Discovering Australia's hidden gems

The Black Sheep of the Gold Coast

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[Warning: Content contains multiple cheesy puns]

Many woolly puns accompany fine food and delightful views at The Black Sheep Espresso Baa on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

After a short consultation with Google regarding the best local cafes, The Black Sheep came highly recommended. Sheepishly I followed their advice, and was not disappointed. Renowned for exceptional coffee and quality food, I experienced both.

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This small, hole in the wall establishment is set in a classic Gold Coast shopping strip, with a high-rise backdrop that instantly ceases to exist when you sit down and become mesmerised by the sight in front of you.

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A smooth, shimmering blanket of blue stretches endlessly towards the horizon, hiding an unseen marine world that flanks Coolangatta’s busy Marine Parade.

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I’m here early and already patrons are jostling for one of the few tables. Four in total outside, and two of them ‘high-seaters’ which are difficult to eat at.  A small compromise that needs to be made for all the benefits of which I’m about to enlighten you!

[photo credit Black Sheep Espresso Baa]

      [photo credit Black Sheep Espresso Baa]

Ok, so the coffee is seriously good! Being a Byron Bay local I am very fortunate to have access to some excellent coffee; and I’m happy to say that The Black Sheep is up there with the best of them. They offer small, sheep, or ram size cups, but I found the sheep left me wanting more and I would RAMp it up next time. 😉

This little black sheep is not mindlessly following the herd when it comes to café cuisine. Their menu serves up a dose of humour along with a great range of interesting items. You’ll find quirky dish descriptions with a personalised touch. They have deliciously tweaked the ‘favourites’ and added their own unique dishes. Fast and friendly service are the final ingredients to place this café ahead of the pack.

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I chose the Spawn of Fungi, a creamy mushroom ragout topped with three arancini balls and one perfectly poached egg. The serving size was small but fresh, super tasty, and overall creamy-licious! And to my shear delight, it didn’t come served on a breadboard!!

[#byronhipster#overit]

Menu items range from $6.50 to $18.50 and cater to lamb, sheep, or ram sized appetites.

The hypnotising ocean view makes it tempting for an extended hangout, but the shortage of tables and high volume of patrons guilts me into vacating my prime piece of real estate prematurely.

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  [Not actual view from café]

Open from 5am, this place is perfect for the early morning fitness folk to grab a caffeine to go after they walk, jog, cycle, pram, or swim in nature’s playground just across the road.

I did see a couple of diners set up with their laptops and think that it would make the ideal outdoor office!

[Not actual view]

  [Not actual view]

But for now I bid adieu to the endless blue; already planning my return visit where I intend to sample their fancy fruit toast. Promises of grilled peaches, ricotta cheese and roasted nuts have been made. Sounds be-EWE-tiful!

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                              [photo credit Black Sheep Espresso Baa]

The Black Sheep Espresso Bar is located at 80 Marine Parade, Coolongatta, QLD.

Opening Hours: 5:00AM – 3:00PM

Call (07) 5536 9947

© November 2016.

 

Yum Cha Conversion at Orient Express Eatery

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I admit it, I used to be anti yum cha. I could not understand other’s cultish devotion to the phenomenon. Being presented with an array of unidentifiable morsels and having to make an instant choice, without knowing what you’ve just committed to eating, never appealed to me.

Not that I’m a fussy eater, just the opposite. But I do enjoy deliberating over a menu for a while to weigh up my options.

The other problem was the propensity to unwittingly rack up the dollars whilst gleefully stacking up the plates.

But all this now has changed – I’ve found yum cha heaven!

The Orient Express Eatery in Byron Bay does yum cha like no other. There’s no wandering cart of interesting but unknown foodstuffs; instead you have a detailed menu, with every dish the same very reasonable price.

Most of the serving sizes are larger than average. Depending on which items you choose, four dishes between two people usually results in a doggy bag, which­­­ they are always happy to provide. This means you can have your fill of yum cha for less than $16 per head. The value for money is extraordinary.

And so is the service. I’m now a regular patron and without fail the service is outstanding. Attentive, prompt, efficient and friendly. Special touches like the complimentary fermented vegetables to start are also a winner.

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Complimentary fermented vegetables

Favourite dishes include: egg crepe parcel of fried rice (gargantuan proportion), vegetarian spring rolls, crispy shrimp­ pancake, steamed rice noodles with Sichuan spiced pork mince sauce, and the delicious sesame and honey glazed stuffed crumbed prawns. And the feast would not be complete without a delightful pot of Buddha’s Tears, one of the many exotic teas on the menu.

