Coconut and Date Loaf

This is my favourite recipe for coconut and date loaf.   Even people who say they don’t like dates have been known to like this one!   It is simple, quick and easy.   The recipe was given to me many years ago by a friend who had been making it for years, though I have no idea where she got it from, but who cares – it’s delicious!  (This one’s specially for you, Heidi!)

RECIPE:

1 cup chopped dates

half cup boiling water

125 g butter

Half cup castor sugar

1 egg

Two thirds cup self raising flour

Quarter cup coconut.

Grease a 14 cm x 21 cm loaf pan, line base with paper;  grease paper.

Combine dates with boiling water and stand 15 minutes.   Cream butter and sugar in a bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy;  add egg and beat until combined.  Stir in sifted flour, coconut and undrained dates.  Spread into prepared pan and bake in moderate oven for about 40 minutes.  Stand 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

It will keep for about 2 days in a tin, but probably won’t last that long!…

Hope you love it,  Sara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favourite fruitcake recipe

I have no idea where this recipe came from, but it is one of the easiest and best fruit cakes  have eve made.   It is called “Melt and Mix Fruitcake”, and that’s just what it is.  Here is the recipe:

1 kg good quality mixed fruit

half cup rum

1 granny smith apple, coarsely grated

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

4 eggs

250g butter, melted

1 and a half cups plain flour

half cup self raising flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice (optional)

half cup rum to pour over top when brought out of the oven.

Place mixed fruit in a large bowl, then add rum, apple, syrup, sugar and eggs and mix well.  Stir in cooled butter, sifted flours and mixed spice.  Spread the mixture evenly in a deep 19cm square or 23 cm round prepared cake tin.   Bake in slow over for 3 to 3 and a half hours.  Pour rum over cake and leave in tin covered with a tea towel until the next day.

Prepare tin:  Line with baking paper, bottom and sides so that it comes to about 4 cms above the tin.

Note:  Mixture will be a little bit sloppy but don’t worry, it cooks well.

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Simply delicious!   Happy Christmas/Easter/Any time…!

Sara.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MY RECIPE FOR LASAGNE

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My Lasagne recipe – easy and very popular:

Everyone who loves to cook has a favourite recipe for lasagne, I’m sure!   I’ve been asked to put mine on the blog, so here it is.   It may look complicated, but I assure you, it isn’t!

You need to start with a good bolognese sauce.   Again, most people have a favourite, but in case you don’t I am giving you mine – which I adapted from Julie Goodwin’s recipe.   Julie, as many people will remember, was the first winner of Masterchef Australia and I was given her first book, “Our Family Table” and use it regularly as I love her generous, down to earth approach to cooking for her family.   I make a sauce based on her “spaggy bol” recipe, because it’s easy, very tasty and wholesome…thank you Julie;  my family love her food!

Bolognese sauce:

I kg lean beef mince

2 onions, chopped

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1 tbs olive oil

1 x 810 tin and 1 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes

1-2 tbs tomato paste

1 OXO beef cube

2 tbs sugar

1 tsp salt

½ cup red wine and 2 – 3 bay leaves (optional)

 

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and stir until soft but not brown.  Add the mince to the pan and cook until brown, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon.

If you have a slow cooker, put the mince mixture in, along with the tomatoes, tomato paste, stock cube, sugar and salt.  Simmer, covered, on the high setting for 2 hours, then uncover and cook for a further 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Alternatively, it can be cooked on the stove top in a large saucepan, but will need to be stirred frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.   Keep it to a very low heat and simmer gently for around 2 hours, stirring frequently.   As it cooks it will thicken and reduce and smell delicious.

Lasagne:

My recipe uses about half the sauce, (and I freeze the rest)  But if you have a big family or are having a party, you can make a bigger version, doubling the recipe (or two smaller ones).

For my lasagne I use a Pyrex ovenproof glass dish which I bought from Woolworths – a really useful dish!  It is 28 cm long x 18 cm wide, and about 4.5 cm deep.  This allows 3 layers, which I feel is enough for a good lasagne – any more can become stodgy!

First, make a Béchamel sauce (basically a white sauce).

