The good life before our world changed

By Tilly Smith Dix

My first visit to Australia sparked a kinship with several dream locations. The first was the idyllic bays of Sydney in New South Wales, including Rosebay and Manly, then I travelled along the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, close to Melbourne, where the ocean views evoked memories from my childhood on the Garden Route of South Africa.

Boarding a large ferry, reminiscent of travels on the choppy English Channel to Calais, but just so much prettier, from the delightful and aptly named Sorrento to Queenscliff in Victoria, Australia on that epic first visit to this country, took my breath away on a diamond bright, summers day.

Not long after that, I discovered Mount Dandenong with its quaint, picturesque villages dotted along a region fondly known as The Hills, and its nearby wine county sister shire in the Yarra Valley. I knew if ever I moved to Australia, I’d wish to live in one of these locations.

Now, ten years since that enlightening journey, I have been living in the Yarra Valley for several years and still savour every moment of exploring this fascinating region of Victoria.

Caption: clockwise from top right: Arthur’s Seat Cable Way; Rika Keyser; scenic drive in Red Hill; Dromana Beach and Dromana Pier.

The Mornington Peninsula

I count myself extremely lucky, with no less than two caring new friends living on the Mornington Peninsula. No, I did not run a contest to find the best gals in a dream locale, it was tempting but fate was kind.

One of them, the gorgeous Rika, a fellow former South African who moonlights at Mornington Peninsula Tourism, recently took me on a mystery drive, which introduced me to a whole new aspect of the region, the delightful boutique wine trail.

The drive through hills, forests, olive groves and vineyards, with dazzling views of the ocean, drew me closer to the region and I promised to visit often – and soon.

We dined at Green Olive on the Redhill trail, where we enjoyed a mild late-summers day, our outdoor table positioned next to one of the rustic veggie patches of the restaurant, offered tranquil vistas of the olive groves and a large pond, surrounded by trees and presided over by ducks. The ducks wander into the olive grove, where they happily dine on the odd weed infiltrating the grove. Putting nature to work, perfect.

Caption: clockwise from top right: sunrise over the Yarra Valley; rainbow lorikeet in my neighbours’ cape myrtle tree; the Green Olive; Cathy in autumn mode; golden sunrise over the Yarra Valley.

The Tapas Menu was a triumph and I intend working my way through more of the same next time. The local tipple of bubbles was not disappointing either.

We then drove to Arthur’s Seat, where visitors were making the most of a perfect day to enjoy the spectacular views from the gondolas of the cable way. Murray’s Look-Out commemorates Lieut. John Murray, who named the mountain Arthur’s Seat in 1802.

Rika is a walker and has established several walking groups in the region. Driving down the mountain, we stopped for a brief stroll along Dromana Pier and the crystal-clear waters of the bay proved further balm for the soul.

Returning to her home in Mount Martha, Rika provided me with a further scenic tour via Safety Beach, where boats of every size and description abound. I recall looking down from the highway to Sorrento years ago, thinking this could be an ideal spot to live as it brought back memories of my teens living in a sailing community on the Swartkops River Estuary in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

All this within 75km of Melbourne. What’s not to love. Lucky me, my friend is so knowledgeable about tourism in the region, I suggested she started her own day-tour agency. When our world returns to normal, AC (after Covit-19), ask for Rika Keyser at the Mornington Tourism hubs. She knows her stuff.

A week later, I returned to Mount Martha, this time to enjoy a leisurely home-cooked lunch at my gorgeous Italian friend Rosaria’s home. Her charming husband Cisto was not at all fazed having two talkative Sagittarian gals sharing stories. Well, he is Italian and they do seem to have a greater understanding of the female psyche. He even managed to get a word in edgeways.

Caption: clockwise from top right: Ashley Kahan, Rika Keyser and Ronel Burger; salmon and zucchini at The Pontoon; watermelon cake at Black Star Pastry; the tribe arrives at The Pontoon; St Kilda Street scene; St Kilda beach; ducks and pond at the Green Olive.

Another gorgeous day in paradise and I’m happy to say their adorable feline approved of me. Rosaria’s spinach ricotta lasagne was scrumptious and it went down great with the bottle of Immerse Sparkling Brut I took along from the Yarra Valley. (Another spot to have a wedding, renew wedding vows or book a delicious weekend lunch, of course, is Immerse at Dickson’s Creek. Tell them I sent you!)

I went prepared and driving home from the charming Rosaria and Cisto’s cosy home, I listened to some of my favourite Italian crooners, which included Andrea Bocelli and Il Volo.

