Cooma: a poem

“Oh how beautiful is our home town Cooma. To me most precious.”

cooma main street

Josipa migrated to Cooma from Croatia with her little brother and father in 1960. Her first memories in Australia are of loneliness and homesickness. However when her husband to be walked into her father’s restaurant Josipa was introduced to Cooma’s colourful, multicultural nightlife. She went to the pictures, danced, swam, kissed, learnt English and made friends from all over the world.

Today Cooma feels like home, and what a beautiful home it is.

Josipa at her home in Cooma

Josipa at her home in Cooma

Listen to Josipa’s beautiful poem called ‘Cooma’ here.


Oh how beautiful is our home town Cooma

To me most precious.

This is where live my beloved ones

My husband, my children, and the grand children

And this is also where my dear friends are.

Cooma is in New South Wales, Australia

Situated in the middle, close to the great snowy mountains

South seas, and the capital city Canberra.

Cooma is spreading in the valley and over the hills far and wide

Looking like a big mother bird watching after her brood.

The people of Cooma came from all over the world

First to work here, together with the ones that were being born here

And then stayed and made a home.

The buildings in Cooma are just like the people

Some old, some new, some tall, some small.

They’re made out of bricks, weatherboards, and vinyl cladding

And the roofs covered in corrugated iron, and brick tiles.

Gardens are full of beautiful flowers

And pretty shrubs and pleasant scents all around

Tall gum trees, poplars, pine, birch and many other trees

Swaying in the wind is all a breathtaking view.

Sometimes I go away for a while

And I miss it so much

But then I come back

My heart start to beat fast

I feel great

I am home.


Concert Cosmopolitana

In May this year, Big hART had a community showing of the music and stories collected from Cooma throughout Project Cosmopolitana. Hundreds of Cooma locals arrived for a night of food, wine, story sharing and performance.


We kicked off the night with a delicious multicultural dinner prepared by ladies in the community. A diversity of foods and beverages from across the globe, introduced to Cooma during the Snowy Mountains scheme, were celebrated before the show. Meanwhile students from the Monaro High School captured rich stories and secrets of people in the community with memories of Cooma and the scheme, in a series of filmed interviews. This was a great opportunity for Cooma’s contemporary youth to engage with the vibrant history of their town, and for Big hART to collect even more local stories to be included in Ghosts in the Scheme.


Concert Cosmopolitana was comprised of scenes from Ghosts in the Scheme, performed by Lex Marinos, Anne Grigg and Bruce Myles, and interweaved with the exuberant music of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. The band performed a collection of songs inspired by stories from Cooma’s time as a gateway to the scheme, and Cooma’s contemporary landscape. A few of the songs were written and performed with students of the Monaro High School, and accompanied by a group of dancing local ladies! At the end of the evening, stories were shared over Chinese rice pudding and espresso coffee. Concert Cosmopolitana was a wonderful celebration of past and present Cooma and it’s cosmopolitan community!


Wasn’t He Naughty!

“He said to his friend looking through the window, “Look there’s a girl ready for bed, let’s go in!” Wasn’t he naughty?”


Diana Klima met her husband at a ‘Come in bad taste’ dress up party in Cooma in the 60s! Listen to her tell the hilarious story of their meeting here.


I met him just at the dance. I was dancing there with someone and then he came in… Actually he was going out with a girl from Croatia or somewhere and she’d broken it off with him. And he was with his friend, looking through the window. I was in pyjamas because it was ‘Come in bad taste’. Imagine today ‘Come in bad taste’ pyjamas… It wouldn’t be bad taste at all, because it’s just ordinary, isn’t it? It was just ‘Come in bad taste’ it was called and I just wore my pyjamas. They were pretty nice stripy pyjamas. And he said to his friend looking through the window, “Look there’s a girl ready for bed, let’s go in!” Wasn’t he naughty?

He just asked the person I was dancing with, he just said, “Could you introduce me to your friend?” Because he knew the chap anyway. He invited me, he said could he take me home and I said unfortunately, well not unfortunately, but I do have to go home with the person I came with. And he said, “Could we go to the pictures or something?” And I said “Oh yeah…” I couldn’t even remember what he looked like, except that he had a very nice white shirt, I can remember that. So I went to the pictures the next night, and we got sort of friendly.

Concert Cosmopolitana

We had a blast at Concert Cosmopolitana, the community showing of all of the music and stories collected from Cooma throughout Project Cosmopolitana. An evening of food, music by Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, written and performed with students from the Monaro High School, scenes from Ghosts in the Scheme, dances by ladies in the community, and story sharing!

The Snowy Hydro Scheme

The most epic construction shots from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

Joo’s Lor Bak (Stewed Pork Dish)

Joo Siew was hesitant to share her secret family recipes with us, as she makes a living from her wonderful cooking at the High Country Motel in Cooma.

She found a childhood favourite recipe in an old cook book from Singapore to share. She cooks this recipe for her children and customers.


  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 kg pork belly
  • 3 tbsp black soy sauce
  • 1 piece of ginger (about the size of a walnut)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 ltrs water


  • Heat wok
  • Caramelise the sugar. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to avoid it burning.
  • Put whole piece of pork in to sear. If its too large cut into two pieces.
  • When the pork is well coated in sugar caramel, add soy sauce, a little at a time, so that the pork is slowly steeped in it.
  • Add ginger and salt.
  • When the mixture is fragrant and slightly bitter, add water and leave to simmer on low heat for 1 hour.


