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:
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
Angorichina SA 5730
Tel.: 08 8648 4842
And Dave will look after you.