Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Australian Famers' Markets

Photo: Australian Farmers' Market

In my last story on Orange, I spoke of the Orange Farmers' Market.

Farmers' markets are an emerging phenomenon in countries such as the US, the UK and Australia as a reaction to mass-distributed supermarket food.

For producers, they provide an alternative market. For consumers they represent a way back to the world of quality and individual choice so well described for Italy in David Anderson's View Italy blog.

As a hint with David's blog, if you have time at any point use the search facility on as many topics you like just to explore some of his past stories.

In Australia, the Australian Farmers' Market Association provides a peak body for the sector. Their web site includes a list of markets organised by state or territory.

Orange Food and Wine - a postscript

Photo: Orange Farmers Market

Over dinner last night (two different reds plus a desert wine all from Orange) I had a chance to follow up on some more details on the Orange food and wine experience I described in my last post. This described the reaction of my brother-in-law and his wife to their weekend in Orange.

Talking further last night, both said that they would go back to Orange rather than the better known Hunter Valley wine areas. I found this an interesting comment because it shows that Orange is now getting real traction.

In previous posts I have spoken (here, here and here for example) about the impact of travel time. While Australians will travel long distances, two to four hours driving time is about the maximum range that people will drive from their home base for, say, a weekend away.

The Australian wine industry is very competitive, especially for the thousands of small wineries that rely on cellar door or local outlet sales. For that reason, it's not surprising that so many wine regions and wineries are located in a four hour drive circle around major metropolitan centres as both Orange and the Hunter are to Sydney.

As a smaller wine and food area, Orange only needs to attract a small proportion of the Sydney market to continue as a considerable success.

While in Orange Tim and Kim went to the local farmers market. This is held on the second Saturday of the month at the Orange Showground. They were impressed with the quality of the produce, although because the markets really target the upper quality end, produce is not necessarily cheap. If you are interested, you can find out more from the very useful market web site.

One thing that did puzzle me is that while Orange sells its food and wine reputation to attract visitors, there does not appear to be any emphasis on local food in restaurants once the visitor is there.

Now it may be that this is taken for granted, but I still think that it is a mistake since it seems to me that changes in menus centred on the seasonality of local food would add to the experience.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Regional Australia Food & Wine - Orange NSW

Photos: Vineyard scenes, Orange NSW

For my brother-in-law's birthday, the family combined to give him a voucher allowing he and his wife to choose a range of holidays. They chose a wine and food weekend in Orange, NSW.

They had a magnificent time, unveiling some of the results at yesterday's family Christmas lunch in the form of a range of Orange wines. These were very good indeed. Over lunch they told us about Orange's wine, food, shops and sophisticated life style. They were also impressed that Orange prices were generally lower than Sydney prices for equivalent product.

All this pleased me indeed given my continuing desire to promote the opportunities offered by Regional Australia for life work and play.

For those who do not know Orange, the City is located in the NSW central tablelands around 3.5 hours driving time west of Sydney, 3 hours north west from Canberra. Located in scenic countryside, it is a beautiful and historic city with a population of 38,000 servicing a district population of 100,000 in all.

The Orange Wine Region is a young district with the earliest plantings in the early 1980s. It now includes vineyards planted above six hundred metres in altitude within Blayney, Cabonne and Orange local government areas. In all, there are now approximately fifty vineyards (some twenty-five cellar doors) all producing award winning cool climate wine of unique and distinct character are now some 1350 hectares under vine. The Region has a reliable rainfall, a dry autumn and a cold winter - all of which gives Orange an enviable natural advantage.

The higher vineyards of the region near Mount Canobolas range up to 1050 metres above sea level and are particularly suited to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. At this altitude vineyards can often be dedicated to sparkling wine production with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir dominating.

Over Christmas lunch we drank a lovely Pinot Noir with a glorious golden colour.

The Orange region has also built a substantial reputation for its cool climate chardonnay with wines from many regional labels [Rosemount Estate, Highland Heritage Estate, Brangayne of Orange and Canobolas-Smith Wines] winning trophies for their Chardonnays in recent years.

Red wines are less well known, although there are still some very nice wines.

Like so many of our new wine areas, development of local food and cooking followed vineyard development. Here Orange has had a real advantage because of its fine local produce including good meat and cold weather fruits. Development has been supported through the development of a local farmers' market, wine and food festivals and a range of restaurants and food outlets.

You can find out more information from:

  • Orange Council site and especially the food and wine section
  • Orange Regional Vingerons Association site
  • Food Week web site
  • Farmers Market web site.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Olives in Regional Australia - Introduction

Photo: Green Frantoio. Australian Olive Association

When I was growing up in Regional Australia olives were still an alien product. Yes, we ate them sometimes, but we never used olive oil. In fact, as a child I confused olive oil with cod liver oil, a nasty tasting substance that our mother used to give us sometimes when we were off- colour.

