Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Queensland Trains

Gordon Smith has a rather nice photographic blog called A pictorial journal of life in rural Australia.

Normally Gordon features photographs of life around Armidale. However, he has just been to Queensland and in so doing reminded me of Queensland trains and, more importantly, Queensland train trips.

I love trains. It's part nostalgia for the long train trips of my youth, it's part the romance attached to trains such as the Orient Express. Today in this more pedestrian world it's nice to know that there are still some great train trips.

Unlike NSW where Countrylink appears to focus on trains simply as a means of transport, Queensland treats train travel as an experience. The state is helped by having some long distance iconic train trips, but attitude is still important because it colours approach.

The Queensland Rail Traveltrain Holidays site is, quite simply, a fun site. There you can find full details of major train trips, the facilities on the trains, descriptions of the route, links to tourism sites, all couched in terms designed to entice. I was looking for information to write this story. Instead, I spent a happy hour planning my own possible trips!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bush Telegraph

Presented by Michael Mackenzie, ABC Radio's Bush Telegraph is one of my favourite radio programs, providing an entertaining look at rural and regional issues around Australia.

Broadcast Monday to Friday between 11am and 12 noon each day Bush Telegraph takes an in-depth look at what makes life outside our capital cities so unique. The ABC's far-flung rural reporters take us with them as they experience life in rural and regional Australia - on farms, in towns and in the bush, and we hear first hand from the people who live there.

On Fridays the program explores the fascinating world of food, from the way we grow it to the final pleasure of eating, and all the delicious bits in between.Each day Country Viewpoint offers a unique social commentary from people who live outside the capital cities. And for those who want to keep up with the Rural News, there is a daily look at the news headlines.

I really do enjoy this program, although it suffers from the problem I referred to in Regional Australia - the diversity of regional experience, the difficulty of properly covering such a vast canvass.

I get frustrated sometimes because I know its focus on particular stories such as water and drought leaves the impression in metro minds that all of regional Australia suffers from lack of water.

Yes, Australia is a dry continent. But the reality is far more complex because not all of Australia suffers from water shortages. Metro dwellers in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth are all experiencing water restrictions, as are some regional areas. Yet other regional areas have water coming out of their ears. Further, water shortages vary over time.

Our biggest problem is that over 70 per cent of the Australian population is concentrated in a narrow eastern coastal strip with just 17 per cent of the water.

Those outside Radio National radio range can listen to the program on-line.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Australian Wine - Len Evans Dies

In my post on Regional Australia & wine I provided an overview history of Australian wine, noting that while the Australian wine industry was a long-standing one, wine drinking was very much a minority drink outside certain areas.

Growing up in Armidale I did not realise this. My parents drank wine, the Hunter Valley Vineyards were not far away, the main local hotel had a good cellar. So when I started drinking wine I rapidly acquired a taste for the big full bodied Hunter reds.

I mention all this because Len Evans, the man who did so much to both popularise wine drinking and drive up wine standards in this country has just died aged.

I did not know Len Evans. The material that follows is drawn from Tony Stephens' very well written obituary (see link) in the Sydney Morning Herald with some supplementary comments drawn from my own experience.

Len Evans was born in England, migrating in 1953 to New Zealand. Arriving in Australia in 1955, he worked on the dingo fence in outback Queensland, did some welding, and washed glasses in a pub at Circular Quay. He wrote TV scripts, including for The Mavis Bramston Show

Evans's introduction to the wine trade was at the Chevron Hotel in Kings Cross. This hotel built by property developer Stanley Korman and opened in 1960 was a mark of modernity in Sydney.

Australia was then breaking out of the remaining austerity - intellectual as well as material - from the War and the Fifties. The Chevron was a symbol of this, and thousands drove past it upon its opening. The Korman Empire fell in the crash of 1961, leaving the Chevron's planned second wing a long standing hole in the ground.

Len began writing wine articles from 1962, becoming the first regular wine columnist in Australia, with articles published from 1962. He was founding director of the Australian Wine Bureau in 1965 and later wrote the first encyclopedia of Australian wine in 1973.

In 1969 he set up Len Evans Wines in Bulletin Place, Sydney, a wine shop and restaurant that made him a legend in his own lunchtime. Tony Stephens quotes him as saying in 1995 "Life will never be the same fun as the '70s in Sydney,"

This was the period of the four bottle lunch, a period I remember well and fondly, long lunches where the standard was jokingly described in terms of the number of bottle of wines consumed.

