Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A holiday Hiatus

I will be taking a short break until the new year, when this blog will be back with a vengeance. I already have some great post ideas and photos to match so I'm really excited about blogging in 2010. These last few months have been more of a (sporadic) test run to see if people would be interested in my ramblings from Oz and have largely been successful. After all, a blogging is mostly personal anyway and a great therapeutic stress relief.

I'll be heading back to South Africa for three weeks tomorrow so happy holidays everyone and see you in 2010!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Outback Business Ventures

It’s been four whirlwind months in Oz so far, with its ups and downs. Ups include working at the international language school of the University of Queensland, teaching such a mishmash of nationalities, and learning so much about other cultures every day its difficult to explain how different every day is. For example, yesterday I sat in class evaluating short presentations whilst eating imported dates from Tunisia and drinking Arabic coffee, listening to arguments over which is the best shopping district in Tokyo (the Japanese students have very strong opinions on this), what kind of kimchi is best for your health, if Iraq or Saudi Arabia’s soil is the most fertile for producing the best palm dates and whether Colombia is best known for its drugs or coffee. All, of course, from citizens from these respective countries. It really is a fantastic job, but it does come with a lot of pressure and expectation.

One interesting story I heard was from Mohammed, a Saudi student (and class clown), who we ran into on the train after class. He was telling us how he wasn’t really interested in studying English but was more preoccupied with setting up business contacts in Australia for export purposes, as the ever-present cooler bag of bush honey samples at his side which he has started exporting to Saudi Arabia proved. He claims the Qur’an states honey has healing properties and is thus very sought after in the Islamic Kingdom. 

What really interested me was his next business venture, which sounded like a bit of a joke at first, but made sense after he explained it: he’s planning on exporting camels to Saudi Arabia! Double-take, sorry did you so TO Saudi Arabia?! Land of sand, oil, camels and well, not much else?! Yup, apparently camels go for around $15 000 there, whilst he can purchase Australian camels for about a thousand bucks apiece. A sound business equation if you ask me, and I don’t claim to be a business guru by any means, as my 15% for first semester Economics at university can attest.

I remember first reading about the million odd camels in the Outback in Bill Bryson’s classic travelogue “Down Under” (not to mention the havoc-causing wild rabbits and cats he so hilariously wrote about), and recently the Australian Government have made it known they plan on culling the ‘ships of the desert’ by means of sharpshooters in helicopters through their “Aerial Predator Control” programme. 

They are seen as a pest by many outback farmers, trampling vegetation , eroding the soil and damaging water pipes in their search of refreshment, and the population is set to double every nie years according to some news sources. Of course, some animal rights groups are outraged at the inhumanity of it all (not to mention the $20 million odd set aside to put the plan into action), offering alternatives like birth control to render the gentle giants impotent.

Another alternative is looking into other uses for the camels. Supposedly there have been talks of “camel burgers”, as male Bactrian camels carry substantial amounts of meat, weighing up to 650 kilos, not even to mention the delicacy of the fatty hump. Also, on a recent BBC Newspod podcast, there was a story espousing the virtues of camel milk,  long used in North Africa and the Middle-East, and now with Europe’s first camel-farm in the Netherlands following the age-old tradition.

There has been research in India into the milk’s curative properties like helping against diabetes and other chronic diseases. The only problem is the camels only give milk if they like you and are totally relaxed. Sounds a bit like those Kobe cows in Japan that get to chug down beer, listen to music and receive daily massages. What does it taste like? Well, according to one taste-tester; “I think it’s a bit weird, I don’t feel like a little camel, who I think the milk is for”.

But I digress, I think Mohammed has just used is keen business sense to carve himself a niche in a previously unheard of market and it might just make him a lot of money, especially if he decides to venture into the food and beverage industry with his camels.

I can just see it…tumbleweeds blowing across the red, arid land…tattooed desert train truckies with dust in their mouths lining up at “Mohammed’s Outback Desert Desserts Diner” just waiting for an ice-cold camel milk soft-serve or a double humpburger with feral fries. Sounds like our man Mohammed could probably sell ice to Eskimos. I should talk to him about that….