Melt one large tbs butter in a microwave safe bowl.  Add 2 heaped dessertspoons of cornflour, 1 tspn ground nutmeg, salt and pepper.   Gradually add 400 mls milk, (very slowly at first) making sure all lumps are gone,  and heat in the microwave on high in one minute increments, stirring after each minute.  It takes 4-5 minutes to thicken.   Alternatively you can heat it in a saucepan on the stove, stirring constantly until it boils and thickens.   Remove from the heat and cover until you are ready to use it.

To assemble the lasagne:

Butter or spray the oven dish.

I use Barilla lasagne all’uovo pasta sheets as I always get a good result.  You will need 9 sheets of the pasta for this recipe.  (Of course, if you have a pasta making machine and want to make your own, knock yourself out!  I’m just jealous as I don’t have a machine and mine’s a very small kitchen….)

Start with a layer of Bolognese sauce, thinly spread on the bottom of the dish.

Then a layer of pasta sheets, trimmed at edges if necessary to fit.

Next a layer of béchamel sauce.

Then sprinkle some grated cheese lightly.  I use a mixture of tasty and mozzarella.

Next a second layer of pasta sheets, béchamel and meat sauce.

Repeat with a third and last layer of pasta sheets.  Cover with remaining meat sauce and top with remaining béchamel sauce.

Finally, sprinkle generously with the grated cheeses.

Bake in a fan forced own for about 30 minutes at 170C.  When done it will be nicely browned on top and sizzling.   Serve with a green salad if you like, or crusty bread, or just as is, which is how we prefer it!

 

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I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RECIPE FOR RASPBERRY OAT SLICE

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(In case you are wondering why this is being posted again, I made an error last time and only one person got it!   So – at risk of over-kill, I am posting it again as this was specially requested by Nene, so it’s for you!

I can’t remember where I got this recipe, but it’s an old family favourite and always disappears as soon as I cook it.   I have changed it up a little bit by adding fresh raspberries (which seem to be in season all summer in Queensland, and they really add flavour, as well as a bit of bite to temper the sweetness.

 

RASPBERRY OAT SLICE.

 

1½ cups (225g) self-raising flour

170g butter

½ (45g) cup rolled oats

½ -¾ cup dessicated coconut

1 cup (220g) brown sugar

¾ – 1 cup raspberry jam (good quality – I use a brand called “Anathoth”, which is delicious.)

1 punnet of fresh raspberries (if available). Washed and drained well.

Pre-heat oven to 200ºC (180º fan-forced).   Grease and line base and sides of a 22 cm square cake pan.

Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter.  (That’s right – the old fashioned way!)  Add the rolled oats, coconut and sugar and mix well.

Press half the mixture into the prepared pan.

Spread the jam over the mixture in the pan.  (It may be necessary to warm the jam to make it slightly runny, if it has been in the fridge.)   Press the raspberries gently into the top, scattering them evenly.   Sprinkle the remaining half of the flour/oat mixture over the top to cover it.

Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven; cool slightly.   While still warm, cut into fingers or squares.  Remove from pan when cold.

 

ENJOY!

 

 

WE CAME, WE SAW, WE LOVED IT!

16th March, 2016

It was 30 degrees and very humid when Ted and I flew out of Brisbane on a chock-full Jetstar flight, feeling like a couple of sardines squashed into a can.   They said to make sure the seats weren’t reclined, but believe me, they didn’t move an inch!  The first announcement also said that the front toilets were not working so everyone would have to trek down to the back, very sorry and all that.   Trek they did – we were half way down the plane and there was a constant queue, battling with the trolley where the staff were selling goodies.  No freebies these days!

But fortunately, it was only a little over 2 hours later when we landed in Launceston.   It was down the stairs again, into a cold wind, across the tarmac and into the terminal and baggage claim.   We had arranged a hire car, which was waiting for us, and turned out to be a practically brand new Nissan Pulsar, instead of the small car we’d expected.  We agreed they had probably given it to us oldies, knowing we wouldn’t thrash it!   Either way, it was a comfortable car to travel in.

Ted did the driving and my job was to act as navigator, along with my trusty lady-friend on the Navman.   I am not real good with electronics, but by the end of this trip, I definitely knew my way around this machine, and only got a few “Perform a U-Turn when possible’s”.   Unfortunately it is quite a few years old and things have changed – which resulted in us getting lost in Launceston before finally finding our hotel – roads had been closed to form a mall, so we went around several times before giving in and asking a local.

