Thursday, April 29, 2010


Some typical modern donuts.

I had heard that doughnuts were invented during the First World War as a convenient food for the troops in the trenches. The hole in the middle made it easy to quickly deliver the food to the troops by dropping them over the bayonet on the end of the rifle. However mystery and argument surrounds the origin of the humble doughnut. Archaeologists have recently discovered the petrified remains of cakes with a hole in the centre in early Native American sites in the south-west of the United States. It is not clear though how these cakes were prepared or cooked.

Most historians looking for the origins of the doughnut begin with the Dutch. The Dutch used up pieces of left-over dough by dropping them into hot oil and making little fried cakes known as olykoeks, or oily cakes. To make them more appealing they would shape these pieces of dough into little knots (dough knots) and roll them in sugar. Sometimes they were filled with prunes or raisins. Dutch colonists took the recipe for these oily cakes to America with them.

Research in action. Testing donuts so I can write about them.

Of course some Americans have a different version. In a house in Rockport, Maine there is a plaque which credits Mason Crockett Gregory with inventing the hole in the doughnut in 1847. Mason was a sea captain who probably brought the recipe for donuts home from his travels around the globe. His mother would cook them for him using spices from his cargoes of cinnamon and nutmeg, and putting a nut in the middle (hence the name 'dough nuts'). Some version of the tale have Mason making the hole so that the doughnut could be slipped over a spike on his ship's steering wheel so that both hands were free in a storm. Other versions say he didn't like the nuts his mother put in the middle and so simply pushed them out with his finger. Yet another version claims he was just cheap and saved costs by making the cakes with no centre to save dough. Mason always took credit for inventing the hole in the donut. He eventually met his end by being burnt at the stake as a witch.

Donut King - a popular donut chain in Australia.

In 1872 John Blondell was issued with the first patent for a doughnut cutter. His machine was made of wood. An improved version, made from tin, and with a fluted edge was patented in 1889.

In France in 1917 during World War 1 American troops in the front lines were served twisted doughnuts cooked by two Salvation Army ensigns, Helen Purviance and Margaret Sheldon. The pastry was rolled using a wine bottle and then cut to shape using a knife. The Salvation Army girls soon became fondly associated with the doughnut and in 1938 Donut Day was launched in the US to remember the contribution of the girls bringing comfort to the troops, and as a fund raiser for the Salvation Army. It has been celebrated annually ever since. The Salvation Army continues to serve coffee and doughnuts to police, firemen, rescue workers and disaster victims when needed.

A modern doughnut 'assembly line' machine used by Krispy Kreme.

In 1920 the first doughnut machine was invented by a Russian refugee living in New York. Adolph Levitt's machine caused the doughnut to became more popular as it was more easily made and able to be mass produced. Machine made doughnuts were presented as "the hit food of the Century" at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1934. By this time Levitt was selling over 25 million dollars worth of machines each year to bakeries.

Krispy Kreme- one of the first donut chains.

Doughnut chains, such as Dunkin Donut and Krispy Kreme have made the American version of the doughnut popular around the world, although many countries have their own local versions. In Israel a popular Hanukkah food is the doughnut filled with red jelly and covered in icing. In South Africa there is a version called the vetkoek which is served with mince, honey or jam. In India a doughnut or vada is savoury and made from dal or lentils; while in Indonesia a doughnut is made from flour and mashed potatoes and coated in icing sugar. In Japan they are made with bean paste and in Malaysia with mashed sweet cassava. My favourite is the Spanish churros, a long skinny doughnut which is served hot and dipped in hot chocolate from Juanita's in Brunswick Street, Melbourne.

A dozen 'mini-donuts' from Donut King.