Also in 1969, Len launched with others the Rothbury Estate winery and vineyard in the Hunter Valley. Backed by Peter Fox, Len's dream was the creation of an Australian based international wine empire. However, the dream died when Fox was killed when his Ferrari ran off the road in 1981 and his company, Adelaide Holdings, went into receivership.

Evans's dream, was over, but he still had his belief in developing fine regional wines. He chaired the judges of the Sydney Wine Show (1979-2000) and National Wine Show (1983-1990) and judged in France. He continued to encourage younger figures in the Australian wine world, including Brian Croser and James Halliday.

He set up Tower Lodge, along with Tower Estate winery as an upmarket boutique winery and hotel in the Hunter Valley.

Tony Stephens' concludes: A death notice in Saturday's Herald advised: "Len Evans would like to inform his friends that his long and joyous life has come to an end … He hopes they will attend the Tower Estate Winery … on September 16 to give him a bloody good send off."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sydney or the Bush - a few numbers

I like Sydney.

For several years when I was young we used to come for seaside holidays at Manly, staying in a private hotel near the beach. The hot pavements, the seaside stores where we brought drinks, going into the city for the day, all were fun. Then I came to Sydney sometimes to play sport, to run at the GPS athletics, to play Rugby. Again fun. Travelling in holidays to stay with a friend a Molong, the break in trains meant that I spent a day in the city on the way down and back. So I wondered around, looking at the buildings and going to the pictures.

A little later I worked here for a short period, staying in a flat at McMahon's Point while working in the city. Later still I had girlfriends here, so I used to drive or fly up from Canberra for the weekend. Each weekend I would spend travelling round, trying new places to eat, visiting galleries and bookshops, going to the theatre. Then I had to spend time in the city on business, usually staying at the same hotel in the Cross and visiting my favourite restaurants.

So Sydney was fun, and I knew it very well.

I now live in Sydney. We have lived here for the last nine years because my wife is a Sydney girl. All her family lives in the Eastern Suburbs and she wanted to come home. This was the right decision from a family viewpoint. My wife has enjoyed being close to her family, our daughters have made many friends here and like aspects of the city lifestyle.

So we are here at least until the youngest finishes school. At the same time, I am becoming increasingly conscious of the problems with this place - Sydney - and the trade-offs we have had to make to live here. The beauty is still there, so are some of the things I used to like. The difficulty is that living here with a family as compared to visiting really makes for an uncivilised life style.

I want to explain this, comparing Rosebery where we now live with Armidale. I have selected Armidale because it has - minus the sea - a comparable life style to the eastern suburbs, while I know it very well. Similar analysis can be applied to other suburbs, other towns with the mix depending on varying interests and life styles.

Rosebery first.

Until very recently, Rosebery was one of the undiscovered secrets of Sydney. An inner city suburb (it is about 6k from the centre of Sydney), Rosebery sits close to the start points of the northern and southern express ways. It is a mixed suburb, part industrial, part residential.

Rosebery has many good features beyond location. Settled by Greeks just after the Second World War, our local MFC supermarket has windows stacked with tins of olive oil, bins with a wide variety of olives, cheese etc, and has been written up in Sydney's Good Food Guide. The girls love the nearby factory outlets. Overall, there is an attractive, cosmopolitan feel about the suburb.

So when I compare Rosebery with Armidale I am taking a good part of Sydney as my base.

Now Armidale. It is a university city of 22,000 people located on the New England Tablelands midway between Sydney and Brisbane. Set in beautiful countryside, it is an attractive city in visual terms with excellent facilities.

The comparison. Here I want to focus on things that are different. So, for example, I will ignore food. Food costs are much the same. There is also little difference in variety. If anything, Armidale has greater variety taking reasonable travel times into account.

Let's start with housing. We cannot afford to buy in Rosebery where house prices have now passed the million dollar mark. Armidale average house prices are less than a third of this. So we have to rent.

Rosebery rents are lower than, say, Kensington, higher than Mascot. We are presently paying $490 a week for a three bedroom house. The house is small by the standards I am used to, but has a reasonable size yard.

To compare this with Armidale I did a current rent check. The most expensive house I could find in Armidale had seven bedrooms, two bathrooms, internet connections throughout. The rent (negotiable) was $ 450 per week.

The nearest equivalent houses that I could find to our Rosebery house were rentable at $230 per week. Putting this in dollar terms, we need as a family to earn an extra $13,250 per annum after tax for the same standard of house in Sydney as compared to Armidale.