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Rice noodles with spicy Sichuan pork mince sauce

honey crumb prawns

Sesame and honey glazed stuffed crumbed prawns

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Egg crepe parcel of fried rice

The décor is divine. If dining inside you may find yourself ensconced in sheer, red organza curtains, surrounded by ornate oriental ornaments bathed in a soft glow. Alfresco dining is also available, with heaters provided during winter.

 

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No matter what time of year, you can walk through the doors of Orient Express Eatery and be transported to an exotic culinary yum cha experience for less than the price of a burger and fries.

The Orient Express Eatery is open 7 nights 5.30pm–9.30pm and provides the yum cha experience Fri-Sun 12.00pm – 5.00pm.

You’ll find them at 1/2 Fletcher St, Byron Bay

 For bookings/enquiries:(02) 6680 8808

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Ballina Gallery Café – Local Art and Food with Heart.

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A  Sunday morning social gathering in the Northern Rivers: meeting new friends, admiring local art, and discovering the culinary and aesthetic delights of the Ballina Gallery Café!

This delightful Café and Art Gallery form part of a heritage listed building which was constructed during the 1920’s in the Northern Rivers coastal town of Ballina. The large, high ceiling rooms adapt perfectly for a gallery, and provide an open, spacious feeling inside the café, with an abundance of natural light streaming in from the open-air verandah.

The weather decided to bestow ‘liquid sunshine’ on us this morning, so we chose the roomy indoor table for our group. Despite the intermittent deluges, the alfresco verandah dining was still a popular option and every table was full.

Our young waiter made an especially strong impression on me with his friendly, cheerful manner, and I found the overall service to be extremely attentive and efficient. We felt very ‘looked after’ even though the café was extremely busy, and appreciated the service with a smile!

I was also impressed with my coffee. In a region renowned for its high quality coffees, this one was definitely up there.

The menu is seasonal and varies according to the freshest produce available. It was extensive and a pleasure to peruse; making the ‘task’ of choosing from many tempting dishes a joyful, albeit difficult activity.

After much delightful deliberation I decided on the grilled sweet potato and pumpkin in herbed hash cakes with red quinoa, avocado, fetta and grilled zucchini salad with two poached eggs. I was not disappointed.

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Other dishes that adorned our table included buckwheat pancakes with baked maple pears, fresh ricotta and hazelnut praline; and roasted button mushrooms with garlic and herbs, roasted cherry tomatoes, goat’s cheese and roasted almonds on toasted sourdough. We were all thoroughly impressed.

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In the relaxed and casual atmosphere we felt comfortable to linger longer, and enjoyed a second round of coffees while we got to know each other better.

Still not ready to leave, we leisurely wandered through the art gallery and marvelled at the creative genius of several local artists. The exhibitions change regularly and usually run for one month.

We enjoyed our morning so much that we decided to regather for the next exhibition. And combine it with a meal from the fabulous café of course!

The café is open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Sunday from 730am.

46 Cherry Street Ballina

Phone: (02) 6681 3888

www.ballinagallerycafe.com.au

 

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The Best Exotic Indian in Billinudgel!

If you build it they will come. And come they do, to Billinudgel for a delightful Indian taste sensation.

The sign at the door of Billi’s Indian urges patrons to “please book in advance”, and I can see why.

Word of mouth by raving fans has built a large, loyal customer base since the restaurant moved into town just three years ago.

And the reputation is well deserved.

The place was buzzing with a pleasant, upbeat vibe, even though I dined mid-week.

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Happy, hungry locals filled a cosy indoor space with a fireplace, and the heated outdoor deck was taken over by a large party.

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It was a full house, but staff were friendly and the service prompt. They were also doing a brisk take-away business.

Billi’s is easy on the wallet. The menu boasts a tempting selection of value for money curries: vegetable $12.90, chicken/lamb/beef $13.90, and seafood $17.00. A good excuse to try an extra dish or two.

All meals are freshly cooked, with vegan and gluten free options available.

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My food arrived hot and steaming in authentic Indian karahi bowls. Sweet, fluffy coconut rice and a decorative basket filled with mushroom and garlic naan were delightfully different accompaniments to the meal.

