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Wombat Dreaming

July 2006

The Curse of the Zombie Pasta
Wombat News
Book News
Schedule for this year
Monkey Baa 'Hitler's Daughter - the Play' Tour
The July Garden
How to Grow Ginger, and Native Ginger
A Few (okay, a lot) of Ginger Recipes, including:
. Orange and Ginger Muffins
. Car Sickness Lollies
.Crystalised ginger
. Spiced Quinces
. Melon in Ginger Syrup
.Kiwi Fruit Chutney
.Ginger cordial
.chilli cordial
. Gingerbread
. Chocolate and Ginger Steamed Pudding with 'adults only' sauce

The Curse of the Zombie Pasta
         Have just come back from Fremantle (which was wonderful - the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre is extraordinary, one of those magic ideas that makes you think, 'Why doesn't every town have something this fantastic?')
But getting to Fremantle means flying (would rather have gone by camel but always suspect camels haven't really accepted domestication. They just can't be bothered getting rid of their riders. Yet.)
Anyhow flying also means eating food at 20,000 metres, which in my case meant white sludge with red topping. The hostess said it was pasta with tomato sauce.
         Pasta with tomato sauce is one of the world's glorious dishes. Peasant eating at its very best: pasta made by mum and grandma, left to dry over the back of the kitchen chair, the tomatoes growing out on the hillside, boiled and crushed with a dash of olive oil maybe, a touch of garlic hanging by the stove, a scatter of fresh basil leaves.
Yes. Well. Sky-high pasta is not like that. And it struck me how insane it is that we've taken an extraordinarily frugal but stunning meal and turned it into a few cups of flour, tomato paste, preservatives, and flavour enhancers (now there's an oxymoron).
The other really weird thing was that everyone else was eating it.
Do you ever play the supermarket trolley game? At its most basic it's staring into the next person's trolley and feeling superior because your contents are cheaper/more expensive/show more imagination/taste/down-to-earthedness/eco principles etc (choose your own form of snobbery here).
The other version involves trying to work out what's on the menu at their place and working out if it's worth while cultivating a sudden new friendship just to get an invitation to eggplant provençale or roast lamb and baked potatoes.
It used to be a lot more fun playing this twenty years ago though. These days you're just as likely to be sneaking a look at frozen pizza.
There has been a lot written about getting junk food out of schools lately. And this is a good thing. But I think that is only the start of what needs to be done.
If you take junk food out of schools kids are still going to eat it out of school – unless you replace it with stuff that kids a) like even more than packets of chips (so much that they'll ignore TV conditioning to buy the junk) and b) is going to be as convenient for parents as an iced donut in the shopping centre.
But 'taste' is something we learn. An uneducated taster will stick to high sugar/high salt/high fat – a big simple taste bang without too many intruding new flavours.
Kids need to learn not just what is healthy to eat, but what tastes good, and how to taste it
Kids don't like new foods. You need to get them to try foods at least ten times for them to become familiar. And the best way to do that is by peer pressure – everyone is eating it, so they will too. (Kids' food choices are a heck of a lot more influenced by their best friend than their mum!)

Connoisseur Classes

         Yes, I know - teachers already have far too much of the burden of teaching what used to be taught at home. And I'm not suggesting that these replace any school hours. But maybe, possibly, there are parents who might volunteer to teach these for the school.
Tasty Tuesdays

Parents are asked to volunteer to send in a new (emphasis on new) food for the whole class to try. Just a little bit, but not chocolate muffins.
         Parents with a cooking background could send in a cooked dish they love. Parents who don't cook could be encouraged to send in a new fruit or vegetable, already sliced and on plates for kids to try. Or a new cheese, or even a new type of sandwich.
Wombats and Watermelon Classes

This would need sponsorship - book reading in the library at lunch time, with plates of different fruits to eat. Not just apples or oranges, but an emphasis on things kids might not try. (It'd also teach kids what most adults know - that reading is much more fun when you are eating! Or maybe it's the other way around.)
Good Food Hunts

         Excursions to the local markets (free) with each kid encouraged to buy new foods to try.
         Visits to farms or city gardens where kids can try fresh food, that hasn't had all its flavour leached out by cold storage.
Excursions to new restaurants – Japanese, MongolianŠ
Kids like eating. But GOOD eating has to be taught. And just taking away the bad stuff isn't going to do it.
PS I'm not being snobbish about the aircraft pasta. I don't expect luxury cuisine at economy prices either. The pasta didn't have to be like that. A slightly better brand of pasta (maybe ten cents a serve) and a damn sight better tomato sauce recipe – forget the free grog and give us food!