Joo's Restaurant at the High County Motel in Cooma!

Joo’s Restaurant at the High County Motel in Cooma!

The 'Friendship wall' at Joo's restaurant!

The ‘Friendship wall’ at Joo’s restaurant!

Cooma’s Nightlife in the 60s

“Here in Cooma was lots of nightclubs, and good food, and dancing, and floor shows!”

Night music

Josipa moved to Cooma from Croatia in 1960 as a young girl. Her father worked on the Snowy Mountains scheme. Her first few years in Australia were lonely without her family, and she could only speak a few words of English. Life became a lot better when her husband to be walked into her father’s restaurant and Cooma’s nightlife became alive!

Listen to Josipa’s memories of Cooma’s vibrant night scene here!


Once I met my husband, we went dancing all the time. Because here in Cooma was lots of nightclubs, and good food, and dancing, and floor shows. People were coming, especially in the weekend, all of them from the mountains. They would stop in our restaurant. They wouldn’t let me… because it was full up and they didn’t want to go away. They would help me with the dishes, bringing everything, and clean the tables and then come and eat. It was really like that.

Savoy theatre, we went a lot to the pictures. It was very special at the time. At the beginning there was a little short news or something, but then you had to stand up and it was God Save the Queen. That’s how it was. It was very special, everything. You always had an escort. They would wait for you at the door and take your ticket, and then they would take you to your seat, you know, and shine with the torch and whatever else. And downstairs, like it is now, you can always have an ice cream or whatever you want, you know, popcorn… From then on, once I learnt the language, then my life was much happier here. Of course now, I love Croatia and I am happy to go back and see my family, but Australia is my home.

Marg’s Lemon Pie

By Margaret Keefe

I make this rarely now as we are getting older, but I used to make it all the time for the boys when they were still around. It was a family staple! 

I make it about every 6 months now. Its quite simple.’ 


  • 400g frozen sliced short cut pastry


  • 4 egg yolks
  • 397g can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon rind
  • 1 egg white


  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar


  • Line the base of a 22cm flan dish with pastry
  • Bake blind at 200 degrees for 10 minutes, and then cool while making the filling
  • Pour the filling into the pastry shell
  • Spread meringue topping over filling
  • Bake at 180 degrees for 8-10 minutes


  • Mix egg yolks, condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon rind together.
  • Beat egg whites until soft peak form and fold into lemon mixture.


  • Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
  • Beat in sugar a little at a time.
  • Continue beating until thick and glossy.

Serves 6-8 people.

Tyas’ Semur Daging (Beef Stew)

By Tyas Smith

Tyas moved to Cooma in the early 90s from Indonesia, and brought with her the recipe to this delicious beef stew!


  • 500g of blade steak or similar
  • 4 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 375cc water
  • 3 tbsp frying oil
  • 2 tomatoes, each cut in quarters
  • 10 cloves shallot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 fps whole pepper
  • Salt


  • Using a stone mortar and pestle, make a paste with the shallot, garlic, pepper and salt.
  • Cut the meat in 4 x 5 x 1/2 cm cubes.
  • Heat the oil and fry the paste ingredients.
  • Add meat, cook until brown, and add sweet soy sauce and water.
  • Reduce the heat, and simmer until the meat is tender.
  • Add tomatoes, and cook until tomatoes become soft.

Serve hot with steamed rice!

Tyas in the rehearsal room for Ghosts in the Scheme! Tyas is part of the Cooma cast

Tyas in the rehearsal room for Ghosts in the Scheme! Tyas is part of the Cooma cast.

Cooma before the Scheme

“There was a store there… It was dirt. It was dirt when you walked in. Dirt, you know, dirt floor. That’s how backwards [Cooma] was.”

Mia migrated to Cooma from Holland, so that her husband could work on the Snowy Mountains scheme. Listen to her first impressions of Cooma, and the re-invention of the town as a result of the scheme.

Cooma bus



It was what you’d call a very backwards town. It gave me a shock because it was already a shock to come to Sydney, which was quite different from Holland and not very advanced, but then we came here it was like the back… There was one place I remember, you can’t see the… so different now, not one is recognisable anymore. I think it was on the corner where they have Mack’s, and there was a store there. It had, well you went there, where you could buy food and things like that. It was dirt. It was dirt when you walked in. Dirt, you know, dirt floor. That’s how backwards it was.

But when the Snowy came it really went very quickly. Because the high school wasn’t here, none of this was here in those days. That one was built later on, you know, so it was it was really not very pleasant to come. Get a real shock. There was nothing in the mountains, nothing at all. They had… in the mountains there was only Perisher, that big hotel there at Perisher. That was the only thing there was, and some huts I believe. People that came here from other countries where there was skiing, in the summer they used to go to the snowfields and build their huts. You know, collected wood and stuff from here, and brought them up so they could ski in the winter. That’s all been opened up since the Snowy came. There were no roads, was all tracks. That was all done by the Snowy.