Our first photo shoot for The Great Australian Cookbook was at the family home of Sharon and Carol Salloum (Almond Bar) in the western suburbs in Sydney. Ironically, we were greeted simultaneously by at least 20 family members coupled with the apologies of our hosts who said they hadn’t been able to rustle together many family members for the photo! With a storm threatening we filled the frame full with the Salloum family as they prepared dinner in the back yard on a home-built bbq positioned under the iconic hills hoist.
With such a big family and food being such an important part of family gatherings Sharon said that one of the most important thing her father had taught her about bbq’ing was how to cook and socialise at the same time, which she clearly demonstrated as rain and lightening reached the west. Despite the wet conditions cooking went on unfazed – the bbq was lifted to shelter and the chefs continued their job turning meat, catching up, having a few beers and giving each other grief.
Leaving the Salloum family feeling like part of the family might have set a tough precedent for the project had our experience not been so similar everywhere we called.
When you tell people you’re photographing a food book that will take you all over Australia the offers from friends, family, strangers and even contributors to carry our bags and join the journey as extra crew came thick and fast. However, I’d do anything to avoid the harsh Aussie sun (especially where that was coupled by 40 degree heat and 100 percent humidity) and that meant the team was often on the road in the darkness in order to arrive at a remote location well in advance of sunrise. I wonder if the offers of bag carrying crew would have been revoked on those days? I’m incredibly grateful for the good humour of our team and the contributors who obliged my requests. Bush tomato cultivator Max Emery lives two hours from Alice Springs and so to meet him for our damper shoot we left Alice at 3am and followed a mud map to the corner of two red dirt roads near Rainbow Valley. Happily we met a kangaroo leaving that shoot rather than in the pitch black night as we drove into the valley. The glowing pink sunrise illuminating Max’s well worn hat, the soft yellow of the grass hiding the spiky spinifex and the red sandstone cliffs that greeted us as the billy boiled was worth the early morning.
In fact, every early morning, late night and long drive was well rewarded. One of the images that is etched into my mind is our early morning journey off the coast of Perth with Jim Mendolia and his crew. Off the coast on the hunt for sardines the boat was met by a pod of dolphins who, in the splendid pink of the morning, shepherded us to our fishing location where we gathered a load of the silvery glittering fish as Jim’s brand new Australian flag flapped proudly at the bow of the boat.
My mum is Australian and so this project gave me the chance to really get to see the great country she hails from. As a New Zealander I know how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country, but it wasn’t until I spent six months covering the enormous expanse of land from Perth to Sydney, Darwin to Adelaide, Melbourne, Tasmania, Noosa to Byron Bay that I realised how magical the Australian landscape is itself. Australia is a country I’ll forever associate with rich reds, dusky pinks, silvery pastel greens and wispy golden yellows. The diversity of colour is evenly matched in the vast array of cultural influences we encountered throughout our food experiences.
To all the contributors who opened their doors to their home or restaurants, who introduced us to their families, took us out on farms, through local markets, to gardens, finger-lime orchards and pine forests or who ventured with us out into the vast big blue offshore, thank you. Thank you for sharing your stories, your hospitality, your time, your knowledge (and often your wine) with us. And thank you for collaborating with us to create a book celebrating of the state of Australian food today.
To the team involved with creating the book – Murry Thom and the team at Thom Productions, Geoff Blackwell, Ruth Hobday and the team at PQ Blackwell, Tim Harper, Hayley Thom, Melissa Leong and Helen Greenwood – well done and thanks for having me along to photograph such an incredible (emu and kangaroo-filled) ride!