Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Friday, June 01, 2007

Regional Australia food, olives and agriturismo

There have been a couple of recent posts on other blogs that brought together in my mind several themes that I have been writing about.

Over the last twelve months I have watched with pleasure the spread of bottles of Australian produced olive oil on Australian supermarket shelves.

As a story on the history of olive oil on olives101 reminds us, olives and olive oil have a long history. Yet in Australia the major use of olive oil is very recent. Growing up, olive oil was largely a medicinal product. Now it is something that I use all the time, a fundamental staple.

Olive oil production in Australia has a long history. But again until very recently, its production was very much a minor niche activity. Now olives and olive oil are produced in many parts of the country. Yet there is still a problem in all this.

On his rather wonderful View Italy blog, David Anderson writes a lot on the Italian regional experience, drawing out both the texture and variety of regional experience across the country. He also writes on agriturismo, essentially the way in which rural life is integrated into the regional experience.

The position in Australia is very different. In several posts on another blog we commented on some of the failings of Australian tourism at regional and local level.

A core failing is the failure to properly identify and build on the unique features of each location or region. For some reason, all areas try to promote general attributes that they feel will appeal.

Take farm stays. This is a very different concept to agriturismo as I understand the term. With farm stays you end up with a generic list all promoting experiencing farm life in some way. There is little focus on the unique life and experiences of the area.

Or take the currently very fashionable Opera in the Vineyards, something that has proliferated across Australia's wine growing areas. This is something designed especially to appeal to metro audiences, and there is nothing wrong with that per se. But it is another generic activity copied from area to area with few distinguishing features.

This problem is not unique to Regional Australia. When Steve Irwin was appointed to act as Australia's tourism ambassador, Sydney radio presenter Richard Glover complained that he would much rather have Australia remembered for its cultural activities such as its symphony orchestras. But, as callers quickly pointed out, who is going to visit Australia to go to a concert?

The difficulty in all this is that we get a sort of metro blandness and uniformity imposed across the whole country, one that catches everyone in the same mental trap.

How does all this link to olives and to regional food more broadly?

I recently visited a major vineyard, the site of one of the Opera's in the Park. On one wall they had a small display of Australian foodstuffs including bottles of olive oil. But there was no explanatory material, they were not integrated in any way with the rest of the cellar door, many were not even local. They were just another example of a generic trend.

The same thing applied to local food. It was all just that bland uniformity called Australian modern, and this in an area noted for certain types of local foodstuffs.

If all this is to change, it has to start at local and regional level with a focus on the special features of that area. Many of those features may be the same as other areas, but the combination is always different. So let's celebrate our diversity.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm an American. I was surfing the Internet, trying to learn something about Australia's diverse regions from a cultural perspective as opposed to a merely geographical one. All I turned up was information on Aborigines. Where's the Australian Paul Bunyan? Where's the Johnny Appleseed? Where are the pictures of Eskimos contrasted with lumberjacks, miners, farmers and fishermen? You are right. I almost had to conclude that Australia has no regional flavor at all. (Search for "regional flavor" and you will turn up many websites on wine, but none that pay more than lipservice to culture.)

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you for this, anon. You raise an interesting point. I will respond properly in a little while.