Wombat News

         It's rained again this month – only a few millimetres, but enough to wash away lots of the wombat smells. Which means the wombats have been laying down a new pattern of wombat droppings on every tall rock or log – plus on every step, the back doormat, the middle of the driveway (just to show the truck who's boss) and on top of the water pipe repairs Bryan has been doing out the front.
         Sometime in all of this they've found time to eat too.
         There are wombat scratchings everywhere too. This is partly territorial, but I think it's also just a celebration of soft damp soil after so long with concrete ground. And if I think the wet soil smells divine, the wombats must be in paradise
Mothball news
         She eats, she sleeps, she leaves a LOT of droppings. Which mean she is far too busy to bother with us.
         Thank goodness.

Book News

         'The Goat Who Sailed the World'
comes out next month. (In other words a couple of weeks after you read this.)
         It's a wonderful story, the true account of the very stroppy goat who sailed with Cook on the Endeavour.
         She lived on the quarterdeck, providing milk for the officers. She helped save the ship when it was wrecked on the Endeavour Reef off the Queensland coast. And when the Endeavour reached England she was a heroine. The Royal Society gave her a silver collar, Samuel Johnstone wrote a poem about her (in Latin). The British Government gave her a pension and Cook was so fond of her, he took her home with him. No other animal has ever been so honoured.
'The Goat That Sailed the World' is her story. It's also the story of Isaac, the twelve year old master's servant who looked after her, and went on to become an admiral, and the incredible adventure of Cook and the Endeavour, surviving shipwreck, plague and starvation to circle the world and chart the east coast of Australia.
         The book also tells what life on the ships like the Endeavour REALLY was like. And it was nothing at all like the movies or most history books.
No one wore uniforms. The Endeavour's decks were covered in animal droppings (although Cook was a stickler for hygiene and the crew were forever scrubbing and sluicing them) - even the ship's boat was filled with chickens! While the sailors starved, the officers and gentlemen ate roast mutton and plum puddings. The gentlemen included Joseph Banks, who was more interested in his twelve-year-old Tahitian girlfriend than measuring the Transit of Venus!
         'The Goat who Sailed the World'
is the first in the Animal Stars series, all true stories about incredible animals. The next one will be 'The Dog Who Loved a Queen'.
Have just finished the second draft of Pharaoh too - that's the 'big' historical book for next April. And taking a short break.
Also checking the post every week (only get up to the Post Office on Tuesdays) to see if the first copies of 'Josephine Wants to Dance'
are in. It's like waiting for Santa Claus, except I don't know how many more sleeps I have to wait. Bruce Whately's vison of dancing kangaroos and wombats and lyrebirds and shearers is, well, . . . sheer Bruce.


Gladysdale Primary School has just awarded 'Too Many Pears' their G.A.B.B.A. (Gladysdale Australia Best Book Award). So from me and Bruce Whately and Pamela the Cow, thank you!!

Schedule for this year

I'm cutting down the number of talks I give these days, for health reasons - I can no longer manage to give talks without a microphone and it's amazing how many school and library microphones cut out after twenty minutes, with a dead battery or loose connection! So please don't be offended if I can't open your school fair, or travel to your town.
         But this is what the year looks like (so far):

August 7 and 8 : Books Alive and Big Book Club events in South Australia

The events aren't quite confirmed as I write this, but there'll be events for schools as well as the public both days and on the Monday night from 6.00-8.00 pm. Contact telephone no.: (08) 8333 4049, mobile no: 0402 000 472, email:sue.tbbc@optusnet.com.au, www.thebigbookclub.com.au
August : Book Week talks in Sydney and Melbourne
(just a few, and all booked now). Contact Lateral Learning for details (bookings@laterallearning.com.au).
August: Melbourne Writer's Festival School days
- Monday 28th to Wednesday 30th August. Contact the Melbourne Writer's Festival for details.
Saturday, 4 November: Talk at the Open Garden Seminar at Major's Creek
Details from the Open Garden Scheme.
Thursday to Saturday, 9–11 November, Ourimbah Children's Literature Festival

Which will be fantastic, if anyone can get to it - but as patron I'm biased. Come to think of it, no I'm not - it really is an excellent programme.
Sunday, 12 November: Launch of 'Josephine Wants to Dance'
and performance at the Bungendore School Fair, plus a talk at the Wildcare Stall there.
January 07: Talks at the Jindabyne Visitors Centre
as part of their tenth anniversary celebrations.