How things change. Now I use olive oil all the time in cooking, while we eat olives two to three times per week in anti pasto. I do not pretend to be expert, but certainly my own views have changed enormously.

This change in my own habits is a sign of a broader change.

I did not know until I came to research this story that olive growing had a long history in Australia.

The history of olive farming in Australia dates back to the early 1800’s. Olives were probably first planted in groves around 1805 in Parramatta near Sydney.

All the states and territories, excluding Tasmania were planted with some varieties of olive trees during the 1800s. During this period, South Australia and Victoria were the states where most of the planting was going on and they were considered the leaders at that time.

The problem with these early plantings was that Australians at the time (like me) saw olive oil as a medicinal rather than culinary product, thus limiting demand. Like wine, olives were very much a minority product.

It was not until the fifties when large numbers of settlers came to Australia from Southern Europe that community attitudes began to change. These settlers brought their diet with them.

Initially this had limited impact. Then, as with so many other areas of Australian life, their tastes began to spread into the broader community. As they did, demand for olives and olive oil as a food product began to increase.

In the beginning, this demand was met largely from European imports. However, recent decades have seen a rapid expansion of Australian plantings, leading to the development of a local olive industry. As with wine, Australia is fortunate to have large areas of country suitable for olive growing, facilitating expansion.

I suspect that the local olive industry now stands in roughly the same place that wine did in the sixties. Then no one could have envisaged the huge growth in the local industry nor the fact that Australian wine would become such a force in the global wine marketplace.

Like wine, the Australian olive industry has to educate consumers about the local product. Again like wine, the local olive industry has a strong boutique element as producers in various parts of the country attempt to establish individual reputations.

Unlike wine, though, which in some ways had to start from scratch, the olive industry is building from an already established and growing culinary base. It is no coincidence that there is a strong relationship between wine and olive growing regions.

Major Australian olive regions include:

  • Moore River Region, Margaret River and Great Southern Regions of Western Australia
  • Fleurieu Peninsula and the East/South East of South Australia
  • North, Central and Western Victoria
  • Northern Slopes of New South Wales, Hunter Valley and the Murray Irrigation Area
  • South Eastern Queensland

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bush Fires in Regional Australia - Information Sources

Photo: This is a first for me. Given my interests, I have been following the establishment of the Al Jazeera English language edition.

But this is the first time I have used one of their photos to illustrate an Australian story. I could not copy the right URL, but you will find their front page here.

Australia is a dry continent. For that reason, bushfires (wild fires in a US context) are common during the dry summer season.

These vary in scale, but can be substantial.

As perhaps the most dramatic case, on 6 February 1851 - 'Black Thursday' - fires covered a quarter of Victoria (approximately 5 million hectares). Areas affected include Portland, Plenty Ranges, Westernport, the Wimmera and Dandenong districts. Approximately 12 lives, one million sheep and thousands of cattle were lost.

On a smaller scale but still as dramatic because of its location, bushfires ravaged Canberra, the national capital, in January 2003 killing four people and destroying more than 500 homes. As I write, major fires are raging in Victoria and Tasmania.

Australia is a dry continent. When Captain James Cook first skirted the eastern shore line he saw many fires. Some were started by the aborigines who used fire as a tool. Others were started by lightning strikes, still a common phenomenon.

Today fires have a greater impact than then because more people choose to live in fixed locations in bush areas, especially on the outskirts of the major metro centres. Others move to rural blocks to pursue their life style dreams.

All this means that fire and the risk of fire is an issue that needs to be addressed in considering relocation locations, especially for those going bush for life style reasons. The same issues arise if you choose to live on the metro outskirts.

I am not saying this to be alarmist, simply pointing to issues that you need to think about.

There are many sources of information about ways to assess and manage bushfire risk. A short list follows:

Importantly, bushfire risks vary from area, there are different planning requirements in each state or territory, while individual local councils have their own approaches. For all these reasons it is important to check local conditions as part of your planning.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Getting old in Regional Australia

As she got older, my mother used to say "It's getting draughty, dear." By this she simply meant that many people she knew were dieing.

I know that we do want to think about getting old, about old people's homes, about incapacity, but these are issues that need to be addressed.

In many ways Regional Australia is kinder to its old than the metro cities.

Shorter distances and less traffic make it easier to get out, for friends and family to visit. The isolation that can be experienced in metro nursing homes is less common, as are the scandals associated with poor care simply because it is easier for the community to see what is going on. Costs are also lower largely because base real estate prices are less.

