Energy price bites

Anyone else notice electricity costs went up? We’ve just paid our three months of power consumption in Longreach to Ergon Energy and the bill was $1096.37. Our previous three-months’ bill (August-October) was $512.56. So … more than double.

The difference was air-conditioning, of course. As the weather heated up approaching and during Christmas and New Year, our air-conditioner use increased. Probably doubled, by the looks of it.

Here’s how Ergon charges people in the hot droughted Central Western region for power … take a look at Pages 15-17 (Section 5) … it makes interesting reading.

It’s based on the cost of supply and other considerations, especially in the Mt Isa region … basically electricity supply costs along the coast from Cairns to the Darling Downs “have a relatively low distribution cost to supply”, while anywhere else (except the Mt Isa region) “have a significantly higher distribution cost of supply than the East Zone”.

So if you live anywhere else than east of the Great Dividing Range, or in the Mt Isa region, expect to be slugged big time for your “lifestyle decision”. Hmmm, do we get a reduction in tax rates for the same “lifestyle decision” which results in lower service levels in everything else, including power reliability? Not likely! Let me know what you think …

Into the known-unknown …

Telstra

We have entrusted all our personal and business communication needs into the hands of Australia’s largest telecommunications provider and this is today’s encouraging message. Wish us luck and we hope to see you “on the other side”.

In the swim for Summer …

Coola Cozzies

Our friend and former Small Business Management student (now graduate!) grazier Julie Brown of Ilfracombe, has launched her new business (above) just in time for Christmas.

Coola Cozzies is Julie’s way of earning valuable off-farm income during the drought but this is no charity … have a look at these wow designs (all created by Julie).

Julie describes them as “Cool, colourful, comfortable women’s and men’s board shorts and UPF50+ rashies, swim shirts and sun shirts.”

Cunningly, Julie has also catered for people at my end of the market (generously composed) and sells men’s and women’s board shorts, men’s and women’s UPF50+ short-sleeve and long-sleeve rashies, and women’s swim tops in sizes to fit women’s sizes 10 to 24 and men’s sizes L to 4XL.

Coola pics 1

Coola pics 2

Do you believe in success?

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Last Saturday we travelled 90 minutes south of Longreach to the little town of Stonehenge and cooked a few steaks and snags for the local Christmas Party on behalf of the Rotary Club. Desolate country at the moment but full of warm-hearted real Aussie people, kids and their parents. And out of this country has emerged our new hot Strictly Literary seller, Do You Believe in Dragons? by grazier Paul Currin. Paul and Julia Creek illustrator Maree Power have created a new world for young teens where horses, motorbikes, dogs, feral pigs and (well, there had to be …) dragons rule.

It’s a tale of fantasy based on the Currins’ real-life sheep property near Stonehenge. In the book, kids Ted and his younger brother Bill, along with their best friends Doug and Sarah, are on their school holidays enjoying everyday rural activities, including riding horses, motorbikes, going fishing and chasing feral pigs. Their holiday takes a strange turn when Sarah — the eldest, and only girl of the group — has an unlikely encounter with a magical dragon, which can’t be seen by anyone who doesn’t believe he is real. Excitement ensues, as one by one, the family members come to realise the existence of dragons. This awareness becomes increasingly important when a life-threatening situation unfolds involving the Ted and Bill’s father and a pack of dingoes.

Do You Believe in Dragons? is fine new Australian Outback fiction, professionally edited and produced at Strictly Literary and available for under $20 in paperback, or instantly for ePub, Kindle and for Android on Google Play. Perfect for the young jillaroo or jackaroo for Christmas!

Score for Drought Central

LG mainWho would have thought that we could buy a major consumer durable item like a washing machine cheaper from a Longreach shop in drought-stricken Western Queensland than from a bigger town or a major capital city? But today we proved it and here’s how it went.

We needed a new front-loading washing machine because our old one (at least 10 years old) was showing strong and certain signs of conking out. As managing director Pip had pointed out during the old machine’s descent, the washing machine ranks alongside the oven and cooktop as the most important appliances in the modern home.