The first thing I noticed about Launceston – which was repeated through the whole of Tasmania, was how hilly it is!   We were forever walking or driving up and down hills to get to anywhere!  Our hotel overlooked a park, full of lovely flowers, oak trees and other English flora.   I even collected some acorns, not having seen one since I left the UK in 1968.   The big surprise was an enclosure with monkeys, free for all to see in the park. (Very popular with tourists and locals).

Launceston seems to close early.  We walked for miles but were unable to find a restaurant, and ended up in a pub, which was fun as we chatted to locals, but the food wasn’t that good.

The next day, 17th March, again armed with the Navman, we found our way through town and out to Cataract Gorge, where a chairlift took us up high into a park, across a river and a lake.   There are a lot of walks for the adventurous, and places to stroll for the less adventurous, like me!   In the afternoon, back in Launceston we walked across  our local park, admiring the monkeys on the way, to check out the museums on the other side.   There is a car museum, which attracted Ted, but he opted not to go in as paying for me would be a waste of money (!!!).   So we went on to another museum on the other side of the river, and were absolutely blown away by it.  Quite new, I believe, and free entry!   There is a lot to see, from a huge room full of scientific toys which children (and adults like us) could play with, to an enormous railway historical museum where I could have stayed for hours, there was so much to see – even a train which you can clamber on.   The old forge is still there with all the workings from years ago.   Ted was fascinated.   Outside were more “toys” of scientific significance which you can try out.  Upstairs, whole rooms contained flora and fauna and artefacts from Tasmania’s past, and very friendly guides to tell you all about it.  I bought a stuffed Tassie Devil for Anita – it was expensive, but I felt we had received so much for free that I didn’t mind (and she loves it!)

By the time we walked home I was utterly exhausted.   We found a Chinese restaurant and took takeaway home with us – only so-so, but when you’re starving…!

We woke to rain on Friday morning (the only wet day we had in our whole trip).   Ted decided to drive north, to Bakersfield.  Not actually very far and once I had navigated our way through the city, a straight and easy road.  (In fact, we commented several times on how well kept the roads are in Tasmania – but I guess they don’t get as much traffic as Queensland.)

Bakersfield is the site of the Gold Mine which collapsed a few years ago, and two miners were trapped for over a week before being rescued.   The mine is closed now, but they have made a museum of it, complete with emotional news reels and stories.  I was crying unashamedly!   We spent some hours there, living in the past, but it was wet and cold so we finally went in search of hot coffee..

On Saturday 19th March, the sun was shining again so we headed southeast to Bicheno, a beachside town, very popular with tourists, mainly because of the fishing and lovely coastal places to see.   It was freezing cold, and windy, so we indulged in coffee before slowly heading back north along the coast, admiring the views on the way.  We finally turned left  towards Launceston along what turned out to be the twistiest road I have ever driven on – for about 100 kilometres!   I even got a bit car-sick, but the worst worry was that our petrol gauge suddenly moved from half full to nearly empty – with no habitation or petrol stations in sight!   We fortunately found a place to fill up not far out of Launceston and heaved big sighs of relief.

On Sunday 20th March we said goodbye to Launceston and drove west, to Strahan, a little place on the west coast.   On the way, we went to Cradle Mountain and took a small tourist bus up to Dove Lake.   It is a National Park (and yes, they charge you just to go in).  An amazing number of people, all kitted out for the cold were setting off on long walks.  I didn’t envy them – we contented ourselves with a short walk to the lake, and took photos.   Our bus driver gave an excellent commentary, even informing us that this particular National Park is number One in the world, even ahead of Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef..  He also supplied some interesting anecdotes on what not to do when driving on those roads, which are narrow and rough.  (People apparently don’t realise that hire cars are not insured for driving there, and some tales he told were quite scary!)   I’m glad I went there, but it was quite bleak, and I don’t think I would like to actually stay there, though they say the hotels are comfortable and well heated!

More twisty roads led us to Strahan.  In fact, Tasmania has more twists and turns in the roads than just about anywhere, and you go up and down hills all the time, getting from one place to the next around mountains and hills.   We were glad not to be pulling a caravan, and got held up behind some slow traffic occasionally, but they do provide places for vehicles to pull off the road, allowing others to pass.  I believe it can be quite chaotic in the summer peak season.

