Columns

Christmas gift ideas

ethical girlCHRISTMAS is fast approaching and with busy lives it can be challenging to complete all the shopping in time.

This year, a little pre planning will take away some of that anxiety so you can forget the frenzy of last minute purchases.

Here are 10 clutter-free gift ideas that you can make/create/ buy that are useful, practical, fun and often consumable.

  1. Homemade voucher.
 Time is precious so make a voucher for someone special that would be meaningful for them. New parents: babysitting. Elderly: help in the garden. Busy family: cook one dinner a month for a year.
What are your talents? Sewing, cleaning, wash car, computer help. A voucher of your time is valued by everyone.
  2. Movie vouchers. Why not give them with a packet of popcorn and Maltesers.
  3. Classes. Yoga, dancing, pilates, gym; pay for a term and wrap
it along with a couple of health bars.
  4. Mani/pedi. Take one nice empty glass jar, add nail polish, acetone, cotton balls, nail file and wrap with ribbon.
  5. Homemade food treats such as chutneys, pickles, sauces, jams, biscuit, curry paste, baked goods and so on.
  6. iTunes voucher. Always a favourite with the younger ones.
  7. The gift of green. Succulents, cactus, native plants, maybe a trailer load of mulch? Think big.
  8. Tickets for fun and being active, such as mini golf, ten pin bowling, the zoo, Healesville Sanctuary, Melbourne Aquarium, a water park. Tailor it to suit the individual or family.
  9. Massage. So who doesn’t like a massage? A little pampering goes a long way.
  10. Wine or Beer, an all-time favourite but present it a little differently. I made these last year for my colleagues. I called them Rein Beers.

Giving us the Trotts

WE’VE laughed at them. We’ve marvelled at their mistakes.

But finally, after eight years or so of bringing us doozies like the Nevillectomy, Trotts creator Alan Cornell is waving them off, both in search of new horizons.

Warrandyte’s fallible family first appeared on page-two of the paper in July 2007 after Diary founder Cliff Green approached Alan to write a regular column.

Page 2 was precious to Cliff. It had been the nook of late Herald journalist Lee Tindale, his Smoky Joe column a superb fit.

“It took Cliff a while to work out what to do with it and he left it to me to come up with something,” says Alan. “I didn’t really have an idea, I only knew I didn’t want to do ‘Alan Cornell’s opinions; there were plenty of other people giving their take on things.”

He eventually decided on something amusing: a Warrandyte-flavoured situation comedy.

“It’s always confounded me, there’s so much comedy on television and radio but newspapers are dry. There’s barely a smile to be found – with rare exceptions.”

Alan says inventing the little family gave him a number of different characters who “could do all sorts of things and react to different situations”. He admits the character of Gran was “an afterthought”.

“It quickly turned out Gran was a very valuable addition who gave the writing an edge. She might only be in a storyline for a couple of sentences but could instantly give it the focus.”

I ask him, tongue in cheek, how much of Living with the Trotts is a case of art imitating life? (I’m thinking of the time Cinnamon penned the “balletic tour de force” Duck River after borrowing Black Swan, Billy Elliot and Flashdance from VideoEzy, curious whether Alan has a script tucked away in a drawer.)

He laughs: “Yes, a storyline can be based on something personal. But that’s a trap because then people presume you’re as crappy a handy- man as Neville is – which happens to be true!”

“The surprising thing is, after the initial enthusiasm when you seem to have any number of things around you to draw from, I always imagined it would get easier and easier. But it doesn’t actually. It gets harder as time goes on.”

Which brings us to his decision to end the popular chronicles.

“Everything has it’s own life. I’ve probably been finding it harder to write the Trotts over the past 12 months. When I looked back and realised I had been doing it for eight years – about 90 episodes – I just felt the time was right for something new.”

‘Something new’ is something of a tonic for creative people.

Along with various literary projects, (he’s written novel The Gentle Art of Tossing and had short stories published) Alan’s quick wit and stellar performances with a guitar are well known to Warrandyte Theatre Company audiences.

“It was a very Sunday-school-concert concept when I started performing in the Follies 30 years ago. With some awful things, some quaint things, and every now and then a good thing which sparkled by comparison. But it had a real naïve charm about it that I always liked,” he recalls.

The amateur production was Alan’s introduction to performing on stage. Low-key, he characterises his Follies involvement over three decades more or less by saying he “got quite good at writing silly songs”.

However, this belies his visible growth as a performer – his improved skills led to paid gigs outside of Warrandyte – and as a writer/director who has created about 100 Follies sketches and directed three productions.

One skit, which Alan developed with the help of his Bushfire Press colleagues into the musical Open Season, has since been published and performed by high schools and adult amateur theatre groups.

