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Our Country Golden Girl

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Singer Songwriter Amber Lawrence has captured the hearts of rural communities all over the country through her authentic songs about Australia.

An accomplished singer, songwriter, mother, radio and TV presenter, mentor, volunteer for multiple charities and multi award winner; Amber Lawrence has shone bright throughout her career as an inspiration for our community.

Amber took home 3 prestigious awards at the 2018 CMAA Golden Guitar Awards and also welcomed her first child with fianc Martin Newman that same year. The new mother went on to co-host the 2019 awards show and has shown no signs of slowing down on her successful, multi-faceted career. 

The star has grown a devoted rural following performing for country towns throughout Australia and travelling to rural, close-knit communities like Muswellbrook and Aberdeen. “It’s so heart-warming to get to small towns, and find out what’s special about them,” Amber said.

“Every town has a few things it’s known for, whether it’s the sunset, the great bakery, the river, the beach or the people, and I love to find out all about it.”

“The smallest country town can be the best gig of the year; every day is different in this job and I love it,” Amber added. 

Along with her loyal country following, Lawrence has created a hub of country music in her hometown of Sydney, surrounded by family, friends and fans.

Amber started to take singing more seriously a little later in life than many in the music industry. The now star wasn’t a musical child prodigy though dabbled in music, signing lessons and karaoke here and there for fun.

It wasn’t until Ambers music teacher suggested that she listen to some different genres that she began looking into a singing career. 

Achievement after achievement, Amber has redefined what it means to be a go getter. The singer won the Golden Guitar for Female Artist of the Year in 2015 along with many other awards since then.

Lawrence was then given the opportunity to perform for the military in Afghanistan in 2016, a moment to which she jumped at. “Singing for our Troops in Afghanistan was incredible,” Amber said.

“To be in such a dangerous place, but bringing some love and light to our Australian troops for just a short time was so special.”

In 2017 Amber sang her own song ‘100 Year Handshake’ for the President of the United States Donald Trump and the Prime Minister of Australia, among many other dignitaries. “That was a pinch myself moment – singing in New York, just me and my guitar, a song about Australian and American relations in front of the world’s leaders,” said Amber.

Amber supports many charities including RSL DefenceCare, Special Olympics and The Stroke Foundation and also mentors young artists in the Australian Music Industry. 

The caring artist continues to go above and beyond for communities, fans and organisations around her. Don’t miss Amber Lawrence’s inspiring and authentic 2019 tour. 

Amber’s next Hunter Valley performance will be at the Upper Hunter Farmers Benefit in Aberdeen on Saturday July 27 and the ‘Your Town Your Tour’ at the Paterson School of Arts Friday November 15.

Visit www.amberlawrence.com.au for the full list of Tour Date information or visit Ambers Facebook and Instagram for recent career updates.

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Stunning Sri Lanka

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Though we are all still stuck within our borders, it’s never too early to start dreaming about a holiday. This month we bring you a place that is probably not on your bucket list. Until you read this.

I’ve driven in crazy traffic in many countries but our first morning in Sri Lanka made me glad we had taken the easy option and arranged for a driver and van to take us from the airport to the historic north of the country, home to ancient kingdoms and some of the world’s holiest Buddhist sites. Our driver Rohan had the world’s calmest temperament, which was needed to cope with the constant squeeze of traffic into our lane, swarming motorbikes and the odd elephant crossing the road.

Our first stop was the 2,400 year old city of Anuradhapura, the location of many beautiful and significant Buddhist stupas and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree planted in 288 BC which is reputed to be from a branch of the historical Sri Maha Bodhi in India under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment, and the oldest living tree in the world with a known planting date.

Following beautiful Anuradhapura, we travelled to the Dambulla Cave Temple complex which contains around 160 statues of Buddha, Hindu gods, and Sri Lankan kings, and from there we visited Sigiriya, site of a 1500-year-old fortress on top of a rocky outcrop that dominates the landscape. Climbing the steps to the top and seeing the stunning views was a major highlight.

Breaking up the historic part of our holiday, we took an open jeep tour through Minneriya National Park to see dozens of elephants, water buffaloes, and monkeys along with many birds before discovering the fantastic ruins and temples of the enormous 1,000 year old city of Polonnaruwa.

After three amazing days of exploring the amazing historic northern cities, we felt we deserved a couple of days lazing by the beach with cocktails in hand so we headed to the east coast village of Pasikudah, whose beautiful beach is seeing a growing number of 5 star resorts at very reasonable prices.

Our next stop was down the coast to pretty Arugam Bay, a famous surf town which was filled with an incongruous mixture of young European surfer backpackers in bikinis or shorts drinking beers and conservative Muslims fasting through Ramadan.

From here we left the coast to head up to Ella, a bustling tourist hill-town renowned for hiking trails such as Little Adam’s Peak and local teas or juices, and home to one of the friendliest B&B’s we have ever stayed in. Ella is also the starting point of the famous Ella-Kandy train, the country’s most scenic train route which heads through picturesque tea plantations and waterfalls to Sri Lanka’s second biggest city Kandy, our last stop before home.

Sri Lanka is one of the best holidays we’ve ever had, with a mesmerising diversity of cultures, history, landscapes, and extraordinarily friendly people and I can’t recommend it enough for your first international trip once the borders open. Our 3yo ginger daughter was like the second coming of the Buddha, with hundreds of requests for selfies from locals obsessed with her hair.

It was fascinating to the see the changes in religion, language and culture as we travelled throughout different parts of the country, as the country is predominantly Catholic in the west, Buddhist in the north, Muslim in the south east, and Hindu in the south. Because of this, if you are visiting it is important to remember some of the rules around religious sites, such as not taking photos with or turning your back on statues of the Buddha and wearing appropriate clothing in temples and mosques, but that is a small price to pay for visiting such a beautiful and unique island.