The highlight of the night however was my mango chicken. The first mouthful gave me an unexpected jolt of joy. As succulent as a juicy, ripe mango, it invoked feelings of summery freshness and childlike fun. Its luscious sweet creaminess almost qualifying it as a dessert item.

Billi’s website has an easy ordering system for takeaway, and they offer home delivery to Billinudgel, Brunswick Heads, and Ocean Shores; an alluring option for a relaxing night in PJs, with a DVD and some great Indian food.

So, the secret’s out! Billi’s Indian is a hidden gem that northern residents have been keeping to themselves. Now it’s time to discover that a quick trip up the freeway leads to a deliciously inexpensive night out. But don’t forget to book!

Open Tues – Sunday, 5pm-9pm

8 Wilfred St. Billinudgel

www.billisindian.com.au

(02) 6680 3352

(c) copyright 2015

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Fishmongers Byron Bay

The Most Easterly Chip in the Nation.

I am a chip connoisseur.

My partner and I travelled the entire East Coast of Australia in search of the perfect chip. We found it in Byron Bay. We moved here.

Located in Bay Lane, Byron’s favourite eat street, you’ll find Fishmongers, home of the East Coast’s best chip.

Mongers, as it is affectionately known, is a gourmet style fish and chippery which offers a wide range of seafood meals for dine in or takeaway.

So what makes their chips a cut above the rest, so to speak?

Hand-cut is non-negotiable of course, and the ratio of crispiness to fluffiness is also important. Mongers nail it.

They are golden brown in colour and some days a little darker and sweeter depending on the sugar content of the spud. It’s my opinion that generally not enough consideration is given to the humble chip. But if you’re particular about your potato, then Mongers is the place for you.

And for those whose focus is more on the fish in the fish ‘n chips, you won’t be disappointed either. You’ll receive a generous portion, cooked perfectly, and lightly seasoned with herbs and spices; or tempura battered if preferred. A standard fish and chip meal also comes with homemade tartare sauce.

The crowning glory is a smattering of bright orange, crispy sweet potato shavings, making this a visual and gustatory delight!

Despite the enticing array on the menu, I find it hard to go past my favourite – grilled fish and chips, with a side of char-grilled corn on special occasions. Other meal options include BBQ baby octopus, prawns, succulent calamari, and a specials board with exotic temptations such as snapper with coconut, chili, and lime marinade, or barramundi with cashew and almond crust. Meals come with a choice of homemade chips, salad, rice, or tempura veggies.

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Mongers also have outlets in Manly and Bondi, but let’s face it – it doesn’t get better than Byron!

So relax and dine in at the friendly Bay Lane restaurant, or take your treats down for a grassy beachfront picnic; feel the breeze in your hair, and take in the ocean vista while you enjoy the most delicious, and the most easterly, chips in the nation!  

Fishmongers are open from 12noon 7 days a week. BYO.

Bay Lane (behind the Beach Hotel) Byron Bay. Phone: 02 6680 8080

Visit website for more details: www.byron.mongers.com.au

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Cultivating World Peace at Crystal Castle

“In the garden of my heart the flowers of peace bloom beautifully.”

These are the take home words I am left with as I end my Peace Experience at Crystal Castle.

This beautiful prayer, recorded by beloved Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, flows through the small gathering on the hillside surrounding the Peace Stupa, and then drifts off into the wider world; floating on the breeze, gently nudged by the flickering, colourful prayer flags.

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Serenity fills the air and the small group are slow to disperse, reluctant to leave this space of beauty and peace.

World peace begins with inner peace, and at Crystal Castle you can create both.

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Perched atop the hills of Mullumbimby in the hinterland of Byron Bay, Australia, lies a tourist attraction with a difference.

The Crystal Castle has been established for over 25 years. Initially operating as a crystal business, it has expanded over the years to include the magnificent Shambala Gardens, meditative Labyrinth, children’s playground, Buddha Walk, Café, and the most recent edition – the Kalachakra Stupa for World Peace.

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A joint project with the Gyota Monks of Tibet, the Peace Stupa was officially opened in 2012. This sacred structure is one of only seven in the world, and the first in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Kalachakra means ‘Wheel of Time’ and is the stupa dedicated to World Peace. It is specifically designed to restore harmony and balance to our planet in this time of war, conflict, and environmental devastation.