Follies aside, Alan recently co-directed The 39 Steps and this year directed one-act play Arctic Fevers, which has likewise been touring successfully, picking up awards.

“I wouldn’t say I have remarkable insight into theatre,” he says, “but interpreting someone else’s work is quite interesting. And then bringing your own ideas to it – so you don’t just reproduce what the last person did – I do enjoy finding ways of making that work.”

Alan also worked hard at serious song writing for a time but “never quite cracked” the music industry.

“I won a few awards and some of my songs were signed to a couple of record labels. Judith Durham was going to take one and record it as the title song on her new album; the seekers asked me to write a couple of songs for their comeback album,” he reveals.

“So, for a while there I was around the fringe. Unfortunately, it all just… fell over. Still, it was very enjoyable while it lasted.”

When he’s not doing “fun stuff” (or getting behind a microphone as an emcee) Alan works as a copywriter and creative director who has run small ad agencies.

And though he no longer lives locally, the Trotts author remains attached to the township he credits with unearthing his writer-self.

“I actually started out in economics but switched to advertising just before moving to Warrandyte,” he says.

“When my family and I arrived here some 30 years ago, everything gelled. You could say Warrandyte has been the inspiration for my creative side, because it gave me a sense of belonging I hadn’t experienced before.”

He talks of living in Balwyn before the shift.

“Not long after my wife Jan and I had our first child, we went to Edinburgh for a time. It was terrific; we felt a real sense of community. Then we came back to Balwyn, to a life of peering over 5-foot fences pretending you couldn’t see your neighbours, because that would be intrusive.”

He laughs: “We used to get mail from people in Scotland, but some of it accidentally ended up at the house opposite. Our neighbours kept posting the letters back to Edinburgh! And we thought – this is not a community.”

When they eventually bought Stonygrad, (a North Warrandyte stone pile, hand built by sculptor Danila Vassilieff) the Cornells found themselves part of a genuine circle.

“We met all these wonderful people through schools, groups, and the theatre company of course.”

He mentions the enjoyment of seeing his characters come to life each month through one of these “wonderful people”, Diary cartoonist and Living with the Trotts illustrator, Jock Macneish.

“Usually, you have an idea and when you pass it on you hope to see it made bigger. And that’s exactly what happened under Jock’s expert care”, says Alan.

trotts bookI wonder if the Trotts will ever return. (Imagine the travel stories… Gran bellowing on about the virtue of seeking adventure before dementia!)

“Probably not, but they could. I’m not purposefully driving them off a cliff or anything like that, so you never know,” he says.

Meanwhile, Trotts fans will be happy to know the little family is being immortalised in a book, to be launched locally next month (see ad for details).

Before talking future plans, I ask Alan what he has learned from the Trotts’ antics over the years.

“That we’re one big happy family here in Warrandyte. And that writing a column in the Diary is like riding a bicycle – you better be wearing a bike helmet because every now and then you’re going to crash,” he replies, true to his comic nature.

As to what’s next…

“Now that I have a bit more time, I might look at further directing. I’ll also keep doing a column for the Diary, something along the lines of ‘children’s stories written for adults’,” he says. “I think parents like to read something bright to their children but at the same time enjoy the language.”

Wilful and wickedly funny, the Trotts have left our building.

We leave you with an earlier memory of the Diary’s most loveable weekend warrior cocking up a camping trip in The Man from Yarra River.

Neville, Narelle, Cinnamon, Jasper and Gran, you will be very much missed.

Steeped in history

STRAWBERRIES, cherries and an angel’s kiss in Spring. Aumann’s Family Orchard Shop is really made from all these things. The iconic shop at the old packing shed on the top of the hill in Harris Gully Road sells plenty of other yummy, fresh and delicious fruits too, including apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, oranges and lemons.

Barry Aumann, 69, is part of a family that has been growing fruit here since the 19th century. Four generations of Aumanns have lived and worked on this land since the 1890s when Barry’s grandfather Wilhelm “Bill” and his brother Harry bought 60 acres on the beautiful hilly slopes.

“Some would say too bloody steep and not an ideal place for an or- chard,” quips Barry as he shares his family’s story with the Diary.

“My grandfather and his brother cleared the land and tried growing potatoes while they waited for the fruit trees to come into production. But the potatoes must have been hit- ting the rocks underground because they weren’t very evenly rounded,” he adds with a cheeky grin.

Wilhelm Aumann married Maria and they had four children, one of them being Herbert who was Barry’s father. Herbert married Marjorie and they had four kids too: Gwen, Bill, Richard and Barry. Herbert took over Harry’s share of the orchard and worked it with his sons until his death in 1986.