Given the size of Sydney houses in the area in which we want to live, I had to put my books and some household stuff in storage when we moved down. I also have some stuff in my cousin's garage in Wagga Wagga. I love my books and not having them round is a very real if intangible cost.

Storage costs $280 per month or $3,360 per annum after tax. The houses I have looked at in Armidale all had space for my things.

Turning now to school fees. When we were in Armidale, both girls were going to the New England Girl's School. When we came to Sydney, we put both girls into an Eastern suburbs Anglican school.

In Armidale our eldest was on a part scholarship. Ignoring this, Sydney school fees were about 20 per cent higher, I think more so now. Eldest daughter has just begun university, so we are paying school fees just for one. Extra cost for school fees for one around $3,200 per annum in after tax terms.

Turning now to transport. This has to be looked at in terms of time and cost.

Time first.

In Armidale, every thing in the city is within a five to eight minute drive. I could drive from work to school to pick up the girls and then home all in eight minutes. If we were going out to dinner at, say, seven, we could leave at at 6.50 to 6.55. With the exception of Sydney trips - Armidale schools often play sport in Sydney or to a lesser extent other centres - school sport was a cinch in travel terms. Out-of-town sport does involve some extra cost but not so much time because they are generally done as a coordinated school activitity independent of individual parents. With parking easy and everything well located, Saturday morning shopping was an enjoyable activity allowing plenty of time for coffee and conversation.

Because Rosebery is remarkably well located, travel is relatively easy and quick by Sydney standards. For example, I normally do my grocery shopping at Eastlakes. The centre is not as pleasant as Armidale, but travel time is in fact about the same. This is not true when we move to other activities.

My wife has been working at North Sydney, normally travelling by public transport. This is not bad, involving a bus just outside our front door with a stop outside central, then a train to North Sydney. Travel time varies depending on connections, but varies between 40 minutes to 80 minutes each way. Cost around $9 return. So in a week she spends an extra 150 to 350 minutes each week in work travel time as compared to Armidale at a cash out cost of $45 per week. Sometimes she takes the car or gets a taxi to save time. Costs then rise sharply.

I have usually worked from home because this allows me to do the main domestic duties. When I do travel it is usually to attend specific meetings. I am ignoring this element because it is just too difficult to calculate.

Daughter travel time and costs are quite complicated. But then, so is their life style. University and school first.

Eldest is doing first year business studies at the UTS campus at Kuringai. She usually takes the bus to the city campus, then the UTS shuttle from there. Return trip about four hours including connection waits, so she does not spend as much time on campus as she would if she were attending the University of New England. On her current timetable, total University travel time about twelve hours per week.

Youngest goes to school at Waverly. Bus travel involves two routes and takes around an hour each way. Because she is a school student bus travel is free. Because she often has to be at school early, I generally drive her to school and also pick her up most afternoons. Trip varies enormously because of traffic, ranging from 15-20 minutes up to 35 minutes each way. In all, these school trips take me up to five additional hours each week as compared to Armidale.

We then come to sport and other activities. This is where life gets incredibly complicated.

Both girls play sport, usually at times and in locations precluding public transport. Beside, my wife and I like to watch. Travel time varies enormously depending upon location and can range from a 30 minute to well over two hour return trip. During term time, we would spend at least four hours a week driving to venues.

Both girls have been working part time. This is a two edged sword. Work is important for a number of reasons, but then travel by public transport takes a lot of time compared to actual working hours. So we usually end up driving them part of the time, essentially subsidising the work process.

Social and other extra-curricula activities for all then have to be factored in. Again, this is more time consuming and costly involving a mix of car, taxi and public transport.

Putting all this together properly almost requires a mathematical model. However, as best I can work out taking Armidale's higher petrol prices into account, living in Sydney as compared to Armidale:

  • involves each family member in between ten and twenty hours extra travel time per week. This is time not available to other activities
  • at an extra cash out cost for petrol and fares of something over $100 per week, or $5,200 per annum.

Drawing the financial analysis together, and excluding time, I estimate the added annual cost of living in Sydney for something approaching the same life style as Armidale as roughly $25,000 broken up as follows:

  • rent $13,250
  • storage $3,360
  • school fees (one daughter) $3,200
  • added transport costs $5,200.

To meet these additional costs, we need a collective additional family income before tax of perhaps $42,000 depending upon marginal tax rates. Then there are the added time costs.

