenty of quality B&B’s if you want to stay longer in the area.

The other detour to consider is the Heyfield turnoff after Traralgon – drive through Heyfield, Tinamba, Maffra and reconnect with the Prince’s Highway at Stratford.  It’s a pretty drive through dairy and grazing land and Maffra is considered to have one of the prettiest main streets in Victoria.

In the heart of East Gippsland, Bairnsdale on the Mitchell River, flags the turn off to Lakes Entrance. Enjoy one of the world’s great views as you climb down Brown Mountain to the point where the Gippsland Lakes meets the Tasman Sea at Lakes Entrance. Situated on the northern end of the ninety-mile beach, Lakes is a fishing village, tourist haven and focal point for surf and nature based activities.

As you journey on through Orbost (where there’s a good café on the eastern outskirts) to Cann River, you could dream about the splendid isolation and amazing fishing offered by places that are signposted on the way – idyllic coastal hamlets like Cape Conran, Marlo and Bemm River. You might even then be tempted to turn off the main road and see Mallacoota – Victoria’s eastern most town and surely its best kept secret. The town of 1000 people swells to 8000 regular holiday makers in the summer as people flock to the heart of the Croajingalong National Park. In my view, it is one of the most beautiful coastal settings in the world, combined with a wealth of experiences in which to become totally immersed.

Eden is always a good place to stop for a break – but you need to turn right and go to the fishing harbour at the east of the town. Great ocean views, the smell of salt water and fish, a good coffee, and even some reasonable fish and chips are available at this point. Further along the track, I strongly suggest turning off the highway at Pambula and taking the coastal drive through Merimbula and Tathra to Bermagui. You’ll miss Bega and the Bega Valley, but the track between Merimbula and Narooma is probably one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of the NSW coast. The 35km trek between Tathra and Bermagui is a good example, with turnoffs to incredible places like Bithry Inlet and a drive past Cutagee beach.

Bermagui is my town! A preserved and stunningly beautiful town of 3000 people off the main highway, Bermagui still has the fishing village feel. It’s the closest point of Australia to the Continental shelf, one of the reasons the fishing there is legendary.  There’s always a sheltered beach to be found, the golf course is excellent and there’s plenty to do. Climb Mount Gulaga, swim at the famous Blue Pool, check out Tilba and Cobargo, and dine at the delightful Il Passagio restaurant – after a glass of wine at the Horse and Camel – and check out accommodation options from Julie Rutherford.

Narooma is a pretty town with a famous golf course. It has become quite a retirement centre now. It boasts the best coffee on the entire trip at Montague Coffee on the northern outskirts of the town, just before the bridge. Bateman’s Bay (and suburbs) has become huge – partly due to its popularity with Canberrians. There’s a good local hospital and retail facilities, and some pretty little coves and beaches as you go south. Just north of Bateman’s Bay, there is a roadside café at a little place called East Lynne. You simply MUST stop and buy a family sized apple pie straight from the oven – or indulge in one of the pies and sausage rolls. Without argument, the best in Australia, and I’m not given to hyperbole!

Instead of just staying on the highway at Ulladulla, take a small detour through Mollymook which only adds ten minutes to the trip. If you’re hungry at Milton, stop at Pilgrims Vegetarian café for some of the best fare on the south coast. Once past Nowra, the traffic builds and the trip starts to become more of an ordeal. Then all of a sudden Berry snaps you out of thoughts that you’re in the outskirts of Sydney. It’s a pretty town with a famous sourdough bakery. It’s possible to turn off at Berry and take the home stretch through Kangaroo Valley and Bowral – it might add an hour to the trip, but it’s a beautiful drive. If you decide to go through Wollongong, there is still one more decision to take – stay on the Highway or take the much slower Grand Pacific Drive that now boasts a new road between Scarborough and Stanwell Park – what NSW claims as the answer to the Great Ocean Road (which is a huge over statement).  If time pressures prevail, this option can also be a day drive or return train trip from Sydney. I suggest the train.

Back in the big smoke, one thing is certain – you’ll be planning the next trip south to explore the many experiences that you missed due to the deadline. Melbourne to Sydney – or the reverse – with its myriad of tangents is really one of the great journeys of the world.

inspiration and longevity from gardening

inspiration and longevity from gardening

August 23, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, life, main blog, motivation  |  4 Comments

I’ve just come in from an exhilarating day in the garden – made myself a vegetable plot from redgum railway sleepers – and feel motivated to post something about gardening.

Creating and/or maintaining a garden, whatever the size, nurtures the body, mind and spirit. For many people, their garden is their sanctuary, for others like me, gardening can inspire and energise.

Gardens can make us happy, heal us when sad or depressed, and help us understand profound truths about the relationship between ourselves and nature. As we journey through the seasons, the pattern of birth, bloom and decay sheds light on the mystery of being human” Albert Camus

The life and death cycle in the garden is an analogy with life itself. It provides a sense of wonder at what nature can provide. For children, seeing a pea in a pod, a bird feasting on a flower, or tasting a home grown tomato, adds a whole new dimension to our consumer and supermarket driven society. For adults, a garden can be a total escape from the things that bother us, such as technological intrusion, or unfulfilling lives…..and there’s nothing like whipping out the back to find a fresh herb to add flavour to any dish.

Eileen Campbell writes in her delightful little book, “The Joy of Gardening”, “We’ve somehow become divorced from the natural world and seem to be on a headlong course to destroy the planet one way or another. Gardening isn’t a panacea for the problems of the world, but maybe by creating our own little bit of paradise, we can make a difference. Gardening nurtures qualities like patience, optimism, trust, discipline and attention – which can ultimately help us live a fulfilled and happy life

 I was lucky to have been brought up with soil under my finger nails, enjoying the products of an extensive home vegie garden, the taste of home grown fruit and learning to appreciate the beauty of native plants. For those to whom gardening is new, don’t be intimidated by the prospect. It’s highly accessible and possible for everyone to become involved – from single room apartment balconies to sweeping arboretums.  There’s even a trend towards green walls and roofs in residential and commercial buildings. They give a sense of tranquillity, connect the inside with the outside and help the planet by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.

 The community garden  concept is also becoming popular around the world. Community gardens bring people together, generate fresh food and flowers, and operate on a shared work load principle. If there’s nothing in your local area, why not approach the council or park management authority to kick one off?

So, to the unconverted I suggest you get involved. While great gardens show a sense of flair and artistry, there are no rules – it’s simply a matter of getting on the court and playing. The web is full of guidance on vegetable gardening , growing herbs and even a helpful site which collates 50 blogs covering many types of gardens.

Sowing seed, watching life emerge, weeding, pruning, harvesting and clearing, give a rhythm to life and transcend time. It’s also therapeutic for the body and mind. Active gardening contributes to longevity (my unproven hypothesis) – through fresh air, sunshine, peace of mind and exercise. As the garden you have created and developed becomes part of you, then you become part of it.

Gardens also provide the chance to learn things (I’m still trying to learn how to make compost like my mother in law!) We’re increasingly being challenged to understand concepts like water use efficiency and growing plants without artificial chemicals.  You’ll find that experienced gardeners love to share their secrets with aspiring gardeners – tips like planting a passionfruit vine above a bullock’s liver, or keeping your orchids in part shade. Many of them have also grown to understand the garden as an ecosystem and have learnt about integrated pest management and the importance of soil condition. It’s a great conversation opportunity across generations.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. Show me your garden and I’ll tell you what you are” Alfred Austin