Strahan is a beautiful little place, right on the coast.   We were booked to stay at an inexpensive hotel right on the point, which we chose mainly because it is attached to a tavern with a restaurant.   We weren’t expecting the Ritz in accommodation, but it was only for one night.  Unfortunately, the manager informed us on arrival that they had been so busy she had decided to give the staff the night off and close the restaurant!  But she assured us there were other places to eat.   We had arranged to meet up with an old friend of mine, who drove from Hobart with some visitors.  So in the end, we all went to a restaurant with them which was right on the waterfront and enjoyed a lovely meal and company.

We were sorry we didn’t make arrangements to stay longer in Strahan and take the cruise which goes out every day and I’m told is very popular and worthwhile.  One of the “must do’s”.  But as it happened, one of the cruise boats was out of action, and we wouldn’t have been able to book anyway, so that is something we are sorry we missed.

Leaving Strahan on Monday 21st March, we drove to Hobart.   Everyone told us it takes a long time to get there, but we are used to Queensland distances, and it didn’t take as long as we expected.   The road, however, was just as winding and twisty – but we were getting used to it by then!   We stopped once on the way to visit a place called “The Wall”.   Definitely worth a visit, it is a strange place, set up by a man at his own expense.  He is an incredibly talented wood carver, and is gradually creating these enormous panels of the history of Tasmania.   It’s mind-blowing!   All done in Huon Pine, which costs an absolute fortune as you can only use trees already felled as they are protected.  (They call it “salvaged”).  You can’t take photos either so I was unable to take away any memories.  This is all in the middle of nowhere, but becoming very well-known.

We found our hotel in Hobart quite easily – yes, it was on the top of a hill, but very comfortable.   Again, my Navman lady didn’t know that they have changed a lot of the streets to one-way, so the poor dear got quite frustrated at my efforts to direct Ted around Hobart…!   I was nearly in tears one day when we tried to find a car park we’d been directed to!   Parking in Hobart is horrific – there is no public transport into the city so everyone drives and rush hour is a bit like a rally – with tourist buses bullying their way through the traffic to pick up and drop tourists off at various hotels.

Again in Hobart we hit the museums.   There are some very good ones there and you can spend all day if you have the stamina.   The Tasmania Museum is down at Constitution Dock, where it all seems to happen – even big cruise ships call in there now.   We visited the Maritime Museum but I have to say it – it’s not as good as the one here in Brisbane!   There are restaurants, and on Saturdays, the Salamanca Markets are very popular.   They have built a replica of Mawson’s Hut as part of the Museum, but separate from it, and we felt as if we were in Antarctica when we went in there and saw the cramped conditions they lived in.  It’s worth a visit, and there is an old man who will give you more information and tell you stories with the smallest encouragement.

We spent some time with friends while in Hobart.  It’s always good to have someone to show you around and tell you about places, and we were lucky.   Some former neighbours moved to Hobart as well, and we were invited to have lunch with them on Good Friday, which was lovely.  They live at Taroona, a charming suburb, which like most places there, has fabulous bay views around every corner.  (I guess that is one advantage to all the hills!)   We did the obligatory trip to Port Arthur one day, which we really enjoyed even though it did drizzle rain a bit and got quite cold – all adding to the atmosphere!   We were picked up at 7.30 am and driven six times around town while he picked up other tourists at various destinations, then we were transferred to a bigger bus for the trip down through Eaglehawk Neck to Port Arthur.   Our driver was very knowledgeable and told us lots of interesting facts and anecdotes on the way.   We had several hours there, and even a short boat ride around the islands.  We walked a lot, and I have to admit I was quite stiff and tired by the time we got back on the bus to come home.  But I wouldn’t have missed it!

On our last day in Tasmania, we drove ourselves out to a delightful little town called Richmond.   It is picturesque and full of history.   We saw the Richmond Bridge, constructed by convicts and still carrying traffic today.   Then we went to the old Catholic church at the top on the hill (where else?).  We wandered back through the town, stopping for a much needed lemon drink (as well as a yummy vanilla slice, which we shared).   Then we found another old prison, which has been preserved in its original state.  A really depressing place where I communed with some ghosts and Ted checked out the flogging yard!   I was glad to get out of there.   Richmond is full of tourist shops (but done tastefully).   I was tempted so many times to buy souvenirs, but those I wanted I couldn’t afford!   We even visited the Information Centre, where they have a miniature “Old Hobart Town”, set up as it was in the old days.   We wandered around it, fascinated by all the detail.   ( OK I’m a sucker, but I loved it!)

