“Hope is the thing with feathers
Who perches in the soul
And sing the melody without the words
And never stop – at all,
And the sweetest in the wind is heard
And painful must be the storm
It might scare the little bird
It kept so many people warm.
I heard it in the coldest country
And on the strangest sea
Yet never, to the extreme
It took me a crumb. »
She suggests, judiciously given the state of the news cycle, that I put it on the fridge.
The two-book author and mother of three emerged from a period of intense regulatory scrutiny during the pandemic as a board member of Alfred Health and non-executive director of Industry Fund Services.
She juggles that with parenting children Rupert, 20, Georgette (“Gigi”) 19, and Clementine, 12, and being an ambassador for six women’s, youth and children’s organizations.
Today, she’s having lunch – in a floral blouse, cool flared jeans and a pair of vintage brogue heels – in her homeland of Moonee Ponds.
She is helping to promote an appearance at the Castlemaine Festival on April 7, during which she will chat with opposition spokesperson on NDIS and government services – her husband – and interviewer Sally Warhaft about balancing life family and political life, plus two careers.
Given the naturally raw state of the family’s emotions, she chose today’s location well; the hospitality of the small Cretan outpost of Moonee Ponds, Philhellene, is so warm and welcoming – and the faces of her family are so familiar here – that it must feel like a second home.
It’s hard to imagine a more caring host than co-owner, Susie Rerakis, who greets Shorten like a close friend. In fact, Rerakis opened the restaurant on a Friday especially for this lunch (the only weekday Shorten was free).
“Everything for Chloe,” she said as she took the booking, despite being someone who “pretty much lives at the store – seven nights a week.”
Our host welcomes us with a pleasantly bitter Greek cocktail featuring the Mastika spirit, which is flavored with the resin of an evergreen tree native to the island of Chios. The drink is described as a blend of pine and cedar notes, and tastes incredibly robust for 12:30 p.m. on a school day.
Mrs. Rerakis’ family is from the island of Rhodes and her husband Paul has family ties to Crete, also located in the Dodecanese. They run a restaurant so authentic that the two “yiayias” (their mothers) still do much of the cooking.
Since opening in 2008, Philhellene has been celebrated as a gem of Melbourne’s rich Greek food scene and a favorite of locals, including the Shortens.
“They just walked around the restaurant when we opened and they loved it,” says Rerakis.
The couple’s friendship blossomed, “I think by just treating them like they’re no more special than anybody else.” She knows how to serve them another specialty of the house, the salad of beans and artichokes (“they love it, everyone loves it”) when the artichokes are in season.
On the menu today are some of his guests’ favourites, including kalitsounia, traditional Cretan pastries stuffed with leeks and seasonal greens – a specialty of yiayias – and another version with ricotta and mint . There are also delicate zucchini flowers from the Rerakis garden, stuffed with herbs and rice.
Ms. Shorten’s mood seems visibly lifted under the attention of Ms. Rerakis, who provides a glass of Mt Monument Chardonnay to accompany this heartwarming feast. Another highlight is the baked okra in tomato salsa which is so juicy and tender it pretty much melts on the utensils.
Food and potlucks are such a passion for Shorten that she has written her own cookbook, The secret ingredient: the power of the family table containing recipes from family, friends and neighbors (including one for eggplant parmigiana by his mother, former Governor General Quentin Bryce, and how to roast a chicken by Wendy McCarthy).
It follows his first book, a mixture of family biography and in-depth sociological research on well-being in stepfamilies, 2017 Take Heart: A Story for Modern Blended Families — of which, full disclosure, I helped write.
Shorten loves the family nature of the place and describes Susie and John Rerakis as “classic restaurateurs”. “The zucchini flowers are sublime, the aubergine dip is second to none…they have young people from local families waiting at the tables and the yiayias (76 and 82) come to say hello with their beautiful smiles,” she says.
“It’s very Melbourne, very Moonee Ponds. They’ll teach you what they cook for you – I copied their stuff.
Shorten is a self-proclaimed “girly swot” who researches all topics that interest her before weighing in, and is an avid follower of social issues. She is still widely concerned with the welfare of women and children, as well as her more recent involvement in corporate governance.
While she’s not a fan of publicly discussing how it’s done in politics, “what happens in an organization behaviorally, I find that fascinating,” she says.
What she wants to hear is the impact of social media on children’s mental health and the need for parents and people in general to seek out big platforms to stop them from targeting children with strategies designed to make them dependent.
While her two eldest children, along with her former husband, Queensland architect Roger Parkin, experienced an earlier version of social media which they recognized as “transactional”, their mother says “the world has changed” between their childhood and that of Clementine. In the meantime, he has become infinitely more powerful and his influence more insidious.
“I think we completely underestimate the damage we are causing,” she says. “We’re on the edge of what we could do, there’s great work being done in different neighborhoods, but it’s not coordinated. We have a powerful array of interest groups and pressure groups that stand in the way of damage prevention.
Parents, she says, “have to fight an unfair fight every day” to try to put limits on their children’s digital immersion.
“We put the burden largely and squarely on the shoulders of the parents: it’s a David versus Goliath fight and a very unfair fight. It is ridiculous to suggest that parents should be fully up to date with technology changing day by day, to understand AI and its impacts, the latest app or game access with anything web-enabled says Shorten.
That kids are online “all day, every day” means trying to monitor and moderate what they’re ingesting is “ubiquitous and exhausting”.
“It’s akin to the damage we cause to our environment, it’s creeping, slow damage, hard to see on a daily basis, hard to explain and hard to translate. It’s almost imperceptible and it’s a great moral challenge.
But, in keeping with his sunny public persona, Shorten doesn’t stay too dark for too long. Soon she was smiling, her fork hovering over a plate of grilled Haloumi in a sweet tomato sauce with mastic and pistachios.
“Can you put the picture of yiayia (painted by Susie Rerakis) behind me to ‘rejuvenate’ me?” she’s joking spectrum photographer. Food, wine and kindness once again lifted the clouds.
Chloe Shorten will appear at the Dialogues event at Castlemaine Festival Bill and Chloe Shorten: politics, family and everything in between – The Fifth Estate April 7. castlemainefestival.com.au
Philhellene Provincial Greek Cuisine, 551-553 Mount Alexander Road Moonee Ponds. Dinner 7 evenings from 5.30 p.m. Philhellene.com.au