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From the Cricket Field to the Kitchen

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Matthew Hayden knows how to lay the foundations for something special. The semi-retired cricketer, father of three children and passionate cook, did so on countless occasions while opening the batting for Australia with his great mate Justin Langer. These two wouldn't settle for just the foundations either, they would often crush the spirits of their opponents forming a dominant opening partnership that was a hallmark in a golden era of Australian cricket.

Since retirement from international cricket, Hayden has now formed a new partnership, this time with the people of the Tiwi Islands. True to form, Hayden is doing his part to help set up the foundations of a self sustainable future for the two thousand Indigenous Australians that live on the remote islands off the coast of the Northern Territory. The remote island 'paradise' is known for its fishing, its welcoming and friendly community and its untouched natural environment.

Upon the completion of a Test Series in the 'Top End' in 2004, Hayden paid a visit to a friend who was staying on one of the islands, it was then where he felt an instant connection with the islands and its people. When his playing days were over (apart from the occasional bash of Twenty20 cricket he continues to enjoy), he felt compelled to re-visit the place he fell in love with a few years prior.

After spending time to get to know the Tiwi people, their way of life and their struggles to keep up to date with the rapid nature of change in the world today, Hayden started to think about ways in which he could assist. On reflection and discussion with key community figures, Hayden and his company the 'The Hayden Way' saw a large opportunity; not to change the way of life of the island's people, but rather to 'add value' to what he describes as a "pretty remarkable place." The idea was to set up the Tiwi College, a college for secondary education that would be the linchpin of his self-sustainability model for the islands. In order to secure self-sustainability, key areas that are to be taught at the college include permaculture, horticulture, hospitality and construction.

Recently, Matt was kind enough to give Life n Fork some of his time to discuss all things cricket, cooking and the Tiwi Islands.

You have travelled the world playing cricket for Australia and have had the opportunity to be exposed to some unique cultures. From an off-field perspective, do you have a favourite place to tour?

I've absolutely loved travelling to South Africa over the years, it's been a really unique and interesting place to travel to. In 1994 the first year touring post apartheid, the country was alive with expectation of having international sport been staged within its country, so we were treated like royalty without any question. I got to meet great friends that will remain so especially in the surfing communities of Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London. It was a great opportunity for me to get outside the hotel, a fantastic opportunity to do something different and see different parts of the country in these idyllic surfing locations and for me experience culturally what it meant to be involved in a community in another country outside the circles of cricket. So it was fabulous.

You are a passionate cook, what is your signature dish and what is its inspiration?

I am a passionate cook, I love to cook seafood. I love anything to do with Italian cuisine. Also having extensively travelled through India, their cuisine is another favourite of mine. The combination of seafood and coconut and various curries are something that I absolutely loved.

Your great mate and former opening partner Justin Langer writes in one of his books that you would often carry around a spare kit bag full of cooking utensils and ingredients while on tour. Would you cook for the whole team?

It is true that I did carry around a full bag of utensils including a bread making machine, small fry pans and pots which I would cook for a 'select' group of people. Obviously I wasn't catering for everyone whilst on tour but I would provide enough food and I would have a little coffee machine as well so we could have espresso and talk absolute rubbish and enjoy our touring experience together, often at times in isolation from family and isolation from our fellow countrymen in hotels where it was very difficult to get outside the hotel just because of the interest and speculation in and around what you were doing as an athlete. There was occasions however where I'd cook for the full team. One memorable occasion was down at Tasmania, Simmo (Andrew Symonds) went flathead fishing, I got the boys to pick up various ingredients and it was the night of the world cup qualifying for Australia in the soccer. Stuart MacGill was assigned to collect the grape juice for the evening and we cooked up beer battered flathead, lobster mornay and a number of salads and other dishes. It was a fabulous night.

You have brought out your own cookbook in which you talk about your family. How important is cooking and sharing meals together with them?

I have brought out my own cookbook, in fact I have now got three. However food for me is about a celebration of you can bring to the table, so eating as a family is something that we do most nights. Its always started with a small thanks and reflection of our lives and how lucky we are as a family. Further to that we bring to the table stuff that we grow in our own backyard, which we also remind ourselves of how lucky we are to have fresh produce that we have grown ourselves from seeds right up to the final produce around harvest time. It doesn't have to be a complicated occasion but it's just making some solid time together and talking about our lives.

Along with the cookbook, you have a TV show that aired on the Lifestyle channel called 'Matthew Hayden's Home Ground.' A theme running throughout this series is your quest to live a more self-sufficient, sustainable and enriched lifestyle. How can households go about achieving this?

It really started with home ground, my show on the lifestyle channel which was really challenging myself to grow outside of the life we have had during cricket, to reconnect back into my family life, to reconnect back into the life I had having growing up in the bush. I had a great connection with the land, being able to produce fresh food and then also enjoy cooking and producing quality meals with the produce that we as a family had grown together. It can be done in very simple ways though, pots in the backyard, boxes with herbs, potato bags which you can buy at most gardening outlets, its a small way to actually contribute something to your meal. A herb garden is probably something that I would recommend starting because you add really unique and special flavours along with picking up the nutritious benefits from having fresh herbs in your food.

Tell us about your company 'The Hayden Way,' what is your mission and how do you go about achieving this?

The Hayden Way is a company I started after I had finished playing cricket for Australia. It's all about creating, promoting a healthy and active way of life. It's all about nurturing family and protecting and preserving the things that you love to do in your life. It promotes celebrations in and around seasonal events like Christmas and Easter and it provides and produces a lot of content both digitally and also on radio and television networks.

For those who may be unaware, please tell us about the Tiwi Islands and give us an insight into the work you are doing there currently?

The Tiwi Project is very unique, now Australia's largest indigenous agricultural project. It really mirrors the 'Home Ground' experience but on a larger scale. It's aim is to produce enough produce for the Tiwi college itself to become self sustainable. It's also about educational pathways for the kids whether that be permaculture, agriculture, horticulture, or hospitality. Its actually getting kids involved in a whole host of educational programs which aren't necessarily those university degrees and other courses as such but to try and provide kids with a great grounding in education in things which can be very useful to their own communities.

Describe your perfect day on the Tiwi Islands....

My perfect day on the Tiwi's is to just immerse myself in nature. It's got some of the most pristine waterways and sustainable fishing reserves. It is a truly unique and remarkable destination. The flora and fauna and the natural wonders of that place never ceases to amaze me, but I would definitely start with a cup of coffee on sunrise followed by a healthy dose of fishing up in the mangroves and a bit of crabbing. Then come back to the college and have the kids produce a meal that we could share together and talk about through the course of the day.

Finally, I can imagine scoring a test match century would be extremely satisfying. How does that compare with the work you are currently doing with 'The Hayden Way' organisation in the Tiwi Island community?

I don't really see a distinction between the two, I've got a great life, its been celebrated in a very public way which has been very challenging but also very very rewarding. I feel very blessed and honoured to be associated with various projects that we are committing to which we have at its core a great sense of purpose of trying to establish and trying to promote how to get the most out of life because I know that is something that is at my core, at my families core. We are trying to promote and help each other to become the best people we can be and to get the most out of our very short existence on the face of the earth. So its very, very rewarding and I feel very blessed.

To find out more about Matthew's company The Hayden Way, check out their website here


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