Barry’s mother Majorie died when Barry was only five and his two aunts Ada and Mary bought him up on the amily property. Barry’s robust and direct energy softens for a moment as he reflects on the loss of his mother at such a young age. “The older I got, the more I realized how much I missed her,” he says.

The three brothers, Bill, Richard and Barry, started working in the orchard when they were only five or six years of age.

“We had watering duties during the summer holidays,” remembers Barry. “There was a real art in that, making sure all the trees got a good drink.”

The boys all went to Box Hill Tech for three years then started working in the orchard full time when they were 14.

“Back then there was still no electricity along Tindals Road. It didn’t come until 1960,” says Barry. “So we grew up with Tilley lamps to light up our homes.”

In Barry’s grandfather’s day, taking the fruit to market was a much more leisurely affair than it is now.

His horse drawn cart loaded with cases of fruit would head off towards the Queen Victoria Market about midnight. The patient horses knew their route well and the orchardist could afford to nod off and have a snooze as the horses plodded stoically along throughout the dark night. They travelled through Kew and Richmond and arrived at the market as the first blush of dawn crept over the horizon. Cruise control 1910 style and the first driverless vehicles!

Now, over 100 years later, driverless cars are finally coming into pro- duction. Going to market became a lot quicker in 1926 when Bill Aumann purchased a Chev 4 cab chassis for 269 pounds and started trucking his fruit to town.

The Aumanns worked hard in the old days. When they picked fruit there was so much double, triple and quadruple handling. The apples and pears had to be picked from the tree, packed in a box, loaded onto a trailer, then loaded onto a truck and taken to the cool store in Fitzsimmons Lane.

When they were ready to sell, the process had to be repeated in reverse. The fruit was taken back to the orchard and stacked in the shed, then repacked for market and loaded onto the truck. That was all done by hand, but the Aumanns were used to the strenuous work and just got the job done. That changed during the 1960s when forklift trucks and bulk bins were introduced.

Barry has spent all his life on the orchard except for two years during the 1960s when he was called up for National Service. Barry served in Vietnam with The Royal Australian Engineers. After the war and back on the land, Barry met Michelle at a dance in Hawthorn.

“I took one look at her and thought she looks all right,” says Barry. “ We were married two years later in 1975.”

Barry and Michelle built a house on the orchard and have been there ever since, raising their three kids, Susannah, now 38, Michael 36 and Caroline 32.

After four generations of hard work running their business, the Aumanns are looking to sell the freehold and business, which include five acres of land.

“We have already sold some of the land,” says Barry. “But I would love to see the business continue and see the land being utilised. Michelle and I intend to stay on in the house we love, but I won’t be growing fruit. As far as The Aumanns are concerned, that has come to an end.

“We could have relocated the orchard but because of the Green Wedge restrictions we’ve been denied the opportunity to realise the full potential of the land value. I’m disappointed that we haven’t had the capital to relocate like many of our counterparts who have been able to get a fair price for their land.

“Life on the orchard has been great though,” Barry says with a grin. “It’s been bloody hard work. What we do revolves around the seasons and it’s a seven-day-a-week job. When you consider getting ready to leave for market at midnight the hours worked add up. Mostly I’ve been working 80 hours a week for over 50 years. The women in the family have been working just as hard as the men too.”

What has been good about a lifetime of work on the steep slopes of the family orchard?

“We’ve always had good rapport with the other orchardists,” says Barry. “It’s a great place to live and the view is fantastic from our place. We enjoy the best of both worlds. Living in this beautiful spot but only 30 minutes from town.

“One thing I will miss after we sell the business is interacting with all the different people who come in the shop. I will miss that.”

True ‘friends’ of our state park

THE Friends of Warrandyte State Park (FOWSP) is a volunteer-based group that understands the importance of growing indigenous plants in our gardens. We can’t underestimate the group’s value to the community.

The nursery grows plants indigenous to the area not only to conserve these important species but also to try and encourage people to plant them in their own gardens. Too often we see garden runaways such as Pittosporum and Agapanthus invading the territory of beautiful native orchids, Eucalypts and other natural splendours.

‘Friends’ groups such as our Warrandyte team are of such value to the priceless bushland in our area.

They never get tired of pulling weeds and planting important indigenous plants around the park. The habitat created and improved by FOWSP will continue to house all types of native creatures from phascogales and sugar gliders to powerful owls; even the native bees are taken good care of.

Linda Rogan, an active member of FOWSP, reflects upon her time volunteering and believes she has “found a wonderful supportive community of people from various backgrounds, including enthusiastic youngsters as well as us elders, all with the common goal of supporting the State Park, the rangers and the local flora and fauna”. She says “FOWSP is now an important part of my active life”.