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Exquisite Cuisine at Coquun

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Coquun is a modern and elegant café, bar and bistro charmingly situated along the Hunter River in Maitland serving bright and beautiful flavours of the native food bowl.

Not only have they created an absolutely delectable menu of refined, mostly locally sourced cuisine inspired by native flavours; Coquun has also established a unique and welcoming meeting ground for people to come together and enjoy.

Coquun is on Wonnarua country and respectfully acknowledges the ancient history of the land and it’s first people, drawing inspiration from native flavours and customs. Relaxing views of the Hunter River and warm and welcome service from staff makes it the perfect spot for a relaxing breaky or lunch in the sun.

The menu is fresh and modern with a beautiful selection of wines, beer and cocktails to tastefully accompany each dish. My sister joined me on our visit to Coquun on a sunlit Wednesday lunch, and we enjoyed taking in the scenery as we selected our entrée’s, mains and beverages.

Browsing the assortment of cheeses, charcuterie, sausages and smaller plates to start, we decided on the Marinated Olives and the Salt and Vinegar Brussels Sprouts. Never having tried a variation of the traditional brussels sprouts (which my sister and I are not fans of), I was pleasantly surprised to find they were absolutely delicious, with a crispy tang. If you have a fussy kid that refuses to eat healthy foods, this may be a game changer. The olives were also fresh and well marinated; I went through them like popcorn.

We shared the Damper Dip Bowl; we can never seem to go past a damper dip. The toasted damper dipped into a melted, herby cheese was enough to make us both look at each other with our eyes wide with excitement. Needless to say, it was a race to see who got to have the last bite and it was gone within minutes.

On to the Cheese and Bacon Burger with Fries; a classic favourite. Except it was anything but ‘classic’. The beef was a high-end super thick, juicy patty that was absolutely full of flavour. It was the kind of meat that just melted in your mouth. The burger also had a bush tomato type relish that was unique in taste, fresh and a great addition to a beautifully cooked patty. Served with a side of crispy fries, it filled us up quick smart.

We ran out of time for dessert, but we had to mention some of the delicious options. The Dropped White Chocolate Panna Cotta caught my eye with wattle seed and sesame crack, caramelised white chocolate and eucalyptus caramel. And for next time, we have already decided on the Pear, Rum, Ginger Pudding, Caramelised Fig, Honey Macadamia Hunter Valley Gelato.

Our quick Wednesday lunch on our work break turned into a delightful experience that made us wish we could stay for a cocktail or two.

If you’re looking for a lunch or dinner spot this weekend, head to Maitland, take a stroll along the river and make your way to Coquun.

Visit http://www.coquun.com.au to check out their full menu.
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Treated Like Royalty

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With a modern elegance, The Royal Federal Hotel Branxton has created a sophisticated yet classic pub aesthetic that has set the bar high for pubs in the Hunter Valley.

We love a good pub feed here @ The Coalface, and I’ll tell you what…we have done the rounds when it comes to pubs in the Hunter Valley. So, when a pub stands out, we’re not shy about sharing the news.

A stunning, cloudless Friday saw my colleague and I visit The Royal Federal Hotel for an afternoon pub lunch that left us dazed and amazed. Classy, refined and modish, the country pub has skilfully fused a classic pub feel and modernised menu with that of a high-end restaurant.

As you walk through back entrance of the impressive two-story hotel, you’re met with a traditional, classic style bar that encompasses that Aussie pub experience. The beautiful wooden features and exposed brick make it a homely stop for a post work bevvy.

Moving upstairs to the bistro the setting effortlessly shifts towards a more contemporary, quirky and artistic design. Beautiful artworks and private function areas lead you through a quaint little library archway, filled wall to wall with books you can borrow.

We were lucky enough to be seated in one of the available function spaces, a stunning room decorated with empty frames placed artistically along the walls. We sat down at the head of the huge dining table and placed our order.

For starters, we shared the Bruschetta – a toasted sourdough topped with prosciutto, tomato salsa, burrata cheese, pesto and balsamic reduction. Fresh and flavourful, this dish was a delightful way to kick things off.

Then came our entrees and mains. The twice cooked Pork Belly was served with sweet and sour sauce, kumara puree and roast baby vegetables. The meat was tender and succulent, and the puree and vegetables complimented the dish with their vibrant presentation and flavours.

We also had the Seafood Chowder with flathead, clams, squid, prawns, smoked bacon and vegetables served with dinner rolls. The warm soup of fresh seafood and vegetables made for a tasty winter entrée.

Our mains consisted of the Portuguese Chicken, marinated in peri peri sauce with a Caribbean style salad and grilled corn; and the 200g Eye fillet, pan seared with butter, garlic and thyme serviced with potato gratin, greens and red wine jus.

The Eye Fillet was absolutely to die for. The meat was tender and juicy and with every bite I was enchanted. My colleague stole the last few bites and was equally impressed.

The Portuguese Chicken had a peri peri flavoured, spicy kick that was lively and enjoyable. This dish was huge and would be sure to satisfy even the biggest of eaters.

Finally, we shared a Baileys cheesecake. We absolutely LOVED this dessert. The flavours were rich, and the biscuit base was crunchy and delicious. It was the perfect ending to a feast fit for two queens.

The Royal Federal Hotel will be heading into Spring with a fresh, new menu in mid-September 2020 and we can’t wait to see what’s in store.

To make a booking call (02) 4938 1335. To keep up to date with specials and the new Spring Menu visit https://www.royalfederal.com.au/

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