All this said, there are parts of Regional Australia were aged care facilities are poor. This can be especially so in fast growing coastal retirement areas where population growth has out run facilities. In the New England seaside town of South West Rocks, for example, there are no aged care facilities with 175 people expected to need residential care over the next twelve months. This means that they have to relocate to the nearby town of Kempsey.

Neither distance nor travel times are great by metro standards, but this still creates real problems for South West Rocks people who need to visit older relatives in Kempsey by limited public transport.

I mention all this because the availability of aged care is another issue that needs to be considered by older Australians wishing to relocate to Regional Australia.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Relocation Possibility - Maitland Rugby Club needs players

The Maitland (NSW) Rugby Club is seeking players willing to relocate to Maitland.

Now in its 130th year and with a strong record in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union Competition, the Club faces a problem in its senior grade because of regular loss of key players to university commitments or relocation for career purposes.

According to Club President Paul Fletcher, the Club is searching for a five eight, an inside centre, full back and prop, although anybody interested in joining the Club is welcome to apply.

Mr Fletcher said that there were plenty of employment opportunities in the Lower Hunter so that so long as the players were qualified in something, the Club would be able to find them work.

The Club's offer includes a month's worth of accommodation to allow time to find permanent accommodation.

For more information contact Paul Fletcher 0438 133 501.

Source: The Land regional edition, 7 December 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Belshaw takes a Break

Photo: South West Rocks, New England

Tomorrow I leave for a few days in South West Rocks, one of the most beautiful places in New England.

While there is an internet cafe in South West Rocks and I will be checking my blogs and responding to any comments, I do not expect at this point to make any posts.

I want a rest to rethink and re-charge.

In Search of the Tastiest Tomato

Photo: Gunnedah Tomato Day Contest 2005 - Lyn Louis 1st Prize Tomato Sauce

Remember the taste of a tomato that truly tastes like a tomato? Head to Gunnedah (New England) in January and you’ll be able to savour one or two, or at least find out how to grow one, at the National Tomato Day Contest.

This annual event is an institution for backyard growers, who compete for the glory of such titles as biggest, reddest, tastiest and oddest-shaped tomato.

To be held at the Gunnedah Services & Bowling Club on Sunday January 14, 2007, the event has been held annually for the past 27 years, since two locals argued over who had grown the biggest tomatoes in their backyards.

Organiser John Campbell, who describes the day as “sport for vegetable growers”, says locals are now growing tomatoes purely for the sake of the competition.

“It’s not quite as competitive as it used to be but there are people just growing them especially for the day,” John said.

In past years, though, the competition was so fierce it even led to cheating.

“Some years ago, the judges discovered a tomato entered in the Biggest Tomato category with lead sinkers concealed inside it,” John explained.

Despite the rivalry, the contest is still a very friendly affair, with competitors comparing notes on the best ways to grow the popular fruit.

The newest category, tastiest tomato, is expected to intensify the competition. Other categories in the competition include: The biggest tomato; the widest tomato; the oddest shape tomato; the heaviest single truss of tomatoes; the best tomato; and a special novelty exhibit category for children under 12 years.

Then there are prizes for all those delicious condiments made from the tomato: best tomato jam; relish; pickles and sauce!

Other home-grown produce competing for prizes will be the cucumber and the humble onion.

There are also contests on the day for whip-cracking and home brewed ginger beer; and displays of olive produce and lavender farm products.

Entertainment on the day includes a talent quest, with categories for under 10s, 10 to 16 year olds and open; as well as live music. First prize in the open talent quest is $250.

All produce is auctioned off at the end of the day, with total proceeds going towards the Rural Fire Service.

For more information or interviews, phone John Campbell at the Gunnedah Services & Bowling Club on (02) 6742 0400 or Ray Darcy on (02) 6742 2919.


Gunnedah is on the Oxley Highway, 490kms North North-West of Sydney and 650kms South South-West of Brisbane.

The town is particularly famous for its resident koala population and is known as The Koala Capital.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Regional Australia Food - Stocktake of Posts

Photo: Australian chefs Vic Cherikoff and Benjamin Christie, pioneers in the use of Australian native foods in cooking.

I wish I had more time and more money. I say this because I really would like to be able to investigate all the new foods and wines now appearing in Regional Australia. In the meantime, I thought that I should do a stocktake of current food posts.

Posts on Australian native foods are:

General posts on Regional Australia food are:

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tree Change - Deciding where do you want to live

Waiting for the Judge. Another great photo by Gordon Smith because I like it.

This post continues to story of Katrina and Tom's search for an alternative life in Regional Australia. I have listed all the previous posts at the end of this post so that those who are interested can follow the story through.