Accepting that many things come together in life style choices, accepting also that my numbers are rough, the figures show why I have real reservations about Sydney as a life style choice.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Regional Australia - the diversity of regional experience

Italian's Insight to Travel Italy is one of my favourite blogs, bringing the Italian experience alive.

Unlike Australia where so much coverage including tourist promotion centres on a small number of cities, the Italian experience is essentially regional. It would seem simply silly to define Italy in terms just of Rome, or even Rome, Milan and Naples, yet that is what we do in Australia.

Part of the reason for this is historical. Our history since European settlement is so much shorter, allowing less time for regional variations to develop. Part of the reason is structural, the way in which power in Australia has been so concentrated in the various state capitals. Our regions become submerged in a void between the state capital on one side, the national on the other. This does no good to either the metro centres or the regions.

The reality, at least as we see it, is that there are in fact pronounced differences in history and life style between Australia's regions, differences that visitors can taste, those living there experience more directly. This in fact holds even for the metro cities themselves.

Melbourne, for example, is not the same as Sydney in visual appearance, ethnic mix or life style and is in fact becoming more distinct. Sydney itself has a number of quite distinct areas that can be classified as regions or at least localities or districts in their own right, areas as different from each other as Sydney and Melbourne are distinct.

One of our core aims in this blog and on the Regional Living Australia web site is to make the Regional Australia experience more accessible for work, life and play. To do this, we have to find the best way of encapsulating and presenting the differing regional experience across this vast country. This is no easy task.

Our story on Regional Australia & wine provided a summary history of the Australian wine industry, tracing the story from the early foundation to the point where today nearly every area in Regional Australia has its own wine. Experiencing the local wine is part of the joy of a Regional Australia lifestyle for both locals and visitors.

Our story on McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula looked at the on-ground position in one geographically small area, an area in which wine, food and geography combine to present a life style experience. The New England Australia blog carried short stories on three very different wine regions within New England, the Hunter Valley, the New England Tablelands and the Hastings Valley.

These four stories draw out a little of the evolving variety but also present the challenge involved in trying to cover so many areas. The challenge does not finish there.

Each regional area has its own history that needs to be set within broader themes. Again, this is presently very fragmented.

In our story Why Wool?, we tried to explain why wool and the wool experience was important to Regional Australia. The Wool in Australia section on the main Regional Living Australia web site presents material on the history of the industry and its impact on regional life, while Explore the Wool Track New England looks at the wool experience across one major regional area, linking it to some other features of regional life.

Because paddle steamers were a major transport mode, this lead us to look at the history and role of paddle steamers along the Murray-Darling River system, leading to a story In Search of the Paddle Steamer again intended to make the experience more accessible.

Regional life consists of a lot more then wine, wool and paddle steamers.

The best selling Australian writer Patrice Newell moved from Adelaide to a property in the Hunter Valley. Her books are in part a tree change story, but they are more than that being detailed and evocative descriptions of local life.

A story on the New England Australia blog, New England Australia - Writers, used Patrice's writing as an entry point to look at the problems involved in understanding regional writing - and there have been a very large number of New England writers - in the absence of defined structures. A second story, In Praise of Patrice Newell, looked at one of her books in more detail, linking it in a personal context to other elements of the New England story.

Sadly, one of the writers mentioned in the New England writing story - Alex Buzo - died a few days after the story was written. Alex was very much a Sydney person who loved the city. However, his experiences living in Armidale and his time at The Armidale School where he studied English under Brian Mattingley had a major formative influence on his life. He saw himself correctly as able to interpret both sides of the metro-regional divide.

The point of these stories is that regional life across Australia involves a complex interlinked web. Understanding this web can enhance the regional experience whether as visitor or resident. Patrice Newell's the River or Judith Wright's Generations of Men are good stand-alone stories. They become still more if you can set them in context.

We began the Regional Living Australia journey with the simple objective of providing people with easier access to information about work, life or play in Regional Australia. This has now broadened to making the regional experience itself more accessible.

This is a vast canvass, one really beyond the capacity of any single site. We need far more regional sites and especially regionally focused blogs if the varying regional experience is to be properly captured and presented. Here our experience with Regional Australia Living on one side, the New England, Australia blog on the other, is instructive. Regional Living allows us to present material across a broad canvas, while New England, Australia drills down into the detail of the regional experience in one Australian region.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula

At present I am in loco parentis to two elderly cats. More precisely, the cats are in quarantine.

Their English owners are on their way to Australia under as migrants under the Regional Migration Program (see earlier story on Program). This Program treats all of South Australia including Adelaide as part of Regional Australia, although Alison and Geoff are planning to settle in McLaren Vale rather than in Adelaide.

