A taste of living in the bush- An artist’s inspiration in The Top End

 Land for Wildlife, Top End program, is a scheme that networks together land managers, whether they have large tracts of native bushland or smaller blocks, in managing their land for native wildlife. (www.landforwildlifetopend.com) There are an amazing diversity of members with great stories to tell and a love of our incredible native landscapes.  Most recently Jasmine Jan, a member and local artist  hosted our aquatic plant workshop. She is a wonderful local artist and lets the scheme use her artwork for their promotions and website! (which I happen to manage as well as now having the privilege to visit many of the properties with my work)

 Here is her members story –

northern long neck turtle2

 An obsession with wildlife, a love of the bush and a desire to own a property with a natural water feature was the drive behind searching the weekend newspapers real estate guide for years. Then one day a small ad appears in the classifieds section and reads “105 acres at Lambells lagoon, bushblock with wet season waterhole. Put your house in the middle and never see the neighbours”.

We got in the 4WD drove out to the place and discovered it literally was just a bushblock with no development on it at all. For me it was like a blank canvas or a fresh clean sheet of watercolour paper just waiting for an artist to create something with it.

This block was a bushland oasis completely surrounded by mango farms and market gardens. We drove the 4WD onto the property following a natural clearing through the bush as there was no driveway or track in. It turns out the natural clearing was a drainage line for the wet season waterhole. We pulled up on the edge of an amazing flooded paperbark billabong that was bristling with white waterlilies and our jaws literally dropped.

Jasmin Jan- Honey EAters

It was three years before we started building on the block. It was the best thing we ever did. The block is just a mecca for wildlife and as a wildlife artist I was soaking up inspiration from every direction. It is not unusual for me to experience a David Attenborough moment whilst working in my studio/gallery which sits on the edge of the Paperbark billabong and acts as a huge bird hide. One highlight was watching a pair of Black-necked Storks teaching their young one how to fish in the shallows of the billabong literally 8 metres away from my studio verandah. Another memorable moment was canoeing in amongst the reeds and waterlilies to discover a pair of Green Pygmy Geese leading their group of 6 ducklings away from me.

 Fresh water prawns

It is fascinating to see the changes taking place at this waterhole from the dry season to the build-up and into the wet season. Not a day goes by without me feeling grateful for the amazing lifestyle that we enjoy living on this piece of paradise.

burdekin ducks

One of the things we do enjoy is showing people our little piece of paradise. It almost seems criminal to not share our amazing place with others who can appreciate and enjoy the joys that a natural bush block can bring.


The Food of Love


What better way to celebrate love than with food; whether it is a romantic meal or a wedding, a family meal or a special feast, food brings people together and is cooked with love! Food is such a central part of every culture, and there are traditions, even if it is a family favourite or a dish kept for special occasions cooked in a certain way.

 abby and kokonda

 OK, so this (not so) little piece is not entirely set here in the Top End, but it features awesome local food, and a food story that stems from our Darwin garden and journeys elsewhere. I would like to credit the above group wedding shot and the below wedding photos which are taken by the very clever (and helpful) Sooz of Illuminating Photography (photos 1,3,4,5,6,7and 10).

kimmy and justin

All ceremonies and cultural celebrations accumulate in food and it is now a year since our good friends held an amazing wedding with amazing food, food from the heart. I have been meaning to write about it (with their full endorsement) since and what better way than on the (now belated) anniversary.

Wedding Kimmy and Justin, although living far from us here in Darwin are a couple that have very similar interests and a way of living to us, giving consideration to the environment with the food they eat and the items they consume. Justin works with native reveg. and Kimmy in sustainable living and they love circus, being creative and making things (like all the matching wedding outfits!)


They came to Darwin for our wedding on the beach (now over 50 moons ago) and performed at the ceremony and helped prepare some of the (local and fair) food, so it was just wonderful to travel to visit them to celebrate their joining! They had their ceremony at Black Butt look out in the beautiful national park, up a winding road under a wonderful large gum tree right next to the most amazing look out in to the ranges. We then all went back down to a community built hall, called Hanging rock hall, where we were camped.

kimmy and justin

kimmy and justin We enjoyed circus shows from Kimmy and Justin’s circus group at our tables- which were decorated with the most incredible detail- all hand made decorations, circus flags and lamps, native flowers and under the stars and a string of fairy lights; organic wine from Temple Breuer vineyard, beer from the nearby Byron Bay Brewing Company and native saplings as table decorations, doubling as guest presents and great company…

night table

The party continued on into the night with dancing and merriment..


