Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Three Bens

Over the last three weeks I have been fortunate to have been in the same room as three amazing men with the name of Ben! Each spoke about their passions. There's always something uplifting about being inspired by those who love what they do to the point that listening to their stories is rather humbling. So let's start at the Queenscliffe Literary Festival. 

But first a little background into this new 'event' which was held each weekend through the Merry Month of May and after the success of this first 4 weekends I do hope that it will be the beginning of more to come. It was initiated by the owner of The Bookshop at Queenscliff  - MaryLou Gilbert and her merry band of assistants and volunteers. Geraldine Doogue who seems to have been part of the Australian psyche (on ABC Radio and Television) for longer than most of us can remember, opened the Festival (followed by local cheeses and wines!) Just as an aside I was reading the local RIP News (the Rip being the waters between Queenscliff and Portsea at the Heads of Port Phillip Bay) I was stunned to read that the locals were looking forward to the festival being opened by Gerldine Doofgue (sic) (yes really - we got slightly hysterical reading it!) - so much for good editing! Anyway enough of that. 

We continued a few weekends ago with a wonderful session in which author (recent book Shy), reviewer, soprano, interviewer etc etc etc Sian Prior (known to many as an ABC reviewer) welcomed us with two wonderful baroque songs of love (I can't remember the titles - sorry!) 

And then it was onto the two Bens. We began with Ben Shaw who spoke with passion about finding his 'tribe' on the Bellarine Peninsula through permaculture. He has recently set up the garden at the divine Kiltynane Winery. We were so inspired that we rushed to see it the following day and were blown away by the location and beauty of the winery and the restaurant.
What a view - rolling lawns, past the vegetable gardens, past the vineyard, across Swan Bay to Queenscliff
Fabulous vegetable garden, looking back towards the old house - now a restaurant
We visited on a 'perfect' day but you can always sit inside and enjoy French food, Kiltynane Wines and eclectic art
And then it was onto Ben Shewry, the famed head chef/owner of the acclaimed Attica Restaurant (voted 2nd in Australia a week later and currently 32/50 in The Top 50 Restaurants in the World). He spoke about his journey at the restaurant and how he had also found his 'tribe' living on the Bellarine Peninsula - a 2 hour drive to work and 1.5 hours home - one he says is worth the journey. In fact it seems that since his move to Ocean Grove with his family (now 3 children) his restaurant has gone from strength to strength. He felt so welcomed and had 'come home' (he is a New Zealander but we are happy to claim him)
Ben Shewry (
It was another uplifting talk about his restaurant journey (and his family journey - you can't have one without the other) and in conclusion he advised that he had made us each a gift to take with us (that's the type of person he is!). Now I might get this a little wrong (no notebook at the ready) He had made each of us an egg. He told the story of the fun he likes to have with his clients at the restaurant. At the conclusion of the meal the diners were presented with a nest of eggs. They were told that they were from an almost extinct bird in New Zealand. The diners were asked not to tell anyone that they were offered to them to eat. And then the waiters would leave the table and watch the diners hesitate - should they eat an egg of an almost extinct bird, should they leave them - oh why not - and so they colluded to eat the eggs - which turned out to be stunning white chocolate with a burst of delicious runny caramel inside. And there was one for each of us (150 people)! It is probably the closest I will get to eating at Attica! Heaven!
A nest of eggs - one for each of us
And they were 'lifesize'!
And finally there was the third Ben. I went to hear the Booker Prize winning author and poet, Nigerian-born, Ben Okri speak at the Malthouse Theatre. It was a humbling experience to be in the presence of such an articulate, thoughtful, intelligent man. I must say that I found his 1991 Booker Prize winning book The Famished Road not an easy read. The power of story telling began with his parents who wove story and mystery into their daily life. It was extraordinary. He was here to talk about his new book The Age of Magic but in the course of the conversation he mentioned that he had been asked to write a foreward to some of his earlier works. It entailed him re-reading them (something he wouldn't normally do) and along the way all the books he had written he felt could improve with some re-writing. That is except for one. It was Astonishing the Gods written in 1991.  So of course that is on my-to-read-list and it might now be on yours. 

Ben Okri (
Melbournites may be interested to know that he felt he needed to take a few minutes to weave his magic for us - saying that in the 19 years since his last visit to Melbourne the city has changed - for the better. It is now sophisticated, stylish, literary (well after all we are the UNESCO City of Literature) confident, artistic - and well a joy to visit. Of course we all clapped him for this nod! 

To be in the presence of three such articulate and passionate Bens was an inspiration. What  synchronicity there was in their name.

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