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Box of the Week

This Box of the Week is outside Fringebar in the Valley. It's brought to you by Anthony Jigalin, a renowned local Brisbane artist, who often exhibits his unique pieces there,as part of Fringeblac - the Brisbane Local Arts Collective. Take a look at his work here and also find out when the next show will be. Guns 'n Chicks!

"Urban View"
(Corner of Ann and Constance Streets)

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Proudly Oz-African

One of the first things I've noticed, being a fresh-off-the-boat Souf Efrican in Oz, is the  number of South African companies that have opened up shop here. I get really excited about this, pointing them out to no-one in particular whilst jumping up and down like a kid outside a petshop. Yet, when I proudly enlighten Aussies of the roots of these companies I tend to get a "Oh, I didn't know that so and so was South African," usually followed by a "I also don't really give a shit...," muttered under the breath.  I guess it's not really that interesting to most people, but I think other Saffa expats know the feeling, that twinge of pride mixed with homesickness, of unexpectedly seeing something from home in a foreign location.

 Ann Street Spar, Fortitude Valley

The first time it happened was when I was walking around in our neighbourhood and spotted a Spar Supermarket (There's a friendly Spar, wherever you are!). Funnily enough, they are pretty much the same as normal Spar's in South Africa (in other words, a tad more expensive than your average supermarket chain). Of course, like most South Africans I ignorantly assumed Spar was a South African company (due to the name which means "Save" in Afrikaans) but they're actually Dutch and moved to SA in the 1960s (and Oz in the mid-80s) and have the most stores in the UK with well over 2000, compared to SA's odd 700 and Australia's 75 shops.

Brisbane is also home to Australia's two Pick 'n Pay Hypermarkets, in Sunnybank and Aspley. The Pick 'n Pay in Aspley which was established in the 80s, was,according to Wikimapia, once "the largest supermarket in the Southern Hemisphere", and is now owned by Coles.  Nice and big, just like the South African ones, where you could get lost in the myriad of neon lights, whole trolley-surfing down the white-tiled aisles and  perusing the  endless Great Wall-like shelves for hours!

Perhaps my favourite South African company in Australia (at least the one I'm most thankful for) is Nando's. Luckily, their Australian marketing is as on-the-ball and witty as their South African big brother's, with a great website and in-store advertising. I do miss the fantastic TV ads which the franchise is so famous for in South Africa and is sadly lacking here.

They've been in Oz since 1990, arriving on the Western shores just like those famous peri-peri Portuguese explorers Da Gama and Diaz did round the tip of Africa all those years ago. Their chicken is also just as tasty, and they offer the same range of scrumptious sauces and marinades here.  In fact, if I walk around in a Spar here in Brissy and am faced with a shelf-full of Nando's sauces, I could just as easily be anywhere in suburban South Africa.

Courtesy of

Sadly, if you google Nando's, the UK franchises dominate, the web which may actually fool people into erroneously believing that this salivating peri-peri chicken take-aways originated in England (or Portugal!). This proudly South African export is now in 26 countries on five continents.

The final, and perhaps most surprising South African company in Oz is those brasse "Ek en djy", or the fish company I&J! Their fish fingers can be found adorning the frozen foods section of many an Aussie supermarket today, a long cast from Charles "Ocean" Johnson and George "Driver" Irvine's humble beginnings, trawling the Cape coastline in the early 1900s. They hit the Australian market in 1997, and have since defrosted the Aussie hearts with their fantastic ad campaign starring Iron Jay, the fish-finger mad, pro wrestler, who has since built up a cult following. I&J is now the second biggest retail seafood brand in Australia.

I have a feeling that this might only be the tip of the frozen iceberg lettuce and I'll try to uncover more South African brands living large in Oz, but if you know of any, please  drop a comment!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Box of the Week

Here's your TBS Box of the Week brought to you by the SumoSpider: A mutant superhero created by Jeff Albertson and based on the fallout of Hiroshima and umm...spiders. Probably not.

"Land of the Rising Spiderweb"
(Corner of Brookes and Ann Streets)
Artist: Helen Pailing

Monday, 12 October 2009

Things that make you eat your words...

I was reading the MX, one of Brisbane’s leading street press dailies, on the train the other day and I got hooked on an article about James Wannerton; an Englishman who could literally taste his words due to a rare brain condition called gustatory auditory synaesthesia.  