Leaving Richmond, Ted was determined to make it up to the top of Mount Wellington, the highest point in Hobart, so off we went until my trusty Navman lady ran out of road – all I got was a message saying “go to the nearest road” appearing on the map!   Not that we could have got lost, as there is only one way up – a narrow, very winding road which seems to go on for ever.   Every time we thought we were near the top, the road kept going.   I imagined a small area with perhaps a plaque – but no!   At the top was a huge car park and about a thousand tourists wandering around, (mainly Chinese it seemed) admiring the views in every direction.   There is a construction up there where you can look through glass and telescopes, out of the wind, or you can walk around pathways and pick your spot.  The worst part is that it was absolutely freezing up there!   We had decided to leave when a bus arrived, towing a large trailer full of bicycles.   Lots of gung-ho youngsters climbed out and kitted up for “the descent”…!   I said to Ted – let’s get out of here before this lot hit the road!   We were very aware of having a hire car and not wanting any scratches etc.  It was extremely steep, so I hope their brakes were good.

I was glad to be going home on Sunday, but sad as well to be leaving Hobart, which is the prettiest city I have every visited.   I could fall in love with it!  Rather quaint and hard work to walk around – but it has a laid back atmosphere and a welcoming feel.

Hobart Airport was a confusing place as we couldn’t find where to drop the car off, even venturing into a forbidden area and being smartly told to leave.   We eventually found the spot after driving around three times, and left the car with a laid back guy wearing Easter Bunny Ears (it was Easter Sunday, after all…)

(The photo is of Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain).

Sara

My Favourite Recipe for Pavlova

I know – it’s been a long time since I posted anything on my blog, for which I apologise.   Lack of time;  lack of organisation – you name it!   I wanted to post this recipe months ago, as it is easy and always popular.   The old pavlova is a great dessert for any occasion, so when some people came to lunch one day I made one (strawberries were in season and my passion fruit vine was prolifically producing beautiful passion fruit!)    It turned out to be one of the best looking ones I have ever made after I decorated it, so I thought – BLOG!   I went to find my camera to take a picture, leaving it on the bench, and when I came back it had disappeared onto the table and they were happily tucking in….

Well, a pavlova isn’t something you make every day of the week, so I had to wait until another one was on the menu, so to speak.   And here it is…

My favourite recipe for Pavlova.

(I don’t remember where I got this from but it works every time)

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4 egg whites

1 cup castor sugar

1 dessertspoon cornflour

¼ teaspoon white vinegar

300 ml thickened cream

½ teaspoon vanilla essence

1 teaspoon icing sugar mixture

1 punnet strawberries  (250g)

Passionfruit (2 – 3, depending on size)

 

Preheat oven to very slow (120˚C/100˚C fan forced).

Mark a 20 cm circle on baking paper, cover oven tray with baking paper (turned upside down so that the pen or pencil doesn’t get in the mixture).  I spray the tray with a little spray cooking oil to help it stick.  A pizza size baking tray is great.

Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form;  gradually add castor sugar, beating until dissolved after each addition (should take 6 or 7 minutes)  Gently fold in cornflour and vanilla.

Spread meringue inside circle on prepared tray.  Using palette knife or spatula, shape the sides of the meringue;  level the top.

Bake in very slow oven about 1½ hours or until dry.  Turn oven off;  leave pavlova to cool in oven with door ajar.

An hour before serving, beat cream, sugar and essence in a bowl with an electric mixer .  Spread cream over the top.  Decorate with strawberries and passionfruit.

NOTE:  This serves 4-6.   If you want a bigger pavlova, use 6 egg whites, 1½ cups sugar, 1 tablespoon cornflour and ½ teaspoon white vinegar.  (Make a slightly bigger circle on the baking paper). 300 ml cream will probably be enough with a little extra vanilla essence and icing sugar mixture).   You can add other fruit if preferred.

NOTE # 2:  In hot weather, take care that the pavlova dries out well, or it can collapse in the middle when you spread the cream.   Still tastes good, though!

Jenny’s Whale – a short story.

