The adventures of Foodhealth! A visit to a Rural and Remote Community in Far North Queensland.

There’s nothing like chasing a wild pig, two dogs, and a man wearing thongs with a machete strapped to his torso. That was just some of what I got up to in the small cattle town of Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria.

I’ve helped fussy families, people with specific dietary needs and self-confessed sugar addicts but nutrition in a town like Normanton in Queensland doesn’t come easily, and my time there was truly an eye-opening experience.

It started with a phone call. The Gulf of Carpentaria Shire Council wanted me to return their call. I had no idea where this was so I turned to trusty google to discover it was in Far North Queensland, opposite Arnhem Land if you like. Hmmm, it’s probably a wrong number. Although, they did leave a message and asked me to return the call. Upon speaking to the community development officer, they asked me to run a nutrition workshop in their community. I politely explained that I was in Sydney and I would be happy to put them in touch with someone closer to their community. But no, they didn’t want that, they would happily fund all costs involved to get me there. Well, didn’t I feel special! I was also excited, nervous and thought, ‘this is totally random’.

So, begun my adventure. I boarded a plane to Cairns and after a short stop-over, boarded a much smaller plane that flew to Normanton, Mornington Peninsula, Doomadgee, Burketown and Mount Isa. I’m so glad Normanton was the first stop. You could say I’m a nervous flyer in a plane not much bigger than an SUV. Well it felt that small, as it jumped about in the wind and twisted and turned to fly around large clouds. It didn’t help that a group of boarding school students heading back to their communities let out shrieks and nervous giggles every time the plane lurched. The smiling flight attendant opposite me told me that she enjoyed turbulence otherwise her day was a bit boring. It certainly wouldn’t have bothered me to have had a ‘boring’ flight.

On landing, a lady was standing on the tarmac as the stairs were let down. “That had some oomph” she said. I guess it was an unusually windy day, for such a proclamation.

To say it was hot is an understatement. As I hit the tarmac my rubber thongs melted and stuck. Why am I in thongs you ask? I’m a professional am I not? Well, I’m going to the outback you see, keepin’ it real, no frills, so that I fit in. I had not a scrap of make-up on (thankfully as it would have melted off at this point). My gratitude was fleeting, I entered the corrugated iron shack that was the airport and met the community development officer. I suddenly realized I was under-dressed. Cherie was a brunette beauty in business attire, heels, make-up etc. Ummm………………. I may have got the dress code wrong but there was no way I was getting back on that plane.

Cherie politely ignored this city girl’s faux pas. We got into her car, which would soon become my wheels for the weekend and we did a tour of town. Two minutes later I was at my motel. Just kidding, it took about six minutes to drive through town. There are two corner shops, three pubs, a school, a council building, a winding river full of crocodiles and houses. Yes, I was also taken with the river. I began my repertoire of questions that I’m sure every city girls asks. Will the crocodiles eat me? How big are they? Will I be able to see them? All my questions were politely answered, but the afterthought comments were what I was really looking for; ‘my dog got taken by a croc last year’, ‘it wasn’t the first, when the first dog was taken a lady filmed it on her phone from the bridge’. I needed to continue a polite repertoire because I’d just met Cherie, but it took all of me not to ask to see that video. Macabre you say? I know, I know. I didn’t ask (this time).

Besides air-conditioning, the best part about my hotel was Dolly. No, I’m not attached to my childhood cruxes. Dolly cleaned the motel in the mornings and would tell me about growing up in Normanton 50+ years ago. I loved her stories of horses, aboriginal elders and snakes. ‘There were nowhere near as many crocs back then’ she told me.

This trip wasn’t only to meet the locals (as fun as it was), I needed to do some work. My office was the community hall where we had electric frypans, a great kitchen and plenty of ingredients and recipes.

My workshop kicked off with a screening of ‘That Sugar Film’ which was a great ice-breaker and the weekend flowed smoothly. We made heaps of delicious dishes and I really loved meeting the women from the community and learning about their day-to-day challenges that Sydneysiders just don’t face. For example, to get a Coles online order delivered to Normanton it costs $70. This is one challenge when accessing fresh fruit and vegetables. The corner stores have a limited selection. There is a truck (with one really dedicated driver) that travels 3000km through the Gulf country each fortnight to arrive each Thursday with some more fruit and vegetables. The community has been cut off by floodwaters in the past and this means that supplies get brought in by helicopter. It makes my access to fresh food seem like a walk in the park, even if I lament that I live on a big hill.

The Gulf of Carpentaria is prawn country. They are large, fresh and delicious. The beer is also nice and cold. Barramundi fishing is popular and the many waterways are known for an array of seafood. Cherie kindly took me out on the Saturday night. It was in Kurumba, this town sits on the edge of the Gulf and is largely a fishing community. Unlike Normanton, which proudly claims it is a drinking community with a small fishing problem. Kurumba is ‘just up the road’ in local lingo but a 70-kilometer drive for those unacquainted. It was a beautiful drive on sunset, I saw a plethora of animals including wallabies, wild boars, goannas and too many amazing birds to list.

The workshop continued as did the delicious meals, recipe sharing/collating and good conversation. I had Barbara Brangan arrive online to deliver a mindfulness session and we incorporated light exercise with an introduction to Xtend Barre class.

Overall, it was a fantastic personal adventure and I hope the women got as much out of my workshop and recipes as I did having the opportunity to travel to such a remote and amazing place.

I was heading home for the final time on Monday around lunchtime………………. but wait, there’s more (not for the light-hearted, so if you’re a vegan animal lover please stop reading here). Cherie’s husband (Tony from Gulf of Carpentaria Hunting and Fishing Tours) was back early from a hunting trip and agreed to take me ‘piggin’.

So there really is nothing like chasing a wild pig, two dogs, and a man wearing thongs with a machete strapped to his torso. We spotted crocs and killed a pig. What a morning! We didn’t cook this pig but I did add to my repertoire by learning about the Aboriginal’s method they call ‘Kupmurray’ (similar to a Māori ‘Hungi’ method).

Then I got back on that small plane, a lack of wind and accompanying screams made for a more ‘boring’ and peaceful flight.

If you’re interested in a workshop or perhaps a workshop in the outback, please check out my Website and Facebook page for regular updates. Or, get your friends/colleagues together to create your own group and book in a workshop that suits you. Click here for more details.

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