July 10, 2013 - Andrew Fielke
In late May, a new team was formed to put together the latest episodes of Desert Kitchen due to some recent changes in staff. The team took to the road for 3 weeks to film the next 3 episodes in quick succession - episode 4 in Blackstone, episode 5 in Wanarn and episode 6 in Tjurkurla. An award-winning chef from Adelaide was contracted to come on the journey and facilitate the cooking process. Andrew Fielke, who founded the hugely successful and internationally renowned Red Ochre Restaurants, has worked since 1985 to promote Australia’s native food resources, combining contemporary flavours with 40,000-year-old ingredients to result in truly unique dishes he refers to as ‘Creative Native Australian Cuisine’. Andrew used this as a basis to come up with original, easy-to-reproduce recipes to accompany the wildlife that would be hunted and used in these episodes. Read Andrew’s second diary entry about his experiences in Wanarn here.
After extensive repacking and sorting of cameras, lighting, food, swags and camping equipment, we headed out in convoy to Wanarn, some 3 hours drive. We would be bush camping all this week at Old Wanarn, now just a deserted ghost town of a few tin sheds and a bore, about 10 km from the current township. The weather was clearing up nicely and the crew were looking forward to shooting this episode in good light as compared to the previous week. The trip was uneventful, with the occasional camel sighting but no roos at all. Apparently they are pretty scarce in this part of the desert. But with camel planned for the hunt and the pot, it was good to see a few.
Shooting at the Wanarn store & shopping. Part of each episode is to highlight some of the facilities in each of these remote communities. This outback store was certainly the best so far, only 2 years old; very spacious and modern. At one stage during the day’s filming we had to stop and respectfully stand back behind the counters as a large procession of Aboriginal people came filing through, each carrying a handful of gum leaves for a cleansing “smoking” ceremony. They had all just been at sorry camp, a gathering of mourning for someone just passed away. They filed up and down each isle, swishing the leaves here and there over the shelves, fridge doors, baskets, the ATM machine and counters. Even the hand-held EFTPOS machine was requested to be cleansed - everywhere the spirit of the deceased had come into contact with. It was moving to see these traditions being upheld, as they should. A few of the old ladies wore no tops, as in the past, with pendulous breasts unashamedly on full view.
The rest of the days’ shoot went well, with me collecting the ingredients for my Camel Tagine dish.
Goanna hunting with Miss Daisy was a load of fun on the Wednesday. What a treat to be shown the traditional way to find these desert delicacies, especially with such a bubbly and cheeky host. She had shown my co-presenter Nara the method earlier in the day when the ladies were filming some intro footage, but back at our camp site, Miss Daisy showed us a burrow entrance less then 5 metres from our fire place. We had noticed the goanna burrows all around the area in the red sand & spinifex country, and they had all just seemed like deserted holes overgrown with weeds. Miss Daisy explained what to look for and then proceeded to jab the ground all around the entrance with a stick searching for the “give” - the hollow feeling below the ground, where the burrow led. This was an elusive one and a couple of us had a go, searching the ground, jabbing in ever widening circles with no luck. We gave up and had a rest, but I soon continued the search and sure enough, right next to where we had parked the cars I found the hollow spot below the ground. Quickly shoveling up the dirt, I uncovered a rapidly awaking 1 metre goanna to great squeals of laughter and delight from three of the local ladies. This had all happened with the cameras switched off, so Phil the film-coordinator got me to quickly bury the lizard again, and re-enact the discovery with the cameras rolling. Everyone was laughing as the second time I went to grab the goanna, it was really waking up and I had to avoid being bitten and quickly dash its head on a branch a couple times to kill it! Miss Daisy showed us the fascinating traditional way to remove the intestines via the anus and how to cook it in the hot ash of the fire. Particularly important was the way the carcass was shared with the belly cavity fat. The flavour of the pale meat had a really nice sweet “chickeney” taste, texture quite firm and stringy. I would love to one day cook goanna in a slow braise, perhaps Asian or Italian style, to see what it is like that way.
Camel hunting – it was with great anticipation we set out with 2 full troopies loaded with camera gear and a few Wanarn locals including Bernard Newberry who was to be our shooter. It was only about 15km out of town before we headed off-road through the scrub and sure enough came across the first mob of half-a-dozen of these strange looking beasts. After a quick assessment it was decided we would look further for a younger and fatter camel, so we worked on further into the bush. I was driving and leading as we weaved in between trees and fallen logs and pot holes when we spotted the next heard across a creek bed. Nudging through the deep drifts of sand we soon got bogged which was a lot of fun. Thankfully in low range, we got out easily enough. Soon we had identified the young camel we wanted from this group, and after a bit of maneuvering through the scrub to get the right angle and clear shot, Bernard bought him down with three shots. Straight away we were shown how to cut the throat and bleed the animal. Then the back-breaking work began. Even a young camel is a huge beast, and with amazingly tough fibrous fur and 5mm thigh skin, it was hard even getting the skinning done. Removing the huge hind and forequarter cuts, cutting through massive knee joints was hot and sweaty work with flies aplenty, just difficult to even hold the heavy slippery cuts of meat so you could sever the joints in the muscles. I was please to finally try my “handyman’s” oscillating saw in cutting through the huge ribs to extract a giant rack of spare ribs, it worked a treat, much easier and cleaner than hacking away with a cleaver or meat hand saw. Half way there and it took a few of us to flip the huge carcass over to work the other side. A couple of hours later, we were all done, and some of the huge joints were casually thrown up onto the troopy’s roof rack, as well as into some eskys for the drive home. Exhausting stuff, and boy did I miss not having a cold beer, being in a dry zone.
Camel Tagine at Old Wanarn. The next day was reasonably straight forward, setting up the kitchen and cooking fire with a lovely desert backdrop amongst the sheoak trees. As usual, lots of time getting the settings and frames right for the multiple cameras. The camel really suits a tagine, being of course from the same region, and the recipe sequences went along nicely. The flavour was excellent, but although the connective tissue of the meat breaks down, the meat fibres themselves still remain a little dense in texture, and need a little work chewing . The one cut that is different in my experience is the undercut fillet, which is beautifully tender. A successful day.
Travel to Tjukarla – after breakfast and pack up of camp, the convoy heads off to Tjukarla, the smallest township we will visit this trip, some 4-5 hours away. Nearly an hour on the road, progress was slowed to walking pace as we nudged our way through the biggest herd of camels I had ever see crossing the road, there would have easily been 100 +, all ages and sizes. After lunch at the Warakurna Roadhouse, we pushed on through magnificent country with beautiful ranges here and there to our last week of shooting in Tjurkurla.