'Hitler's Daughter' Tour

         The wonderful people at Monkey Baa are performing 'Hitler's Daughter', the play, this year. It's stunning – extraordinary acting, sound and lighting effects, brilliantly funny in parts and incredibly moving.
The schedule for the rest of the year looks like this –

by Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People Ltd

See the Monkey Baa National Tour schedule here

July in the Garden
This is the slow time of year – the time to watch the garden through the window; to see where the frost falls and what bits get the sunlight first; to dream of what and where you'll plant when the shadows shrink again.

What to Plant

Most seed sown in cold wet ground will rot. (It helps to coat it with salad oil before planting.) Most plants sown now won't do much till spring – and spring-sown plants will soon catch up with them. Onions are still an exception. Plant the long keepers like Pukehoe now. Make sure beds are weed free – onions grow slowly, weeds grow fast. You can never have too many home-grown onions – they're sweet and have a flavour quite different to shop-bought musty sulphuric acid.
         In warm areas try potatoes in late July. They will take at least a month to shoot anyway and by then days will be warmer. Try them in beds of old tyres – the height helps them get out of frost reach, the black absorbs heat.
         In cold/temperate areas stick to onion seedlings, rhubarb, strawberry, asparagus and artichoke crowns, and bare-rooted trees, shrubs and roses.
Frost-free areas: Plant just about anything and keep watering! Pop in some of the new spreading petunias too, for a touch of colour.


         You'll still be picking the same old veg as last month – but there'll be new shoots on the broccoli now (don't just pick the main bunch – keep picking all the little side bits that follow), more Brussels sprouts, and cauliflowers will be starting to form centres. In warm areas you might just get the odd sprig of asparagus. Start gorging on winter root vegies now like carrots and beetroot, before they go to seed when the weather warms up.
Root vegetables are sweetest now, after frost and cold nights. Try them grated into salads with lots of parsley. Winter fruit will be at its best now, too – frost makes citrus softer and sweeter and seems to give late Lady Williams apples a unique zing.

What to do

Lay down weed mat for next month's gardens; build no dig beds; don't be in a hurry though to pull out last year's debris to make room for new crops – the debris will protect the remaining plants from late frost.
. Clean up piles of rubbish (dowse them with hen manure or blood and bone and hope they turn into compost); pick off all dried fruit mummies that may infect next season's crops.
. Spray 'Stressguard' on frost sensitive plants to help protect them. I put plastic tree guards on some youngsters – many plants become more frost resistant as they grow older.
. Clean up dead palm fronds; chop them up for mulch.
. Keep camellias well watered till they finish flowering, then mulch and feed.
. Divide clumps of perennials, for lots of free new plants.
. Spray bright green frothy patches of young bindiis with bindii killer, or use almost boiling water leftover from your next cuppa tea! Pour it on and watch the bindiis shrivel.
. Plan the flowers you'll plant in spring, so you don't just grab the first few punnets of seedlings you see.

Useful tip
: If you want to feed the small native birds but don't want to encourage mynahs, sparrows, feral pigeons, starlings and blackbirds, take Bryan's tip – tie a wide ball of wire netting around your bird seed balls. Small native finches can get in, but larger birds can't. And you can have a lot of malicious pleasure watching them try.

How to prune a bush, standard or miniature roses

. Use sharp secateurs dipped in Dettol or bleach.
. Cut out any dead, spindly or grey-barked wood; then
. Remove about half the top growth and half the centre growth.
. Mulch with lucerne hay or other good mulch; scatter on Dynamic Lifter or other good organic plant tucker.
. Don't prune roses in frosty areas till next month; don't prune climbers till after flowering; don't hard prune shrub roses, just tidy them a little if necessary.

Plant of the Month
Winter Pokers

         I hated red-hot pokers for years – too bright, too garish. Then I discovered that some red hot pokers bloom in winter, and fell in love.
         Winter NEEDS brightness and vulgarity! And red-hot pokers are one of the hardiest, most drought tolerant flowers in the world.
         Ours are blooming madly as I write this- and each has at least one eastern spinebill hovering about it.
Where to plant: Full sun, any climate, any soil.
How to cosset: Don't bother.
How big do they grow: From about 60 cms to 1.7 metres, depending on variety.
Where to get them: Mooch around your local nursery and see if any are blooming, or ask if they can order you some. Or buy them mail order from Lambley Nursery at www.lambley.com.au, email lambley@netconnect.com.au, ph 03 53434303
PS I've even planted summer pokers the last few years, in lovely lemon, yellow and coral colours, instead of red.