Linda joined FOWSP with the intention of “learning more about our indigenous flora and to do something positive for our local natural environment” and ended up becoming the newsletter editor and finding herself immersed in learning about the state park.

FOWSP has had many successes around the park including creating a wetland frog habitat near the nursery and revegetating many disturbed areas.

From my own personal experience it is so rewarding being part of this team. Every time I go out with them I feel like I have given something back to the environment and an area, which I enjoy visiting often.

As a great bonus the people are amazing and so much fun to be around and the morning tea is always astounding.

The state parks in Warrandyte are an integral piece in a much larger puzzle. The importance of it being looked after for rare and endangered plants and animals and also for the enjoyment of you all in Warrandyte is greater than I can describe in this article. You’ll have to go out into the park, enjoy the company of the wallabies and and feel the change in the air to appreciate its true significance.

The nursery is open to the public and to anybody who wishes to volunteer on Thursdays from 9.30am until 12.30pm and on the first weekend of every month when the Warrandyte Community Market is on.

For more info visit fowsp.org.au

Bridge too far?

SHOULD we be careful what we wish for? The Manningham Leader carried a story last month under the heading One Bridge Not Enough saying hundreds of “squeaky wheels” were “demanding VicRoads build a second crossing of the Yarra River in Warrandyte”.

The impetus behind this demand is a petition launched by local resident, Jan Freeman, which is receiving much attention on social media. Long traffic queues at peak times and concern about outcomes in the event of a major bushfire have fuelled support for the petition.

Historically, the problem has arisen because Warrandyte has one of only three bridges that span the Yarra River in the north east of Melbourne. The others are Fitzsimons Lane at Templestowe (also very busy at peak times) and Vasey Houghton Bridge at Yarra Glen. With population growth and greater vehicle numbers, traffic through the township has increased over the years leading to the long queues at peak times.

This severely impacts Warrandyte residents, particularly those who live north of the river, in both the morning and afternoon peak periods and there is naturally a desire to see improvements. But more bridges mean more roads, a wider bridge means widened roads and, no matter what, better traffic conditions leads to more, not less, traffic as improved travel times attract more drivers from other congested routes.

There is anecdotal evidence that the failure so far to link the Metropolitan Ring Road to the Eastern Freeway and Eastlink has led to traffic finding alternative routes and river crossings through the north-eastern suburbs. Despite calls to complete the so-called “missing link”, through the Banyule Flats and Yarra River area which would entail another river bridge, no action appears forthcoming.

That is despite calls as recently as April this year when the RACV identified the “missing link’’ as its No.1 priority and called on the state government to fund it. However, the Banyule plan is actively opposed by local groups seeking to protect their area’s environmental values.

There is no doubt that Warrandyte’s topography, environmental sensitivity and history also presents many challenges for road and traffic planners seeking to improve traffic flow and the river crossing. The question must be asked, how much is the Warrandyte community prepared to compromise to achieve a better traffic outcome at peak periods?

Many solutions have been suggested in the past, ranging from a proposed Yarra Street widening and realignment in the 1980s (vehemently opposed by the com- munity) to a bridge from Bradleys Lane to Everard Drive more recently (discounted by authorities). Dick Davies, president of the Warrandyte Community Association (WCA), said recently that up until now everybody had a solution to Warrandyte’s traffic problems but nobody had data, so a VicRoads traffic report on the bridge road network, due in August, will be most welcome and should assist in identifying problems and solutions.

In addition, $140,000 has been budgeted to investigate ways to improve the bridge’s traffic capacity during an emergency, including widening and strengthening the bridge. An emergency situation is the greatest impetus for change. The current bridge has served our community well for nearly 60 years. No doubt the community will wish to be involved in any plans for change in order to protect the amenity and historical connections particularly if change leads to modifications to Yarra Street or the historic streetscape.

To return to the original question do we need to be careful what we wish for?

While much attention has been focused on the bridge do we want to see it vastly altered, especially if it leads to major road changes as a result?

While much attention has been focused on the traffic line in Yarra Street at peak periods which so infuriates motorists, what changes can we hope for given this type of congestion happens at most major river crossings (even those on major arterial roads such as Fitzsimons Lane or Banksia Street)?

Can we accept that traffic congestion has the effect of deterring some traffic and that increasing capacity will attract more, not less, traffic as has been experienced elsewhere? Should we be more focused on the broader area solutions such as the Northern Arterial extension from Reynolds Road to the Maroondah Highway?

One thing is for sure – the debate, petitions and lobbying will persist as long as the line of traffic continues to snake along the township’s roads.