Hunter Valley; where wine taps you on the shoulder and says g'day

"The wines that one best remembers are not necessarily the finest that one has ever tasted, and the highest quality may fail to delight so much as some far more humble beverage drunk in more favourable surroundings"  H.Warner Allen

The first European stumbled across the Hunter Valley by accident in 1797 during a search for escaped convicts, according to an 8am history lesson by the friendly guide from Boutique Tours Australia. Twenty acres of vineyards were planted by 1823, and so evolved the rolling hills and green valleys of the romantic playground region embraced by Sydneysiders and international visitors alike.

Read about my Hunter Valley adventures as the NSW blogger for

Wine tasting at Ernest Hill

Lunch at the Cellar Restaurant


Food as art; Black Star Pastry

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the orange cake topped with persian figs, pistachios and flowers at Black Star Pastry in Newtown is a case in point.
Food as art
The crowd packed in the tiny Newtown café are testament to the individuality and quality of the food.  The highlight of our visit was the lamb shank and red wine pie, comprised of  feathery pastry and tender filling which was eaten too quickly to photograph.  Black Star Pastry was established by well known Sydneysider Christopher The, and one can read about his foodie adventures and passion for pudding in his online journal.
The array of desserts is bewilderingly beautiful, and one will be excused for wanting to hold on to their cake – yet won't be able to resist eating it too.

Black Star Pastry on Urbanspoon


University revisited; The love that dare not speak it's name

“Please note; the exhibition on level 2 of the Fisher Library includes images and language which may offend some people reads the photocopied sign at the entrance to the library. 

The walls of books, faded grey carpet and bespectacled librarians hardly indicate a tendency toward risqué material, and bored looking students barely notice the sign as they check out their books.
Revisiting university life once a week as a post-grad student, my eyes are opening to a world of stimulation, interest and activity that I either took for granted or blatantly ignored as a time-rich undergrad more interested in magazines than class content.

With education repositioning itself as a privilege not a chore, I am discovering a smorgasbord of events, exhibitions and resources at my fingertips.  Accustomed to the pay-as-you-go world of corporate working life, it is like being a kid in an educational candy store (though sadly, the majority do take place during working hours and are therefore still inaccessible).

‘The love that dares not speak its name; same se*x desires in the Victorian world’ exhibition in the rare books section of Sydney Uni's Fisher Library offers a glimpse into a bawdy past through the lense of literature.
With original, aging books on display for perusal, one is invited to experience a topical modern genre which has actually been under scrutiny in various guises for centuries.  The title phrase was aptly adopted from the 1984 Lord Alfred Douglas poem ‘Two Loves’, and also featured in Oscar Wilde’s gross indecency trail.
Book such as The Well of Loneliness (1928), Dos Sexuallenben der Afrikaner (1908) and a French history of Prostitution (1881) delve into the detail through illustrations, text and research.  The exhibition is complete with a surprisingly lurid reconstruction of a 19th Century peep show.
Despite the shock value, the library is hushed and the exhibition ignored as students tap away at laptops, slip out for coffees and seem oblivious to the original 1911 Henry Lawson manuscripts clamouring silently for attention. Open to the general public, grab your slouchiest jumper and slope back into student mode – you might actually appreciate it this time around.

The Fisher Library is part of the University of Sydney.  Details of 2011 exhibitions can be found here

'Above Earth Below Sea'; A hipsterific gallery launch

‘Are you free next Wednesday night? There’s a cool hipster gallery opening in Rozelle…’ read the friendly SMS.

Immersed in the preppy lifestyle of the corporate mainstream, the obscure ‘hipster’ world continues to mystify despite my devoted endeavours to break free from the confined structure of ‘after five’ (or closer to seven).   In true un-hipster style, I turned to the dictionary (of the urban variety) to get a sense of what I was missing out on.

"...Hipsters are a subculture that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock. Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often be seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses. Both hipster men and women sport similar androgynous hair styles that include combinations of messy shag cuts and asymmetric side-swept bangs. Such styles are often associated with the work of creative stylists at urban salons, and are usually too "edgy" for the culturally-sheltered mainstream consumer..." 
The Urban Dictionary

Counter-culture or not, the launch of ‘Above Earth Below Sea’ at Paper Plane Gallery was an impressively original showcase of ‘contemporary jewellery and objects’ by Australian and Japanese artists.