Ted and I took a trip to the Gold Coast this week and went whale watching on the Sea World lovely new cruise boat. We booked this about a month ago and prayed for good weather – and of course, we didn’t get it! Rain drizzled all day and it was cold – okay, I know it’s June and winter in Queensland, but up to now we’ve had lovely weather…

This is the fourth time we’ve been whale watching, once to Hervey Bay and twice previously on the Gold Coast, and we had only ever seen whales in the far distance, so forgive me if I was a bit cynical about our chances! The boat cruised slowly along the coast, with Surfers Paradise in the misty background, and suddenly there they were, two playful whales swimming alongside. They put on quite a show for us, tail slapping and breaching several times, to the excitement of everyone on board. Sadly I didn’t get any photos as the rain got heavier and I knew they wouldn’t be any good, taken through a rain streaked window!

But this reminded me that some years ago I wrote a short fictional story, based on the Hervey Bay trip and what I have been told was once experienced by someone. I hope you enjoy it. Sara

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Jenny’s Whale, by Sara Sutherland.

High above the waters of Hervey Bay, fluffy white clouds are scudding across the winter sky, blown by a stiff, cold wind. The whale cruise boat, moving steadily, dips and wallows in the turbulent swell. The sun is shining, but providing little warmth for the rugged-up tourists along the rails, many with binoculars clamped to their eyes as they search the empty sea for a sighting. They’ve been promised whales; have paid good money to see them and are determined not to miss anything.

I am standing among them, at the bow of the boat, one hand clinging to the rail and the other shading my eyes as I gaze around, but all I can see is water. I speak to no one, but around me I can hear languages from all over the world, many I don’t recognise, like a Tower of Babel. People are pushing politely, but I stand my ground. No one is getting my spot!

An elderly couple are behind me. He is looking uncomfortable and cold, huddled into a coat, his lined face pinched, but she has bright blue eyes in a face that is calm and was once beautiful. Her hat almost blows off and she laughs. Our eyes meet for a second and I move aside just a little, to allow her room at the rail. Two cheeky children push their way in rudely, yelling and laughing, completely unaware of any disapproval as they jog elbows and ruin photographs. I wonder where their parents are. No one seems to own them or care what they do.

I am conscious of a sense of unreality to find myself actually here. I’m not normally an impulsive person, but life has handed me some challenges lately, with the sad but inevitable separation from my partner, and now a diagnosis of breast cancer. I needed to run away for a while, and a whale watching trip is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I hopped in the car to drive up from Brisbane without any further thought. I feel slightly guilty now and make a mental note to ring my sister later.

There’s a ripple of excitement and I wonder if someone has seen something, but there is only the empty sea and never ending waves. Not a whale in sight. Then I see them – dolphins all around us, diving in the bow waves, watching us watching them, small, sleekly brown bodies cruising happily in their element, travelling unbelievably fast.

Immediately there is a rush of people, crowding around me, all trying to get the perfect photograph. I join them, snapping hopefully. Everyone knows that where there are dolphins, there are whales – or maybe it’s the other way around? I don’t know, but I watch these beautiful creatures avidly, and I see an enthusiastic tourist almost fall overboard with his camera, silly fool. Luckily for him, someone pulls him back.

The dolphins disappear finally, off to find another boat perhaps, and more cameras to tease. The excitement drops back as everyone becomes watchful again, and I hear murmurs of disappointment. An announcement tells us there is tea and biscuits inside, so many seek shelter out of the wind, until the next sighting. The old man takes his wife’s arm and pulls her back, although she is obviously reluctant. They disappear inside, but I remain on deck, happy to be alone.

Lunch time comes, and still no sign of whales. I’m not hungry, and as people emerge on deck again, there are some unhappy faces. I hear the captain reassuring the passengers that the whales are there, and they will try to find them, but there are no guarantees in the ocean. If we want to see wild animals up close and personal, go to the zoo, he says. These whales are wild and free and will only perform if they want to.