So up the main street of Longreach we went to Leading Appliances and they had two on offer: a Simpson and an LG. After dutifully inspecting the merchandise and the product guides, and quizzing the staff, we chose the LG and arranged delivery for this afternoon (it would be about 500 metres’ drive in their little truck). Total price: $799 + $20 delivery = $819.

Now, because I run this shopping blog, I couldn’t resist the urge to test the market and see how much more or less we might have paid shopping either online or in Brisbane. So here are the results, based on identical products, real-time online shopping and delivery prices tested today:

LG offered the machine we bought, the WD12021D6, on their website for $969, not including delivery. That was a pretty clear result.

Harvey Norman, $749 + $199 delivery (nearest shop is in Emerald, four hours east) = $948.

Good Guys, $698 + $550 delivery (looks like the nearest location is in Rockhampton, eight hours east) = $1,248

BiRite (nearest shop is in Blackall, two hours south-east), $798 + $49 delivery = $847.

So there you go, little old Longreach and Leading Appliances … score for you today! Now if only they sold wine? :-(

Hay stories on the Day of the Cup

ON THIS Day of the Ponies (Melbourne Cup Day if you’re outside Australia!) here’s a yarn about mountains of hay.

One is moving east to west from the coast of Queensland, and another is about to start moving south to north from New South Wales, and both have as their targets the drought areas of Longreach and Aramac in the parched north-west.

The first, a mountain of freshly-mown north Queensland hay, is slowly making its way like a tide, from the wet tropics of the Pioneer Valley west to our drought-stricken savannahs.

In less than a year, 800kg bale after 800kg bale of pasture grasses from cattle properties along the Great Dividing Range have been cut, trussed and loaded on semi-trailers.

The latest count is 3250 bales, roughly 2.6 million kg or 2600 tonnes of cattle and sheep fodder.

Think of a mountain of hay like a pyramid 20 metres wide, 20 metres long and 150 metres high into the clear, blue Outback skies … that’s how much hay has been shipped so far, and there’s more on the way.

And at $50 a bale (before shipping) that’s a donation of over $160,000 from coastal farmers to Outback graziers.

The jaw-dropping beauty of this exercise is that the farmers in the east are the same ones struck by Cyclone Marcia around Rockhampton earlier this year, Cyclone Yazi in 2011 and Cyclone Larry in 2005.

“I guess they know a disaster when they see one,” said Longreach Rotary President and agricultural scientist, Dr David Phelps.

“Our friends in the Pioneer Valley Rotary Club came out west early last year and after one visit they decided to organise the great grass giveaway,” said Dr Phelps.

“Our local Rotary Club organises the transport and the State Government rebates the freight, freeing up Rotary funds to be redirected into other charitable uses-like helping school kids travel for sport, Scouts and dance, or for giving farming families Christmas hams and hot-cross buns at Easter”.

Dr Phelps, a friend of mine who is also known as “Dr Mitchell Grass” for his work researching how to improve the native grass pastures of western Queensland, calculates the 150 metre high grass pyramid as providing the same amount of feed for cattle and sheep as about 5,000 hectares in a good Longreach season.

“It amazing to think that 5-50ha paddocks up around Mackay are providing the same amount of feed as 5,000 ha out west — it’s enough to feed one property’s worth of cattle for a season!”

“It is being spread pretty thinly across the whole district, so it’s not perfect, but when we have what we call Hay Days at strategic points in the district everyone gets something and something is definitely better than nothing!”

The second mountain of hay, according to our friend and Aramac grazier Jenny Todd, is a result of the hard work of the NSW Burrumbuttock Hay Runners and looks like setting a world record with more than 100 trucks loaded with the stuff. It’s backed by Rotary too (disclaimer: Pip and I are both members too).

Look out if you’re on the road … Jenny says the Hay Runners are coming soon.

Start up the MP3

Moski JoTell me you like Mumford & Sons, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and John Lennon’s Imagine and I’ll tell you to listen to new Brisbane start-up Moski Jo’s new album, which I purchased tonight on Bandcamp for a little over A$21.

Critically reviewed on Triple J as “one of the strangest music videos you’ll see”, it’s a refreshing dip into music history.