The eclectic crowd was treated to an eerily mesmerizing performance by Japanese singer TeN, whose music was an enchanting combination of live singing, poetry and ipod-directed echoes.  Australians Kate Brown and Sandra LaRocca also performed a number of their own songs, an earthy contrast to TeN’s elegant recital.

Singer TeN
 The art – or ‘objects’ – represented an exploration of jewellery as functional art, embracing unconventional materials not often considered for their decorative value such as plastic bags, interactive screens and disposable beverage bottles.  The artists write on their blog that the notion of value in jewellery is shifting towards a story being told by the maker, and not just the market value of the material.

Flowers made from disposable beverage bottles
Connecting to nature - taking time to smell the roses
The central theme evident among the diverse range of artworks was an expression of how the artists connected to nature.  While the exhibition was conceived and planned before the Japanese natural disasters, there was an emphasis on compassion for those in the affected areas.  Funds were raised for the Red Cross throughout the night.

At risk of being labelled ‘a culturally sheltered mainstream consumer’ by the shaggy haired hipster crowd, the Paper Plane gallery will appeal to all who have an interest in art, nature and the philosophical connection between the two.  Which raises the equally philosophical conundrum; when the ‘counter culture’ is embraced by the mainstream, is it still hipsterific?

Hipsterific or mainstream?
Paper Plane Gallery
727 Darling St

Exhibition continues to August 15th. Thu-Fri 12-6pm; Sat-Sun 11-4pm 

Part of Sydney Design 2011, presented by the Powerhouse Museum 


Drake the Amazing + La Dispute; Darlinghurst Theatre Co

'It is my duty to entertain you'
‘It is my duty to entertain you’ Andrew Johnston solemnly announces, the velvet red curtains framing the stage as he looks forlornly at the audience.  Playing the role of Astor, Johnston opens the first short play featured within a double bill by playwright Andy Hyman.

Drake the Amazing, the dramatic journey of a dramatic monologuist is an engaging, witty and fun enactment of a travelling vaudeville theatre in 1917.  The black and white backdrop sets the scene for the stereotypical comedic characters of the early 1900s.

Spiced with romantic tension, pathos and sharply delivered dialogue, Drake the Amazing is pure fun and entertainment that leaves the audience smiling.  Kate Skinner stands out as the spicy Claudette, the driver of Alden Drake’s quest to challenge the audience and get the girl.  The banter between Drake (Scott Sheridan) and Astor is joyful to watch, and the half-deaf Neilson (Nicholas Papademetriou) has the audience laughing out loud.
Actress Kate Skinner (centre) and friends
La Dispute, the second half of the double bill, has a quirkier, more absurd take on reality.  Raising complex questions about the inherent inclination of the sexes towards fidelity – or lack thereof – it plays out the results of a strange human experiment that provides compelling entertainment. Despite being reasonably well executed and fast-paced, the play was a strange choice to follow the humorous theatrics of Drake the Amazing.

Billed as uproarious comedy, it was amusing and interesting but didn’t go far enough in either direction to be thought provoking or hilarious.  The assumptions of the gender based stereotypes based on the experiment were slightly jarring and lacked depth – with women proving to be bitchy and men ‘matey’.  The script didn’t do justice to the cast full of talented actors, who didn’t seem to be stretched as those in the first bill.

Small and local, the Darlinghurst Theatre Co. has staged over 120 shows since 2001 and prides itself on encouraging people to discover the power of live theatre and its possibilities.  Despite missing some elements in La Dispute, the double bill delivers enjoyable and intimate entertainment that succeeds in taking the audience on a fun journey of discovery.

Sal Giblin and Scott Thomas...'loved both shows'

Drake the Amazing + La Dispute is showing at Darlinghurst Theatre Company until 14 August 2011.

Darlinghurst Theatre Company
19 Greenknowe Avenue
Potts Point 2011
Tickets were provided to Lifeafterfive by OurDeal, who featured an offer for two tickets for $39.