Our focus in this post shifts to ways of analysing and ranking different localities, starting from the premise that you have followed previous advice and therefore have a pretty fair idea as to your needs.

Drawing up a Table

On good technique is to start with a table. Down the left hand side put your needs as you have defined them. Then along the top put the names of the areas that you are considering. This then allows you compare the varying advantages and disadvantages of different localities by inserting comments in each box.

Time and Distance

City people are used to thinking in terms of travel time rather than distance. For some reason when they look at the regional alternative, many switch to thinking in terms of distance. This is plain dumb.

Ten minutes in the city is the same as ten minutes in regional Australia. Ten kilometres or miles is not the same because it just takes so much longer to travel the distance in the city. So its very important to compare like with like.

In an earlier post, Sydney or the Bush - a few numbers, I attempted to compare a Sydney life style with an exactly equivalent regional one.

I followed this up with a post, Understanding the Regional Alternative -Comparing Like with Like, in which I looked at the normal patterns of metro life, suggesting that people thought of this in terms of a series of circles whose size was determined by travel time. My message was that you should apply the same approach in considering the regional alternative.

In Getting the Best out of Regional Living - Wagga Wagga case study, I took a major regional city and looked at just what was offered by the broader region around the city, comparing this with the things available to Sydney people, taking travel time into account.

Drawing from all this, I suggest that you draw three circles on the map around each locality under consideration:

  • Circle one represents, say, 10-15 minutes driving time one way. This represents the normal city travel time for the day-to-day circle round home. Work travel time may be much longer. In regional areas most activities will be well within the circle. But there are advantages in adopting a broader approach.
  • Circle two equates to around 60-80 minutes driving time one way. This is the maximum radius for things like city sporting activities, although most things - a special dinner for example - will be within a 30 minute radius.
  • Circle three equates to 2-3 hours driving time. This is the maximum normal driving time that a city person will do for, say, a weekend away. Two hours driving is about the normal limit, 3 hours for something special.

You can then look at what is in each circle.

The advantage of this type of approach is that it provides a comparative structure for analysing total opportunities in any area.

Circle One: the 10-15 minute Circle

This is the day to day circle, so it is very important to understand just what lies within it. Here you need to look at:

Structure of the town: You need to get a feel for how the town fits together, the distances between things, the structure of life in the town. The local newspaper is usually a good source of information. Most now have an on-line presence, but to really get a feel you need a subscription. Beyond that, the only way to get a final feel is by visiting and then talking to people.

Housing: Most local real estate agents now have a web presence. Don't get caught by a heaven sale, buying at inflated prices. Take the time to really get to understand your options.

Education: Identify all the local schools in order to determine your options. Most schools have web sites that can give you some initial information. You can also get local feedback by talking to people. Beyond that, you have to visit. Depending upon your needs, you may want to check access to TAFE and University facilities. In smaller centres, you may need to consider studying externally or factor some travel in.

Health: Again, you need to check local health facilities. Where there is a local gap, you may need to check nearest availability and then look at travel times. These may or may not be greater than the metro equivalent.

Community, professional and recreational: Most professional bodies have specific support programs for regional areas and can provide advice here. Local professionals are usually happy to talk. Most councils maintain community directories that list local organisations. Most communities, too, have chambers of commerce that can act as a source of advice on business issues.

Supporting Infrastructure: In an earlier post, Getting the Best out of Regional Living - Using the On-line World, I looked at the impact of modern communications. This is an example of another thing you need to look at, supporting infrastructure. This includes:

  • water and sewerage. Some regional areas, for example, have lots of water and no water restrictions at all, others suffer from periodic water shortages. If one of your reasons for considering a move is to have the type of home garden no longer possible in metro areas, then you need to take rainfall and water supply into account.
  • communications. Availability of broadband may be important, as may access to air, bus or train travel. Air travel is generally more expensive in Regional Australia, so you will want to factor this in.
  • business services. If you are looking to establish a business and require supporting services, you should check local availability. Some services may not exist in the immediate area.

Circle two: the 60 to 8o minute circle

This circle covers all those things that you might want to access on an irregular basis, including life style and recreational opportunities as well as special shopping, educational and business services.

The 60 to 80 minute circle can be especially important if you have chosen for life style reasons to live in a smaller community since this will, be definition, have fewer local services.

The clue here is simply to look at the map to identify possibilities for further investigation.

Circle three: the 2 to 3 hour circle

Although specific services in this broader circle may be important in particular cases, this should be thought of primarily as the play circle within which it is easy to get away. Again, use a map to identify possibilities.

Previous Posts in this Series