Wilmington, Wirrabara & Orroroo too!

Trip Start Aug 05, 2013
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
The Church

Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Sunday, May 18, 2014

Distance Travelled: Port Germein to Wilmington 69km
Total Distance Travelled: 12,571km

From Port Germein we are heading north into the outback, stopping on the way at The Church for a couple of days. Port Augusta and Wilmington have now become so familiar that Vito could probably navigate "all by hisself" as the good Dr John would say! This morning we've arranged to meet Annette & Paul at the monthly producers market in Wirrabara, another sleepy little hamlet in the Flinders Ranges.

We arrive just in time to catch the '2014 Giant Pumpkin Competition’ being judged. An elderly, learned-looking gentleman is thoughtfully perusing the pumpkins and scoring the desirable characteristics. Weight, shape and skin tone are important. He shows me where a particular blemish, caused by the pumpkin not having been elevated off the ground during growing, will result in lost points. Pumpkin is one of our favourite veggies and I discover a couple of heirloom variety pumpkins we’ve never seen before – the lumpy bumpy Italian Violina that looks like it contracted a bad case of warts, and the fleshy Howden Field used to carve Halloween heads. Leaving the judge to his deliberations we wandered off to view the fresh produce on offer. 

On the subject of great veggies ... have you tried celeriac? It’s a gnarly root veg, related to celery, that is absolutely delicious served as a mash (add some parsnip too); or finely julienned, blanched and turned into Remoulade (fab with fish). Celeriac is as old as Homer who knew how good it is, making reference to it (as selinon) in the Odyssey!  Unlike pumpkin, celeriac is not readily available in many places and how we wish it was! We looked for it at Wirrabara but, alas, there was none.

We did, however, get a real buzz finding yummy honey from local producers “Laura Gardens Bees”. The keeping of bees dates back to ancient Egypt with sealed pots of honey being found among the grave goods of pharaohs such as Tutenkhamun. Lorraine & Martin Gilbert, beekeepers for 44 years live in Laura, another small town in the Flinders Ranges, but spend most of the year travelling the countryside with their beehives following the various blossoming plants that supply nectar and pollen. Orchardists in particular are always pleased to see them. In a sweet, reciprocal arrangement the bees pollinate the orchard and the orchard provides the essentials for the honey makers. There are about 35 crops completely dependent on bees for pollination. The Gilberts have 400 producing hives (plus breeders) that they move, in batches, 6 or 7 times a year, depending on nectar flow. They have ‘pollination contracts’ for apricots, almonds, cherries, avocados, lucerne and more, travelling all over the state to keep the bees well fed. (A report by the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation last year estimated the value of pollination services from honey bees at $1.7 billion!) Their honey finds its way into many domestic SA gourmet products including ice-cream and confectionary. It is also exported, in high-end product made by private producers, around the world. Lorraine mentioned that they’d just sold the last of their latest Orange Blossom Honey which is, apparently, to die for.  And the next season’s batch, by the barrel full, is already pre-sold. The Gilberts are also involved in apiarist education, working with many schools and clubs.

This gypsy pair travel in a dual cab truck, the back part of which contains a double bed and pull out kitchen. Behind the truck they tow a fork lift for handling the palletized hives. When I contacted Lorraine to find out more about their lifestyle she prefaced her reply that “We are out on the bees this week (back for Wirrabara market on Sunday) so am replying on laptop sitting in the truck in the mallee scrub with the hum of contented bees in the background” ... sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? I have included a few photos, courtesy of Lorraine, and appreciate her taking the time to contribute to my little blog.

We bought two varieties of Laura Bees Honey – Multi-flora and Mangrove – the latter being dark like molasses, salty in flavour and quite different from any honey we’d ever tasted. It leaves a lingering taste on the back palate and will be excellent used in savoury and Asian style dishes. (Martin reckons that most children don’t like the Mangrove, sometimes not even recognising it as a honey.)  

At the market it was nice to meet up again with Margot and the Cotters (Katrina & Paul). We spent an hour or so chatting over a coffee before heading back to Wilmington. Sitting around the table, Annette surreptitiously showed Margot and Katrina some photos on her mobile phone and would not let me view the object of their admiration. I had an inkling, of course, that something wonderful was about to happen - and it was. When we got home Annette presented me with an imaginative, perfectly personalised tea cosy she had made for us. Knitted and then appliquéd with crocheted seaside characters, it’s the Dolly and Ace “octopus's garden in the sun” ... with us tenderly holding tentacles! We adore it and now enjoy our cuppas more than ever! Annette has only recently started crocheting - adding yet another string to her creative bow. Her marvellous mosaics already adorn the Church garden and more are on the way. I think her family and friends are in for fabulous Chrissie pressies this year! 

The Cotters, with their dear little Kelpie pup called Caddie, followed us back to The Church. An afternoon on the terrace became an impromptu BBQ ... and the perfect end to a lazy Sunday at the pace to which we are, most happily, accustomed!