Where does the word 'doughnut' come from? I have mentioned possible origins as the 'dough knot' or 'dough-nut'. An 1803 English cookbook mentions doughnuts in an appendix on American cooking. An 1808 novel talks about a meal of "fire cakes and dough-nuts". In Washington Irving's 1809 History of New York he describes "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks". The first use of the alternative spelling 'donut' was in 1900 by George Peck in Peck's Bad Boy and his Pa. The traditional spelling has been 'doughnut' and this seems to continue outside of America, but the alternative 'donut' seems equally acceptable in a language as accommodating as english. As can be seen from the photos above Krispy Kreme and Donut King have different spellings for the same item.
Postscript: Recently in Cammeray, Sydney I was talking with a fellow who said he had just had the best doughnuts in the world at The Colonial Bakery Milson's Point, just beside the Harbour Bridge. I talked to him about the blog and the entry on doughnuts. The following week he suddenly turned up with half a dozen doughnuts for me to try and suggested that I should visit the shop. This I did that afternoon (in the interest of research). At The Colonial Bakery Milson's Point I found a quaint little store filled with all sorts of nice cakes and their famous, award-winning pies. If you are looking for somewhere interesting in Sydney this is the place. A ferry ride, a walk along the shore under the bridge and afternoon tea and a doughnut, and make sure you say hello to Nancy Mobbs who runs the bakery. Are they the best in the world?......well I'm continuing to research this question......they were excellent, but in fairness I do have to try all the rest before making a decision.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Last November I took my first trip outside of Australia. With my daughter, Amanda I travelled to Nepal and for seven weeks did volunteer work at the Everest Children's Home and then a monastery. From the moment we stepped off the plane it was confronting. The area around the airport looked like a bomb had demolished everything. Not a house looked complete or livable. People were dressed in dirty clothes and beggars knocked on the cab window. As we spent time there we realised that although there was poverty everywhere in Nepal that area was probably the worst. We saw people living on the street or in houses made from sticks and hessian. They ekked out a living any way that they could. However I also noticed something else: people were always smiling and laughing and happy.

The experience in Nepal was life changing. I am not sure how yet, but I know it was. I had two important thoughts. Firstly, how could countries which purport to be world leaders, and caring, christian nations let fellow human beings live in conditions such as this. The second, how resolute the human spirit is. Many Nepalese people live in poverty but they don't complain. They get on with life and smile and joke and laugh.

Nepal is one of the world's smallest and poorest countries. It is 853km long and 225kms wide at its widest (average 160kms wide). It starts at 91metres above sea-level and rises to 8,882 metres. It contains 9 of the world's highest 14 mountains over 7,925 metres, including Everest and Annapurna. Less than a third of the country is suitable for farming.By 2020 the population is expected to be about 34 million. In the 1960s 1 in 3 babies died and the life expectancy was just 29, today life expectancy is over 56.

It was a medieval feudal country up until the ruling Rana government was ousted in 1951. Before this time it wasn't open to tourists or outside visitors. In fact between 1796 and 1950 there are only 130 official visitors to the country recorded. The first group of tourists were in 1955. The country was really opened up in the 1960s by hippies who came for the free drugs and the easy lifestyle. Many lived in Kathmandu in tents, on what is known as Freak Street.

Prithvi Naraya Shah, a king of the House of Gorkha united the country in the second half of the 1700s. There are still older hill people who still do not realise their country is called Nepal.....they think Nepal is a small valley near Kathmandu. Only about 1/5 of the country gets electricity, and these suffer from regulkar blackouts, as we have found out. There is no centralised medical system or public works. However there is very little crime. There is pollution and smog....this comes from cement works, marble quarries and cheap petroland diesel....and causes a lot over dust over everything each day.

Nepal is also the world's only Hindu Kingdom. Hindu, Buddhism and to a lesser extent Christianity all blend together, but religion is very important and seems to permeate through everyday life.