Growing and eating Ginger

         Yes, you can grow ginger – though you may not want to. Ginger needs a rich moist soil or it turns tough and stringy and, to be honest, isn't totally spectacular. Commercial ginger cultivars never flower and wild ginger does so only rarely.
Plus unlike many foods you can buy good ginger at the supermarket.
         Native ginger is something else though. I love it – small spear-shaped green leaves and bright red berries, and it grows well in shade and survives even droughts from hell. It's not as frost sensitive as ordinary ginger either. You eat the root, just like ordinary ginger, but native ginger also has edible fruit. But you will need a specialist native nursery to buy it.
Needs: Ginger (i.e. the ordinary stuff) needs extremely rich, very well drained, moist soil and plenty of sunlight and water. Keep it well fed, mulched, watered and sheltered from cold winds and frost for as long as possible for a good yield. Ginger will give a reasonable harvest wherever you have seven warm and frost-free months, but after seven months the root may become fibrous and is only good for powdered ginger not crystallised. In colder areas you may get a small crop and at least have the pleasure of growing your own. In very cold areas ginger can be started in a large pot and taken indoors on cold nights and then transplanted when the soil warms up.
Propagation: Ginger root shoots with heat and moisture. In warm areas simply place it in well-prepared ground. If you want to hurry it up plant it very shallowly in a small pot of moist soil and cover with a plastic bag and keep it on a sunny windowsill. Remove the bag as soon as you see the first shoots. Leave ginger root in the open air for a few hours for any cuts to dry up before planting it.
Harvest: Harvest ginger root in autumn as soon as the leaves have died down. In areas that have only light or no frosts you can leave small pieces in the soil over winter – these should shoot again in the spring. In cold areas or where the soil isn't perfectly drained the ginger can rot in the cooler months – keep some of the root to plant next spring. Ginger is usually sun dried for about a week after harvesting to help preserve it.
         Ginger root should be stored in a well-ventilated, dry cupboard or the fridge to prevent any further drying out. Once you've cut your piece of fresh root you can either wrap the end in plastic or peel and chop the whole piece and cover the remnant with sherry. This will preserve it for years – and the ginger-flavoured sherry can be used in cooking.
Medicinal Use: Ginger has a long history of medicinal use. Arab, then later European, traders used to grow it in pots on their ships to prevent scurvy. Ginger will help prevent motion sickness, though the dose needed is rather large – about 1,000 mg for an adult. This can be either powdered or crystallised, or chewed fresh, or you can try to get the sufferer to sip ginger beer. Ginger should not be taken for morning sickness and large doses should be avoided during pregnancy. Ginger juice is a Chinese remedy for burns.
Use: Ginger was an extremely popular ancient Roman, Arab and medieval flavouring for both sweet and savoury dishes – ginger bread is one of the most popular remnants. According to folklore, an old horse trader's trick was to insert a piece of cut ginger in the rear end of a horse just before a race. (This is no longer recommended.)



         This is an excellent addition to curries
1 dessertspoon chopped peeled ginger
3 chillies
         Bottle and store in a cool dark place for as long as needed.
Crystallised ginger

         Peel the ginger and slice it finely, then soak in a brine made of one cup of water to one cup of salt overnight. Drain and simmer in fresh water till just tender but not soft. Drain again. Make a syrup of one cup of water to four cups sugar and simmer the ginger root till it's transparent. Leave on a tray or rack till perfectly dry, wrap in greaseproof paper and keep in a sealed jar in a cool place – not the fridge.

three quarters of a cup of milk
90 gm butter
1 egg
half a cup brown sugar
1 dessertspoon treacle
90 gm plain flour and1 teaspoon baking powder
1 dessertspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
half a teaspoon ground cloves
half a teaspoon ground cardamon
chopped almonds or glacé ginger - optional
         Melt the butter, treacle and milk in a saucepan, stir in the sugar and egg and whisk well. Stir in the flour, spices and baking powder. Pour mixture into a greased and floured tin, scatter on the ginger and almonds if desired.
         Bake at 150ºC for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when you poke it in the middle
         Gingerbread is even better a day or two after baking.

