Leaving Alice

I’ve been telling people “I’ll be leaving Alice Springs, soon”, though it seems to be harder to leave Alice than to settle into the place. People laugh and grin as they agree with me, while adding the admonition, “That’s what I said and I’ve been here, ooohh, 23 years now”. It seems Alice is one of those places.

Things fell into place for me here, I must admit. Upon arriving I booked into “Alice’s Secret Travelers Inn”, which was a wonderful entre, via the backpackers and transient workers, to the community. I heard of “The Bakery” while standing in reception. The German owner was extolling the quality of the bread to a young Dutch man who was also booking in. They had a cultural bread connection, which I wasn’t included in.

Over the next couple of days, I had a look around town and got myself sorted to make the trip to Uluru. I’d been to the bakery, a hip little place with really good food. I bought a pie on the first visit.

The day before going to see Uluru I was passing by The Bakery again, and, on a whim, I stopped in, and on an even bigger whim, I decided to see if they needed any bakers. Neil, the owner, and baker was sitting out the front having a break from the kitchen. When I mentioned I’d worked with sourdoughs and told him some of my experience he was pretty enthusiastic to employ me. I didn’t know it at the time, but over the last couple of months the business had shifted the food prep areas, that is to say, the bakery and the kitchen, including the ovens and prep benches and cool rooms and dough dividers and mixers; the whole box and dice, from the airport, some 15 km out of town, to the back of the shop, down-town, and, while doing that had maintained the normal running bakery. Neil was knackered and seemed pretty pleased to have a ready-made baker turn up looking for work.

So I went to Uluru, which was immense, and returned to Alice and started working at the bakery. The first week I did day shifts and learnt the basics of the bread, and a bit of general stuff about the bakery. The second week I started night shifts, doing the ovens first thing, baking the bread prepared the day before. It’s a cold ferment process, so after the final mold the bread is wheeled into the cold room and left until I come into bake it off, the following morning, between 3 and 4 AM.

Since then, it has been a refinement of that process. I’ve learnt the bake, that is to say, the oven work, loading and stripping the ovens. I do all the hand work, taking the mass of dough, dividing it into loaf size pieces, pre-shaping the pieces, giving them a rest, and then molding the loaves and placing them on the cloths.

In between the pre-shape and the final mold there are a variety of tasks, that vary from day to day. Mixing the doughs for the next nights bake is done either by Neil, or another part-time baker named “Dobbo”, or myself, and there are pie-base and puff pastry doughs to mix for the pastry chefs, as well as croissant doughs. These are all done in the big spiral mixer, though there are other things, doughnuts and bagels and so on, that the other chefs mix in the smaller bench mixer, and that isn’t without even starting on cakes and tarts and all the sweet treats everybody loves ina bakery. I stick to bread, though whatever other tasks fall in the shift are the ones you assist with.

…and now, 6 weeks later, I’ve finished my stint of working, and I’m ready to hit the road again except for one detail; the smashed rear window of the canopy on my Hilux. No foul play, no malice or senseless violence, other than my own, backing into an overhanging branch that I didn’t see during the big downpour. I was moving the car to avoid the potential of being trapped by floodwaters, something that was unlikely anyway. I think I was overly tired. Whatever…the result was a smashed back window in the car park at the bottom of Anzac Hill during a torrential downpour, the biggest 24 hours of rain in over 20 years. What a life!

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