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Each brass prayer wheel bordering the stupa contains 130,000 prayers citing the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, which means ‘may peace prevail’. In Tibetan culture it is believed that upon spinning the prayer wheel, hundreds of thousands of peace blessings will be released into the universe for the benefit of all.

The Crystal Castle offers a variety of workshops and activities which are free of charge once inside the grounds. Daily activities and weekend workshops are held in the Peace Room, which incorporate mind, body, and spirit to enhance your health and well-being.

Everyday at 3.10pm they offer the Peace Experience. This is a one hour activity that culminates in circumambulation of the World Peace Stupa.

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A popular event, I find a space between fellow peace enthusiasts to lay my mat and embark on my inner journey. We begin with a few warm up exercises to bring us into our bodies before lying in savasana, the classic yogic relaxation pose. Our wonderful guide with the voice of an angel and a face to match, leads us through a short yoga nidra, progressively relaxing all the muscles in the body from toe to top.

I melt further into the floor as each part of my body releases its tension. My breath becomes long, slow and very subtle. A small piece of clear quartz crystal is placed into the upturned palm of my hand.  A crystal of transference and manifestation, we are invited to set an intention and send it to our crystal. We visualise the crystal transferring and amplifying the energy of our desires out into the universe for their creation. The crystal has properties to maintain memory, so the intention we embed today will remain for us to connect with at a future date.

Once we are in a deeply relaxed but highly aware state, (those of us who aren’t snoring), our angel begins to play her Tibetan Singing Bowls, bathing us in a sea of sound that penetrates our deepest layers. The powerful vibrations create an even deeper relaxation as they connect at a cellular level. It’s thought that certain frequencies can create balance between left/right brain synchronisation. It is also believed that our internal energy chakras each vibrate at a certain frequency, and that sound healing can be used to re-align the chakras by connecting to those frequencies.

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The sound bath lasts for around twenty minutes. We are asked to remain internal and avoid eye contact with others as we pack away our mats and head into the courtyard for the next part of our experience. Here we form a circle around the Fountain of Peace which has a magnificent centrepiece of rose quartz polished into a perfect sphere. A 310 kilogram semi-precious stone rotating in 0.3 millimetres of water. It is described as the “spinning heart of Crystal Castle” and embodies the qualities of love and compassion.

We imagine that this smooth, pink, glistening sphere rotating before us is planet Earth, and we send her loving, healing energy. We then follow our guide down to the Kalachakra World Peace Stupa where she provides some background information on the construction and significance of this very auspicious monument. For a detailed description of the stupa’s creation visit the Crystal Castle website: http://www.crystalcastle.com.au/peace-stupa/

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We are now ready to embark on the Kora Walk; the tradition being to circumambulate the stupa three times in a clockwise direction, whilst spinning each prayer wheel and chanting the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. As mentioned earlier, the spinning of the wheels releases hundreds of thousands of prayers into the universe to bring peace to all those who inhabit it.

I find this a beautiful and moving experience. The slow progression of peaceful souls, dutifully spinning the wheels on their circuit. Most chanting on the inside I am assuming. I prefer to softly chant out loud, and connect with the vibrational frequency of the other few voices.

After the third round we find a spot on the green hillside. I scan for a patch of fading afternoon sunshine and sit meditatively as the recorded prayers of Thich Nhat Hanh ring out across the open, lush, crystal dotted landscape.

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The majestic blue and gold stupa looms before me, and the haunting music and beautiful words bring me to tears. I am filled with a deep sense of love, compassion and profound inner peace.

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I reluctantly leave this place of serene beauty and float out through the exit gate. Unlike leaving a yoga class, where the shine of my newly acquired state of bliss is abruptly rubbed off as I’m thrust back into the ‘real world – hustling traffic and city streets; I today find myself descending the mountain, retaining my state of Zen as I slowly wind through the green, rolling hills and wide stretches of open valley; back into the quaint little village of Mullumbimby.

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Once again I am reminded of what a unique and sublime part of the world this is, and I am filled with gratitude to be here.

The wars haven’t suddenly stopped, and our planet is still being decimated, but that is not in my heart in this present moment.

So what can we do to bring more peace to the world?

Our circumstances, abilities, and opportunities will make that completely individual, but if our actions come from peaceful minds and loving hearts, then that universal energy will gather momentum and eventually become the dominating force.

World peace starts from within –  things are underway … 🙂

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    Om Mani Padme Hum – May Peace Prevail on Earth.