At 9:18pm last night they posted on FaceBook: “The Moski Jo Album. Out Now. We are goin’ travelling for a little while. Tomorrow Jaymee and Mikky head to Laos, Aleks soon to Denmark and Dave and Marc who knows where, strange, inspiring times.”

Main driver Michael Josephson (Mikky) thanks drummer/partner Jaymee and his Mum and sisters Sally and Alice, “and all my family and friends who have supported me”, including his Dad, our mate David who passed away: “And thank you Dad. I love you and miss you. This album is dedicated to you and I will make you proud in my life.” Together they hiked the Himalayas, now that’s a dad-son thing!

Jaymee is excellent on the drum kit, driving the songs through the night.

And just for the Old Dads …

Here’s a taste of Shopping News: global launch tomorrow at the Merino Markets, Longreach

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The 13th century Basilica of St-Urbain, opposite the Restaurant de l’Etoile in Troyes

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M. Mignot, notre boucher aux les halles de Troyes

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At les halles, Troyes

In my new book Shopping News I visit les halles (markets) in the small city of Troyes (pronounced Trois) east of Paris and discover its range of meat, fruit and vegetables, seafood, cheese, wine and bread, as well as knick-knacks galore. My friends, guides and translators Matthieu Lardeau PhD and his wife Hind El Feghaly, introduce me to the butchers, the fish mongers, the bakers and the vegetable sellers they know from their weekly shopping trips. They tell me about a regional delicacy invented right there centuries ago. It’s a sausage called andouillette made from pigs’ intestines, the lower tract.

So I say: ‘Oh yes, I’ll have some of that.’

‘And you must have tête de veau?’ they urge.

‘Oh, sure, what’s that?’ Well, translated it’s ‘veal head’ but in practice they refer to it as the ‘face of the calf’.

So off we go to the centre of Troyes and in the shadow of the 13th century Basilica of St-Urbain come to the Restaurant de l’Etoile which specialises in these two dishes, and plough right in. The andouillette is served barbecued and alone on a plate, accompanied on a separate platter with a mountain of frites (French fries). The tête de veau, ordered by our colleague Laure Muselli PhD, but for me also to taste, is served as a casserole in a bowl with a very creamy, noticeably fatty sauce, and a side dish of steamed vegetables.

No ‘label’ accompanies either of these dishes: it’s unwritten tradition and word of mouth, mainly via my companions. The sign outside the restaurant is in French and if I need any more information, I can always ask the waiter … in French. But everyone in the region knows that andouillette is a ‘coarse-grained smoked tripe sausage made with pork (or occasionally veal) chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings (and if you want the details and pictures, visit Wikipedia). Food writer Jill Dupleix has written that it’s a ‘pale, lumpy sausage made from pigs’ intestines that smells like a pissoir (a urinal)’. Other, more brutal commentators, say it smells like poo. Fortunately I disagree with both and thoroughly enjoy the sausages which arrive on my plate, perhaps not least because I have a glass of genuine local brut Champagne (for Troyes is in the heart of the Champagne region) to accompany my meal. The tête de veau is, if anything, a little more challenging, because of the image it conveys … the little calf’s face peering up from the bowl. But it’s a tender, melt-in-your-mouth morsel, very fatty as Laure had pointed out.

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Hind El Feghaly in les halles, Troyes

Both andouillette and tête de veau, along with the alluring boudin noir (blood sausage, which is exactly what it says it is) are sold fresh in butchers’ shops in the Troyes halles, such as our provedore that day, ‘M. Mignot, votre boucher’.

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My guides, Matthieu Lardeau and Hind El Feghaly

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Right now Right now in New York New York

Intrepid Eat-Drink-Sleep-Shoppers Erin and Pip are in the audience at Matilda the Musical right now at the Schubert Theatre on Broadway, New York City … and this is what they see!

Earlier they visited the famous Brill Building, which in its heyday was home to some of the great singer-songwriters of the 20th century.

 

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Inside, now (Picture: Erin Cokley)

matilda stage

Pictures: Erin Cokley

At the Brill Building, New York, yesterday

At the Brill Building, New York, yesterday

 

My, oh my …

Oh our bargain-hunting daughter Erin is a marvel … her dad (me) writes about shopping and she finds this wicked link!

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