Why am I loco parentis? The quarantine rules laid down by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Services (AQIS) require a local contact in advance of the people's arrival. This created something of a difficulty. The cats had to come first. But how do you provide a local contact in advance of your arrival? A bit of a catch 22.

It's been interesting fielding questions from spiders to plastic furniture.

Like all Australians, I knew of McLaren Vale because of its wine. However, I had not focused on the Fleurieu Peninsular itself. This stretches south of Adelaide to include Goolwa and the mouth of the Murray River. I wrote of Goolwa in earlier posts on paddle steamers, now encapsulated in a full story In Search of the Paddle Steamer on the main Regional Living site.

I had not realised just how compact Fleurieu was, nor the variety offered in scenery, food, wine and life style in such a small area.

In my post on Regional Australia and wine I outlined the early history of the Australian wine industry. In many ways the French did Australian a great service, themselves a dis-service, when they forced Australia to stop using traditional generic wine terms such as claret or burgundy. This forced Australia to adopt new systems for classifying wine, in turn opening the way for increased specialisation at regional or sub-regional level.

We can see this on the Fleurieu Peninsula where there over 60 individual cellar door wineries, with the region's largest concentrations of wineries at McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek producing some of Australia's most exciting wines, together with emerging wine centers at Currency Creek, Victor Harbor and along the southern coast.

We can also see another trend on the Fleurieu, a growing emphasis on regional food to compliment the wine. This trend is in its earlier days, presently focused on local produce rather than cooking itself. But it will be interesting to see how it evolves across Regional Australia.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Country Week Report

Yesterday (11 August) I attended the first day of Country Week, a major promotion intended to interest Sydney people in the opportunities offered by regional NSW. I had a good time and collected a fair bit of material that I can use on this blog and the main Regional Living Australia site.

I will run this material over the next week or so. But in the meantime, two complaints.

First, certain of the major NSW regional cities - Albury, Wagga, Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst - refused to participate this year. I am not aware of all the details, but apparently they are uncomfortable about participating with other smaller areas and believe that they can do better by cooperating with each other.

I may be proved wrong, but I think that this is just dumb. Yes, they are major centres each with significant attractions, but I doubt that they have the resources to make much impact in a crowded metro marketplace. It seems to me that all they are doing is fragmenting effort to get across the real message about the opportunities offered within regional NSW.

My second complaint relates to the decision by the Queenslanders with the backing of $500,000 in Government money to run a rival expo in Sydney trying to attract skilled people to regional Queensland at exactly the same time as Country Week.

Described by the Queensland Deputy Premier as 'a bit cheeky' (story), the Queensland expo places regional NSW and regional Queensland in direct competition with each other at the same time in the same place for the same group of people, with each expo opened by the respective state premier.

We do not support one part of Regional Australia over another, and certainly the Queensland move made for increased media coverage. But I couldn't help feeling sad for the both the Country Week organisers and the participating regional areas and localities who have spent three years building up Country Week only to face head to head competition from the well funded Queensland machine.

One of the problems in NSW is that the State Government is too absorbed by the problems of Sydney (congestion, problems with the rail system, disputes over motorways) to really focus on the rest of the state.

When NSW Premier Morris Iemma responded to the Queensland expo challenge, his words as reported on Sydney radio all centred on Sydney, the global city, its attractions. Why, the Premier said, would anybody want to leave such a wonderful place for Queensland? Hardly the right message at a time when regional NSW is trying to sell its own story, to encourage Sydney people to consider the regional option.

I was not surprised to learn from Federal Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone's speech at the Regional Futures lunch held as part of Country Week that NSW is the worst performing state is terms of usage of the regional migration program. I was surprised at the apparent size of the performance gap between NSW and Victoria or Queensland.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Regional Living Australia New Material

We have added some more material to the Regional Living Australia web site.

Our earlier stories on this blog on paddle steamers on the Murray Darling River system have now been turned into a story In Search of the Paddle Steamer.

At just over one million square kilometres, the Murray Darling River system contains about 14 per cent of the continental land mass, extends across five states and territories (ACT, NSW, Victoria, SA and Queensland), supports 11 per cent of Australia's population and produces 41 per cent of the gross value of national agricultural production.

Paddle steamers were a critical transport link along the thousands of kilometres of riverway. This links to our earlier material on wool and the wool track because competition among the Australian colonies for control of the wool trade was a key driver in the spread of the paddle steamer.