This disorder seemed to have hot-wired his brain when he was younger and caused an overlap of senses, which meant Wannerton, amongst other things, tasted bacon in his mouth when hearing or reciting The Lord’s Prayer!

Not everything is sweet though as he said most novels were “too flowery” to read, French tasted “like burnt eggs” and some of his friends' names, like Gordon, were hard to digest.

I found this utterly amazing and started hypothesizing what different people and books would taste like. I think Jacob Zuma’s speeches would definitely produce an African potato and garlic flavour, with a lingering, faint aftertaste of Radox showergel. Kyle Sandilands' breakfast  radio show would most likely taste like ash and disgrace, leaving poor Wannerton choking and retching until he managed to toss his radio out the window.

Courtesy of

Dickens' David Copperfield, which I’m reading at the moment, would taste of steaming pigeon pie or mutton chops and fragrant sawdust. It’s clear that if Wannerton wanted a fast food fix he’d just have to listen to one of George W Bush’s gaffe-prone addresses to  excite his tastebuds into producing the deep-fried flavour of Freedom Fries and Julius Malema’s equally bungled misstatements would have the bitter tang of sour grapes and misplaced angst.

I wonder gangster rap, with its rapid-fire lyrics, explodes in your mouth like the pop rock candy I used to love as a kid, obviously with a strong hint of gunpowder and prison sex.

Courtesy of

I believe if Wannerton was to listen to that crooning New Orleansian Harry Connick Junior’s Southern twang, he’d most probably taste the creamy goodness of one of Australia’s proudest products: Coon Cheese...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Box of the Week

Artforce, a Brisbane City Council initiative have made great use of municipal traffic signal boxes (TSB's) by having them painted by local artists. There are more than a thousand boxes  around the city and about 900 have been painted.  If you're interested in possibly painting a box, contact Artforce here. These TSB's can be found on all intersections and I've been walking around Fortitude Valley, New Farm and the CBD photographing them. 

I know I've got many miles to tread to photograph them all (I think I have about 30 so far), but every week I will bring you the Box of the Week brought to you by a proud sponsor. I thought as this is the first weekly installation, I'll show you my favourite one.

"Welcome to the Valley/BrisVegas" 
 (Corner of Wickham and Gotha Streets)

Brought to you by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose statue stands proudly in Centenary Park across the road. Unforutnately, it is also used as a poo-perch by resident birds and a urinal by resident bergs (read definition no.1).

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Welcome to Brisbane, home of the Coon Toastie.

I think the most appropriate thing to do when welcoming new visitors to an area is to give them a taste of the local flavour. Give them something that smacks of "Oh, so this is what it's like!". And that's what the Ekka is. Local. Done lekker.

The Ekka is traditionally held at the RNA Showgrounds here in Brissy on an annual basis, and is a celebration of all things Queenslandish and country-like. First started in 1876, the Ekka draws crowds from all over the State, if not the country. In fact, it's so big they have a public holiday for it! They have vegetables and fruit on display that are so large they will make your spinster aunt blush for no apparent reason.

This year there was, as alays I was told, a melee of activity, centering around the country goods displays and Woolworths Food Pavilion, and for the kids, the magnetic attractions of Sideshow Alley, which is where all carnival rides, greasy treats and ghosthouse is. Tied for first place is the Showbag Pavilion, housing more than 500 different showbags and more sugar per square metre than a Cadbury's factory and a definite determining factor in Australian childhood diabetes. It will probably also play a big role in my next dentist appointment as I went for the Sourbombs Showbag and am still puckering through it all. As we say in Afrikaans: Dit trek jou kiewe so op 'n knoop (it's something about sourness and fish).

According to the Ekka's website, 4000 scantily-dressed fireman calendars were sold during this week in August, 150 chickens were born, over 3000 $1 Coon cheese toasties were sold in the Food Pavilion and 6.5 tons of pink puke was cleaned up due to 6.5 tons of Strawberry Sundaes which were consumed just prior to attempting the Tornado of Terror in Sideshow Alley.  Okay, so I made that last one up. Next year, a new company will organise the Ekka, making it bigger, brighter and taking it out of the showgrounds onro the streets of Brisbane. There's been a lot of mumbling about this as some of the attractions will be removed, but I guess we'll have to wait until next year to see what really happens. Here's a scenic taste of what this year's Ekka was like: