Community Kitchen: Keep calm and cook casserole

Darren Charles grew up bouncing between government housing across England.

The family would move to wherever his father could get work. Darren’s father, Gordon, was a handy person working as a carpenter or mechanic.

Having to say goodbye to new friends and calling yet another small government house ‘home’, took its toll on Darren.

“We moved a lot as a family. We were constantly moving. It was normal to us then, but I hated the whole process” he said.

“Having to start at a new schools each and every time, takes a toll on your education and wellbeing.”

When the Charles family would arrive at another government house, they would usually find a mess.

“My dad was house proud, so whatever house we were given, he would spend his own money doing it up, so whenever we moved on, the government had a nice house to put someone else in,” he said.

“He would paint everything, knock down walls and even put new kitchens in. He never asked for compensation, he just did it.”

The family was due to move on again but this time Darren decided he was old enough to stay, so he did and his family left without him.

“I was 18 and I got a summer job as an assistant photographer on the holiday island of Jersey in the Channels islands off the coast of France,” Darren said.  

“I would take pictures around the hotels of guests during the evenings. These are the days before digital cameras and mobile phones.

 Interesting Food Facts, found in England

‘Toad in the Hole’ is sausages in Yorkshire pudding

‘Love in disguise’ stuffed hearts of cows and pigs

‘Spotted dick’ is dried fruit and suet pudding served with custard

‘Devil on horseback’ are dates or prunes wrapped in bacon

‘Rarebit’ or ‘Welsh Rabbit’ is melted cheese on toast

‘Bletted medlars’ is rotted fruit

‘Stargazey pie’ has pilchard heads and tails poking out of the crust

“Weekends we would photograph a wedding and shoot promotional pictures for various tourist companies.  I got paid very little but it was lots of fun.  When the summer job ended I decided I would try to learn more in that field as I was so passionate about it”

Darren explains that at the time in England, the government would pay for people to attend university.

“It was a way of surviving,” he said.

“You would get money for accommodation, expenses and they would cover the cost of the course.

“It was a way to have independence.”

The pitfalls of the free education was the standard of the course and equipment. Darren applied to study in America as part of an exchange program. He was doing a Bachelor of Science in media systems.

Moving to America was an eye opener.

“I studied at Kansas State University for a year. That is where I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life. The facilities were amazing. I was one of the production team, we did work for professional TV stations and movie studios,” Darren said.

“I started working as a digital artist in the computer games industry.

Darren’s brother, Gary, was living in Australia at the time and served in the Navy.

Gary was born in Australia when his parents were living here as Ten Pound Poms.

Ten Pound Poms were called that, as they only had to pay 10 pounds in processing fees to migrate to Australia and the government paid for them to travel here.

“My parents met here in the 60s as they were both Ten Pound Poms travelling around Australia,” Darren said.

“There were here for five years and were finding it hard to get work and they were missing home so they went back.

“They had Gary here, I was manufactured here but made in England and my little sister Janet was born in England also.”

“All my life my parents talked about getting back to Australia. So that link was always there.”

They did end up coming back later in their lives.

“We put them in our investment property at North Ipswich,” Darren said.

After all those years of dreaming, they finally made it back. But perhaps a lifetime of moving around made staying in one place too difficult.

“They spent their whole lives trying to get here and after a couple of years, they told me they had decided to move back. So they left.” Darren said.

Darren met and married Katrina and they now have a child, Willow.

“While Kat was on maternity leave, the studio I was working for in Canberra shut down so I became a full time dad,” Darren said.

“I wanted to get a little bit of work so I went back to photography, I mostly do weddings.”

 Being a full time dad can be isolating.

England Fact File

England is one of the countries that makes up the United Kingdom in Europe. Wales borders England to the west and Scotland to the north, they are surrounded by water. The final country to form the UK is Northern Ireland across the Irish Sea.

England has a population of 53 million.

The British monarchy can trace its origins back to the 10th Century. The British Empire covered a quarter of the world’s surface at its height in 1921. After this time many nations began to separate and self-govern forming a Commonwealth that adopts the Queen as its head of state. This is called a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy.

The monarch take little direct part in government although only when the Queen givers her Royal Assent of a bill and signs it, can it become an act. The current Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister is Theresa May.

English is the official language and currency is pound sterling.

It was English computer scientist Tim Berners-Less who is credited with inventing the World Wide Web. Many prominent scientists have hailed from England such as Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. The country is also known for renowned authors such as William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde and JK Rowling, to name a few.

The sports soccer, rugby, golf, boxing and cricket were all invented in the United Kingdom.

England also gave the world fish and chips.

“It’s lonely. With mothers groups, not everyone is welcoming for a male. Things are generally advertised for mummies to attend, so you feel like you’re not really invited,” he said.

“Not everyone, there are some really nice people out there and encourage dads to participate, but you are worried about what people are thinking.”

These days Darren and his family have settled into Ipswich.

“It is pretty and it reminds me of an old English town with the spires and architecture,” he said.

“Ipswich has got everything, less traffic, a decent house, I pay less for rates than in Brisbane.

“There is talk of a second bridge and that would cut out a big loop for me, so I hope that happens.”

Darren does not want his child to be dragged around from house to house and plans to stay in Ipswich.

Darren Charles has finally found a place to call home.

Recipe – Corned Beef Casserole

 Layer the following into casserole dish (like you would for a lasagne)

2 cans of corned beef
2 large potatoes (thinly sliced)

Blend the following into a liquid and pour over the main ingredients in casserole dish before placing in a preheated oven for 2-3 hours at 200 degrees.

2 garlic cloves
5 spring onions
fresh rosemary
fresh Basil
teaspoon of Hot English mustard
teaspoon of premium raspberry Jam
1 cup of water

Once it has cooked, take it out of the oven and add grated cheese on top. Grill for 5 minutes until browned.

Serve with salad.

Darren’s wife Kat does most of the cooking in the Charles household, but occasionally Darren will cook a favourite from his childhood.

“Living on or close to the bread line made things very interesting and creative in my mother’s kitchen.  My parents did their best with what they had sometimes going without food to feed all of us kids.  We never went to restaurants or had take-outs,” Darren said.  

 “My mum used to make what I still consider amazing dishes with the basic ingredients we had at hand, my favourite being corned beef casserole.”

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