 

© Copyright September 2014

 

 

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High art and scones in the Tweed Valley

Margaret Olley, one of Australia’s most prestigious artists, has had her life and work commemorated through the re-creation of her Paddington terrace house at the Tweed Regional Art Gallery.

The Margaret Olley Art Centre (MOAC) is the latest addition to the gallery, who were gifted $1 million by the late artist’s trust estate, with additional funding received from the federal, state, and local governments, as well as independent organisations.

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This delightful gallery is available free to the public and showcases a range of exhibitions from local artists, HSC students (Art Express), travelling exhibitions, and a permanent collection.

A private collection of Margaret Olley’s paintings are currently on display until 14th September 2014, while the re-creation of the artist’s home studio will be a permanent exhibition.

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Margaret loved to collect items for her still life paintings and leave them in her home permanently. The rooms on display are filled with over 20,000 items that Olley collected over the years for use as subject matter and which still remain today.

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She had a long and successful career painting still life and interiors, and continued to paint up until the day she died, passing away at the age of 88 at her home-studio on 26th July 2011.

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[Self portrait]

Her life philosophies were reflected in her art, which has been described as   “…celebrating the familiar and the domestic, telling us that simple is better than complicated, that quiet is better than noisy, that what is close at hand is better than that which has to be sought.” [Phillip Bacon, 2011]

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The gallery itself is an artistic masterpiece. Designed by Brisbane architect Bud Brannigan, it was officially opened in the picturesque Tweed Valley in 2004.

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Brannigan used clever techniques to maximise the scenic location without distracting from the artistic beauty inside.

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There are many floor to ceiling windows which give glimpses of rolling hills and valleys dotted with contented grazing cows.

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The outdoor café boasts panoramic views of the magical hills of Murwillumbah, located in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia.

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And if you like your caffeine with a view, you won’t be disappointed here.

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The building also provides outstanding views of Mount Warning, an iconic landmark in this area and a place of cultural and spiritual significance for the Bundjalung Aboriginal people.

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This gallery also boosts the most artistic car park I have ever seen!

Viewing exquisite art can be hard work, so we decided to take a lunch break and finish off the gallery in the afternoon. With Mount Warning literally in our sights, we headed on down to a favourite hidden gem of ours – Mavis’s Kitchen.

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Mavis’s Kitchen is a quaint restaurant/guesthouse nestled at the base of mystical Mount Warning.

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Mount Warning is also traditionally known as Wollumbin, which means ‘cloud catcher’. Here we see it living up to its name! On a clear day, the summit has stunning panoramic views over the entire Tweed valley.

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Wollumbin is the central vent, and all that remains of an extinct volcano.  Its proximity to Byron Bay, the most easterly point in Australia, means that it is the first place to catch the morning sun’s rays on the Australian mainland.  Watching the dawn rise from the summit is a popular tourist attraction, however some may choose to honour the cultural traditions of the Bundjalung people who request that the mountain not be climbed.

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These delightful gardens made a perfect setting for lunch and we choose a table set amongst the citrus orchards.

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This restaurant also has its own on-site organic garden where a large portion of the produce for the meals is sourced. 

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The food and the views were so good that lunch extended to afternoon tea, and I found myself having my second batch of scones for the day! Well, I had to compare and contrast with the Tweed Gallery scones … Mavis wins hands down, it was like eating fluffy white clouds. 🙂

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Back to the gallery for round two, and a more thorough inspection of Margaret Olley’s re-created home studio. This morning we did a one hour tour of the entire gallery which was outstanding. You never know what you’re going to get with volunteer tour guides, but our guide today was exceptional and provided a very informative, interesting, and thorough tour.

This afternoon’s return visit proved to be a lot less busy, giving more opportunity to explore the works at our own pace. Several local artists had their work for sale and it was encouraging to see that many of the pieces had already been sold.

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Looking at the Olley rooms was like taking a peek into the life of the artist; the replication felt very realistic, and combined with the background knowledge given to us by the tour guide, I felt I could get a sense of who Margaret Olley was, and how she must have felt living and working in this space.

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It felt voyeuristic peering through the windows into the cluttered, organised chaos that was Margaret Olley’s domain.

A residence where celebrities, artists, socialites, and heads of state gathered to dine and be uplifted by their gregarious host.

And a home that cradled her to her grave, after birthing magnificent works of art which will continue to be enjoyed by present and future generations for years to come.

© July 2014