If I had been asked 12 months ago to make a list of the countries i like to visit overseas Nepal would probably not have featured, now it probably heads the list. I think of it as a truly wonderful country, full of contrasts and wonderful people. If you would like to see more about Nepal, or about our adventures there then go to our blog:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


If you recognised the title of this post then you knew it was going to be about Star Trek. Well, nearly....its more about "trekkies"....that is Star Trek fanatics. And there are a few about. Now I have a brother, Richard, who is a Star Trek fan. He collects Star Trek memorabilia, reads Star Trek novels, rewatches Star Trek videos and could probably not only tell me the names of all the commanders of the U.S.S. Enterprise but can explain the difference between a "trekkie" and a "trekker". (No that is not me and my brother above......but a couple of dedicated Star Trek fans)

Barbara Adams. If you recognize the name then you are probably already a "trekkie". Barabara, aged 31, lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. She is employed by a bookbindery. In March 1996 she was selected for jury duty. Barbara, an avid Star Trek fan turned up for duty in her black and red Star Trek commanders uniform, complete with communicator badge, tricorder and plastic phaser. She was accepted by both the defense and the prosecutor as a suitable alternative juror and sat through eight court sessions. However she came unstuck and was dismissed from the case by the judge when she spoke to press about wearing her uniform to jury duty; jurors in a case are not allowed to speak to the media. Barbara insists that she was not making a mockery of the court, she always wears her uniform on formal occasions. She says she admires the values taught by the Star Trek ideal and lives her life respecting these values.

Tony Alleyne. A Star Trek fan and interior designer. Englishman, Tony Alleyne was bored with his one bedroom apartment and so when his marriage broke down his therapy was to redecorate it with a futuristic theme. Tony redecorated the apartment with an exact replica of the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise. The flat has a transporter room, a space age kitchen and bathroom, and a voice activated lighting and sound system. The door bell plays a selection of commands given by Jean-Luc Picard. The redesign took 54 year old Tony over two years to complete and cost him so much money he had to file for bankruptcy. Although many of his friends though it was a joke it was Tony who got the last laugh when the flat sold for over $838,000 US- five times its market value.

Many Star Trek fans have gone to the trouble to dress up. Florida dentist, Denis Bourguignon calls his business the "Starbase Dental". His practice is decorated it in a Star Trek theme and all his staff wear Star Trek uniforms at work. Daryl Frazetti from Boston named his cat Bones and dresses it in Dr McCoy uniforms while they watch episodes of Star Trek. Many Star Trek Fans support tattoos of Star Trek characters and star Trek emblems (such as the picture above) and the odd person has even had plastic surgery to give their ears a vulcan touch. One fan even had his name legally changed to James T. Kirk. And Glen Proechel runs a language school in Minnesota which teaches people to speak fluent Klingon.

Of course a whole industry has grown up around Star Trek memorabilia: balloons, T-shirts, model space ships, uniforms, action figures and replica phasers and communicators. If you have trouble deciding on a present for a "trekkie" then there is always the replica of the captain's chair from the star ship Enterprise. It is made from leather and wood and comes with buttons which produce background space ship noises and phrases like "Position report Spock".

If you found this post humorous or interesting, or if you now want to rush out and have the galaxy tattooed across your back then while you are waiting to be 'beamed up' you can find more about "trekkies" by getting out the DVDs. Yep, Trekkies and Trekkies II.

Above: two more views of Tony's flat.

Barbara Adams impersonators?

...and maybe the ultimate Star Trek fan giving the Vulcan salute?

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Art, and an appreciation of art seems a very personal thing to me. It is like taste. We all have different tastes. I used to go to art shows and galleries and I could be finished browsing in a few minutes. Either I liked a painting or I didn't and I couldn't understand how some people could stand there studying pictures for long periods of time..... maybe it was the glass of wine they were sipping. I did like illuminated manuscripts, like the one above. And I could understand pouring over the details hidden in these......with or without a glass of wine. I have even done calligraphy courses and a course in book binding......and OK I have stayed in the odd monastery.