Chocolate and Ginger Steamed Pudding with 'adults only' sauce

125 butter or margarine
125 gm caster sugar
2 eggs
125 gm self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp cocoa
4 tbsps milk
         Cream butter and sugar; add eggs one by one; fold in flour, milk and cocoa. Place in a large pudding dish or divide into four small ones. Place greaseproof paper over the top of the dish then put the lid on.          Place in a large pan of boiling water and simmer for one hour. Serve with Adults Only Choc Fudge Sauce, or custard if you're feeling wimpish.
Adults Only Choc Fudge Sauce

half a cup of cream
quarter cup of caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp water
125 gm dark cooking chocolate, chopped
optional: 2 tbsps rum, Cointreau, rich dark coffee, Kahlua or other flavourings
Stir sugar and cream in pan over a very low heat till sugar is dissolved. Do not boil or simmer. Add cornflour mixed till smooth with the water. Stir over the low heat till it thickens. Again, do not simmer. Remove from the heat, add chocolate and your flavouring of choice. Stir till smooth. This can be used either hot (i.e. straight from the pan) or cold – the heat from the pud will warm it up again!
PS This is very good even without the pud, serve hot or cold on icecream, or stirred into milk for a really excellent choc milkshake.

Orange and Ginger Muffins

200 gm butter or marg
quarter of a cup of milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp orange rind
1 tbsp powdered ginger
3 eggs
2 cups self-raising flour
half cup almond meal
half cup orange juice
orange syrup (See below)
         Beat butter, sugar, ginger and orange rind; add eggs one by one; add flour, milk, orange juice and almonds. Mix gently.
Bake in greased muffin pan or paper cases for about 35 minutes at 200ºC till light brown on top. Remove from pan. Pour hot syrup over the hot muffins.


1 cup caster sugar
two thirds of a cup of orange juice
one third of a cup of water
         Combine all the syrup ingredients in a pan; simmer and stir till sugar dissolves.

Car Sickness Lollies

6 tbsps root ginger, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 peppermint tea bags, or 2 dessertspoons fresh or dried peppermint.
         Boil ginger root, peppermint and water till ginger is tender – about twenty minutes. Strain; keep the liquid and the lumps of ginger, but throw away the mint.
         Place sugar, liquid and ginger in a saucepan and simmer till the liquid is thick and syrupy. Remove the ginger, and dry on a greased tray. Keep in a jar in the fridge.
         Eat a dessertspoon full before travelling, and nibble bits of ginger through the journey.

Ginger and Mint Tea for nausea (do not take during pregnancy
2 tbsps fresh ginger, chopped, not peeled
2 cups water
1 tbsp peppermint, fresh or dried (or use a peppermint tea bag)
         Simmer ginger in the water for ten minutes. Take off the heat. Add peppermint, leave for five minutes, strain and sip slowly. You may like to sweeten it slightly.

Spiced Quinces

         These are good with any rich meat – roasted chicken, pork or duck, or even a dryish stuffed pumpkin.
4 quinces, peeled and cored
1 slice fresh ginger
6 juniper berries
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (no white)
2 tablespoons sugar
a little water
         Place all ingredients in an oven-proof dish and bake at 200ºC for about an hour, or until the quinces are tender. Strain off the liquid and boil rapidly till it thickens. Pour over the quinces to give them a bright shiny glaze. Serve hot.

Kiwi Fruit Chutney

2 kgs peeled chopped kiwi fruit
6 cloves garlic, chopped
350 gms sugar
300 mls white wine vinegar
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 small chilli, chopped
2 tsps allspice
         Simmer till thick; stir well and often. Bottle in sterilised containers. Good with curry.

Melon in Ginger Syrup

         Cut watermelon (and other melons) into bite-sized chunks – or if you want to be fancy use that melon baller that has been lurking at the bottom of the odds and sods drawer. Drizzle with a VERY little green ginger wine (a good excuse to buy some for winter tippling) or combine one cup of water with one cup of sugar and one teaspoon of peeled grated ginger. Simmer for twenty minutes and drizzle that over the fruit.

Ginger cordial

1 cup grated ginger (don't bother to peel)
2 cups sugar
1 tsp citric acid
2 tsps tartaric acid
3 cups water
         Simmer ginger in the water for 15-20 minutes, or till really gingery. Drain off ginger; add sugar; boil for five mins; add other ingredients. Bottle. Add a little caramelised sugar if you want it to be dark brown
­– I don't bother.
         Add ice and water for cordial, or soda water or mineral water for ginger ale. Store in a cool place for up to three weeks. Throw out if it looks or smells odd.
And for those with cold toes, tryŠ
Chilli cordial
24 chillies, fresh or dried
3 cups water
2 lemons
2 cups sugar
2 tsps tartaric acid
         Simmer chillies for 15-20 minutes. Scoop out. Add sugar; boil for five mins; add other ingredients. Bring to the boil. Bottle. Keep in a cool place for up to three weeks. Throw out if it looks or smells odd.