 kimmy and justin Ohhhhh and the food was incredible…

So what was so special about the food? Well it was that the guests cooked it. The gift to the bride and groom was that everyone bought their favourite dish to the wedding and the guidance given- whether it was to be sweet or savoury. There were 2 amazing long tables of food, home cooked with love, all with little labels saying what each dish was. There were quiches, bowls of salad from the local community garden, lasagnes, spinach and feta pies, and an amazing array of sweets, fresh fruit….and so much more I can’t even remember.

salad by night

food line up 3

spinach pie food line up2

The food journey story…

Back in Darwin we thought about what our favourite special dish would be and hands down it is namas, kokondo, pouisson cru or whatever you care to call this awesome dish. We have grown to love this from travelling through the Pacific and into Darwin, where it is quite a favourite. We don’t eat fish that often, if everyone in the world ate it all the time our sea would be a less amazing place, so we tend o eat friend caught fish- just occasionally; and on special occasions- like weddings.

kokonda finish Usually we make kokonda with Jew fish marinated in Greenies Howard Spring limes, soak it, drain it and add it to firm but ripe pawpaw, cucumber, spring onion, coriander and maybe capsicums if they are in season and then home made coconut milk. We wanted to take a few special home made ingredients with us, so Jon made coconut milk from our back yard coconuts, put it in a jar and put it in a bag with an ice brick for our journey. We also squeezed limes from the orchard, popped that in a jar (I love jars) to take a little bit of Darwin to the table. We knew we would have a day before hand, as we were heading to the back of Nimbin in the Shannon and could track down some ingredients- luckily most of the produce involved also grows down in northern New South Wales..

We hit the coast the day before and tried to get fish from the small fishing boats- but they didn’t have any for sale.

sold oot

So we went to a small fishmonger near by at Tweed Heads and bought, I am pretty sure, Jew Fish (you need firm fish that stays together) then ate chips that we had also got, and got crazy seagulls after them too- mm good fresh real made chips- man I miss them in Darwin, but of course we have plenty of other great things to make up for it!

Sea gulls

We headed into the hills, to our home stay in the Channon and happened to drive past a small organic farm, in Uki, So we dropped in- it was perfect to find some crunchy accompaniments to our Jew fish, to chop and mix into the fresh coconut ensemble. Layla, a lovely lady working there showed us around and the small farm nestled into the underside of Mount Warning and in tunnels at the back were rows and rows of feral climbing chunky vine tomatoes.

organic guide

We walked around with the basket and picked the produce straight from the plants!

tomato picking

In the lower gardens were capsicums, cucumbers and even artichokes- it is such a magical experience being able to visit a small farm, see where your produce is being grown, be happy with the process and buy it right there. It is a small step away from growing it yourself, but sadly not as possible in Darwin, as farms bring produce to market and communications between buyer and grower are often limited (but hey we are trying to work on that!) So we got onions, capsicums, tomatoes and cucumbers.


pyo toms

Happy that we had all the ingredients needed we headed off to our homestay, and if you are in the area this is a fantastic place to stay, permaculture principles and a warm family atmosphere- Eternity Springs Art Farm– run by Amanda.

Amanda at Eternity

Produce all around, pretty flowers and a great vibe.


Oh yeah and the biggest Mulberry tree I have ever seen – loaded with mulberries

mulberries mulberry jam

and turned into the most mazing homemade mulberry jam for brekky

So while relaxing in the colourful surroundings we marinated the fish overnight in lime juice, topped up with fresh Eternity springs garden limes.

kokonda ingredients smile emma chops chopped stuff

We cut up all the ingredients. We usually use ripe but firm pawpaw and cucumber with spring onion at home in Darwin but chose to leave this out as we had an array of great ingredients- you can really use what you like.

food label

We then wrote and decorated a little story about the ingredients and drove through Nimbin to the organic co-op to get local coriander – if you fancy you can use Thai Basil, or Vietnamese coriander or Lemon Basil.

And that is the story of the wedding food dish. We spent the rest of our time hanging out with Kimmy and Justin drinking the left over Byron Bay beer at their gorgeous house near Mullumbimby and enjoying fresh yummy food from the garden, visiting other friends and camping around the area, which is full of produce honesty boxes, national parks, farmers and of course some hippies!

jon kokonda

kokonda in line up

Byron beer byron beer 2

growing organic kids honesty box nnsw house

Thanks guys and happy (belated) anniversary