St Kilda, Melbourne

A further sensory overload of the best kind was a catchup over lunch with some of my South African tribeswomen here in Melbourne. Always sanguine, they are a delightful bevy of gals. This time, we met under the clocks at Flinders Station, from where we caught a tram to St Kilda.

Our visit to the Rain Room, presented by The Jackalope Art Collection on the Jackalope Pavilion, was surreal. It was a most ambition curation, which the ladies enjoyed thoroughly. No umbrellas required as visitors are not supposed to get wet, given the sensors depicting the human form and only spilling ‘rain’ around them. However, you had to keep at arms-length to allow the sensors to do their job. A training exercise for what was to come when social distancing became a new rule in our world, but how were we to know…

Some guy ignored the rule of not moving rapidly and keeping his distance as he wanted to catch up with his wife. This resulted in little old me getting soaked as he rushed past me. I did not shout out as I figured they must be on honeymoon, with him rushing to be by her side and all …

I had to lock my city-slicker heels in a locker and wear the smallest pair of Crocs the organisers could offer on loan to walk on the metal grid platform of the Rain Room, which turned out to be like boats on my bony feet, causing enormous mirth among my compatriots. Minnie Mouse came to mind. Proud to say, I took it on the chin, ha.

En route to lunch after the exhibition, we popped in for a decadent coffee and what is described as the most Instagrammed cake in Melbourne – the strawberry watermelon cake at Black Star Pastry. It tastes even more dreamy than it looks. Highly recommended and we all agreed to return soon.

Serendipity dining in St Kilda is not always recommended as restaurants were usually busy but after a scenic stroll along the Esplanade, we decided we needed to dine with a view of the bay. This was indeed a splendid walk down memory lane as on my first visit to Melbourne, a few years prior to moving here, I had a delicious but very basic meal of the catch of the day and potato wedges at the now beautifully renovated Pontoon.

Some years ago, it was almost destroyed in a fire and the owners have turned it into an outstanding, contemporary bar and restaurant with a dreamy view of the bay. It reminded me of lunches overlooking the pier and ocean in Malibu, California. However, I found The Pontoon more classy, with a convivial vibe, excellent service and scrumptious cuisine.

My perfectly grilled Tasmanian salmon with sautéed zucchini and mushroom was simply perfect. The rest of the girls agreed, this was a restaurant fit for many return visits from our tribe. The chicken and roasted cauliflower looked a treat too. After a glass – and more by some, no names, right – we reluctantly made our departure to board a tram back to Flinders Street Station, where we all caught our respective trains home before rush hour. We are united in our love for our city and our adoptive country.

When our world changed

Two weeks later I had my second cataract surgery, another sterling job by Dr David Frazer and his amazing team at Yarra Ranges Health. Then the world, as we know it, changed, probably forever.

Covid-19, the Coronavirus, now referred to as China’s virus of shame, took the world by surprise. The wet markets of Wuhan in China are reportedly a hotbed of possible viruses carried by wildlife sold as pets and food. This, apparently, is where this virus spread to humans.

Bats and other wildlife will carry viruses, which their specific species are equipped to handle. However, when such animals are placed in close proximity to other wildlife, especially in the stressful conditions of captivity, disease will occur. So far, the most informative link about this pandemic I have found is on CNN Live TV, written by Nick Walsh and Vasco Cotovio.

In the meantime, countries are closing borders, schools are closing until further notice and offering home school solutions. Airlines have retrenched staff, pilots are advised of earlier retirement whilst in self-isolation after international flights, and people are getting sick and dying. The aged and frail are most vulnerable.

Life is surreal and we see dystopia unfolding. What seemed macabre when watching series such as The Handmaid’s Tale stream not so long ago, we are now in the midst of immense uncertainty. People self-isolate or are ordered to do so, depending on their individual situation. Public transport is a problem as social distancing is tough on a full train, tram, bus – or plane!

Further concerns are that of this animal virus, now easily transferred to humans, being transferred back to their pets and other animals too. Scientists around the world are in a race to find a cure and a vaccine.

Much washing of hands, sanitising, wearing masks and ensuring there is enough loo paper and dry foods while we are in lockdown, are the new normal.

A week after my eye surgery, I had a sore throat, after which my glands kicked into overdrive. I ensured I had enough food and supplies for 2 weeks and have self-isolated since then. I called the Corona Hotline and my symptoms did not qualify for a test. I was relieved.

Silver linings

I’m happy to report I’m feeling better but as we are now in stage three of the current lockdown, I’m going nowhere, unless it’s to buy essentials and for crucial medical check-ups. Having to postpone a dinner with much adored family I’d not seen for some time was tough but the decision to keep them safe was not hard. This will pass and we will see each other again to break bread, drink wine and contemplate the strange time we have managed to overcome.