In addition to paddle steamers, we have also added some new links in our section on employment to help you find the job you want in Regional Australia as well as material on foreign investment in Australian real estate for those outside the country interested in owning their own piece of regional Australia.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Regional Australia - Migration Matters

Many areas of Regional Australia face shortages of skilled labour. Overseas people interested in moving to Regional Australia should therefore consider the Australian Government's Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme.

Administered by the Department of Immigration & Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), the scheme allows employers in regional or low population growth areas of Australia to fill skilled positions that they are unable to fill from the local labour market. Any employer can participate except those located in the metropolitan areas of Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Melbourne and Perth. The position being offered to the migrant must be full-time and for a minimum of two years.

For more information go to This includes contact details for state bodies that prospective migrants can approach.

Propsective migrants should also consider applying to the Skill Matching Database. Also adminstered by DIMA, this assists employers to identify prospective skilled employees from overseas. The Skill Matching Database contains the educational, employment and work details of around 6000 skilled people representing more than 300 trades and professions.

The database is available through the DIMA website at

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Regional Australia & wine

I have just finished a post on the New England, Australia blog on the Hunter Valley and wine.

One of my favourite books is Geoffrey Blainey’s Black Kettle and Full Moon (Penguin). Subtitled Daily Life in a Vanished Australia, the book explores different aspects of daily life from European settlement until the early part of the twentieth century.

According to Blainey, spirits not beer were the favourite drink in early Australia simply because of transport costs.

Rum, Indian not Jamaican, was the early favourite. Later Dutch gin known as Geneva gained in popularity. But by the time of the gold rushes brandy had become the clear winner. Brandy was drunk in oceanic quantities, with ship after ship carrying kegs of French brandy.

Beer was a minor drink before the gold rushes but then gained in popularity. In 1870 Victoria had 116 breweries. In NSW, thirty towns had at least one brewery.

This diversity did not last as local breweries closed in the face of competition from beer carried along the new railways or were bought by the major breweries. Today, very little of this diversity remains.

Wine is different.

Today nearly every area in Regional Australia has its own wine, while Australian wine can be found in every part of the world. Experiencing the local wine is part of the joy of a Regional Australia lifestyle for both locals and visitors. This was not always the case.

Wine growing began early around Sydney. By 1832, George Wyndham was producing wine in the Hunter Valley, expanding rapidly from his Dalwood base.

In early Victoria the vineyards, often planted with cuttings from the Hunter, were few but productive in quantity (quality was another issue) before being badly damaged by phylloxera.

In South Australia wine growing began in the hills around Adelaide with grower names like Seppelt, Hardy, Penfold, Reynell and Gramp, names that would become famous. Prussian, British and Bavarian vignerons then opened up the Barossa Valley.

In the midst of all this, wine was not really a popular Australian drink. Many Australians who did drink wine preferred the imported product.

There were places where wine drinking was popular among a large minority. Roma in Western Queensland had a winery from the 1860s and probably drank more wine than all of Brisbane. Wine was a popular minority drink around Newcastle in the lower Hunter, in north eastern Victoria and among South Australia's German immigrants. However, in Australia as a whole, there were whole streets where not a wine bottle would be found.

Even then, and I did not know this, Australians as a whole still drank more wine per head than other English speaking countries. But it was still a minor drink.

How things have changed.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On the Wool Track - Geelong & Victoria

Along with gold, wool played a critical role in Victoria's development.

While Victoria itself only accounts for around 20 per cent of the wool industry by value, Melbourne's strategic location allowed it draw wool from the major wool growing areas of the Riverina and Western New South Wales, making Melbourne the biggest wool selling centre in Australia.

Our earlier story on paddle steamers and the Murray- Darling river system traced the competition for economic dominance along the river system between Victoria, NSW and South Australia. See second story for associated web links.

Wool's influence was not limited to Melbourne.

Located an hour's drive from Melbourne, Geelong with a population of 125,000 is Victoria's second largest city with a picturesque waterfront, parks, gardens, good dining and nearby vineyards .

The city's proximity to the Victoria's Western Districts made it a wool export port from the 1830's. The mark of wool is still there.

The city is home to two of Australia's best known private schools, Geelong Grammar and Geelong College, continuing the pattern to be found elsewhere in Australia in places such as Armidale or Toowoomba. Many of the city's finer buildings date from the wool period, including the historic blue stone wahehouses along the water front.

One of these has been restored to house the National Wool Musuem, providing a fascinating sight into wool and the wool industry.