I did begin to appreciate art more when my responsibilities as a Head Teacher were expanded to include the Art Department. This is probably more due to the terrific art teachers who patiently tried to educate me and encouraged me to attend exhibitions on photography, famous artists and even famous glass sculptures. I grew to like Picasso and van Gogh very much. I also developed a real love of seventeenth century Dutch painters, such as Vemeer (one of his paintings pictured above).

My all time favourite painting is one by an Aboriginal artist, Lin Onus. The painting is very similar to the one above with the water lilies but instead of frogs there are fish swimming underneath, but they are in X-ray style. I guess I like the mixing of the two styles in one painting. If you don't know the work of Lin Onus then it is worth checking out.

My favourite artist is Paul Cezanne. Cezanne was a French artist who churned out some 1300 paintings during the 1800s. He has been described as "rude, nervous, and generally disagreeable". Though I only read this after I had decided he had something cheeky hidden in his art. I have seen some of Cezanne's original paintings in exhibitions in Australia from time to time. They do not change my opinion of him. Two of his paintings are pictured above)

A friend of mine who is a teacher and artist, and who keeps trying to gently educate me into what is good art, delighted me by giving me a gift of an old chair which she painted. The chair was done in a "Cezanne style". I can't hang it on the wall but it does occupy a special place in the house and brings me a lot of joy. Funny sometimes I do find myself sitting appreciating it for some time...... maybe I need that glass of wine.

Monday, April 12, 2010



According to legend the game of Rugby Union has its origins in 1823 when William Webb Ellis, a student at the Rugby School in Warwickshire, England picked up the ball and ran with it in a game of football. The story of Ellis's deed is of doubtful origin and is first mentioned by another ex-Rugby student, Matthew Bloxam in 1876, four years after Ellis's death. Bloxam didn't know Ellis but heard of the story from an unnamed source. Rugby players have never let the truth get in the way of a good story and even today Rugby's greatest prize, the cup for the Rugby World Cup is called the Webb Ellis Trophy, affectionately known as 'Bill".

The game of "football" had been played at the Rugby School for many years but students would decide on the rules before each game. In 1843 the Guy Hospital Football Club was formed in London by old boys from the Rugby School. It was the world's first football club for any code. As other teams formed and the game grew more popular, spreading as far as Scotland, there was a need to develop consistent rules.

In 1863 the Football Association (FA) was formed to codify an agreed set of rules which incorporated all the best ideas being used to play the game. At their fourth meeting it was found a number of newspapers had published a set of Cambridge Rules for playing the game. These differed in two areas to the rules being drafted by the FA in that they didn't allow 'running with the ball' or 'hacking' (kicking a player in the shins to stop him running. There was considerable argument whether these rules should be kept in the game. Francis Maule Campbell, a representative from the Blackheath Club argued the rules should be retained and getting rid of the rules would do away with the "courage and pluck of the game". The 11 teams left in the FA adopted a set of rules, minus running with the ball and hacking, which developed into the game of soccer as it is known today. The rules however did include catching or "marking" the ball and the goal posts did not have a cross-bar (the rules were remarkably similar to Victorian Rules Football which was being developed in Australia at about the same time).

The Blackheath Club, followed by other clubs left the Association and continued to play their Rugby-style game. In January 1871 twenty one Clubs met in London and formed the Rugby Football Union (RFU). A set of rules were published in June of that year. The first Rugby international was also played in that year between England and Scotland. It was played in Edinburgh with 20 players a side and halves were 50 minutes long. Although both sides scored a try only the Scots converted theirs and so won the game (at this time tries were not worth any points but allowed you a chance to score a conversion). In a return match in 1872 the English were the winners.

The Scottish team? No ...a promotional shot for a sports clothing manufacturer.

In 1886 England and Scotland had a falling out when an English try was disallowed when the referee stopped play because Scotland had committed a foul. The English argued the referee should have allowed an advantage and, since they were the ones making the rules, insisted the try stand. In 1886 Scotland, Wales and Ireland formed the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB). England refused to join believing they should have a greater say on the board and arguing the IRFB should not make the rules for the game. It wasn't until other countries refused to play against England that they finally joined the Board in 1890. The IRFB was moved to Dublin in 1997 and changed its name to the International Rugby Board (IRB).