I close my eyes for an instant, to rest them. Staring out to sea can be tiring, and then as I open them again, I see something in the distance. I blink, trying to focus and then I hear the shout go up, and immediately there is a stampede of feet as everyone tries to get the best view and camera angle, almost squashing me into the rail. Yes, over the p.a. system comes the announcement, two whales ahead, at 10 o’clock. Everyone watches intently, and then a fin appears as if to wave at us. There is a huge collective sigh. Then another fin and, wonder of wonders, a tail rises and comes splashing down on the water. The sigh becomes a squeal of excitement as the boat slows, obeying the strict rules about not chasing whales but allowing them to approach the boats. We watch and wait and finally, the captain calls out something about a footprint. A footprint? This, apparently, is the circle of water left when a whale dives down and in the bad old days, the hunters looked for the footprint to find whales before firing off their guns and killing them.

I see what looks like a footprint and I am staring at it hopefully, and then suddenly, unexpectedly, a huge head surfaces right beside the boat, causing people to squeal and a few to jump back startled. I see an eye, and it appears to be looking right at me. I look back, fascinated, hardly aware of the bedlam all around me as people yell and cameras click and whirr. The whale takes no notice and for a frozen moment continues to stare, right into my eyes. I feel as if I can reach out and touch it, but I cannot move. Slowly the head sinks back into the sea and the big mammal moves away. I stand still, in a kind of shock. Is it trying to tell me something? Does it know what I’m feeling? An emotional tingling whispers, “something amazing has happened.”

Then the show starts, both whales breaching and slapping the water, swimming under the boat and back again. People rush from side to side as they try to follow. At one point there is a huge spurt as a whale blows water and some people scream as they get wet. It stinks, too, but no one seems to mind. The two whales swim and play around us for a long time. At last, everyone is satisfied; they’ve seen what they came to see.

We see more whales, but never that close. I regret not getting the close-up photo I could have taken, but I will take that memory of the whale’s eye, piercing my consciousness with its strength and well-being.

The boat turns for home and I go inside at last, looking for a cup of hot tea which I sip gratefully. I feel a light tap on my shoulder and turn to look into the blue eyes of the old woman.

“Are you alone”, she asks in a strong German accent. I nod and smile.

“Are you enjoying the trip?” she tries again.

“Yes, thank you. Are you?” I ask, awkwardly.

“Oh, we are loving it. The whales are so magnificent!”

I nod again. “Yes, they are.”

She looks at me with understanding, her eyes twinkling, “I can see you want to be alone. Forgive me interrupting your thoughts.”

I must appear rude, and immediately feel myself blushing, but she smiles and waves a hand dismissively. “If you would like to chat, I am here and my name is Lotte. My husband is Gert. We are about to have a cup of tea if you would like to join us, but if not, that’s okay too.” She gives a very continental shrug.

“Thank you. I am Jenny. How can I refuse such kindness?”

So I find myself enjoying the company of this very charming elderly couple for tea and chat all the way back to the harbour at Urangan. I learn quite a lot about them. They came to Australia after World War Two, settling in Brisbane. Gert is a retired architect, and Lotte an artist. They have two daughters, now grown up and married. This is their first whale watching trip. Lotte chats on gently, never asking questions, seeming to understand that I don’t want to talk about myself. We disembark in the late afternoon to loud cheers for the captain and crew from the satisfied customers.

I am strangely drawn to this lady. Standing on the dock, I surprise myself by inviting them to have a drink with me at my hotel before going our separate ways. The hotel is just nearby and has a pleasant bar. Lotte accepts immediately and Gert smiles and nods, apparently perfectly happy.

Soon we are ensconced in a quiet corner of the bar, sipping wine, while looking out at the harbour with its boats and activity. Several tour boats are returning, and there is cleaning and hosing down going on. Life happening all around.

I feel relaxed and comfortable in their company and after a little prompting, I tell them my story, about why I came to Hervey Bay to see whales and find out if they really do have mystical powers.

“And what have you discovered?” Lotte asks in her gentle way.

“That it’s true! Do you know, that whale looked right at me today. It seemed to be telling me that everything will be all right, and I should have faith…” I break off and shrug, embarrassed. “I guess I only saw what I wanted to see…”

Lotte laughs and even Gert chuckles. “That’s wonderful,” she says. “So are you glad you came?”

“Oh yes.” I realise that I am feeling almost exuberant. “Even though I have a health battle to come, I feel much more optimistic.”

“And do you think the whale is responsible for that?”

I laugh, reluctantly. “I have no idea.”

Lotte leans forward “If I give you my phone number, will you keep in touch and tell me how you are?”

I lift my glass in a toast. “I’d like that,” I say, and mean it.