Further silver linings, my social media platforms are gaining more followers every day as we cannot spend all our time working from home, cooking, cleaning, meditating or worrying about the unknown. We need to interact with likeminded souls, albeit in a virtual world. So, while Mother Earth is having a welcome respite from abusive humans to some extent, we become more aware of not only our need to communicate but the need for others to feel a sense of belonging too.

Then, there is television. A good movie or series always proves pure escapism for me and I’ve been catching up on movies I never saw when they were on circuit years ago. I guess I was working too hard? Don’t Look Now, with Donald Sutherland and the gorgeous Julie Christie had me spellbound. The trend of streaming series has also taken my fancy. Whiskey Cavalier is great fun, and Maggie Q is mesmerising in Nikita.

This isolation has resulted in my passion for stylish fashion being stepped up and doing my own photography for my Instagram fashion page (Sixty_is_the_new_40), has resulted in my technique improving rapidly. Setting the timer for lights, camera and action is kinda fun. Cathycat seems to enjoy the energy I generate during such shoots and being a diva, she thinks it her right to wander into a shot any time she pleases. Problem is, the camera captures the back of her, and I know she’d never approve such a shot as her piquant form is not featured from the best angle. Pear-shaped, says I in a stage whisper…

Caption: autumn vibes and self-isolation become more fun when a girl can play with her vintage wardrobe and spruce it up for a new season. My two hero-pieces, the shawl-coat from Zara (centre), and the knitted forest green dress, (centre far right), is a Witchery Fashion treasure – see more fashion fun on Instagram @Sixty_is_the_new_40

I have always loved autumn and the current colours are reminiscent of the Seventies, when rich ochres, warm browns and deep forest greens were the colours of choice. Of course, black and beige never date in my wardrobe, so, it makes for an organic palette to play with when mixing textures and styles to bring some new zest to a mature wardrobe.

I’m pleased to see folks are dressing up for skype and online video meetings – dress up and show up, I say, even when in lockdown, be fabulous. Not sure how to show off killer heels to add some spunk but I think I’ll rest my feet on the desk when I have a virtual meeting again. Could be fun, after all, my new motto is I’m older, not over…

Shoes, of course, play a major role in style and mood and I’m delighted to say I do not need to spend another blue dime on shoes or boots for autumn as I’m sorted. Before packing the season’s shoes into their covers and boxes for hibernation out of season, I clean the leather with beeswax and lanolin. Where required, they are also given a thorough water-resistant leather spray to prevent any damp from damaging the leather. I have shoes that have lived in my closet for about 20 years and now they are back on trend!

I’m ready and my humble ivory tower with million-dollar views of the verdant valley, is not such a bad place to hole up during these unusual times. I still get awakened by possums on their nocturnal journey and the birdlife remains unparalleled.

When it was announced on the news that Coles and Woolworths were offering preferential shopping on weekdays between 7 and 8am for senior citizens and frail people with disabilities, my response was, “how thoughtful to consider these folks.” Then I realised I was one of them. I did have a giggle but wasted no time getting to Coles to stock up with necessary groceries and what has also become known as white gold, loo paper. Why people have been stockpiling these is beyond me but hey, who am I to judge. We all have our passions, hie.

Virtual travels

As for travel, that is a luxury we have to put in the pending folder for now. However, I’m savouring the trend of virtual travel and The Australian recently published a superb article about armchair travel, in which they mention the world-renowned Tau Game Lodge in Madikwe Reserve in South Africa’s North-West, bordering Botswana. I recall dream safaris here, so, be transported and check    the 24/7 live webcam – you’ll be voluntarily glued to your armchair for some time, so, I suggest you get your nibbles and G&Ts sorted before you get into sublime safari mode. Just you and the game at a waterhole…see more online travel in The Australian at:

Plenty humour going about of course, thank the lawdy for that, and I found it a hoot when an Instagram friend posted the following: “I have a luxury, super-soft, pack of 20 toilet rolls. I’m looking to trade it for a cottage by the sea.” Another giggle was posted by a Facebook friend: “Tell Dolly to tell Jolene she can come take my man.” Lockdown drama abounds, I hear. Keep smiling and keep laughing, it’s good for the soul.

Let’s hang in there, look after ourselves and each other – and be safe. Love thy neighbour and I must say, I have been blessed with the best. They even acquired an extra chook so I could have an egg a day from the feathered ladies I offer my fruit and veg scraps to every day.

Cheers to the good life, perhaps not the one we are used to, but we can do this…

2 thoughts on “Strange times and silver linings

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