Camp Ovens at Twenty Paces
By Franz Scheurer

A dusty, unsealed, deserted track in the Flinders Ranges, flanked by a pub, a general store and a post office, is the artery of a ‘town’ called Blinman. A lone traveller, surely lost in the vast Australian Outback, stumbles across this place and wonders how the locals get their kicks or manage to survive the boredom of isolation.

Suddenly there’s a cloud of dust on the horizon to the east, answered by a thundering noise from the west and the clattering of tortured diesel engines to the northwest. Dusty, heavily laden utes, trucks and 4WDs roll into town from all directions, creaking to a stop in front of the pub, disgorging sweaty, thirsty people with big hats and pointy boots, swaggering into the pub, busting for a pee and thirsting for an ice-cold beer. They all have one thing in common: they’re packing camp ovens, ready to do battle. It’s the Blinman Hotel 2004 ‘Cook Out Back’ Camp Oven Cooking Competition weekend!

The terraced hillside, next to the pub, has been prepared for fifty competition sites. A team of fearless, tireless and incredibly strong young men have the hot job of preparing and supplying the coals for fifty campfires over two days. As the town fills up and the septic struggles, competitors draw a site number out of a hat, receive their ‘main ingredients’ (flour for day one and a leg of lamb, two carrots, two potatoes and two onions for day two) and start lugging their gear off the roof racks and onto their allocated space. Some just bring a camp oven, a couple of gloves, some cooking utensils and a bag full of hope, and others come equipped with marquis, tables, chairs and the kitchen sink. But all have one thing in common: they all have an esky full of booze.

This is the Australia we all know exists but don’t ever seem to find anymore. People are genuine, salt of the earth, rough and tumble, full of politically incorrect mischief and still say ‘G’Day’! Although this is a competition, and the prize money is serious, camaraderie and banter prevail. Everyone wants to win but no one really cares if they don’t. This is all about participating, being part of the mob.

The rules for the competition are simple: You must use the ‘main’ ingredients supplied and you must cook everything in a camp oven or Bedourie (camp ovens are cast iron and a Bedourie is made from pressed steel). You are allowed to bring extra ingredients, spices, herbs, etc. Half the competitors cook with flour on day one and the other half cook the meat. On day two this is reversed. A single-serve plate is presented to the judges at a set time and the winners are announced at the end of day two.

You wouldn’t believe what can be achieved in a camp oven! From dampers and breads to clafoutis and steamed puddings and from croissants, cakes and jam rolls to focaccia and pizzas. Lamb roasts aplenty, stews everywhere, curries here and a goulash there, pies, sausage rolls, hamburgers and even rolled roasts with flavours from eucalypt to Moroccan, with textures from soft and gelatinous to jerky-like and dried, accompanied by glazed, mashed, steamed, baked, deep-fried or sautéed vegies. It’s absolutely astounding (even more so as the balance of some of the cooks is seriously affected by the end of the day!)

Once you have presented your food the pressure is off. You can relax with yet another beer, or, as this is South Australia a glass of wine. I do, however, have a word of caution for the visiting city-slicker cook: Don’t show up at the campsite with a canary yellow, clean Land Rover, unpack and sit down with a glass of pink wine called ‘Big Men in Tights’, whilst wearing a purple designer T-shirt and blue Lennon-style glasses… Thank you Terry, thank you Tony! No we’re not, but thanks for asking!

We met a lot of fabulous people and not a single jerk. Helpful, full of humour and life’s stories, this is the place to be each October long weekend.
We’ll be back!

For more information or to book your site for next year:
Blinman Hotel
P.O. Box 9
Blinman SA 5730
Tel.: 08 8648 4867

You can camp anywhere in the Parachilna Gorge or Glass Gorge but if you want a hot shower with terrific water pressure in a clean, well-maintained camping area then contact the
Angorichina Tourist Village
Parachilna Gorge
Angorichina SA 5730
Tel.: 08 8648 4842
And Dave will look after you.

Dawn Getting Threre F at B   M at B Parachilna Gorge Prepared Pits In the bush   Comp Comp1 Comp3 Comp4  Fireboys Comp5 Terrible Three   Smithy  Peeling Vegies   Rising Bread More Bread Trad Method Judges   Skippy Going Home