We had a couple of days before heading north. On Tuesday Annette & Paul took us to visit Orroroo, about 50km east. The name Orroroo is thought to be derived from the Aboriginal “oorama” meaning “rendezvous of the magpie” – of which there are plenty about, including those painted on the historic buildings ‘walk’ around the township. As always, Paul’s informative commentary was terrific. A&P would make whizz-bang tour operators. As we approached Orroroo (a cute word that makes your chin waggle as you say it), Paul explained the significance of Goyder’s Line which passes through this area. We had noted a number of Goyder Line plaques in our travels but not yet heard the full story.

George Woodroffe Goyder (1826-1898) was a Liverpudlian who migrated to Sydney in 1848. Settling in South Australia in 1851, he joined the SA colonial Civil Service as a draftsman. In 1861 he became surveyor-general. Much of South Australia is semi-arid land and not suitable for farming. In 1865, over a period of just two months, Goyder surveyed a rainfall demarcation line stretching across the entire state. South of the line he deemed the land was suitable for cropping, north of the line it was not and should only ever be used for light grazing. The line traces a distinct change in vegetation, being mostly green mallee scrub to the south and grey/brown salt-bush to the north. It can be clearly seen in satellite photographs, and even by flying over the area – neither of which was available to George in 1865. His instinctive accuracy has proved quite extraordinary! The difference in rainfall across the Line is an average of 254mm per year. However many pioneer farmers, with little experience of this new country, ignored Goyder’s advice when 1865 turned out to be a year of bumper rains. North they went and started farming and cropping. Within a few years most had abandoned their farms and many such ruins remain near Goyder’s Line. I think I have noted some of these ruins (which always interest me anyway) without realising their significance up until now. Interestingly, Goyder’s Line extends to the Victorian border, crossing the Murray River south of Blanchetown. Agriculture further upstream near the Murray is possible - but only because of irrigation water now drawn from the river.

Paul had a notion that, ultimately, Goyder experienced an emotional breakdown of sorts and spent time in an asylum. By all accounts he was an ambitious and “energetic” man who rose quickly through the ranks and consistently overworked himself. He fathered a total of 14 children (11 to his first wife who died, tragically, from an accidental opium overdose; and 3 with his sister-in-law who eventually became his second wife). Late in his career Goyder did suffer with ‘nervous and muscular debility’ and was indeed ordered a 9-month period of complete rest. Little wonder with that many kids!!!

In 2003 Goyder’s Line became a National Trust of Australia Heritage Icon, joining other South Australian icons - Humphrey B Bear, brush fencing, Stobie poles and Penfolds Grange Hermitage - in a distinguished, if somewhat eclectic group!

On the outskirts of Orroroo is an ancient and magnificent Giant Red Gum, estimated to be over 500 years old. The circumference of its massive trunk, at 0.61 metres above ground, is 10.59 metres (34ft). Annette, Paul and I with arms spread wide didn’t reach even half way around. The energy in and around this tree is palpable. There are fairies here for sure. I bet they come out to dance around the exquisite little mushrooms ringing the base, celebrating whenever the lead-foot tourists leave. We saw lots of lovely birds here too ... chatty corellas, rosellas and parrots. Curiously, the birds seemed to favour the surrounding gum trees – almost as if they were keeping a respectful distance from the ancient giant. Annette commented that the nearby trees looked a bit ‘neglected and unloved’ beside the feted, old boy.  

Paul drove us around the Orroroo town grid, comprising 4 or 5 streets on either side of the main thoroughfare. Stately, old sandstone homes and some interesting abandoned buildings – such as the old butter factory – made for nice photographs. 550 odd (well, some of them probably) people live in Orroroo. These days it is a service centre for the surrounding farming community, with wheat, sheep, cattle, pigs and a kangaroo meat processor being the main products. The railway service was discontinued here in 1987. It’s mid-week and the quaint little coffee shop is closed, as are a number of other stores. We often wonder how businesses survive in some of these tiny towns.

After window shopping the main street and buying a few bacon bones from the butcher, we all sat a while in the shady, median strip garden watching the parade of dusty four-wheel drives, utes and grey nomad caravanserai passing by ... hey, that’s us!!

In a fitting finale to the recent 'pumpkins on parade' I had yet another encounter ... when, on the way out of Wilmington, we stopped at the local Post Office where a parcel awaited my collection. A pile of gorgeous Jap pumpkins, sitting pretty on a post office trolley, greeted me as I walked through the door. The beaming post mistress, Lynne, explained that her husband was an avid gardener and this year they'd had a bumper crop. She was even cooking pumpkin soup in the PO kitchen to take home for dinner ... and no doubt pumpkin scones as well! We had such a funny chat that, after weighing my fleshy purchase, she decided to give it to me for free! So, I reckon I won the 1st prize after all! 
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