Rugby had always been an amateur game but in the 1890s a dispute arose over players having to miss games because of work, or to give up pay to play Rugby. Clubs in the north of England drew many of their players from the working class and in 1892 some of these clubs were accused of paying players to play matches. In 1895 twenty clubs from Cheshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire left the RFU and formed the Northern rugby Football Union (in 1922 becoming known as the Rugby Football League). In 1908 eight Rugby clubs in Australia also broke away from the Union and formed the New South Wales Rugby League. Rugby Union remained an amateur game until August 1995. Until this time professional sportsmen were banned from playing Rugby.

Women's Rugby is quickly becoming more popular around the world. The above photographs show it being played in England and Iran.

Rugby was introduced into the Olympic Games in 1900 by Pierre de Coubertin founder of the modern Olympic and himself a Rugby referee. France won the gold medal by defeating the other two teams, Britain and Germany. The second time it was in the Olympics was in London in 1908. This time an Australian Wallabies team, who happened to be touring England, entered and won the gold. Rugby was included again in 1920 and 1924. Both of these times the USA won the gold medal..... and Rugby has not been included in the Olympics since.

I started playing Rugby with the Eastwood Junior Rugby Club in 1967 (I cried when they made me play a game in the backline ..... and I probably would cry again if they made me play there today). 2009 was the first year I haven't played (but expect a comeback in 2010). In that time I estimate I have played well over 1,000 games, often playing two games a week (only two of these games have been 'Golden Oldies'). During this time I have been in teams that have won the wooden spoon probably 3 or 4 times, but have been in premiership winning teams probably 8 or 9 times. I joined one club about ten years ago where the average age was around twenty..... someone worked out that I put the average age of the club up by 2 years.

I was sitting in a dressing room after a games 3 or 4 years ago where two players were talking about the points awarded for a try, a conversion, a penalty goal and a field goal. One of them said "a try is worth 5 points, but I think in the old days it was only worth 4 points". I sat there thinking 'I remember when I started playing a try was only worth 3 points!'

Nude Rugby? Despite this promotional game it just doesn't seem to have taken off.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Well I caused a little bit of a fuss last week. I was helping my brother put up a playground again. This time it was in the wonderfully historical town of Canowindra. The playground was something special. It was in the shape of a combine harvester. A lot of coastal towns have their playgrounds in the shape of a boat but since this was a rural setting a combine harvester seemed very appropriate. It had wheels on the side, chains and spirals to represent the harvester and water tanks to bulk out the body. A good look, and better than a pirate ship stuck in the middle of grain fields.

At the end of the first day we had the tanks, decks and posts in place. A number of locals came and looked and chatted, asking what it was. To me it looked a little industrial as I was trying to picture the finished item. With all the posts and the water tanks I suggested that it looked like a filtration plant or is topical at the moment.....a desalination plant.
The next morning when we arrived it still looked industrial. So I made a sign to hang on the fence telling everyone what we were building. "Canowindra Desalination Plant". Yep....couldn't resist; so hung it on the fence. Well within two minutes a passing car reversed up, the driver got out laughing and took a photo. A few more locals came and had a look, and a laugh. One of the park committee came and looked and had a laugh and commented how clever it was. So far so good.

However at lunchtime the chairman of the committee turned up just to check on progress. He wasn't impressed at all. Cut the sign down. Told us how the whole town was talking about it. He explained that someone local must be against the park and was trying to undermine him by putting up the sign. Said he would have to have a public meeting to smooth things out.

However I confessed up to the origins of the sign and things eventually smoothed out. And although Canowindra still remains 400 kms from the sea maybe a pirate ship might have been OK after all.

Monday, April 5, 2010


When I was about fifteen my good friend, Joseph Khoury told me he had just started square dancing and asked if I'd like to come along. I decided to go and even had to buy new clothes, bottle green pants and a mustard coloured shirt ...... well it was a long time ago. The caller was Barry Hickson and it was held in a church hall on Marsden Road at Eastwood. I enjoyed the first night and after a few more nights I was asked if I wanted to join a team for an upcoming competition. I joined the newly formed team; I think they were called the Brazilians, and we entered a competition held at a dancing weekend in Bundanoon. We didn't do any good! But it did introduce me to square dance competitions, and to the dancing teams trained by Ron Jones. They were terrific dancers and seemed to win just about every competition.

As it happened I moved shortly after this competition and as luck would have it the closest square dancing club to me was at Punchbowl and just happened to be run by Ron Jones. About 6 months later I was a regular at Ron's club and joined a new team being formed called the Shiralees. We not only did competitions but most weekends we did demonstrations. These demonstrations were at clubs, such as the St George Leagues Club, various bowling clubs and RSL clubs, and at fetes and old folks homes. Once we danced on television on a midday show. The routines for the demonstrations included intricate lifts. We did reasonably well in our competitions which were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle, as well as the yearly event in Bundanoon.

I left the team when I went away to university but when I came back my wife and I joined a team called the Stargazers. Again we did well at a number of competitions. One of my brothers, Ashley also joined a team, and it was at a square dance that he met his future wife, Keryn. Ashley became a caller, and trained teams of his own from time to time. His two children also became dancers and joined teams. Ashley and Keryn danced in many well known and top square dancing teams.

Square dances are so called because four pairs of dancers stand in a square with one couple on each side. A caller will play a piece of music and call out movements for the couples to perform. Sometimes the couples interact with each other swapping partners or places in the square, or sometimes joining hands. At other times they may be performing the complicated movement just with their partner or the couple opposite them. The song should end with every dancer back in their original place with their original partner. Many folk songs, and many popular songs are used as square dance tunes. This type of dancing was first seen in 17th century England and France, but it is also similar to Scottish reels and dances. It is often associated with the United States where the dance has developed. Nineteen US states have square dancing as their official state dance.

Modern square dancing was introduced into Australia in the 1940s and 50s. In July 1956 a meeting of dancers and callers, held at the Homebush RSL club in Sydney formed the Square Dance Society of NSW. The first National Square Dance convention was held in Canberra in 1959, with teams of dancers from Sydney and Brisbane participating. The following year a national convention was held in Sydney, and the year after in Brisbane. The 4th National Convention was held in Newcastle, followed by Victoria and then South Australia. Tasmania and Western Australia have also hosted conventions, and in 2011 Northern Territory will hold their first National Convention.

Square dance competitions really took off as the results of the efforts of Ron Jones. Ron was one of Australia's leading ballroom dance trainers in the 1950s. He saw a demonstration of American Square Dancing given to the Ballroom Associations by an American Joe Lewis. Ron took to this form of dancing with enthusiasm and helped promote it all around Australia. In the early 1960's he started square dance competitions as a segment with the Australian Federal Dance Association. These competitions attracted teams from all over Australia. At its height you could find at least one square dance club operating in Sydney on every night of the week, and square dance competitions were attracting 40 or 50 teams to each competition.

Sadly, on 29th November 2009 a group of several hundred enthusiasts gathered at the St Felix School Hall in Bankstown to watch and compete in Australia's last square dance competition. The last competition marks the end of an era: 50 years of square dancing competitions. Eight teams competed in this last competition which was probably fittingly won by the Dixie Stars, trained by Ron Jones (now in his late 80s). The Dixie Stars is the oldest continuous square dancing team still dancing. That is the team started way back nearly with the beginning of competitions but over the years dancers have come and gone in the team. Ashley and Keryn have been dancing with this team for over ten years.

Today there are over 160 active square dance callers and about 200 club venues still running around Australia.